Japan Church Records

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For information about records for non-Christian religions in Japan, go to the Religious Records page.

For records on Japanese Buddhists, see Buddhist Records.

Online Records-Limited[edit | edit source]

Christian Church records (Kirisuto Kyokai Kiroku)[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Christianity, in the form of Catholicism, was introduced into Japan by Jesuit missions starting in 1549. These missionaries were successful in converting large numbers of people in Kyushu, including peasants, former Buddhist monks, and members of the warrior class. In 1559, a mission to the capital, Kyoto, was started. By the following year there were nine churches, and the Christian community grew steadily in the 1560s. By 1569 there were 30,000 Christians and 40 churches.

Following the conversion of some lords in Kyushu, mass baptisms of the local populations occurred, and in the 1570s the number of Christians rose rapidly to 100,000. Near the end of the 16th century, Franciscan missionaries arrived in Kyoto, despite a ban issued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1597, Hideyoshi proclaimed a more serious edict and executed 26 Franciscans in Nagasaki as a warning. Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors enforced the prohibition of Christianity with several further edicts, especially after the Shimabara Rebellion in the 1630s. Many Christians continued to practice in secret.

In 1873, following the Meiji Restoration, the ban was rescinded, freedom of religion was promulgated, and Protestant missionaries began to proselytize in Japan, intensifying their activities after World War II. Today, there are 1 to 3 million Christians in Japan, most of them living in the western part of the country, where the missionaries' activities were greatest during the 16th century.

Nagasaki Prefecture has the highest percentage of Christians: about 5.1% in 1996. As of 2007 there are 32,036 Christian priests and pastors in Japan. All major traditional Protestant denominations are present in the country, including Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Anglicanism, Methodists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, the Salvation Army and some others.[1][2]

Information Recorded in the Records[edit | edit source]

Different denominations, different time periods, and practices of different record keepers will effect how much information can be found in the records. This outline will show the types of details which might be found (best case scenario):

Baptisms[edit | edit source]

In Catholic and Anglican records, children were usually baptized a few days after birth, and therefore, the baptism record proves date of birth. Other religions, such as Baptists, baptized at other points in the member's life. Baptism registers might give:

  • baptism date
  • the infant's name
  • parents' names
  • father's occupation
  • status of legitimacy
  • occasionally, names of grandparents
  • names of witnesses or godparents, who may be relatives
  • birth date and place
  • the family's place of residence
  • death information, as an added note or signified by a cross

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Marriage registers can give:

  • the marriage date
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • indicate whether the bride and groom were single or widowed
  • their ages
  • birth dates and places for the bride and groom
  • their residences
  • their occupations
  • birthplaces of the bride and groom
  • parents' names (after 1800)
  • the names of previous spouses and their death dates
  • names of witnesses, who might be relatives.

Burials[edit | edit source]

Burial registers may give:

  • the name of the deceased
  • the date and place of death or burial
  • the deceased's age
  • place of residence
  • cause of death
  • the names of survivors, especially a widow or widower
  • deceased's birth date and place
  • parents' names, or at least the father's name

How to Find Records[edit | edit source]

Digital Copies of Church Records in the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

Watch for digitized copies of church records to be added to the collection of the FamilySearch Library. Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations. To find records:

a. Click on the records of Japan.
b. Click on Places within Japan and a list of towns will appear.
c. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

You will probably need to write to or email the national archives, the diocese, or local parish priests to find records. Use Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters. Then use a Japanese translation service.

Anglican (Episcopal) Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai, 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 within the Anglican Communion. The Nippon Sei Ko Kai has approximately 32,000 members organised into eleven dioceses and found in local church congregations throughout Japan.

Anglican church mission work in Japan started with the British Loochoo Naval Mission on the outlying Ryukyu Islands in May 1846. 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 priests of the Episcopal Church, John Liggins and 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, 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.

After the Meiji Restoration, significant new legislation relating to the freedom of religion was introduced, facilitating in September 1873, the arrival in Tokyo of Alexander Croft Shaw and William Ball Wright as the first missionary priests sent to Japan by the Society for Propagation of the Gospel. 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.[3]

Baptist Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Catholic Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing to a Local Parish[edit | edit source]

Earlier records can be held at the diocese, with more recent records still kept in the local parish. To locate the mailing address or e-mail address for a diocese or local parish, consult:

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Catholic Church in Japan is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the pope in Rome. In 2005, there were approximately 509,000 Catholics in Japan—just under 0.5% of the total population, and by 2014, there were around 440,000 Japanese Catholics. There are 16 dioceses, including three archdioceses, with 1589 priests and 848 parishes in the country. Christianity was introduced to Japan by the Jesuits, such as the Spaniard St. Francis Xavier and the Italian Alessandro Valignano. Portuguese Catholics founded the port of Nagasaki, considered at its founding to be an important Christian center in the Far East. [4][5]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Records[edit | edit source]

Online Records[edit | edit source]

Online information is available to current members, for deceased members and immediate family members who are still living. Sign in to FamilySearch and then select Family Tree in the drop-down menu.

