This biographical sketch adapted from "Elder Yoshihiko
Kikuchi: Steadfast amid Change" By Larry E. Morris from the Ensign,
Dec. 1984, page 41
October, 1977: With the postlude organ music filling
the Tabernacle, Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi, newly sustained as a member of
the First Quorum of the Seventy, stood near an entrance greeting acquaintances.
One of them, a stake president from Japan,
introduced a friend of his, R. Gordon Porter, a stake president in
Salt Lake City.
“President Porter,” said Elder Kikuchi, “didn’t you
serve a mission to Japan?”
“Well, yes, I did,” replied President Porter, wondering
how Elder Kikuchi knew.
They were still shaking hands, Elder Kikuchi staring
closely at President Porter. “You confirmed me a member of the Church.”
Incredulous, President Porter thought back to his
time in Japan. “It had been almost twenty years,” he said, “but as we shook
hands I could suddenly remember that home in Hokkaido, and I could see
that young gakusei [student] standing at the door as my senior companion,
Delmont Law, talked with him.”
This meeting, across two decades and thousands of
miles, is an apt symbol of how the gospel has affected the life of Yoshihiko
Kikuchi, taking him from one unexpected transition to another. Through
those changes, he has remained faithful and humble.
Elder Kikuchi’s background hardly made him a likely
candidate for conversion to the Church. Born in 1941, he was raised in
the rural “snow country” of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. LDS
missionaries had left Japan more than a decade before his birth, finding
little success in a country steeped in tradition. During the 1930s, as
Japan grew increasingly militaristic and anti-American, the last traces
of Church organization virtually vanished.
Then, five months after Yoshihiko was born, Pearl
Harbor was bombed. And shortly before the end of the war, Yoshihiko’s father—serving
in the Japanese military—died in an American bombing raid over Japan. Not
many would have expected a boy in Yoshihiko’s situation ever to join an
“I was prejudiced toward Americans because of my
father’s death,” says Elder Kikuchi. “When I answered the door that day
(in 1958) and saw two Americans—all bundled up in their hats and overcoats—I
naturally told them, ‘No, thank you.’ ”
Even meeting the elders when he did would not normally
have been a possibility because Yoshihiko should have been in school. But
he was recuperating from an illness. A hard-working boy, he had been going
to school at night and rising at 4 A.M. to work so he could help his mother
support the family. This rigorous schedule completely exhausted him, and
he collapsed one day on the job. After his release from the hospital, he
was staying with his uncle, and was home alone when Elder Law and
Elder Porter knocked on the door.
Just as Yoshihiko would have normally been elsewhere
that day—either in school or at work—the elders normally would have been
taking the day off because it was their preparation day. But they had not
found many investigators in recent weeks, and were out going door-to-door
because Elder Law had felt inspired to do so.
Elder Law persisted when Yoshihiko declined to talk
to them, saying he and Elder Porter had an important message that would
only take a few minutes. “My health crisis had put me in a position of
seeking God,” Elder Kikuchi reminisces, “and I decided to let them come
in. They told me the Joseph Smith story; I was very impressed.”
“Yoshihiko struck me as an exceptional young man,”
says Brother Law, who now lives in Mapleton, Utah. “I knew he was ready
for the gospel.”
“I’m grateful the elders went the extra mile,” Elder
Kikuchi comments. Today, his appreciation for the work of the missionaries
is often expressed. “I want to tell American Saints how much I appreciate
my testimony,” he says. “I especially want the older brothers and sisters
to know that I deeply appreciate the legacy—and heritage—they have preserved.
I have met members of the Church in the United States and in many other
places around the world. These wonderful people live ‘common’ lives, attending
church each week faithfully. They may wonder if they are really contributing
to the kingdom of God. I want to assure them that they are. They are faithful
individuals who raise their righteous sons and daughters and send them
on missions. I want them to know they are doing a marvelous, marvelous
work for the Lord.”
After his own contact with the missionaries, Elder
Kikuchi turned out to be a “golden investigator,” eagerly receiving lessons
and even coming to the meetinghouse when he did not have an appointment.
In the spring of 1958, just a few weeks after meeting the elders, he was
baptized by Elder Law. The date was April 6—the anniversary of the organization
of the Church.
Three years later Yoshihiko himself was a missionary.
While serving on the Japanese island of Kyushu, he had an experience which
proved to be pivotal in his life. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member
of the Council of the Twelve, visited Japan and
spoke at a missionary zone conference. Yoshihiko was the only Japanese
“We had a testimony meeting, and I was the last one
to bear my testimony,” Elder Kikuchi relates. “I stood and began to speak
in Japanese. Suddenly, a very warm spirit came over me and, without knowing
what I was saying, I started speaking in
English. I didn’t know what I said. But I remember the beautiful feeling
I felt.” After he went back to his seat, Elder Hinckley stood and pronounced
a special blessing on Elder Kikuchi.
