Freemasonry in Japan is quite similar to what American Masonry was back in its heyday. The fraternity there today remains small (just 1,600 members), quite exclusive, is extremely charitable and well-respected, but it is also highly scrutinized by the public. As a result, they have historically been very careful about their outward image.
Despite the fact that foreign lodges have been operating in Japan since 1862, the Grand Lodge F&AM of Japan itself is actually a fairly young one—constituted on May 1, 1957. Far East Lodge No. 124 had been chartered originally out of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines over 150 years ago, and received their Japanese charter as Far East Lodge No. 1 when the new Grand Lodge of Japan was first established. While there are much older English, Irish, and Scottish lodges there, on paper Far East No. 1 is the oldest Masonic lodge in the country under the GLofJ's banner.
Or it used to be.
Far East's sitting Master Shunji Suzuki suddenly had his jewel yanked and was expelled late last year, and the lodge's charter was arrested with very little notice inside or outside of the country. Lodge No. 1 vanished from the rolls.
Then in November 2017, grand lodges around the world were sent the following letter from the Grand Lodge F&AM of Japan. It announced the expulsion of their Junior Grand Warden, Napoleon Abrugena Sison following a Masonic Trial. No details were given at the time, but there was little online chatter over it. The letter was signed by Grand Master Shinya Takeda.
But there's a slight problem. It seems that Takeo Nakada was not even at his Masonic trial, and was never informed of such a thing. He received an email informing him after the fact.
A second letter was sent at the same time, again with the incorrect dateline, further announcing that the Immediate Past Grand Master of Japan, Norihiro Inomata, was ALSO tried for "un-Masonic conduct" that same March 3rd, pronounced guilty, and expelled, which was affirmed by Grand Master Shinya Takeda.
|Immediate Past Grand Master|
Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary Philip A. Ambrose signed the two recent letters.
At the Annual Communication currently going on this week, the charter for the aforementioned Far East Lodge No. 1 wasn't returned. Instead there was a motion to put it off until next year, which passed without discussion.
So what's going on in Japan?
To say that the Grand Lodge of Japan is in turmoil at the moment is an understatement, and it all centers around an entity known as the Tohidu Foundation. The outfit turned up in about 2016 hawking coffee mugs, toy bears, women's handbags, and all sorts of other tchotchkes with squares and compasses and Masonic phraseology, which seems to contravene established Grand Lodge rules (or at least customs) about such products. Tohidu Foundation is allegedly operated by the Grand Secretary Philip Ambrose, who has apparently been using his authority to sanction approved Masonic items to sell throughout Japan. The Japanese grand lodge traditionally keeps a tight grip on the public image of the fraternity there, and that includes domestic sellers of Masonic-related products. Making it even more troublesome is that none of Tohidu's profits benefitted the Grand Lodge, but only the few individuals involved in running and approving the scheme. The Grand Master at the time and several PGMs openly endorsed it.
Whether or not any of this is actually a violation of the GLofJ's rules may be subject to interpretation. The issue of monetizing anything having to do with Freemasonry has always had its share of detractors and critics. No one "owns" the words and generic symbols of the Masonic fraternity, any more than an individual can own the Christian cross, the Jewish Star of David, the No Smoking symbol, or a stop sign shape. But there has been a long history of grand lodges, even in the U.S., attempting to exercise stern control over their members who attach the word Freemasonry or the square and compass to any sort of product or publication. There is no single correct answer that can be universally applied, but an increasing number of Japanese Masons are getting angry about the practice there.
|Immediate Past Grand Secretary,|
Philip A. Ambrose
On Friday at the Annual Communication, all visitors were cleared from the auditorium so that the membership could handle their business in private. Grand Secretary Ambrose stepped down from his position, and attempted to run for the position of Deputy Grand Master (he served as Grand Master before in 2002). A new Grand Secretary (another PGM) has been named, but he is not widely seen as a new broom by any means. Meanwhile, an unsuccessful attempt was made to try to alter their Code in order to prevent the position of DGM from being an automatic ascension to the Grand Master's office. It failed.
With a new Grand Secretary and new Grand Master taking office this week, and PGM Ambrose now out of the Grand Lodge office, Japanese Masons are hopeful that this situation can be resolved, Masonic careers restored, and reputations repaired. Tragically, this entire fraternity doesn't have the best track record when it comes to reversing expulsions, in any jurisdiction.
Time will tell if Japan has the fortitude to buck that unfortunate trend.