Takio Tanase, 77, led churches in Hokkaido and Tokyo
TOKYO, Japan (Mennonite Mission Network) — Takio Tanase, 77, one of Japan’s earliest Mennonites and an influential leader in the Mennonite conference of Hokkaido and the Tokyo Area Fellowship of Mennonite Churches, died April 6 in Tokyo.
In late 1951, Tanase moved to Kushiro to follow a friend, who served as an interpreter for Ralph and Genevieve Buckwalter, two of the first Mennonite mission workers in Japan through Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. Young Tanase roomed with the American couple, and when his friend departed, he stepped in as interpreter for the mission workers despite having no use for the Christian faith.
As Tanase translated and tutored Ralph Buckwalter in Japanese, Buckwalter mentored him in Bible study. Through this exchange Tanase became a believer. He was part of the first group baptized at the Kushiro congregation, one of the first two Mennonite churches in Hokkaido, in May 1952. He would go on to lead three Mennonite congregations in Japan’s Hokkaido region and later the Honancho congregation in Tokyo and translate many key Mennonite texts into Japanese.
"He was an excellent leader and preacher," Genevieve Buckwalter said. Mary Beyler, supported by Mennonite Mission Network in Obihiro, said many of Hokkaido’s Mennonites can trace their faith back to the people who first talked to them of Christ and baptized them, and for many in Hokkaido, the walk of faith began with Buckwalters and Tanase.
Yoshiaki Tamura was a young man whose parents had dedicated him to Buddha when he began studying English with Tanase at the Tsurugadai Church in Kushiro. His parents had hoped he would become a Buddhist monk, but instead he was running a hat store.
Ten years after beginning his English studies, Tamura was baptized.
“Tanase was very bold,” Tamura said. “Through him, a very short man selling hats and caps at a shop became a Christian pastor.”
Tamura currently leads the Mennonite church in Furano. Soon after his baptism, Tamura asked Tanase for an assignment as a new Christian. Tanase’s response: “Teach English class.” Tamura’s first English class included students who are now leaders in the Japanese Mennonite Church.
Tanase became the first Hokkaido Mennonite to attend college in the United States, studying at Hesston (Kan.) College and Goshen (Ind.) College. In 1972 he graduated from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, Ind.) with a master's in religious education.
When he returned to Hokkaido from his first U.S. studies in 1957, Tanase again served with the Buckwalters. In April 1958 he married Aiko Harada and then became the pastor at Hombetsu. Next he pastored the Kushiro (afterward called Tsurugadai) Church from 1960 to 1969. Following his second U.S. studies, he served the Obihiro Church from 1972 to 1987. From 1987 to 2006, he was pastor of the Honancho Christian Church in Tokyo.
In his earlier years, Tanase taught English classes, often using the classes to share his faith. He also taught at Eastern Hokkaido Bible School that trained many of the current Hokkaido Mennonite pastors in Anabaptist thought and practice.
He worked as a translator, not only translating Mennonite materials from English to Japanese, but working for other Christian groups as well. Genevieve Buckwalter said, "He had unusual language ability. The documents he translated were a real asset to the Hokkaido Mennonite Church."
Kaz Enomoto, supported by Mennonite Mission Network in Tokyo, said that Tanase's contribution through translations and education was such that Anabaptists are no longer considered heretics by the majority of Christian groups in Japan. When Tanase moved to Tokyo, some prominent seminaries were still teaching negatively about the Anabaptist movement of the 16th century.
Beyler, who has related to Hokkaido churches since 1978, said Tanase’s respect for others helped create an Anabaptist culture in Hokkaido that emphasizes the servanthood of leaders and the priesthood of all believers.
Tanase was born March 14, 1929, in Tokyo. His wife, Aiko Tanase, survives in Tokyo. Funeral services were held April 7-8.