Home / Testimonies / Masakazu Watabe

I have been invited to share my testimony on the Website, but I do so with tremendous trepidation and ample apprehension about its value because I believe that a testimony is personal and that one has to experience on his/her own to truly appreciate and understand what is meant through the symbols of language. Testimony, for me at least, is gratitude I feel for the wonderful pouring of blessings I have received from above in my life. I do testify boldly that I have experienced the presence and love of the Savior and confirmation of the validity of the restoration of the fullness of His gospel in my life and the fact that all the good things I have enjoyed in my life come from our loving Heavenly Father. The purpose of life I come to understand and joy I feel through the teachings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is what my life is all about and I hope to be able to explain accurately, though not completely, the conviction, gratitude, and faith which exist in my heart and mind through the symbols of language.

A noted brain researcher in Japan named Takeshi Yourou, who taught and researched at Tokyo University for over forty years, wrote a book called Baka no Kabe (The Wall of Stupidity). My understanding of the main point of his writing the book is that our brain is such that no one can be absolutely objective. Our brain is conditioned such that what we see and what we think are totally influenced by what our brain has experienced. For example, he shared the experience of showing a film on childbirth to medical students, and the male and female students had totally different reactions to the same film they watched. He goes on to say that even science, which many Japanese believe and trust to be true, is not completely reliable. Only God knows truth, and human beings are incapable of observing truth objectively because of the way our brain is put together. There lies the limitation or the wall of our human existence, and we live without realizing this fact.

I am not sure if he is a religious person but, regardless of his belief, it is a fact that our brains are limited in that they make us see things with the way they have been conditioned through earthly experiences. This claim explains why we have different cultures in the world and why people observe and think differently even though we see and experience the same thing. I believe we have different religions partly because of this limitation, and that people discuss, argue, and even fight because of the wall of stupidity.

As I grew up in a society pretty much dominated by non-believing people who trusted only in verifiable facts, I was deeply troubled around the time of my awakening age of intellectual growth. I remember distinctly one of my high school teachers in an ethics class posing this question: I hope we have no young men or women who still believe in fairy tales such as God, Christ, and angels, or do we? Having been raised in an LDS home with the stories of Joseph Smith, the Angel Moroni, the resurrected Jesus, and Peter, James, and John, as well as John the Baptist and others, I wondered if what I had been taught by my parents and Church leaders was nothing but mere fairy tales for children and not for a young man starting to grow out of childhood.

I was blessed with wise Church leaders in Japan when I was going through my transition time of awakening from my fairy-tale-like faith to a more science-oriented approach to life. As I was just starting to doubt if what I had been brought up with at home with the restored gospel might be due to my visionary and pure-hearted father who had accepted the restored gospel and whether what I was taught at school might be true, I was challenged by my branch president to go out to look at the stars every night for at least five minutes. Fortunately, around that time, our house was surrounded by fields and bushes where I could go to be alone, even though it was in the middle of a metropolis, Yokohama, and I used to go out for five minutes every night to look at the stars. Soon I discovered how to talk with Heavenly Father, and the spiritual experiences I had there are such that I could not deny the fact that Heavenly Father and Jesus live. For me, it was the resurrection of Jesus and his atonement for all mankind that challenged me to believe. Once I knew that he died for all of us and that he has risen and still lives, I did not have any problem accepting His and Heavenly Father’s appearing to Joseph Smith to restore their gospel here upon the earth. I have learned that this spiritual experience I had was for me personally and for what I must do in my life. The way I live should be a reflection of what I experienced then, and the details of His attributes and gospel are to be learned in my studies and experiences later. Although I have encountered many temptations to give up the gospel and have made many mistakes along the way, this experience I had alone in Yokohama has helped me throughout my life to follow His example and enjoy His embracing love.

In school, we are challenged and taught to think more analytically with concrete evidences and verifiable facts, which I have pursued in my own professional life. With this educational background, mostly in the academic discipline in Japan, I have always questioned and have been skeptical of people in the Church who would testify with the phrase, “I know….” In linguistics, knowing does not express a strong conviction. Knowing is what we call a fact verb, meaning you cannot know something you believe in, even with an unwavering or unshakeable faith, or, for that matter, it is not used to express your belief and opinions, however strongly you feel about your conviction. To say that I know means that I know as a fact through some concrete facts and verifiable evidences. When I was growing up in Japan we never used to bear testimony using the verb know in Japanese, but somehow some Church leaders in Japan must have taught and persuaded members to bear their testimonies with the verb know just as in English. This sounds so strange and sometimes even arrogant to those who are not familiar with Church vocabulary and customs.

