This history of Nazarene work in Japan is a chapter in Mission to the World: A History of Missions in the Church of the Nazarene through 1985 by J. Fred Parker (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1988).
Japan, or Nippon ("Rising Sun"), is an island nation extending some 1,250 miles north to south off the east coast of Asia. There are four main islands (among hundreds) — Honshu in the center with Hokkaido on the north and Kyushu and Shikoku to the south. Six out of seven of its 147,000 square miles are mountainous with 500 volcanoes, few of them still active. The remaining arable land is intensely farmed to help feed its nearly 120 million people, 75 percent of whom live in the cities.
Shintoism ("the way of the gods") was the original, indigenous religion of Japan in which the spirits of nature (animals, trees, rivers, etc.) and of ancestors were worshiped. It was a state religion taught in the schools until abolished after World War II, along with emperor worship. Buddhism, however, had long been the dominant religion, having come across from nearby China about A.D. 500. One hundred thousand of its temples dot the land. Confucianism and Taoism also have a considerable following.
Christianity came in the form of Roman Catholicism in the 16th century; but when in 1637 all foreigners were expelled from the country, Christianity was also banned. Many thousands of its followers were ruthlessly tortured and killed.. The doors to the outside world remained tightly closed for 230 years until in the 1870s they were once more pushed ajar. Protestant churches and missions quickly seized the opportunity and sent in some outstanding missionaries. Despite mounting opposition from the Buddhists, who saw their religious monopoly broken, the gospel began to take root.
The starting point for the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Japan was the historic early capital city of Kyoto. The first missionaries were Miss Lillian Poole and Miss Lulu Williams who were already in Japan, having been sent out in 1905 under the auspices of the Holiness Church of Christ to work in Tokyo under the Oriental Missionary Society (later the Japan Holiness church).
In 1907 these two ladies had been transferred to Kyoto, 250 miles to the west, where they began work among the children and taught English-language classes. When the Holiness Church of Christ in the southern United States became a part of the Church of the Nazarene at Pilot Point, Tex., in 1908, these two missionaries were Miss Lillian Poole and Miss Lulu Williams who were already in Japan, sent out in 1905 under the auspices of the Holiness Church of Christ to work in Tokyo under the Oriental Missionary Society (later the Japan Holiness church).
In 1907 these two ladies had been transferred to Kyoto, 250 miles to the west, where they began work among the children and taught English-language classes. When the Holiness Church of Christ in the southern United States became a part of the Church of the Nazarene at Pilot Point, Tex., in 1908, these two missionaries in Japan were asked to open a work for the young denomination in that country.
They continued essentially what they had been doing and slowly brought a Christian influence into the community. But not until reinforcements arrived in 1910 was there promise of establishing a permanent work. Among the new arrivals was Miss Minnie Upperman, who had served with the original two in earlier years in Tokyo. There was also J. A. Chenault (who, soon after arrival, married Miss Upperman) and Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Thompson. The coming of these reinforcements made it possible for Miss Poole and Miss Williams to return to the United States for a much-needed home assignment. Mrs. Chenault's knowledge of the language and the customs of the people made her a valuable leader of the now-blossoming work,
But the encouraging prospect soon dimmed when within a short time, both couples encountered health problems. First, the Thompsons had to return home, and in 1912, the Chenaults. No resident missionaries were left; no property had been acquired; and no firm nucleus of believers had as yet been brought together to give continuity to the mission.
Providentially, just at this critical time, Mrs. I. B. Staples and Miss Cora Snider of Los Angeles were making a tour of Japan and became aware of the situation. So concerned was Miss Snider that she offered to remain in Japan for two years to keep the work going. Mrs. Staples promised to return also as soon as family arrangements could be worked out.
Shortly afterward, Rev and Mrs. J. I. Nagamatsu, who had been in the United States studying at Pasadena College, returned to Japan and began working with Miss Snider. But progress in Kyoto was slow, and when an apparently more promising area opened up at Fukuchiyama, 40 miles northwest, they decided to move there.
