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Anglican Church in Japan

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Anglican Church in Japan

Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, Bishop of Hokkaido

65 Yaraicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0805, Japan

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Japanese: 日本聖公会, Nippon Seikōkai, "Japanese Holy Catholic Church"), abbreviated as NSKK, or sometimes referred to in English as the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan, is the national Christian church representing the Province of Japan (日本管区, Nippon Kanku) within the Anglican Communion.


As a member of the Anglican Communion the Nippon Sei Ko Kai shares many of the historic doctrinal and liturgical practices of the Church of England, but is a fully autonomous national church governed by its own synod and led by its own primate. The Nippon Sei Ko Kai, in common with other churches in the Anglican Communion, considers itself to be a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and to be both Catholic and Reformed.

With an estimated 80 million members worldwide, the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Nippon Sei Ko Kai has approximately 60,000 members organised into eleven dioceses and found in local church congregations throughout Japan.

Background (1549–1846)

Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier together with Portuguese explorers and missionaries first brought Christianity to Japan in the 16th century. In 1587, the Christian faith and life were outlawed and Christians, Japanese and foreign, were openly persecuted. In memory of these early Japanese Christians, and in common with the Roman Catholic Church, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai commemorates the Martyrs of Japan every February 5 for their life and witness.

All foreigners were subsequently expelled in 1640 as Japan began two centuries of self-imposed isolation and Christian communities were driven into hiding. When foreigners were eventually allowed back into the main islands of Japan in the 1850s, they found thousands of Christians who had maintained their Christian faith and identity through centuries of persecution.

Early mission church (1846–1900)

Anglican church mission work in Japan started with the British Loochoo Naval Mission on the outlying Ryukyu Islands in May 1846. The Rev. George Jones, a United States Navy Chaplain traveling with the Expedition of Commodore Perry, led the first recorded Anglican burial service on Japanese soil at Yokohama on 9 March 1854. More permanent mission representatives of the Episcopal Church, the Rev. John Liggins and the Rev. Channing Moore Williams, arrived in the treaty port of Nagasaki in May and June 1859. After the opening of the port of Yokohama in June 1859, Anglicans in the foreign community gathered for worship services in the British Consul's residence. A British Consular chaplain, the Rev. Michael Buckworth Bailey, arrived in August 1862 and after a successful fundraising campaign Christ Church, Yokohama was dedicated on 18 October 1863.

Due to government restrictions on the teaching of Christianity and a significant language barrier, the religious duties of clergy were initially limited to serving as ministers to the American and British residents of the foreign settlements. The first recorded baptism by Williams of a Japanese convert, a Kumamoto samurai named Shōmura Sukeuemon, was not until 1866.

Liggins and Williams were followed to Nagasaki in January 1869 by the Rev. George Ensor representing the Church Mission Society of the Church of England. Following 1874, he was joined by the Revd H Burnside at Nagasaki, Revd C F Warren at Osaka, Revd Philip Fyson at Yokohama, Revd J Piper at Tokyo (Yedo), Revd H Evington at Niigata and Revd W Dening at Hokkaido. Revd H Maundrell joined the Japan mission in 1875 and served at Nagasaki. Revd John Batchelor was a missionary to the Ainu people of Hokkaido from 1877 to 1941.

After the Meiji Restoration, significant new legislation relating to the freedom of religion was introduced, facilitating in September 1873, the arrival in Tokyo of the Rev. Alexander Croft Shaw and the Rev. William Ball Wright as the first missionaries sent to Japan by the Society for Propagation of the Gospel. Williams, appointed Episcopal Bishop of China and Japan in 1866, moved first to reside in Osaka in 1869, then subsequently relocated to Tokyo in December 1873.

By 1879, through cooperative work between the various Anglican missions, the largest part of the Book of Common Prayer had been translated and published in Japanese. A full version of the text being completed by 1882. On Palm Sunday 1883, Nobori Kanai and Masakazu Tai, graduates of the Tokyo theological school were ordained by Bishop Williams as the first Japanese deacons in the church. In 1888, the Anglican Church of Canada also began missionary work in Japan, later mainly focusing on Nagoya and Central Japan.

