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BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir Gives Historic Performance at Meiji Shrine

| University Relations |
Thursday, 11 August 2016

On June 27, as part of their “Many Nations, One Family” tour through Japan, the BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir received the high honor of performing at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, a major site for Japan’s native Shinto religion. This is the second time the choir has performed there, the first being on their last tour to Japan in 2004. They remain the only Christian group ever permitted to do so.

BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir Visits Meiji ShrineAlthough situated in the heart of Tokyo, the shrine is at the center of a wood comprising 170 acres. When the choir arrived on a sunny Monday morning in the company of President and Sister Tanner and Elder and Sister Choi from the Area Presidency, they were greeted by priests and escorted along the gravel paths to the main complex of shrine buildings. Each student was guided in performing the ritual washings necessary before entering the shrine. With water drawn from a fountain with a wooden ladle, first the left hand is washed, then the right, then the mouth (with water cupped in the left hand), then the left again, and finally the handle of the ladle is rinsed and it is returned to the fountain. This ritual complete, the group passed the gate and gathered in the outer, public courtyard. Here, however, the experience became extraordinary.

Brought into a side passage, the choir was formed into rows, and a priest performed another ritual involving chanting and the presentation of a tree branch. The BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir was escorted into the second courtyard or sanctuary, a sacred space normally off-limits to all except high-ranking dignitaries such as presidents and prime ministers. The final ritual was conducted as a priest led the students in ceremonial claps and bows towards the doors of the innermost sanctuary, reserved for the emperor alone. A tremendous gong punctuated the ceremony with deep peals that filled the courtyard.

“You could almost feel your body reverberating with each crash of that massive gong,” said Jarek Buss, tour manager. “The whole experience was so solemn and impressive, words can’t really describe it. The beautiful buildings, the bright blue sky, and all of the decorum in the ceremonies just made you feel this weight of history and tradition that highlighted what an honor it was for us to be there. It was incredibly unique—that is something very few people will ever get to experience, and here we were, a group of students from all over the world, representing the Church and BYU-Hawaii in this sacred Japanese shrine.”

Once the ceremonies were finished, the time was turned over to the choir to give something back: music. Facing the giant wooden doors to the innermost sanctuary, the choir sang the first and fourth verses of “Come, Come Ye Saints” in English and Japanese. This song ties back to very beginning of the relationship between the shrine and the Church, when priests from the shrine met Church leaders in Salt Lake City as part of a Japanese delegation traveling across the United States in the late 1800s to study modernization. The company spent time in Salt Lake after their train was snowed in, and they had the opportunity to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The message of resolute determination in “Come, Come Ye Saints” resonated deeply with the Japanese leaders, who were making intense efforts to modernize and advance their own nation. It was in the spirit of this common legacy of determination that the choir sang this hymn at the Meiji Shrine, both on this visit and in 2004.

In closing, the choir sang “Aloha ‘Oe,” a cultural offering in tribute to the university’s home. Meaning “Farewell to Thee,” the song was written by Queen Lili‘uokaliani, last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and has a special meaning for BYU-Hawaii students as they learn to love the islands. With this farewell, the choir returned to the outer courtyard and then began preparations for the tour’s final concert that night in the Tokyo Opera City concert hall.BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir Performs at Tokyo Concert Hall