The First American Oriented Masonic Lodge of Japan
Military forces and military men have carried the light of Freemasonry around the world for hundreds of years. When the battle was over, our brethren have turned to the peace and quiet of the Masonic Lodge Room wherever they have been stationed.
So it was at the end of World War II, where a Masonic lodge could not be found, our brethren went about establishing them. In 1947, the Grand Lodge of Connecticut was twice called upon by brethren of that jurisdiction to place Lodges under dispensation. On May 6, 1947, Stuttgart American Lodge of Stuttgart, Germany was placed under dispensation. On August 11, 1947, Tokyo American Lodge of Tokyo, Japan was placed under dispensation at the request of Bertram C. Wright of Uriel Lodge, No. 24 of Merrow, Connecticut and ten other brethren.
This paper is only intended to show what has become of Tokyo American Lodge, U.D. since 1947.
The first events which can be found on an American Oriented Masonic Lodge in Japan are contained in a letter from brother and Major USA Bertram C. Wright, to MW Brother Winthrop Buck, Grand Secretary of the. Grand Lodge of Connecticut, under the date of February 21, 1947. Brother Wright had been in the Grand Lodge office at Hartford, Connecticut in the summer of 1946, to discuss the possibility of the Grand Lodge placing a Lodge under dispensation in Japan. In the letter Brother Wright stated that a survey had been made in the area of Tokyo, the results of which showed that there were 50 or more Master Masons interested in joining a Lodge in Tokyo and having the privilege in partaking of the Rights, Lights and Benefits of Freemasonry. The survey also brought to light the fact that approximately 3,000 men of the Occupation Authorities who would be stationed in Japan for some time would be eligible for Masonry, although they could not receive their degrees. In view of the foregoing, the necessary forms were requested from the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, so that the brethren could apply for a dispensation to start a lodge.
MW Grand Master Charles J. Ramage replied to Brother Wright on March 24th, outlining a plan which he hoped the brethren of Tokyo would accept. The outline stated that the Lodge would be kept under dispensation at all times and that the Grand Lodge would not consider the granting of a charter. Grand Master Ramage also stated that the jurisdiction of the Lodge would not be limited as long as it did not infringe on the Lodge at Yokohama, (Yokohama Lodge No. 1092 E.C.) chartered in 1866.The last stipulation which was made was that the Lodge could be put under dispensation for the working of degrees only for other Lodges on a courtesy basis. The reason for the last stipulation was so that any candidates receiving their degrees in Tokyo, would be members of a Lodge in their home jurisdictions and would not be considered nonaffiliated Masons on their return home to the United States.
After some time, Brother Wright wrote MW Brother Ramage on June 17, and informed the Grand Master that the brethren in Tokyo were ready to petition for a dispensation. The letter went on to say that the brethren had considered asking General MacArthur to act as Master, but from past overtones it was known that although he held a warm spot in his heart for Freemasonry, he was believed to feel that his position would not let him take an active part in such matters. Brother and General Muellor, who was chief of staff for General MacArthur was asked to serve as first Master of the Lodge, but he also had to refuse as his position would not allow the time.
On July 8, 1947, the 158th Anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, a communication dated June 30th and a petition dated June 12th were received by the Grand Lodge. The petition was signed by fourteen Master Masons from eleven Grand Jurisdictions. The petition called for Brother A.E. Kimberling as Worshipful Master, Brother Elmer D. Rastover as Senior Warden and Brother Thomas B. Johnson as Junior Warden of the Lodge. The petition called for the Lodge to be located in the city of Tokyo and vicinity.
A check was made by the Grand Lodge to determine the standing of the petitioning Brethren with their home Lodges and Grand Lodges. Only the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma had any questions or objections, as that Grand Lodge did not permit dual membership. Brother Durward F. Mathis would have to take a demit from Frederick Lodge No. 249. of Oklahoma in order to become a member of Tokyo American Lodge U.D. However, inasmuch as Tokyo American Lodge would not be a chartered Lodge, the Grand Lodge of Conn. felt that brother Mathis could become a member of the Lodge under dispensation without violating the regulations of the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma.
On August 11, 1947, Grand Master Charles Ramage signed a dispensation creating Tokyo American Lodge U.D. with jurisdiction over the American Occupied zone of the city of Tokyo, Honshu, Japan. Thus, for the very first time, American Freemasonry was placed on the Isle of Japan in one of the world's largest cities. The dispensation was for a period up to April 7, 1948, the date of the next annual communication of the Grand Lodge.
After receiving the dispensation, the first communication of Tokyo American Lodge U.D. was set for October 9, 1947. On this important day in the Masonic history of Japan, more than 150 brethren assembled at the Joshi Kaikan building, wearing aprons made from condemned Japanese parachutes, on which aprons someone had forgotton to place strings. The Jewels were made of scrap aluminum. A total of 102 Brothers signed the Tyler's Register.