Toward the end of his mission, he took an active
interest in learning English, believing it would be important in the future
in order to serve in the kingdom. He carried a transistor radio with him
often, imitating the voices he heard over the Armed Services network. “Without
the help of the Lord, I couldn’t have learned it. I thank him for helping
me,” he says.
His fluency in English increased, and in the early
1970s, while he was serving in the Tokyo Stake presidency, he often acted
as interpreter for General Authorities speaking at stake conferences.
“I remember ‘Kikuchi Kyodai’ [Brother Kikuchi] quite
well,” says one returned missionary. “He would stand at the pulpit with
the visiting General Authority, always listening intently and then giving
the interpretation with the same emphasis and feeling of the speaker. You
knew he never took it lightly.”
Among the Church leaders for whom Elder Kikuchi performed
this service were President Joseph Fielding Smith
(when a group of Japanese Saints visited Salt Lake City), President N.
Eldon Tanner, President Spencer W. Kimball,
President Hinckley, and many other General Authorities. But of all Elder
Kikuchi’s associations with General Authorities, the one that began in
that small zone conference in the early 1960s has been the most frequent
and long-lasting. President Gordon B. Hinckley
and Elder Kikuchi met time and again as President Hinckley made frequent
trips to Japan; he has now been there forty-one times.
Elder Kikuchi served a three-and-one-half-year mission,
which included one six-month extension as a full-time proselyting missionary
and another twelve-month extension as a labor missionary. Less than two
weeks after returning home in 1964, he married Toshiko Koshiya. She had
joined the Church when she was young—after two years of study—and she had
met Yoshihiko not long after his baptism.
With Yoshihiko’s marriage came another key transition
in his life—the young couple moved from the quiet, traditional area of
northern Japan to the fast-moving metropolis of Tokyo. Yoshihiko was soon
a husband, a new father, a university student in
business psychology, later a full-time employee of a cook-ware firm,
and branch president of West Branch, which later became Tokyo Third Ward.
He calls this the greatest growing period of his life.
Quiet and unassuming, Sister Kikuchi recalls those
days with fondness: “We had many blessings. Yoshihiko was working so hard
every minute.” Indeed, the drive he had shown as a youngster had not diminished;
he was now getting about four hours’ sleep a night. “He never complained,”
continues Sister Kikuchi, not mentioning her own hard work and faithfulness,
both crucial during that time.
As he reached his early thirties, Elder Kikuchi seemed
to have finally found a settled life-style: he and Toshiko were the parents
of three daughters and one son; he was serving as president of the Tokyo
Stake, with the family still residing in “West Branch”; and he had an excellent
job as a successful regional sales manager for all of Japan in an international
But another transition was just ahead.
One day in 1977, Elder Kikuchi learned that Brother
Arthur Haycock, President Kimball’s personal secretary, had been trying
to get in touch with him. The same day, about midnight, he received a call
from the office of the First Presidency. President Kimball came on the
line and asked about his health and family, then asked if he was planning
to travel to Salt Lake for general conference. No, replied Elder Kikuchi,
who said he was scheduled to attend conference once a year and had come
just six months earlier.
“Can you come nevertheless?” asked President Kimball.
“I’d like to see you. When you arrive at Salt Lake, please contact me.”
He received no further information.
Half wondering and half worrying why he was being
called to Salt Lake, Elder Kikuchi made frantic arrangements to leave,
only to find his passport had expired a few days earlier. This was followed
by missed planes (a problem they never had before or since), a lost purse
(his wife’s), and a series of frustrations that caused Elder and Sister
Kikuchi to arrive late, missing an afternoon appointment with the Church
president. They stayed with friends that night, the long wait continuing.
Early the next morning they finally met with President
Kimball, who very kindly inquired about them and their family. Then he
announced why they had been asked to come to Salt Lake.
“Brother Kikuchi—the Lord has called you to serve
as one of the General Authorities.”
Astonished, Elder Kikuchi found he could hardly speak.
“President Kimball,” he gasped, “I’m sorry, but could
you kindly repeat that, please?” He thought that he had not heard the President
“The Lord has called you to serve as one of the General
Authorities of the Church.”
Recalling that poignant moment, Elder Kikuchi says
that he and Sister Kikuchi “cried and cried. We were just so overwhelmed.”
Yoshihiko Kikuchi thus became the first native-born
Japanese General Authority, joining his friend and associate, Elder Komatsu,
who was born in Hawaii of Japanese ancestry.
Though Elder Kikuchi willingly and gladly accepted
this call from a prophet, he still had qualms about his ability to fulfill
“I never expected to be called to such a heavy and
high responsibility,” he said in his first general conference address.