In addition to the work of ordained church ministers, much of the positive public profile enjoyed by Anglican Church in Japan during this early mission period was due to the work of lay missionaries working to establish schools, universities and medical facilities. Significant among this group were missionary women such as Ellen G. Eddy at St. Agnes' School in Osaka, Alice Hoar at St. Hilda's School and Florence Pitman at St. Margaret's School, both located in Tokyo. Hannah Riddell who established the Kaishun Hospital for leprosy sufferers in Kumamoto and Mary Cornwall-Legh who ran a similar facility in Kusatsu, Gunma, were both honored by the Japanese Government for their work.

The first synod of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai met in Osaka in February 1887. At this meeting, instigated by Bishop Edward Bickersteth and presided over by Bishop Williams, it was agreed to unite the various Anglican missionary efforts in Japan into one autonomous national church; the Nippon Sei Ko Kai. The 17 European and American participants at the first Synod were outnumbered by 14 other clergy and 50 Japanese lay delegates.

Total Nippon Sei Ko Kai church membership in 1887 was estimated to be 1,300. The Rev. John Toshimichi Imai, ordained deacon in 1888 and raised to the priesthood by Bishop Bickersteth in 1889, was the first Japanese to become an ordained Anglican priest.

Continued growth and wartime challenges (1900–1945)

By 1906 the Nippon Sei Ko Kai was reported to have grown to 13,000 members, of whom 6,880 were communicants with a Japanese led ordained ministry of 42 priests and 22 deacons. Henry St. George Tucker, President of St. Paul's College and in 1913 appointed Bishop of Kyoto, was one of the foremost missionary leaders of the period who advocated that an independent, Japanese-led and self-supporting church was the only way in which Christianity could be carried to the wider population of Japan. Initiatives were put in place to help grow the financial self-sufficiency of church congregations and the first Japanese bishops, John Yasutaro Naide, Bishop of Osaka and Joseph Sakunoshin Motoda, Bishop of Tokyo, were consecrated in 1923.

During the 1930s, as overseas funding and the number of foreign Anglican missionaries in Japan declined, new challenges arose for Nippon Sei Ko Kai church leadership and laity from the increasing focus on Shinto as a state prescribed religion and the growing influence of militarism in domestic and foreign policy. Christianity was portrayed by many nationalist politicians at the time as incompatible with the loyalty of Japanese subjects. In response the Nippon Sei Ko Kai issued periodic statements in support of the Imperial Army and missionary work followed the path of Japanese expansion into Manchuria.

A more active period of government persecution began in 1937, particularly for Christian denominations such as the Salvation Army with its commitment to social reform, and for the NSKK with its historic links to the Church of England. Archbishop Lang's condemnation in October of Imperial Japanese Army actions in China, provoked hostile scrutiny of the NSKK and caused some in the church leadership to publicly disassociate themselves from links with the wider Anglican Communion.

During World War II, the majority of Protestant churches in Japan were forcibly brought together by the Japanese wartime government to form the United Church of Christ in Japan, or Kyodan. Reflecting the distinctive doctrinal character of the Anglican Communion, many individual Nippon Sei Ko Kai congregations refused to join. The cost of resistance to and non-cooperation with the government's religious policies was harassment by the military police and periods of imprisonment for church leaders such as Bishops Samuel Heaslett, Hinsuke Yashiro and Todomu Sugai, as well as Primate Paul Shinji Sasaki.

St. Andrew's Tokyo, now the Cathedral church for the Diocese of Tokyo, was one such congregation that resisted government pressure, struggling to retain its land, church buildings and Anglican identity to the war’s end in 1945. However, like many urban Nippon Sei Ko Kai churches, medical and educational facilities, St. Andrew's buildings were lost in the 1945 Allied incendiary bombing.

Post war period (1945–2013)

The pressure of an extended war caused damage to both internal church unity and the physical infrastructure of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai; 71 out of a total of 246 churches had been destroyed, others were in bad repair due to neglect, requisition by the military or vandalism.