Brother Wright, acting as Grand Master protem, read the dispensation of Grand Master Ramage and presented it to Worshipful Master Kimberling, who opened the Lodge. An explanation of the future work of the Lodge was made clear to the Brothers. After gratuitory and goodwill remarks were made, the Lodge was closed until the next stated communication November 13th.
Brother Kimberling left Japan October 12th for Louisville, Ky. to handle matters as chief of police of that city. He was not due to return to Japan until after January 1, 1948. Brother Wright was due to leave Japan in December, 1947, but he requested an extension of two months so that he might complete a 300 page history of the 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. ARMY which was to be published in Japan.
On November 13, 1947, in a letter to Brother Wright, Grand Master Ramage was to spell out two bits of bad news. One, that Winthrop Buck PGM and Grand Secretary, had passed away on November 6th. The second was that the rituals which the Lodge had requested would be delayed until it was determined if Brother Buck had done anything about supplying the Lodge with this material. To this point the only ritual which was among the Brothers was one that belonged to Brother John W. Norveil, who was made a Mason in Trumbull Lodge No. 22 of New Haven, Connecticut when he was at Yale taking a Japanese language course.
By April, 1948 the Lodge was well on its way. Brother Wright had left Japan and a resolution of Tokyo American Lodge dated February 12, 1948, thanked him for all he had done for Freemasonry in Japan.
The Masonic year of 1948 for Tokyo American Lodge U.D. under the Grand Lodge of Conn., came to light in a letter dated March 12, 1948. At this time, Brother D.F. Mathis, Secretary of the Lodge, returned the dispensation of Grand Master Ramage, along with a report of the work which had been carried on by the Lodge. A request for a new dispensation was made with W.B. Elmer D. Rastover of Concord Lodge No. 117 of California as Master, Lawrence M. Tilton of Prospect Lodge of Massachusetts as Senior Warden, and John H. Fuhr III of Whitt Lodge No. 624 of Texas as Junior Warden.
The Lodge was being made up of all types of personnel within the Occupation Forces. This is pointed out in the above three officers, with one being an Officer in the Army, one Enlisted Man (Master Sgt.), and the other being a civilian employed by the Army.
Grand Master Louis Thomas issued a new dispensation for the Lodge at the time of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge in April, 1948. Under this dispensation the Lodge was to continue its work.
By late September, 1948, the Grand Lodge was informed that the Brethren in Tokyo were desirous of forming a Chartered Lodge. The question was asked if Connecticut would charter the Lodge, and if not, would the Grand Lodge have any objection to another Grand Lodge being asked to charter the Lodge. At the same time the Lodge informed the Grand Lodge of Conn. that they had moved its home from the Tokyo Hotel to a room in a military billet which would be used primarily for Masonic activities.
A breakdown in communications between the Lodge and the Grand Lodge was to come about during the winter of 1948–49, but this was by no means an indication that the Lodge was not active. On April 8, 1949, Earle K. Haling, PGM, Grand Secretary, informed the Lodge that its dispensation had expired and as no new request had been received, the Lodge was to cease operations and return all material belonging to the Grand Lodge.
On April 18, 1949, Brother Michael A. Revisto, Secretary of the Lodge, telephoned the Grand Secretary and informed him that the annual reports of the Lodge had been mailed. These reports were never received at the Grand Lodge office. Many questions were asked: would the Grand Lodge of Connecticut charter the Lodge in Japan? if not, would the Grand Lodge of Connecticut object to the Lodge applying to the Grand Lodge of the Philippines for a Charter? would Connecticut continue its dispensation until work could be started under the Grand Lodge of the Philippines? and would the courtesy degree work started under Connecticut be able to continue under the Grand Lodge of the Philippines? To these questions the Grand Secretary replied as follows: Connecticut would not charter the Lodge; it had no objections to the Grand Lodge of the Philippines chartering the Lodge. As for the continuance of the dispensation, this would be within the power of the Grand Master, but the Grand Sec'y believed he would do so, to continue the courtesy degree work. This would be within the power of the Grand Lodges requesting it.
By May 9, 1949, the Grand Lodge of Conn. had not received any reports from the Lodge. The Grand Secretary urgently requested that the Lodge make clear its future intent. But never again was the Grand Lodge of Connecticut to hear from its Tokyo American Lodge of Japan.
On May 27, 1949 the Grand Sec'y sent a memo to the 16 Grand Lodges who had requested courtesy degree work. In this memo it was stated that the dispensation for the Lodge had lapsed and no new request for dispensation had been made. It went on to say that the Grand Lodge of Conn. had learned indirectly that the Lodge had transferred its allegiance to the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. This memo closed out the files on Tokyo American Lodge, U.D. under the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.
UNDER THE GRAND LODGE OF THE PHILIPPINES
No sooner had World War II ended, than we find Freemasonry returning to the Philippines. By 1949 the Grand Lodge of the Philippine was well set and active in chartering lodges in Japan, which was open territory.
