Q&A with authors of Unique But Not Different: Latter-day Saints in Japan April 03 2024

We recently spoke with Shinji Takagi, Conan Grames, and Meagan Rainock to discuss their recently released title Unique But Not Different: Latter-day Saints in Japan.

Q: What inspired you to undertake a comprehensive study on the practices of Japanese Latter-day Saints, particularly within the context of a minority religion in Japan?

A: This book grew out of the work we prepared for a volume of essays edited by Melissa
Inouye and Laurie Maffly-Kipp, who had asked us to write a chapter on how Japanese Latter-day Saints practice their religion. In order to conduct an objective, data-driven analysis, we decided to administer an anonymous survey to practicing Latter-day Saints. As we were preparing the survey, it became obvious that doing justice to the data would require not a chapter but a book. We also recognized that, realistically, we had only one chance to administer a survey, given its time- and labor-intensive nature. Hence our decision to make the survey much more comprehensive than was necessary to complete our assigned task, even though this carried a risk of deterring potential survey takers. This book is an outcome of that decision. Melissa’s and Laurie’s book has not yet been released. We hope it will be soon.

Q: Could you elaborate on the challenges and opportunities faced by Japanese Latter-day Saints within a society undergoing profound demographic and cultural changes?

A: Our thesis is that, while Latter-day Saints in Japan, as practitioners of a minority religion, face situations of identity conflict, societal changes, predominantly triggered by the adverse demographic trend, are increasing Japanese society’s tolerance for diversity. This obviously presents opportunities for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if some accommodation is made for institutional acculturation (e.g., if a source of pervasive conflict, such as green tea drinking, is properly addressed).

Q: The survey data you collected offer insights into the experiences and perspectives of active Latter-day Saints in Japan. What were some of the most surprising or significant findings that emerged from your analysis?

A: We were most surprised to learn how representative the Latter-day Saint population is of the larger Japanese society—in terms of social and political views. Indeed, they may be unique in their beliefs but certainly not different from the rest of Japanese society.

Q: The book mentions that despite being a minority religion in Japan, Latter-day Saints have found a niche for their particular lifestyle by establishing long-term relationships and making conflict-avoiding career choices. Can you delve deeper into the specific strategies or practices employed by Japanese Latter-day Saints to integrate their religious identity into their daily lives, especially in contexts where it may diverge from mainstream cultural norms?

A: The most important aspect of individual acculturation is that Japanese Latter-day Saints choose professions that allow them to attend church on Sundays. Sabbath-day worship is a cultural practice uncharacteristic of Japanese customs. This prioritization of their lives is made easier because Latter-day Saints typically join the Church in their teens or twenties before they are established in their careers. Another major adjustment that Latter-day Saints in Japan must make is in the observance of the Word of Wisdom as they refrain from tea, coffee, sake, etc., which are so universally accepted cultural customs. The survey revealed that this has been less of a problem than one might expect, as LDS members feel generally accepted by peers at work and in the culture generally even as they decline to participate in these customs.

Q: What are the key takeaways from your book for various stakeholders, including scholars, missionaries, Latter-day Saint leaders, Japanese members, and the general public?

A: We have provided key takeaways for scholars, for members, and for other stakeholders in the final chapter of the book. We hope that these targeted summaries provide useful insights into the experiences of Japanese Latter-day Saints.

Unique But Not Different: Latter-day Saints in Japan is now available in paperback and ebook.