Through individual and larger communal acts of reconciliation and with the support of an Anglican Commission sent out by Archbishop Fisher in 1946, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai was organizationally reordered in 1947, with a leadership consisting of Japanese bishops at the head of each diocese, renewing its life and mission for the Christian Gospel in Japan.

Attending the 1948 Lambeth Conference, Presiding Bishop Yashiro took with him a finely embroidered silk cope and mitre, presented to Archbishop Fisher as a gesture of thanks from members of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai for the bonds of fellowship that continued to hold members of Anglican Communion together in the aftermath of wartime hostilities. Archbishop Fisher wore the cope at the opening service of the Lambeth Conference that year and again in 1953 at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai became a financially self-supporting Province of the Anglican Communion in 1972.

Adopting a formal Statement of War Responsibility at the General Synod in 1996, and reflecting on the Japanese occupation of China and Korea prior to the Second World War, the NSKK has been active in multi-year projects promoting peace, reconciliation and youth exchange programs between East Asian nations.

Two decades after becoming the first woman deacon, Margaret Ryoko Shibukawa was ordained the first woman priest in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai in December 1998.

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai celebrated the 150th anniversary of continuous Anglican Christian witness in Japan in 2009. The occasion was marked with a series of church and community events and visits by both Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

In 2013 the NSKK co-hosted with the Anglican Church of Korea, the 2nd Worldwide Anglican Peace Conference in Okinawa.

It is a member of the National Christian Council in Japan.


The Most Rev. Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, Bishop of the Diocese of Hokkaido was installed as the current primate of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai on 25 May 2006.

Today the Nippon Sei Ko Kai continues its traditions of ministry and Christian witness in Japan through church congregational life, hospitals, schools, social advocacy and support for non-profit organizations.

The church, at both a national and local level, works to support disadvantaged, marginalized or discriminated against communities in Japan, as well as communities in Tohoku impacted by the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami and subsequent crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear generating plant.

The NSKK also engages in field-based mission work overseas, such as in The Philippines.

Eight of the NSKK's dioceses ordain women to the diaconate and priesthood.

Dioceses and notable churches

There are currently eleven dioceses in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai and over three hundred church and chapel congregations spread across the country. Notable churches in each diocese from north to south include:

Hokkaido diocese

  • Christ Church Cathedral, Sapporo
  • St. John's Church, Hakodate
  • Tohoku diocese

  • Christ Church Cathedral, Sendai
  • Kitakanto diocese

  • St. Matthias' Cathedral, Maebashi
  • Tokyo diocese

    The Diocese of Tokyo was established in its modern form in May 1923. There are 33 churches and 9 chapels in the Diocese, many having been first established in the second half of the nineteenth century.

  • St. Andrew's Cathedral, Minato-ku, Tokyo
  • St. Alban's, Minato-ku, Tokyo, an English language based NSKK congregation located adjacent to St. Andrew's Cathedral.
  • St. Luke's Chapel, Chuo-ku, Tokyo located in the Old Building of St. Luke's International Hospital. One of the very few NSKK church buildings in central Tokyo to have survived the Second World War
  • Yokohama Diocese

  • St. Andrew's Cathedral, Yokohama
  • Christ Church, Yokohama landmark church located in Yamate overlooking the Port of Yokohama, hosting both English and Japanese language based congregations.
  • St. Andrew's Church, Kiyosato, Yamanashi
  • Chubu Diocese

  • St. Matthew's Cathedral, Nagoya
  • Kyoto Diocese

  • St. Agnes' Cathedral, Kyoto
  • Osaka Diocese

  • Christ Church Cathedral, Kawaguchi, Osaka the cathedral seat of the Bishop of Osaka.
  • Kobe Diocese

  • St. Michael's Cathedral, Kobe
  • Kyushu Diocese

  • St. Paul's Cathedral, Fukuoka
  • Okinawa Diocese

  • Cathedral of St. Paul and St. Peter, Mihara, Naha, Okinawa
  • Nippon Sei Ko Kai affiliated educational, medical and social welfare institutions in Japan number over two hundred. Comprehensive lists of affiliated institutions are available on the official NSKK website.