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Elder Heber J. Grant, then a member of the Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and three missionaries arrived in Japan in August 1901. On September 1, on a hill in Yokohama, they dedicated the Church's first mission in Asia. Missionary work was discontinued not long after the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923. It was resumed in 1948 after the end of World War II. Church membership grew rapidly after the war. The first Latter-day Saint meetinghouse constructed by the Church in Asia was dedicated in April 1964. Total Church Membership: 129,858. Congregations: 261.[6]

Japanese Orthodox Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The first purpose-built Orthodox Christian church to open in Japan was a wooden Russian Consulate chapel of the Resurrection of Christ, in Hakodate, Hokkaidō, consecrated in October 1860.

In July 1861, the young Russian Hieromonk, Nikolay Kassatkin, arrived in Hakodate to serve at the Consulate as a priest. He proved to be the first to learn the local language and customs to be able to spread Orthodox Christianity amongst the local populace. Though the shōgun's government at the time prohibited Japanese conversion to Christianity, some locals who frequented the chapel did convert in 1864. While they were his first converts in Japan, they were not the first Japanese to become Orthodox Christians: some Japanese who had settled in Russia had converted to Orthodox Christianity. On Kassatkin′s initiative, the Russian Imperial government established the Russian Spiritual Mission to Japan in 1870.

Kassatkin moved to Tokyo in 1872 and went on to stay in Japan most of the time until his death in 1912, even during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). By the end of 1890, according to Kassatkin′s report, the Orthodox Church in Japan had 18,625 baptized faithful.

The Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) created a politically difficult situation for the Church. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, communications and the support from the Church in Russia (the USSR) were severely curtailed. The Japanese government had new suspicions about the Japanese Orthodox Church; in particular, that it was used by the Soviets as a cover for espionage. The second bishop of Japan (from 1912), Sergius (Sergii) Tikhomirov, suffered from such suspicions on the part of the Japanese government, and was forced to resign his position in September 1940.

The Great Kantō earthquake in 1923 did serious damage to the Japanese Orthodox Church. The headquarters, Nikorai-do, was destroyed and burnt, including its library with many valuable documents. Nikorai-do was rebuilt in 1929 thanks to contributions gathered from the faithful.

During the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), which from 1939 to 1945 was part of World War II, the Christians in Japan suffered severe conditions, the Orthodox Church especially. During the war the Japanese Orthodox Church had had almost no foreign contact. In 1947, the Japanese Church largely switched over under the Metropolia′s jurisdiction and would be governed by bishops sent from the U.S. by the Metroplia until March 1972.

As of the end of 2014, according to the data provided by the Ministry of Culture of Japan, the Orthodox Church had a total of 67 parishes (communities), 37 clergymen, and 9,619 followers (registered members).[7]

Jehovah's Witnesses Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Lutheran Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Japan Lutheran Church or NRK is a Confessional Lutheran denomination in Japan. It currently has approximately 2,490 baptized members in 35 congregations nationwide. During the occupation of Japan by the Allied forces after the Second World War, several US Army chaplains affiliated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) were serving the local population. Discussions were held with representatives from the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC) as well as other churches on mission work in post-war Japan. With the information gathered, the LCMS came to the conclusion that they should send missionaries to northern Japan where the Lutheran presence was scarce in order to avoid redundancies among the various Lutheran churches and missions operating in Japan and a resolution was adopted accordingly.

In September 1948, the LCMS installed the first missionary to Japan and declared the start of the Japan Mission, in accordance with the resolution adopted. With the passing of the Broadcast Law (放送法, Hōsō Hō) in 1950 legalising commercial and private broadcasting, The Lutheran Hour radio program started broadcasting in 1951.

The NRK was officially recognized as a religious body in Japan in 1953.[8]

Mennonite Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

​In 1949, two couples responded to the appeal for workers from Dr. Takuo Matsumoto, a New Testament scholar. Eastern Hokkaido Island was the scene for their pioneer church planting. Over the years, mission work has spread to other islands, focusing on teaching, Christian-nurture ministries, and translating and publishing Mennonite literature.[9]

Methodist Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

In 1873, the ban on Christianity – strictly enforced during the feudal Tokugawa period – was lifted by the government and, that year, the first resident missionaries, Rev. and Mrs. Robert S. Maclay, arrived from the Methodist Episcopal Church. Mission bases were set up in Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Yokohama, and Maclay was instrumental in the founding of what is now Aoyama Gakuin University.

