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Pro-Life Congress in Japan

by | Feb 23, 2015

Editor’s note. Dr. Jack Willke, who was president of National Right to Life for ten years, passed away last Friday. We have three posts today in honor of Jack, who along with his wife Barbara, were the First Couple of the Pro-Life Movement. (See also here and here.)

Dr. Willke presenting a copy of his book, "Abortion: Questions and Answers" to Pope John Paul II.

Dr. Willke presenting a copy of his book, “Abortion: Questions and Answers” to Pope John Paul II.

The following is Dr. Willke’s May 21, 1991, column for National Right to Life News, his last written as NRLC President. I could have chosen any of dozens of columns but this one emphasizes a much under-appreciated part of Jack’s and Barbara’s lives as pro-life pioneers: they carried the message worldwide. Indeed, Jack was the founder of the International Right to Life Federation.

We had high hopes for the second world Congress for Life in Tokyo, Japan, April 25-27. As events transpired, things turned out even better than anticipated.

Three years ago we had a major international congress in Southeast Asia, in Manila. This was to be our first in northeast Asia. We had made preparations for it a year earlier in Oslo, Norway, and were looking forward to finalization of a major International Declaration on the Rights of the Unborn Child.

After an 11 1/2 –hour flight across the Pacific, my wife, Barbara, and I were met at Tokyo airport by Pastor Kenzo Tsujioka, a prominent Evangelical minister and director of Pro-Life Japan.

The next day we were pleased to meet with Mr. Takayuki Shirai, who had shepherded the publishing of our book Abortion Questions and Answers in a Japanese edition. We were pleased and proud to accept copies of it.

Barbara and I began the three-day conference, sponsored by the International Right to Life Federation and Japanese pro-life and pro-family groups, with a slide presentation, demonstrating how to teach the basics and answer the questions. There were about 40 guests from overseas representing 24 different nations. The other half of the workshop participants came from various areas throughout Japan.

Four different Japanese pro-life groups reported on their activities, as did most of the nations represented. Representatives came from Italy, Ireland, Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, Columbia, Egypt, England, France, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, The Philippines, Thailand, Uruguay, Japan and the U.S. as usual a great deal of fruitful interchange occurred in the hallways and during our pleasant mealtimes.

We did finalize the Declaration on the Rights of the Unborn Child. This was signed by all of the delegates present, and agreed to unanimously. The final session came on a Saturday afternoon. It was the big one. Seven hundred and fifty people attended. I was honored to be able to present to Dr. Noboru Kikuta, a Japanese gynecologist, the second annual Award for Life, given by the International Right to Life Federation. Suffering from advanced cancer, Dr. Kikuta, nevertheless, came to the meeting to accept the honor. His singular achievement was to stimulate reform of adoption laws in the nation of Japan.

We were also honored by a visit from Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, newly appointed head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission on the Family, who made a special trip from Rome to be with us.

Before leaving the next day for Korea we were able to visit a major Buddhist Temple in Tokyo to see the Mizuko Kuyo Memorials for aborted babies. We had heard much about these small stone idols representing the little ones that Japanese mothers have aborted. Even so, it was amazing – almost a shock – to confront them.

They were all identical. They stood in unending rows. Every one wore a little bonnet, some like a maid’s dustcap, most of them colorful crocheted caps tied under the chin. In front of each baby idol was a small vase, some containing fresh flowers.

Most of the babies wore bibs. In front of each was a child’s plastic pinwheel, spinning in the breeze. We were told that these were there “to keep the babies happy.” On the back of the idols were written brief messages. In a nearby temple enclosure hung large numbers of small wooden messages by the parents to their lost child. We had a number of them translated. Here are a few.

· “I did it alone. I should have thought of you.”

· “Are you happy? Please understand Papa and Mama want you to forgive us.”

· “It is already two years and we will never forget you.”

· “Sorry we had to do this. Please excuse us.”

· “We visit you every month. Please wait for us. Be at peace.”

· “To ‘Mato,’ Our Baby: We should have thought more about you. We will never forget you.”

· “We two greet you, our child. Next time we will prepare better. Please Forgive us.”

It costs $500.00 to rent such a little stone idol, and then $50.00 yearly maintenance. In spite of this, our guide estimated that there were more than 20,000 such in the area.

In an adjoining opened-roof, small worship site was a statue of a maternal figure. Around her neck was a string with a baby pacifier hanging in the front. A little spring bubbled up and women and men would come to light an incense stick, then scoop some water and pour it over the head of this maternal idol. Their faces were all so sober. One woman was crying.

Abortion is extremely common in Japan. It is the prime method of birth control. Overwhelmingly, the Japanese people either are Buddhists or Taoists or have no religion. The Christian population is about 1%. This was a Buddhist Temple. Clearly, feelings of regret and grief for abortions spring eternal in the parents’ breasts, no matter what their religious beliefs are.

As a person reasonably aware of the dynamics of post-abortion syndrome, I viewed this activity as a healthy one. The woman or couple have admitted their role in the killing of their own offspring, and now this affords an outlet for some healthy grieving.

Overall, the international congress in Japan was clearly a rousing success. Until this time there has been only sporadic pro-life activity in Japan. We brought with us Japanese translations of two color brochures, “Life or Death” and “Did You Know,” as well as Japanese translations of our slide set. Added to this is now our book Abortion Questions and Answers and they are making a video. There is now available in the Japanese language the basic tools necessary to spark a major movement. We were very pleased with the interfaith cooperation between Buddhists, those of no faith, Evangelicals, and Catholics.

As most of you know, a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.1 babies per woman, averaged through her reproductive lifespan, is the number of babies needed to maintain a stable population. Japan’s TFR this year is 1.57. Because their birth rate is way under replacement level, the nation is beginning to age and the number of young people is diminishing rapidly. The members of the Diet (their Parliament) are becoming extremely worried about this, and the negative economic impact it will have on their nation.

Clearly, because of this budding demographic disaster, the nation is ready if only for that reason, to take a long look at what is needed to increase their birth rate. The fact of limiting abortion is only too obvious. Our visit and our World congress which received nationwide publicity, may well be catalysts for the blossoming of a major pro-life movement in Japan.

From there we went to South Korea and Taiwan.

Categories: NRLC