Kingdom “Explosion” in Japan
“ALL of a sudden a weird light flashed and sparkled on the ceiling of my cell. . . . Then I heard such a terribly loud roar as if all the mountains had collapsed at one time. Instantly the cell was shrouded with a thick darkness. I shoved my head under my nearby mattress, to escape what appeared to be a dark gas.”
The atomic bomb had just exploded over Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945. The man who lived to describe the experience was in prison because of his integrity-keeping course as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A handful of Witnesses were active in Japan before and during the second world war. Four years after the war, missionaries of Gilead School arrived. They quickly made contact with the few Witnesses who had faithfully endured the horrors of the war. Thus, once again, the buds of kingdom truth began to blossom brightly in the land.
In 1949 there were three local persons, as well as missionaries, who reported preaching activity. For the next fourteen years a two-story wooden structure in Tokyo served as the branch office. Then, in December 1962, this structure was torn down and a new seven-story branch building rose in its place. By the time of its dedication in November 1963 the number of kingdom publishers had surpassed 3,000 in Japan.
Fine increases continued, creating the need for larger facilities for printing Bible literature. So less than ten years later, in 1972, a large new printing plant and Bethel complex were completed at Numazu, seventy-five miles (120 km) southwest of Tokyo. By this time the number of kingdom praisers had grown to over 14,000. However, in only five more years the number of publishers nearly tripled, to over 41,000. As a result of this marvelous increase these newly constructed facilities in Numazu were too small, even though they had been enlarged shortly after they were originally built. So toward the end of the 1970’s a new expansion project was authorized by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But what has accounted for such rapid growth? The number of full-time (pioneer) ministers in Japan is surely an important factor. In recent years one out of every three of those who share in the preaching activity does so as a full-time (pioneer) minister!
New Branch Facilities
It was in January 1979 that work began on the new branch buildings. Eighteen acres (7 ha) of property had been purchased in Ebina, Japan, for these entirely new facilities. The construction has now been completed, and the new printing factory, offices, Kingdom Hall, Bethel home, Bethel annex, garage and carpenter shop are three times the size of the facilities at Numazu!
Visitors to the facilities often are amazed to see that all the operations for producing books, Bibles and magazines are accomplished under one roof. In Japan printing and bookbinding are customarily handled by small companies, many of which are no larger than the front room of the owner’s house. So you can understand why what visitors see here is considered so amazing.
Some visitors are even more surprised to learn that the factory and office workers live right on the premises. They are housed comfortably in adjoining buildings that are called the Bethel home. Although this home can accommodate over 350 persons, there are now about 200 members of the Bethel family. So there is plenty of room for further expansion.
In the factory a sophisticated computerized process is now used to produce phototypeset pages. These are then photographed and the film is used to make offset printing plates. Thus all use of hot metal has been eliminated. The computer programs that made possible the replacement of the hot-metal monotype system were designed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. And, of course, these were tailored to the specific needs of the Watch Tower publications. Whereas it took many hours to compose one page of a new publication by the hot-metal system, the computer system accomplishes it in only minutes.
About two years ago a four-color rotary offset press was installed to replace the letterpresses. Within eighteen months, magazine orders increased by 33 percent. The offset press produces more than two million Watchtower and Awake! magazines each month. In addition, it prints over 200,000 books and Bibles monthly, as well as tracts and other specialty items. Recently, however, a second four-color rotary offset press was installed in order to handle the increasing demands for Bible literature.
The Bibles and books rolling off the presses are bound in the modern bindery. Having our own bindery these past two years has been a real blessing. We used to receive the Japanese Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Brooklyn, New York, sometime in February or March. But since we have been producing it here, the Yearbook has been in the hands of the Japanese Witnesses before the beginning of the year. Especially has it been a privilege to print and bind the complete Japanese New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures here in Japan.
Dedication of New Branch
What a joy it was this past May 15 to be present for the dedication of these newly completed branch facilities! There were 1,675 guests invited for this special program held here at the branch. Fred Franz and Lloyd Barry, both members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had come from Brooklyn, New York, for the occasion.
Brother Barry was one of the missionaries who came to Japan in 1949, and he served here until 1975 when he was invited to become a member of the Governing Body. As a feature of the dedication program, Barry interviewed fourteen of his fellow graduates of the eleventh class of Gilead School. How encouraging it was to hear from these old-timers, each of whom has more than three decades of missionary service in Japan!
It was an added joy for these missionaries to associate on this special occasion with persons whom they had helped to a knowledge of God’s purposes decades before. As Brother Barry’s wife, Melba, explained: “On my very first day of preaching in Japan, at one of the first houses I called on, I talked with a person who is now attending the dedication program.” This person has been faithfully serving in the preaching work for more than thirty years.
Over thirty years ago one of the missionaries studied with Isamu Sugiura, who is now a member of the Japan branch committee. Sugiura introduced the principal speaker of the day, Brother Fred Franz, the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Nearing the conclusion of his dedication talk, Franz asked: “What do you want to do with these facilities?” Toshio Honma, the coordinator of the Japan branch, made a motion that they be dedicated to Jehovah God to serve his purposes. The motion was endorsed and all in the audience concurred by applauding.
The following day a special meeting was held at Oimachi Race Track in Tokyo. It was carried by wire to twenty other Japanese cities. Although a peak of 68,593 kingdom praisers had been reached in Japan during April there was a total attendance of 113,633 persons who heard this special program on Sunday, May 16. The potential for further increase is also shown by this year’s Memorial attendance for Japan—173,344 persons, an increase of 28,522 over last year.
Though much despair and destruction resulted from the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima in 1945, happiness and hope have
accompanied the veritable explosion of the kingdom proclamation throughout Japan. If it is Jehovah’s will, it is our fervent prayer that many more thousands yet be contacted and brought into his arrangement to receive everlasting life through Jesus Christ.
[Diagrams on page 17]
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Ebina dedicated May 15, 1982
Branch buildings and the 18-acre property on which they are located
Comparison of Japanese branch buildings and land areas
[Graph on page 19]
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Explosive growth in kingdom publishers in Japan
YEAR NUMBER OF PUBLISHERS
[Picture on page 16, 17]
A view of new branch facilities in Ebina. The large buildings above are the Bethel home and offices, with part of the factory to the right
[Picture on page 18]
Rear view of Bethel home