ON September 6, 1926, a Japanese-born pilgrim (traveling overseer) in the United States returned to Japan as a missionary. Waiting to welcome him was the lone subscriber to The Watch Tower, who had started a Bible study group in Kobe. The Bible Students had their first assembly on January 2, 1927, in that city. A total of 36 attended, and 8 were baptized. It was a fine start, but how could this small group reach Japan’s 60 million people who needed to see the light of Bible truth?
In May 1927, enterprising Bible Students launched a public witnessing campaign to advertise a series of Bible lectures. For the first talk, to be held in Osaka, the brothers set up sidewalk signs and large billboards throughout the city and sent 3,000 invitations to prominent people. They distributed 150,000 handbills and advertised the talk in Osaka’s major newspapers and on 400,000 train tickets. On the day of the talk, two airplanes flew over the city, scattering 100,000 handbills. Some 2,300 people filled Osaka Asahi Hall to capacity to hear the talk “The Kingdom of God Is at Hand.” About a thousand others had to be turned away. After the talk, over 600 attendees remained for a question-and-answer session. During the following months, public Bible talks were given in Kyoto and other cities in western Japan.
In October 1927, the Bible Students arranged talks in Tokyo. Invitations again went out to key individuals—including the prime minister, members of parliament, and religious and military leaders. Posters, newspaper ads, as well as 710,000 handbills were used, and a total of 4,800 attended the three lectures in Japan’s capital.
Colporteurs (pioneers) played a vital role in taking the Kingdom message to individual homes. Matsue Ishii, one of the first colporteurs in Japan, and her husband, Jizo, covered three fourths of the country, from Sapporo in the far north to Sendai, Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Okayama, and Tokushima. Sister Ishii and an older sister, Sakiko Tanaka, donned formal kimonos to visit high government officials. One of these requested 300 sets of the books The Harp of God and Deliverance to put in prison libraries.
Katsuo and Hagino Miura accepted books from Sister Ishii and readily recognized the truth. They were baptized in 1931 and became colporteurs. Haruichi and Tane Yamada, and many of their relatives, embraced the Kingdom message some time prior to 1930. The Yamadas entered the colporteur work, and their daughter, Yukiko, went to serve at Bethel in Tokyo.
“JEHUS”—LARGE AND SMALL
Back then, automobiles were very expensive and the roads were bad. So Kazumi Minoura and other young colporteurs used house cars without engines. They nicknamed these Jehus after the hard-driving charioteer who became one of Israel’s kings. (2 Ki. 10:15, 16) Three Great Jehus each measured 7.2 feet (2.2 m) long, 6.2 feet (1.9 m) wide, and 6.2 feet (1.9 m) high and each could accommodate up to six pioneers. In addition, 11 bicycle-driven two-man Baby Jehus were built at the Japan branch. Kiichi Iwasaki, who helped to make the Jehus, recalled, “Each Jehu had a tent as well as a car battery to supply electricity for lights.” Colporteurs were shining the light of truth throughout Japan, pushing and pulling Jehus up and down mountains and across valleys from northerly Hokkaido to Kyushu in the south.
Colporteur Ikumatsu Ota stated: “When we arrived in a town, we set up our Jehu on a riverbank or in an open field. We first visited prominent men of the town, such as the mayor, and after that we visited homes to introduce our literature. After covering the territory, we moved on to the next town.”
It was a “day of small beginnings” when that group of 36 Bible Students in Kobe held their first assembly. (Zech. 4:10) Just five years later—in 1932—103 colporteurs and publishers in Japan reported activity, placing more than 14,000 books. Today, well-organized public witnessing is being done in Japan’s metropolitan areas, and nearly 220,000 publishers are letting their light shine throughout the Land of the Rising Sun.—From our archives in Japan.