However, over the course of my life, I have learned something interesting. Anyone who has studied Romance languages knows that there are two types of the verb know. The French word savoir has cognates in other Romance languages: sapere in Italian, sabier in Spanish, and saber in Portuguese. The Latin root is present even in English, in a familiar word such as Homo sapiens, “knowing or intelligent people.” The Latin sapere is intellectual wisdom or knowledge gained through mental exercises. On the other hand, to know through one’s experiences is connaître (French), conoscere (Italian), conocer (Spanish), and conhacer (Portuguese). To express knowing a person or having been in a place, the verbs of experience, the latter group, are used. The first group of knowing is used to express intellectual knowledge and not empirical knowledge, such as “I know of that person” (meaning that I am not acquainted with that person but, intellectually, I know who he/she is.)

For the sake of explaining myself, I am going to call the first group of knowing “intellectual knowledge,” as opposed to knowledge through experiences, “experimental knowledge.” When the Lord challenged us that life eternal is to know Him and His son Jesus Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 132:24), he probably meant experimental knowledge (see Mosiah 5:13; Alma 5:45-46; 26:22; Doctrine and Covenants 11:14; 93:28; 112:26) rather than intellectual knowledge. With experimental knowledge, a person must plant the seed and see it grow in order to know (Alma 32:26-43.) In this sense a person truly can know the truthfulness of the gospel even though he/she may not have full intellectual knowledge. I believe true testimony is a combination of both experimental and intellectual (see “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart,” in Doctrine and Covenants 8:2).

Although my testimony is based on personal experience that I had when I was young, and subsequent experiences have been to confirm and reassure my first experience, my intellectual seeking has not contradicted my spiritual experiences. Actually, it has augmented and supplemented my spiritual experiences, though intellectually I admit that there are still many questions.

Intellectually, one of the facts that this restored gospel helps me to understand is the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope I do not offend people who are so caught up in the Judeo-Christian tradition only, but the gospel of Jesus Christ without the knowledge of the restoration of its fullness does not make sense to me. I cannot conceive that the Savior, the creator of this entire world, would create the world and provide the gospel without means for everyone to know Him and his teachings so as to attain eternal happiness. The Judeo-Christian tradition would become nothing but another philosophy and religion peculiar to the region and culture where it developed. However, the restoration of the fullness of Jesus Christ makes sense in the eternal and universal (not just in the universal sense of “the world today,” but including all of His creation from the beginning to whatever is to come—a real sense of Catholicism) nature of the plan of the Savior. President David O McKay relates a poignant experience of a Chinese student who heard about Christianity from a Christian minister.

A Chinese student, returning to his homeland, having graduated from one of our leading colleges, was in conversation with a Christian minister also en route to China. When this minister urged the truth that only through acceptance of Christ’s teachings can any man be saved, the intelligent Chinese said: “Then what about my ancestors who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus?” The minister answered: “they are lost.” Said the student: “I will have nothing to do with a religion so unjust as to condemn to eternal punishment men and women who are just as noble as we, perhaps nobler, but who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus.” (David O McKay, True to the Faith, pp. 21-22)

I do not think that even Joseph Smith realized the magnitude of the restoration when he first went to the grove to pray. My reading of his subsequent experiences is that the Lord revealed the restoration of the fullness one step at a time, and that the life of Joseph was somehow spared to complete the divine work. This gave the true meaning of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the realm of the entire plan, and our existence starts making sense rather than being just a part of arbitrary existence here upon the earth.

