"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Friday, March 23, 2018

Turmoil In Japan

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 in 1949, 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, much older English 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 has 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.

Now this week comes yet another announcement from Japan, this time notifying the Masonic world of the suspension of Takeo Nakada for "un-Masonic conduct" by Grand Master Shinya Takeda. (The letter is erroneously dated March 21, 2017, but actually refers to a Masonic trial on March 3, 2018.)

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
Norihiro Inomata
Inomata (image at right) is well known around the Masonic world. He is on the board of the World Conference of Regular Grand Lodges, and this announcement was something of a major shock inside and outside of Japan. In fact, he was out of the country at the time of the trial, and has denounced the charges as being "fabricated."

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. There was a motion proposed to do so, but the Grand Master did not allow for discussion, gaveling it down immediately. 

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
The end result is that those who have most loudly spoken out against the Tohidu Foundation have been punished, suspended, or expelled. The highest visibility critic has been PGM Inomata, and he's now out on the street. A growing group within the fraternity there have been questioning Grand Lodge finances in general, and Grand Secretary Ambrose's actions in particular. And whether or not other PGMs have also benefitted from the sale or approval of Tohidu Foundation's merchandise (which has been alleged), it looks to many Japanese Masons as though the expulsions are clearly being done to silence the critics.

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, that Masonic careers can be 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.


  1. Those ofus members from the early 60's can only feel shame when we see our brethren convicted of these transgressions. I can only hope that the MWGL of Japan will fully recover to its former illustrious self with all the dignity it had in the past.

  2. This post brings back memories. It has been almost 25 years since I visited the MWGL of Japan. The meetings consisted of a well done 1st degree and a Scottish Rite "Knight Commander Court of Honor" (S.J) investiture. All well done. A Past Grand Master of Japan at these meetings personally told me how proud he was of Japan's regular Masonic jurisdiction and I shared in his good fortune.

    After the meetings were over, two brothers, a University teacher of Japan and a lawyer working in Tokyo, treated me to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe of Tokyo.

    Approximately, 19 years later, I ran into the lawyer I met in Japan at the conferring of the Master Shipbuilders degree in Washington State! We sure became nostalgic as we happily remembered visiting the "foreign countries" of our youth. Freemasonry is amazing and I wish the best for Japan's Masonic jurisdiction and their brethren.

  3. I attended a pleasant lunch of brethren from Kyoto about ten years ago that had initiated a Mexican student of mine who had married aJapanese girl and settled in Japan - he is still there and very successful. One brother attending was completely tattooed as he had previously belonged to a criminal gang. The lodge I understand subsequently went dark.

  4. A Grand Master engaged in shady, poorly explained nefariousness? Never! I won't believe it! Never in the history of the Craft- I can't begin to think- Okay. Sounds about right to me.

  5. Chris, this post is riddled with errors. I am past master of Tokyo #2 and was at the annual communication. MWB Ambrose did not run for any chair within the GL he was not even considered for anything as he told the GL he was retiring. He retired as Grand Secretary that is all. He held that position for 14 years. As to the other points there are just too many to correct here. As I said it is riddled with errors. Those that were expelled the Jurisprudence committee found all actions taken by the GL and the GM were proper. I am not going to go into details why these men were expelled but it was appropriate.

    1. Well, I based the post on reports from multiple and unrelated sources from the last five months, culminating on Friday with three different attendees at the meeting. So unless you’re prepared to explain these errors more definitively, I stand by the report.

    2. Yes many details are incorrect, many are one-sided and many are correct.

      As a member who wrote one of the charge sheets, a PM, and Master, I am most upset at the fact that my Lodge, which is located 1600 miles away from the Grand Lodge, and has absolutely nothing to do with any of the shenanigans in mainland has our name featured in the Article.

      Especially when its because of a completely separate situation all together.

    3. If you read the article carefully, you will see that I did not connect the lodge losing its charter to the "shenanigans in mainland." I gave no reason for it at all, merely reported that it happened.

    4. Chris, I'm not blaming you, and I'm not part of FE1 that lost its charter, someone obviously turned over paperwork to you, and our Lodge is named in that paperwork. Whether sitting as a current, or Past, or just a member, any Mason should be upset.

      1. No one outside the Jurisdiction would have any idea of the real logistics of the Jurisdiction (I'm 1600 miles away, and 1200 of those miles is ocean so it isn't a day trip)

      2. We are named, yes there was an expulsion, but it had nothing to do with the Jurisdiction but the individual, as any trial should be, and it got grouped with something completely different.

      I would think any rational thinking Mason would be upset by it, I would also think the the Brothers who shared this information would come to light as I could give any number of examples from the ritual that have been violated in sharing this information.

  6. I want to join the lodge since am 20 years now


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