In 1914, the initial stop on Dr. H. F. Reynolds' first around-the-world missionary tour was Japan. Arriving with him were the two former missionaries Lulu Williams and Lillian Poole, returning from their extended home assignment, and new recruits Rev. and Mrs. L. H. Humphrey. It was Dr. Reynolds' judgment that Kyoto was the more strategic point at which to establish a base, so he located the returning missionaries and the Humphreys there, naming Rev. Humphrey superintendent of the field.
Soon after, Miss Snider failing health forced her to return to the United States, leaving to the Nagamatsus the sole responsibility for the work in Fukuchiyama. They acquired an old hospital building that was converted for church and Sunday School use plus a weekday kindergarten. By 1920 they had gathered a membership of 84, and before long they had 10 Sunday Schools going with a total enrollment of 700.
Meanwhile, when Mrs. Staples returned to the United States in 1912, her whetted interest in Japan prompted her to reach out to Japanese nationals in the Los Angeles area. She began ministering to those who worked in the citrus groves in the vicinity of Upland, where she and her husband lived. Among her converts was Hiroshi Kitagawa, whom she encouraged to enroll in Pasadena College and who was ordained by Dr. P. F. Bresee in 1914. He and Mr. and Mrs. Staples set out for Japan late that year (arriving on January 5, 1915) and began evangelistic work in Rev. Kitagawa birthplace of Kumamoto on the southern island of Kyushu.
At first unmarried, Hiroshi Kitagawa soon took care of that matter with the help of Bishop Nakada of the Japan Holiness church, who introduced him to Miss Toyoko (Ruth) Nagai and performed the marriage ceremony. Mrs. Ruth Kitagawa proved to be a superb worker at the side of her husband in the coming years.
The work in Kumamoto grew rapidly, and on April 4, 1915, Mission Superintendent L. H. Humphrey organized there the first official Church of the Nazarene in Japan with 18 charter members. Rev. Kitagawa was appointed pastor, while Mrs. Staples carried on evangelistic work throughout the island of Kyushu. Mr. Staples gave loyal support by handling the business affairs of the Kumamoto church and serving as district treasurer. Soon property was purchased for a parsonage, a missionary home, and a school.
An unusual characteristic of the Japan work from the start was the number of converts who professed a call to preach. This prompted the launching of a Bible training school in the fall of 1915 with Rev. Kitagawa in charge. A few miles north of Kumamoto in the large coal-mining city of Omuta, a work was begun in March 1916. It was carried on by Bible school personnel until the arrival of Miss Bertie Karns, who took up residence in the city in April 1920.
Meanwhile, back on Honshu Island, the Fukuchiyama church had been officially organized. The revived work in Kyoto took on permanence when it, too, was organized and property was rented on Gojo Street. This became a center of intense evangelistic endeavor.
But ill health, which before had decimated the missionary force, again dealt a blow when Rev. Humphrey and Miss Poole became too ill to carry on and had to return to the United States in 1915. Miss Williams was left to carry on alone in Kyoto.
The mission board moved quickly to fill the gap, however, and in February 1916 Rev and Mrs. William A. Eckel and Nobumi Isayama arrived on the field. For almost two years the Eckels had been leading the Japanese work in the Los Angeles area, having taken over from the Stapleses when the latter went to Japan. Nobumi Isayama, one of Mrs. Staples' converts, had been a valuable assistant and interpreter for the Eckels and had recently graduated from Pasadena College. Though not ordained, he was named pastor of the Gojo Street mission.
In 1917 Miss Ethel McPherson arrived, and she and Miss Williams started a second mission in Kyoto on Theatre Street. Also arriving were Rev and Mrs. P. C. Thatcher, who opened a mission in Okayama in 1918. They were ably assisted by a Japanese preacher who had been studying in the United States and had recently returned. They had a good measure of success in spite of some adverse circumstances including health problems experienced by Mrs. Thatcher. The building they erected remained in continuous use until destroyed during World War II. When the Thatchers were forced to leave in December 1919, Miss Gertrude Privat ably took over. Within a year she opened a branch Sunday School, and the attendance soon reached a total of 100, counting both places.