In 1884 the Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference Committee on Missions organized the work in Japan into an annual conference. The conference had 32 clergy members–13 missionaries and 19 Japanese ministers–along with 1,148 church members, 241 probationer members, and 1,203 persons enrolled in Sunday schools.

By 1895, the Japan Conference had nine districts, 68 clergy–18 American missionaries and 51 Japanese clergy. There were 3,371 members and 668 probationers. The Women Foreign Missionary Society had 23 missionaries stationed in Japan – 19 working in schools and the rest with Bible Women in evangelistic missions.[10]

Pentecostal Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Presbyterian Church in Japan is a conservative Reformed denomination in Japan, founded by American missionaries in the mid-1900s. In the years after World War II, Japanese missionaries and the forerunner of the Presbyterian Church in America evangelists created what is today the Presbyterian Church in Japan.

The denomination was a result of two Presbyterian denominations in Japan. The Christian Presbyterian Church in Japan founded in 1956 and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Japan founded in 1979 begun collaborating in 1980, and united in 1993. The church had 50 congregations and 2,000 members in 3 Presbyteries in 2004.

As of 2013 the denomination is present in 13 Prefectures, in Ibaraki Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, Chiba Prefecture, Tokyo Prefecture, Kanagawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Aichi Prefecture, Gifu Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, Ishikawa Prefecture, Osaka Prefecture, Kagawa Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, Tokushima Prefecture.[11]

Reformed Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Reformed Church in Japan is a confessional Reformed denomination in Japan. The Reformed Church in Japan was formed in 1946 in Tokyo. Before World War II, all Protestants were forced to unite in one church, the United Church in Japan. Some congregations with Reformed background left this denomination to form the Japan Reformed Church. The Christian Reformed Church in North America sent missionaries to support the new denomination. At that time the church had nine pastors and three elders. The Christian Reformed World Mission has planted two presbyteries and almost 50 new congregations since entering Japan in 1951. CRCNA focuses their efforts on the metropolitan Tokyo area, one of the largest metropolitan areas of the world. The church has now 220 congregations and 8,000-9,000 members. The denomination is growing steadily. However the congregations are small: the largest has about 210 members and the smallest has about 10 members.[12]

Salvation Army Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

In 1895 a small group of pioneer officers from Britain arrived in Japan at Yokohama to start operations. In spite of great difficulties, work was soon established.[13]

Seventh-day Adventist Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

United Church of Christ (Kyodan) Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The United Church of Christ in Japan is the largest Protestant denomination in Japan. It is a union of thirty-three diverse Protestant denominations forcibly merged by the Japanese wartime government on June 24, 1941. The UCCJ, which is a Japanese Independent Church, is a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Currently, the church has some about 200,000 members and 1,725 congregations served by 2,189 pastors.[14]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Protestantism in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestantism_in_Japan, accessed 3 April 2020.
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Religion in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Japan, accessed 3 April 2020.
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Anglican Church in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_Church_in_Japan, accessed 1 April 2020.
  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Religion in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Japan, accessed 1 April 2020.
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "Catholic Church in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_Japan, accessed 1 April 2020.
  6. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Facts and Statistics: Japan, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/facts-and-statistics/country/Japan, accessed 6 April 2020.
  7. Wikipedia contributors, "Orthodox Church in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthodox_Church_in_Japan, accessed 3 April 2020.
  8. Wikipedia contributors, "Japan Lutheran Church", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Lutheran_Church, accessed 3 April 2020.
  9. "Mennonite MissionNetwork: Japan", https://www.mennonitemission.net/Impact/locations/asia/Japan, accessed 3 April 2020.
  10. "Methodist Church, Japan, c. 1920", at "Old Tokyo", https://www.oldtokyo.com/methodist-church-japan-c-1920/, accessed 3 April 2020.
  11. Wikipedia contributors, "Presbyterian Church in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterian_Church_in_Japan, accessed 1 April 2020.
  12. Wikipedia contributors, "Reformed Church in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_Church_in_Japan, accessed 3 April 2020.
  13. "The SalvationArmy International: Japan'", https://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/18C8213E8DA0515080256D4F00519D2C, accessed 3 April 2020.
  14. Wikipedia contributors, "United Church of Christ in Japan", in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Church_of_Christ_in_Japan, accessed 1 April 2020.