For more than 20 years now people have been staying after Mass each Sunday at Tatamiyacho Church in Sendai City to study scripture. This began and has continued entirely thanks to the initiative and leadership of one man, Torao Yamada, whose first name includes the character tora, meaning “tiger,” and who is now 98 years old. Yamada, born in 1914, first started reading the Bible in earnest around middle age. When a previous scripture study group at Tatamiyacho disbanded, he decided to step in to form a new one to replace it. The new group started with Genesis and read all the way through Ezra continuously, then went on from there skipping ahead occasionally. A year and a half ago, they finally made it into the New Testament. At the church, he is known as “Grandad Yamada” The discussion topic for February 15 was, “What kind of a person was the Mother of the Son of God?” Some eight people gathered for the session. One lady, Toshiko Onuki, 76, said, “[Yamada] is like a walking dictionary—he even knows all about the history of the Church in this area.” Yuriko Sasaki, 61, discovered the group while searching for opportunities to study the Old Testament. She joined up about five years ago. Another member, Chizuko Kinebuchi, 71, says she is drawn to Yamada’s palpable faith, which she says shows clearly in the handouts he prepares as study materials. Tsuneko Ono, 83, has been a member almost since the beginning. “For Yamada, it’s all about the Bible,” she says. “These days he’s very agreeable, but before I used to call him a ‘stubborn old geezer.’ But he would come to meetings even when he wasn’t feeling well, even if there was only one person there. I can’t help thinking it would be too bad if I didn’t keep showing up myself,” she said with a laugh. Yamada’s first contact with Christianity was at age five, when he caught a glimpse of an Orthodox relative in prayer. Since there were no Christians in his own immediate family, he studied the faith under a catechist and was baptized at the age of 18. During Japan’s time at war, “I served in the Sino-Japanese War for three years starting when I was 25, and again during the Pacific War for two years when I was 30,” he says. While in the Philippines, Yamada’s unit was very nearly annihilated: of 208 men, only 18 survived. He didn’t find out about the end of the war until October, 1945. His study of the Bible has mostly been a private, independent endeavor. Son Tsutomu, 69, says, “For my father, I don’t think it seems like anything exceptional. During his childhood, Motoderakoji Cathedral in Sendai was so close to his home it might have been his playground, and I guess some of it must have just rubbed off on him.”
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