Promoting NFP in Japan 2001

Anthony Zimmerman
June 1, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

Janet Kistler instructed me that the content of this article about my NFP activities should be of a biographical nature. With that as an excuse, I will view activities through rose colored glasses, now that I am 83 years old, and 54 years in the priesthood.

Some decades ago I had brought a professional midwife to teach natural family planning at a parish in Nagasaki.When the midwife came to the part about mucus observations I discreetly left the room to the ladies and went outside. The President of the ArchdiocesanCatholic WomenÕs Guild followed me, deeply affected by something.

"Tell me, Father," she began, with intense emotion, "What is the reason you came to us?" I said that it was to have the midwife teach women of the parish about natural family planning. "And the other Fathers who put in their appearances, (pastor, President of the priests' senate) did they come for that too?" For no other reason, I assured her. She fell silent for some time then made an extraordinary statement. With all her heart she welcomed priests into the world where women struggle intensely:

You know, Father, we women live day and night with this problem of family planning.

We are anxious, we agonize, we live with this problem constantly. 1t is our world.

But this is the first time that I ever saw priests come into this world where we live. I had always thought that we must live here alone, that priests will not enter. If we can speak with priests about this, if we can gain peace of conscience, it is just so unbelievable to me, after all these years, that it brings tears to my eyes. I am so grateful to you.

Her words encouraged me to engage in the NFP apostolate in Japan. Cultural sensitivities make it difficult. Explaining NFP is easily equated to pornographic interests unless it is done by a medical professional. And in the popular mind, even among Catholics, priests ought to speak about angels and heaven, and should disdain a muddying of their feet with earthly concerns.

When Father Paul Marx, OSB, came to Japan to promote NFP in 1975 we consultedArchbishop Peter S. Shirayanagi of Tokyo. Fr. Marx offered a free scholarship for a suitable person to attend his coming convention at St. JohnÕs in Collegeville. That started the ball rolling. With generous help from the De Rance Foundation our Japan Family Life Association, of which I was executive director, attended the Convention accompanied by more than a dozen Japanese doctors, nurses, and midwives. All were inspired by things Catholic - the monks, the Liturgy, the bells, the beautiful Catholics who championed NFP. Our delegates were mostly non-Catholic.

Year after year we delightedly imported into Japan up-to-date NFP wisdom fromCollegeville, and later from Conventions of the International Federation for Family Life Promotion. Midwives began to teach consenting clients. Nurse teachers in Tokyo, Matsuyama, and Nagasaki soon had their nurse and midwife students charting and writing reports. NFP entered their school curricula.

Urged by Dr. Volmann and Fr. Marx, I transcribed tapes of talks given at those conventions and edited them into a book titledA Reader in Natural Family Planning. Fr. Marx, again with financing by De Rance, sent 90,000 copies if I remember correctly, to parishes and centers far and wide. Thus NFP wisdom blitzed from Collegeville round the globe. A Japanese version helped teachers in Japan. Soon Father Jerome Novotny will post articles from it on his Japanese website.

Articles favorable to NFP soon appeared in top national medical journals. There was no need to oppose it, since the Pill and IUD were banned in Japan, except for controlled research. Mainline family planning were and are the condom, abortion, and the Ogino system.

Our Association sponsored individual teaching tours in Japan by experts whom we contacted in Collegeville. WithDr. Roetzer, Bonnie Manion, Dr. Lanctot, Dr. Keefe, Fr. Marx, we promoted NFP at different times in schools and rented halls at Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Matsuyama. Frequently I did the translation of their lectures and so had to learn Japanese terms such as crumbly, cloudy, stretchy, slippery, transparent - you know the rest. These professionals tended to received good local news coverage, thanks to Mr. Saito of our office, a journalist by profession.. Several times national coverage reported favorably about NFP. We also published Japanese NFP text books, but they did not sell as well as we hoped they would.

Priests and NFP in Japan

Only 0.3% of the Japanese population is Catholic. Priests fear that girls of the parishes will find it doubly hard to find a suitable marriage partner if pastors blow the bugle of NFP loudly. Many will marry non-Catholics. Parents of prospective partners will scrutinize matters closely at the formal meetings where marriages are arranged. For example, a priest who was teaching NFP at a diocesan center, right next to the Marriage Center, was pressured to stop which he eventually did. The reason: bad for the marriage business. A popular notion in Japan is that Catholics must have large families and use no birth control. Buddhist and Shintoist parents fear it will be impossible for their sons and daughters to live in real Japanese society if they do not use contraception.

School for NFP doctors, nurses, midwives

For some years our Japan Family Life Association conducted monthly NFP classes at a small hotel in Tokyo next to our office. Famous doctors lectured there, such asDr.Ojima, Dr. Murayama, Dr. Kaseki, Dr. Ogino, and others. Mrs. Takako Honma, our gracious Directress, was usually on hand to greet them. Student nurses and midwives from Seibo Hospital attended regularly, chaperoned by the sister in charge.Others came from the Tokyo Red Cross Nurse School as well as other nurse schools. The National Association of Nurses gave credits to teachers who attended the courses during their Sabbatical refresher year in Tokyo. The usual attendance was about 120. Graduates brought NFP to nurse and midwife schools back to their home towns in many parts of Japan.

Editing of NFP book for the Vatican

Our work did not escape attention at the Vatican. Archbishop Tomko, then head of the Council of the Synod of Bishops, invited Fr. Marx and me to Rome, to plan the composition of a book on NFP for the 1980 Synod of Bishops which was to be centered on Family Life. Editing the book was one of the happiest experiences of my life. Sixty-five top figures of the NFP world from twenty-two countries eventually contributed articles for the book - wonderful people all of them.