  • Central Theological College, Tokyo Founded in 1908 from the amalgamation of three older Japanese Anglican seminaries.
  • Williams Theological Seminary, Kyoto
  • Religious orders

  • Community of Nazareth, Tokyo. An Anglican religious order first established in 1936 under the guidance of the English Community of the Epiphany.
  • Universities and colleges

  • Rikkyo University, Tokyo (立教大学 Rikkyō Daigaku), also known as St. Paul's University
  • St. Margaret's Junior College, Tokyo (立教女学院短期大学 Rikkyō Jogakuin Tanki Daigaku)
  • Momoyama Gakuin University, Osaka (桃山学院大学 Momoyama Gakuin Daigaku), also known as Saint Andrew's University.
  • Heian Jogakuin University, Kyoto and Osaka, also known as St. Agnes University
  • Poole Gakuin University, Osaka
  • Poole Gakuin Junior College, Osaka
  • Kobe International University, Kobe
  • Kobe Shoin Women's University, Kobe
  • Hospitals

  • St. Luke's International Hospital, Tokyo
  • St. Barnabas' Hospital, Osaka
  • Early mission church (1859–1900)

  • Channing Moore Williams, (1829-1910) Episcopal Bishop of China and Japan, founder of Rikkyo University
  • John Liggins, (1829-1912) First Protestant missionary and ordained representative of the Anglican Communion to reach Japan
  • Alexander Croft Shaw, (1846-1902) Missionary, founder of St. Andrew's Church, Tokyo and Archdeacon of North Japan
  • Edward Bickersteth, (1850-1897) First Bishop of South Tokyo
  • John Batchelor, (1854-1944) Missionary to the Ainu communities of Hokkaido
  • John McKim, (1852-1936) Bishop of North Tokyo
  • William Awdry, (1842-1910) Second Bishop of South Tokyo
  • Arthur Lloyd, (1852-1911) Missionary, academic and translator
  • Philip Fyson, (1846-1928) Bishop of Hokkaido. Member of the Church Missionary Society
  • John Toshimichi Imai, (1863-1919) First Japanese born Anglican priest, consecrated in 1889
  • Continued growth and wartime challenges (1900–1945)

  • Paul Shinji Sasaki, (1885-1946) Bishop of Mid-Japan, later Bishop of Tokyo and Presiding Bishop of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai
  • Todomu Sugai, (1883-1947) Bishop of South Tokyo and Presiding Bishop January 1947 to August 1947
  • Henry St. George Tucker, (1874-1956) Bishop of Kyoto, later Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
  • Joseph Sakunoshin Motoda, (1862-1928) Bishop of Tokyo
  • John Yasutaro Naide, (1866-1945) Bishop of Osaka
  • Peter Yonetaro Matsui, Bishop of Tokyo
  • Rudolf Teusler, (1876-1934) Medical lay missionary, founder of St. Luke's International Hospital, Tokyo
  • Mary Cornwall Legh, (1857-1941) Missionary to the leprosy communities of Kusatsu, Gunma.
  • Samuel Heaslett, (1875-1947) Fourth Bishop of South Tokyo
  • Walter Weston, (1860-1940) Missionary and Japan Alpine Mountaineer
  • Sidney Catlin Partridge, First Bishop of Kyoto
  • Hiromichi Kato, Bishop of Tohoku
  • Norman S. Binsted, First Bishop of Tohoku elected 1928
  • Arthur Lea, Bishop of Kyushu or South Japan
  • Philip Kemball Fyson, Bishop of Hokkaido
  • Charles S. Reifsnider, (1875-1958), Suffragan Bishop of North Kanto, President of Rikkyo University
  • Kenneth Abbott Viall, Assistant Bishop of Tokyo
  • Michael Hinsuke Yashiro, Bishop of Kobe, elected Presiding Bishop in 1947
  • Paul Rusch, (1897-1979) Lay missionary, educator, founder of Seisen Ryo (KEEP), Yamanashi Prefecture
  • References

    Anglican Church in Japan Wikipedia

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