With the Kyoto work well in hand, the Eckels and Isayamas moved to Kure in September 1918. This was a new naval base 200 miles west of Kyoto. Westerners were not allowed to take up permanent residence here, so the activities of the Eckels were somewhat restricted. However, Rev. Isayama secured property, and a new mission was launched. By the time Dr. H. F. Reynolds visited there the following year, 12 converts were ready for baptism. A crisis in the Kyoto work made it necessary for the Eckels and Isayamas to return there, but Shiro Kitagawa, a brother of Hiroshi and a recent graduate of the Bible training school, was available to assume the leadership of the Kure Church.
From time to time other missionaries arrived on the field, but for various reasons served for only short periods. Retrenchment after a period of over-extension was one explanation of why some missionary careers were cut short. Among the names that appear on the records are Miss Ethel McPherson and Miss Helen Santee (who labored with Miss Williams in Kyoto about a year), Rev. and Mrs. Henry Howard Wagner, Rev. and Mrs. Paul Goodwin, and Rev. Frank Smith. Not all were officially appointed missionaries but worked there on their own. In spite of this great turnover of missionaries, the church continued to grow. This is a tribute to the outstanding national leaders whom, from the earliest days, God gave to the work.
On the occasion of his 1919 visit to Japan, General Superintendent H. F. Reynolds organized the Japan District with five churches: Kyoto, Kure, Kumamoto, Fukuchiyama, and Omuta. With their satellite Sunday Schools and preaching points, the total number of members and adherents was estimated to be about 1,600.
The first official assembly was held in Kyoto in November 1922, with Dr. Reynolds presiding. J. I. Nagamatsu was elected district superintendent. When, a few months later, Rev. Nagamatsu decided to return to the United States, Hiroshi Kitagawa, head of the Bible school, was appointed to replace him. Thus began his long and distinguished career as a leader in the japan church.
The second district assembly was held in November 1924, under the leadership of Joseph Bates. (He had been elected superintendent of the Oriental work by the Board of Foreign Missions in an ill-fated organizational attempt to strengthen the supervision of overseas fields.) During the interim, only one additional church was reported — the Honmachi Church in Kyoto.
In 1921 the Bible training school had been transferred from Kumamoto to the more central location of Kyoto and was attached to the newly organized Honmachi Church. The strategic impact of the Bible training school at this time cannot be overstated. Hiroshi Kitagawa remained its inspired leader until his appointment to the district superintendency in 1923.
In 1928 the third assembly was held, conducted by Hiroshi Kitagawa. By now there were eight churches, and at the fourth assembly held the following year, still another was reported. This 1929 assembly was marked by the visit of two general superintendents, J. W. Goodwin and R. T. Williams. At that same assembly Shiro Kitagawa was ordained.
The inspiration provided by the presence of the global church leaders made the 1929 assembly a watershed year for the church, for from then on there was marked expansion. By 1931 there were 16 churches, and in 1932, 22 were reported. By the time of the fifth district assembly, conducted by General Superintendent J. B. Chapman in 1935, there were 33 churches with 1,675 full members. Thirteen of the churches were fully self-supporting, two of which were the Korean congregations located in Kyoto and Osaka.
Two of the newer churches were in Tokyo. For years plans had been discussed to open work in the sprawling capital, but not until a group of U.S. Navy wives began meetings in their homes did a breakthrough come. By 1933, a sufficient number of people had been brought together to organize two churches with Eichi Kuboki as pastor of both.
Although national leadership had been dominant during
those first 30 years on the Japan field, at the 1935 assembly a major step forward took place
when the 131 delegates voted to assume the responsibility of full self-government and
self-support. Shiro Kitagawa was elected district superintendent and his brother Hiroshi their
delegate to the 1936 General Assembly. Nine ministers were ordained by J. B. Chapman, the
presiding general superintendent.