A few months later, in April of 1980, a number of contributors met at Rome to review contributions by their peers. Tomko shepherded us as we met day after day at the De Rance office, only a few steps from the Vatican Porta Anna. We made an interim report directly to the Holy Father one evening. At it Dr. Roetzer reported that all of us agree that NFP is possible, is good for the family, and can be practiced effectively. The Pope, who knew all that from his own work with NFP in Poland, listened and glowed. Foolishly, as chief editor, I handed him a packet ofxeroxed pages piled six inches high, our editing work. He looked at and asked: "Must I read all that?" Instead of taking it back I mumbled that he might want to glance through the materials, I was so proud of them.

Upon returning to Nagoya I sat at the small electric Smith Corona to type the texts and to cajole contributors by mail. Our office staff in Tokyo, headed by inventive Mr. Saito, arranged the printing, then shipped 400 copies by air freight to the Vatican in time for the October 1980 Synod of Bishops. Archbishop Tomko criticized the narrow margins of the pages.That was apparently not up to standards expected at the Vatican. We had economized and settled for Japanese paper sizes.

On the day assigned for NFP promotion during the Synod, the Pope distributed copies of the book to attending prelates. The title of the book is: Natural Family Planning: NatureÕs Way - GodÕs Way. Experts then explained about natural family planning - yes, temperature curve, mucus changes, the works. When Mother Teresa spoke, who has made it a rule that at least one sister in each of her convents should teach NFP, the signal for the end of the session at noon sounded but her lilting voice and earnest message kept everyone glued to their seats. When she finished all arose to their feet and gave prolonged applause.

We met with the Pope again to celebrate the book. As he walked into the audience hall he spoke as to old friends: "Thank you for confirming the Pope so that he can confirm the brethren." He encouraged us - and me in particular, as I remember with gratitude - to continue our work. Mrs. Honma was with us so I grabbed her arm and dragged her over to meet Mother Teresa. That was the day and moment when Mother Teresa promised to come to Japan in April of 1981. Fr. Marx arranged to have a copy of the book sent to English speaking convents and parishes in the USA and around the world.Some of you may have a copy of the book in your office. It is posted on my website (see below).

Mother Teresa in Japan

Every news reporter in Tokyo must have been at Narita Airport when Mother Theresa arrived. Soon we were on our way to Tokyo, with cameramen still following in their cars. She paid respects to the Archbishop, to the Pro-nuncio, to the Ambassador of India, then lodged with the Daughters of St. Paul. For a week life in Japan appeared to stand still while Mother Teresa raised her voice that God loves them, that we ought to pray, that a mother should not kill her own child. She spoke in schools and public halls as we had arranged before hand. When her melodious voice rose and asked for prayer, a hush descended over the hall and all bowed as she prayed. She spoke in English, and the audience hung on to her words, whether directly or via simultaneous translation. Tears flowed, eyes were enraptured. After talks she was adept at handling news conferences and remained always in charge. On an hour-long interview on national TV spoke about warmly about NFP:

"And so I think we should train our children for the future by respect of life, by respect for the dignity of life, that life is a creation of God; and by that purity of life and the sanctity of their lives, they will be able to face the future by using simple means, natural means that God has created.

"So many poor people have said to me - because we are teaching our poor people NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING - we are teaching the young people so that the future will become simple for them - and the poor people told me from the time we are practicing this way of life, our family has remained united, our family is healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we like. And it has brought so much peace and unity in the life of our poor people. That is something so wonderful to see, the peace of the family because they are not destroying anything, and they are not killing anything, but they are using their body to glorify God in the sanctity of their family life.

"And I think that if we can bring that into Japan also, if our people will come to know NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING, I think there will be more peace, more love in the family between parents and the children.."

Telephone lines to the TV stations sprang to life and women poured out their stories to every NHK office in the land. The lines were busy until past midnight. A Japanese rendition of her speeches has now sold over 100,000 copies. I have posted 18 of her talks in the original English on my website . *May I commend to you especially No. 6, 7 and 11.


When the De Rance Foundation crashed, in the 1980's our Association crashed with it. We closed the office and disbanded. In Nagoya I am happy to be a kind of liaison for pro-life activities here. Surveys by Mainichi newspapers indicate that one in six young couples now uses the BBTand the percentage rises. Figures suggest that a million couples use pure NFP, sans condoms or other. Fr. John Nariai posts my articles and books on the Internet, besides managing his own Japanese site and Humanae Research Institute. Fr. Sean Ryle promotes the BOOM from Fukuoka City, and Fr. Jerome Novotny in Kochi City champions pro-life and NFP via a pro-life monthly going into parishes and other institutions. Dr. Francis Hirata up-dates the Bishops onscience about the pill, and helped the Center for Respect of Life to create a video against the pill: "Life Pitfall."

Mr. Kinji Nishimura, inventor of a smart thermometer for NFP, asked me to translate materials, and sometimes to travel with him. His thermometer with mini-computer, trade-named Sophia, calculates the fertile days of the current cycle on the basis of temperature and other data of previous cycles in the memory. It then posts the assumed fertile days of the current cycle on the viewing window. I coached him to include an optional function to input mucus changes for the automatic calculations. More than a million of his smart thermometers have been sold to date. In 1997 when Dr. Lloyd Duplantis of the USA came to campaign against the pill, sponsored by Dr.Hirata, we toured selected cities to warn against the pill. Dr. Duplantis took a liking to the smart thermometer and now markets it in the USA. Contact him at:

Thank you for your prayers that the Japan, which once Pied-Pipered the world into the pit of abortion, may next lead the world out into the sunshine again with the practice of NFP.