“I’m still asking myself and the Lord, ‘Why me, O Lord? Why me, O Lord?’
Yet, my brothers and sisters, still within my soul I hear … , ‘I will go
where you want me to go, dear Lord.’ ” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 70.)
Just as Elder Kikuchi’s initial experience with the
missionaries led to a great appreciation for missionaries and their parents,
his movement from a small Japanese branch to his Salt Lake City office
at Church headquarters has had a very marked influence on his perspective.
“For me,” he says, “it is very important to remember
that the gospel is everything in my life and this is the church of Jesus
Christ. It is not just for certain races or nationalities, but it is international—universal—a
church for all peoples.”
This emphasis on the universality of the gospel has
become a distinct theme in Elder Kikuchi’s addresses:
“May we members of this true Church have enough courage
to stand before the world to share this great message of the everlasting
gospel, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, with ‘every nation, kindred,
tongue, and people’ (D&C 77:8). Brothers and sisters, we must be ‘the
light of the world’ (Matt. 5:14).” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 30.)
Elder Kikuchi’s present assignment—as a counselor
in the Salt Lake City North Area Presidency (before that he was Executive
Administrator for the Granger-Murray area)—has taken him far from the street
meetings he faithfully attended with the elders after his baptism. But
those humble beginnings have strongly influenced him, and as he goes about
his calling in Utah and elsewhere, he continually stresses these two closely
linked ideas: Church members are doing a great and wonderful work by living
true and righteous lives and by sending their sons and daughters on missions;
and we need to remember that Christ is the center of our faith, and his
gospel is for all people and must be preached to every nation as soon as
Shortly after his baptism, Elder Kikuchi became a
missionary to his own people. Later he became a branch president, a counselor
to a mission president, a counselor to a stake president, and then stake
president himself. Shortly after his call as a General Authority, his area
of service in Asia was extended; this time he was appointed as Area Executive
Administrator for Japan and Korea.
Interestingly enough, one of the mission presidents
who served under Elder Kikuchi was R. Gordon Porter. “He would call me
on the phone,” recalls President Porter, “and say, ‘This is your investigator
calling.’ ” President Porter adds that virtually every time they talked,
Elder Kikuchi would again thank him for what he and Elder Law had done.
“But we really hadn’t done anything special,” says President Porter. “Like
many missionaries, we were simply out proselyting on our preparation day.”
Still, that one afternoon of extra effort resulted
in the conversion of a man who has had the opportunity to influence many
more. Elder Kikuchi’s own conversion experience illustrates two ideals
he holds dear—that the Lord works through small means, and that missionary
work has a rippling effect we little comprehend.
Elder Kikuchi served in Japan as Executive Administrator
from 1978 till 1982 and was there when area conferences were held in many
places in Asia and the Tokyo Temple was dedicated. Then came another transition:
leaving Tokyo—once the strange city but now home—and leaving their homeland
itself, the Kikuchi family moved to Salt Lake City to adopt a new language
and a new culture. One simply needs to imagine departing his or her native
country to understand what an adjustment such a move must involve.
“The English is difficult,” says Sister Kikuchi,
who now serves as a Relief Society music director and a visiting teacher,
“but we are having a very happy experience here.”
The Kikuchi children—Sarah, nineteen; Renah, sixteen;
Ruth, fourteen; and Matthew, ten—have endured the difficulty of leaving
Japan and learning a new language. They now attend the same English-speaking
schools as their many friends.
“We were homesick at first,” says Elder Kikuchi,
“but we are now settled.” Then, with a smile, he adds, “But we do miss
sashimi [raw fish].”
He and Sister Kikuchi have always emphasized to their
children that Elder Kikuchi’s call is like any other—one to be performed
faithfully, with thoughts directed to the Lord rather than to any sense
of personal accomplishment. “We’ve always taught our children that every
calling in the Church is important no matter what it is; all callings are
from the Lord,” says Sister Kikuchi.
The Kikuchi family enjoys a number of activities
together, including music, reading, cooking, fishing, and taking drives.
Elder Kikuchi has the kind of hobbies one might expect from a thoughtful,
meticulous man: gardening, painting, and carpentry.
Now in his early forties, he has already lived a
remarkable life filled with changes neither he nor those around him expected.
Still, there have been continual and unmistakable signs of the Lord’s influence
in his life, and they have left him with a solid testimony:
“I love our Heavenly Father. I know that God lives.
I know that there is a living prophet of God today, and I support him with
all my heart. The Lord lives, and this is his gospel. The Savior, Jesus
Christ, is the center of our lives. I love him with all my
heart. It is in him, by him, and through him whereby we might be saved!”
Elder Kikuchi was released from the First Quorum of the
Seventy in October 2011, and named and Emeritus General Authority.