When the action of the assembly seeking full district status came before the General Board for final approval in January 1936, that body recommended that two districts be created. The western one, the Kansai District, which was the older and more established area, would be a regular district, as voted, while the eastern (Kanto) district would remain a mission district. The dividing line would be generally north and south in the vicinity of Nagoya, about 75 miles east of Kyoto. Kyoto and Tokyo would be the respective headquarters cities.
The plan was not well received in Japan, but in spite of the unpopularity of the division, a great wave of evangelism swept through the Japanese church. On the wings of a strong emphasis on prayer, evangelism became the keynote in every area. Tent meetings were especially popular and productive. There were 17 tents in constant use during the summer months. Each church also held a weekly street meeting, at which invitations were given to attend the nearby Nazarene church. Large meetings in rented auditoriums were also held, particularly in the colder months, but these proved to be less productive than tent and street meetings. Street parades replete with brass bands or other instrumental groups were often used for advertising. The excitement and color thus generated brought out great crowds of people to the meetings.
Further supporting these evangelistic efforts was the liberal distribution of tracts and other religious literature. In a country with an almost 100 percent literacy rate, this was a powerful tool that the church was quick to exploit. A modest printing operation was begun to provide the needed literature.
Tokyo became an area of concentration on the Kanto District, and within two years 10 churches were organized in this metropolis of 5 million. As churches mushroomed, the training of national pastors in this area became imperative. Instead of sending their prospective preachers to Kyoto and possibly losing them to the Kansai District, their own Bible training school was set up in connection with the Shimokitazawa Church in suburban Tokyo. This move reflected an unfortunate rivalry between the two districts.
The Son of Righteousness was indeed beginning to rise in this Land of the Rising Sun, and, despite the crosscurrents, a bright future lay ahead for the Church of the Nazarene. But it was the sinister forces outside the church that were soon to thwart the efforts toward spiritual revival.
By the late 1930s the power of the military leaders in the government was becoming apparent. In 1931 the first step had been made toward the realization of their imperialistic dreams when the Japanese moved into the Chinese province of Manchuria. From there, in 1937, they advanced into China itself. At the same time, there began an internal purge of any movements within the country not wholeheartedly endorsing the government's aggressive policies. The Christian church and all related institutions were on this list. Western missionaries were particularly suspect. Undercover agents attended services to check out activities and teachings and often demanded advanced scripts of sermons. Shintoism, the national religion of Japan, received favored status with the government.
Quietly the United States Embassy passed the word to American citizens in Japan to return home, but the missionaries were reluctant to leave. One day a Tokyo friend of Rev. Eckel whispered to him, "Get out of Japan while you can, or you may never make it." The man seemed to have some inside information and asked Rev. Eckel not to tell anyone what he had said. The missionary took the warning seriously, and gathering a few personal belongings, he and his family prepared to leave as soon as they could. Fortunately they found passage on a departing ship. As they bade a tearful farewell to the little band of Japanese leaders who came to see them off, Rev. Isayama spoke for them all when he said, "Missionary, we want you to know that we will shed our blood if need be for Christ who shed His for us."
The only Nazarene missionary left was Miss Bertie Karns, who had returned to Japan in 1936 after serving about a year and a half in China. Living in a less vulnerable area than Tokyo, she chose to remain longer. She finally left on one of the last ships to depart for the United States before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
As government pressure on the Christian church was steadily increasing, it was a question whether the Japanese delegates to the 1940 General Assembly to be held in Oklahoma City should or would be allowed to leave the country. Hiroshi Kitagawa and Noburni Isayama, the elected delegates, were key Nazarene leaders in Japan, and if they failed to get back, the result would be crippling. The government did allow them to go, however, and this gave them a valuable opportunity to discuss future strategy with church leaders in the United States.