On March 16, 1949, the Grand Master of the Philippines along with other Grand Lodge Officers arrived in Japan. They were met and greeted by Brother Michael A. Revisto. On this visit to Japan the Grand Master was asked by the members of Tokyo American Lodge, U.D. if it would be possible for the Grand Lodge of the Philippines to charter the Lodge. This request was honored by the Grand Master when he placed the former Tokyo American Lodge under dispensation with the new name of Tokyo Masonic Lodge. Brother Michael Revisto was named Worshipful Master.
Events moved fast and the love of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines for Tokyo Masonic Lodge can be seen in the Grand Secretary's report for 1950. " ... said Lodge has been working continuously and incessantly, as reported to you by our Most Worshipful Grand Master; it can be considered the nucleus of our Masonic activities in the territory of Japan." The report went on to praise Brother Revisto as a giant of a man and a Mason.
At the annual Grand Lodge Communication of the Philippines in January 1950, a Charter was granted to Tokyo Masonic Lodge under the number 125. On April 5, 1950, the same day that the Grand Lodge of Connecticut was meeting in its annual communication, the Grand Lodge of the Philippines was meeting in a Special Communication in Tokyo for the purpose of the joint constitution of Tokyo Masonic Lodge No. 125 and Square and Compass Lodge No. 126.
Square and Compass Lodge, now No. 3 under the Grand Lodge of Japan, might be considered a daughter of Tokyo Masonic Lodge, for it was the brethren of the Square and Compass Club of Tachikawa who were active in putting on the third degree in Tokyo American Lodge, U.D. This club and these brethren became Lodge No. 126, now No. 3.
The years which the Lodge served under the Grand Lodge of the Philippines, before the Grand Lodge of Japan was formed March 16 1957, can be shown in several ways. One of the best might be to show what the Lodge received in the way of honors and other events during the period from 1949–1957.
In this short period of time, six diplomas of merit were awarded to brethren of the Lodge. This was two more than any other Lodge received in a like period of time. In 1957, the District Grand Master of Japan came from the Lodge. In addition, two brothers were appointed to the chairs within the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. These appointments can only be equalled by Square and Compass Lodge No. 126.
On October 5, 1954, a Degree team of 13 Masonic Masons, eleven of them from Tokyo Masonic Lodge, conferred for the first time ever the First Degree of Masonry in the Japanese language. This singular event the Lodge may cherish, forever.
By 1954, Tokyo Masonic Lodge was well set as a cornerstone of Freemasonry in Japan. This was noted by Grand Master Mauro Baradi when he stated that Far East Lodge No. 124, now No. 1 of the Grand Lodge of Japan and Tokyo Masonic Lodge, had accomplished a permanent residence as Masonic Lodges. To back this statement the records show that there were 30 Master Masons Japanese Nationals, 32 EA's Japanese Nationals, and 86 Master Masons who were permanent residents of Japan as foreign traders. Also two of the Past Masters of the Lodge were permanent residents of Japan, one of these being a Japanese National. So it was that more than 25% of the Lodge membership was no longer a military type Lodge as it had been in the beginning.
Many milestones in the Masonic history of Japan were to take place during the year 1955. On January 20th of that year, 20 Japanese brethren signed a petition for the start of a new Lodge, under the name of Kanto Lodge U.D. This new Lodge was under the sponsorship of Tokyo Masonic Lodge and is a daughter Lodge. Events for Kanto Lodge moved fast. On March 26th, the Lodge conferred the second and third degrees of Masonry on brother Hatoyama, Prime Minister of Japan, and brother Kawai, President of the House of Counsellors, both being EA in Tokyo Masonic Lodge. It must be noted here, that the first Japanese nationals to be initiated were five members of the Japanese Diet. Among whom were Brother Sato, then President of the House of Counsellors and Brother Uehara, a former State Minister. All this took place five years earlier on January 6, 1950 in Tokyo Masonic Lodge.
To bring to a close the year of 1955, it was a time when the Grand Lodge of the Philippines foresaw a day when there would be a Grand Lodge of Japan, the heart of which would be Tokyo Masonic Lodge, the largest lodge under the Grand Lodge of the Philippines with 552 members.
On March 16, 1957 the Grand Lodge of Japan was formed and Tokyo Masonic Lodge took its proper place as Lodge No. 2, by virtue of being the second oldest Lodge within the new Grand Lodge. Far East Lodge No. 1 remains the oldest with a Charter date of October 19, 1947, under the Grand Lodge of the Philippines.
To the new Grand Lodge, our Tokyo Masonic Lodge was to supply three Grand Lodge Officers. A good number of Master Masons from the Lodge can be found on the rolls of the Grand Lodge of Japan, with two of these becoming Grand Masters. To go into the background of all the members of the Lodge who have served the fraternity to the highest order is not within the scope of this paper.
Today Tokyo Masonic Lodge stands with more than 500 members on its rolls. Conceived by Brother Bertram C. Wright, under the Grand Lodge of Connecticut in 1947, born under the Grand Lodge of the Philippines in 1949, she reached her majority under the Grand Lodge of Japan.
Long May She Live.
[Reprinted with the kind permission of RWB Ronald M. Goldwyn, Secretary and Librarian of the Masonic Lodge of Research of Connecticut]