It is extremely interesting that the Lord sends Moroni to announce the restoration of the Priesthood by the hand of Elijah in the first revelation in this dispensation in 1823 (Doctrine and Covenants 2) and its meaning does not become completely clear until almost the end of Joseph’s mortal life in 1843 (Doctrine and Covenants 130, 131, and 132), after the restoration of baptism for the dead and after the temple ordinances were revealed (Doctrine and Covenants 124, 127, 128). We often emphasize the part of the priesthood as the power to act in His name as it was restored in 1829, but it is not only that but, probably more importantly, it is the power to become like him—and the smallest unit of the priesthood is a man and a woman together (Doctrine and Covenants 131, and Elder Dallin Oaks’s conference talk, October 2005). In this sense, Abrahamic covenants become a pattern of a more significant realization of eternal blessings promised to those who accept the Savior, rather than to be limited to the earthly blessings given to the patriarch of the people of that region at that time. To think that Joseph and Hyrum sealed their testimonies with their own blood gives appreciation for the magnitude or the significance of the restoration (Doctrine and Covenants 135). It is sobering to realize that Hyrum was so chosen because of the falling of the once so-ordained Oliver Cowdery (see Doctrine and Covenants 6:18; 20:2-3; 124:95).

These are a few fundamental facts, of many others that are part of my intellectual testimony of this gospel, but, as I have mentioned, these are to supplement the experimental knowledge of the restored gospel, which has grown significantly after so many proofs of testing and experimenting. What excites me about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that it encompasses any truth and all truth (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 3). I find so many wonderful thoughts and principles taught in Shintoism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism that strike a chord with my understanding of the restored gospel. It is comforting for individuals interested to find out what is truth to know that the truths we find (of course with faith), or anything we find virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, is part of the restored gospel, and that we are admonished to seek after these things (The Articles of Faith, 13.)

John Steinbeck is reported to have said that a genius is a little boy chasing a butterfly up a mountain (theparisreview.org/media/4156_STEINBECK.pdf). I am not a genius, but I have lived my life chasing the Savior I discovered when I was a little boy in the fields and bushes of Yokohama. As I look back at the little hill I have climbed chasing after the Savior in this life, I can truly say that He lives and that I am grateful for His love and atonement. The resurrected Savior did appear to Joseph to restore His fullness of the gospel and has provided the way for all those, dead or alive or waiting to come to this earth, who believe in Him and learn and strive to be like Him, to have an opportunity to progress or continue to increase for eternity. If this little hill I have climbed is a glimpse of the eternal increase and blessings promised, it is worth continuing to climb, chasing after the love and example of the Savior. I am grateful for that experience that Heavenly Father gave a young unimportant boy like me in a tiny corner of His vineyard, and all the good things my family and I have enjoyed in our lives truly come from Him. Of this I testify.

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Masakazu Watabe was born in Sendai, Japan, in 1947 and moved to Yokohama in 1958. He graduated from junior high school with the highest achievement test score of that school and was admitted to Yokohama Hiranuma High School, the top high school in the city, then, with a national scholarship from the Ministry of Education. In 1966, upon graduation from that high school, he passed the entrance examination for the National University of Tokyo Kyoiku (presently Tsukuba University), again with a national scholarship from the Ministry of Education given to top college students selected in a nation-wide competition.

He took a leave of absence from the national university and went to Brigham Young University. After studying at Brigham Young University for two years, in 1968, he decided to withdraw from the National University of Tokyo Kyoiku, and served in the Brazil Central Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He returned to Brigham Young University in 1971, where he finished his BA in Portuguese Literature in 1972 and an MA in Linguistics in 1973.

He worked for the U.S. State Department intermittently as an escort interpreter in 1973 and 1974. He received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of Southern California in 1978. He taught English as a Second Language and Japanese at the University of Southern California and East Los Angeles College from 1973 to 1977 and then accepted a full time position at Brigham Young University in 1977, where he continues to teach Japanese as a professor.

While he has been teaching at Brigham Young University, he has served as the chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages (1985-1992) and as coordinator of the College of Humanities Language Acquisition MA program (1997-2000.) He also directed the nationally and internationally acclaimed summer Japanese immersion programs at Indiana University and Middlebury College (1989-1990; 1991-2000.)

His publication and research specialty includes analyses of the Japanese and English languages, language teaching, and developing teaching and learning materials. He has authored several textbooks and CD materials being used in several colleges in the U.S. and in Japan.

In the Church, he has served as an instructor in various organizations, a member of quorum presidencies and group leadership, a bishop’s counselor, a bishop, a member of two stake presidencies, and a member of several high councils. He is most proud of his three children and their spouses, his fourteen grandchildren, and the numerous outstanding students he has taught over the years from all over the world.