One decision, which ultimately proved academic, was to unite the two districts. This would not only help to heal the rift between the districts but would tighten the organization and thus increase the chances of survival. Rev. Isayama was chosen to be the overall leader. But by the time the men got back to Japan, they discovered that the government had done some tightening up on its own. The order went out that no church could use its own name but would be assigned a number by which it would be identified. Furthermore, only 11 numbers would be issued and these only to those churches with substantial enough constituencies to merit such recognition.
The scramble for these numbers was already on. Number 1 had been assigned to the Presbyterian church; No. 2 to the Methodist church; No. 3 to the Congregational church; No. 4 to the Baptists; Ixro. 5 to the Lutherans; No. 6 to the Oriental Missionary Society; and No.7 to the Japan Evangelistic Band. There were four holiness groups, including the Church of the Nazarene, that were considered individually too small to be recognized by the government.
The need for swift action to cope with the situation prompted Bishop Tsuchiyama of the Free Methodist church to meet the returning Nazarene ministers at the dock when they landed. A meeting of the leaders of the four groups had already been arranged, and after an all-night session it was decided that they would unite under the name of Seika Kyodan (the Sanctified or Holiness church) and make application for a number. Besides the Church of the Nazarene and the Free Methodist church, there were the Scandinavian Alliance Mission and the World Missionary Society (Tokyo Division).
Bishop Tsuchiyama was elected as moderator of the group, and Hiroshi Kitagawa was asked to head a joint Bible training school. The Seika Kyodan was assigned No. 8.
When all numbers were finally assigned, the leaders of each were required to elect a general moderator. He was to be the liaison with the government through whom all orders were to be passed on to the individual groups. Mitsuru Tomita of the Presbyterian church was elected as the tori or general superintendent.
One year later, the government went a step further and ordered that the numerical groupings be dissolved and all eleven organizations carry the single designation, Nippon Kirisuto Kyodan (the Christian Church of Japan). The next step was to close all their schools except two — one for men and one for women. Government control of the church was now virtually complete.
While the war with China had begun in 1937, it was largely an operation of the military, which affected the homeland very little. But after the monumental decision was made to move against the United States by bombing Pearl Harbor, it was a matter of total mobilization. Every aspect of Japanese life was affected.
When, after three years, the counteroffensive of the American forces finally brought Japan within the range of its bombers, the devastation and privation mounted. By the time the war was over in mid-August 1945, much of the country lay in ruins.
What went on within the church during those years is hard to imagine. In Tokyo all but two of the 10 Nazarene churches were destroyed, and 10 elsewhere were also lost. All the pastors were forced into secular work or were drafted into the military. All twelve pastors in the western section were drafted. Rev. Saegusa was shot in the chest and was initially reported killed in action, but he survived and is still (1985) pastoring a church. Michio Nagasaka was sent to China, where he became ill and died. Rev. Takamatsu was sent to Manchuria. Seven years after the war was over, his wife received word that he had died in a Soviet prison camp in Siberia. Shiro Kano, whose story is graphically told in Alice Spangenberg's Oriental Pilgrim, was killed in the South Pacific.
One of the many fascinating stories of wartime heroism relates to Nobumi Isayama and his new church building in Tokyo. One night after a bombing raid, that entire section of the capital was in flames that threatened at any moment to engulf the church. Inside the building, the beleaguered pastor prayed that God would somehow spare his church. If not, he vowed, the same flames that consumed his church would consume his body also. Then a miracle happened. A sudden shift in the wind turned the flames away from the church, and it was spared destruction though it was in the center of ruin.
An inventory following the war revealed that only 10 of the original 28 church buildings in Japan remained. Nine of the original 35 pastors were lost. Of the 2,500 members, only 1,800 could be accounted for. The process of reconstruction for both nation and church would be difficult but challenging. The fact that the occupation forces were directed by a Christian statesman, General Douglas MacArthur, augured well for the rehabilitation of both.
One of General MacArthur's first edicts was a Bill of Rights that included the following provisions: (1) All prior legislation that impaired freedom of thought, religious assembly, and speech was null and void; (2) All extra-legal secret societies and spying organizations were forbidden; (3) No public funds could be diverted to support the Shinto religion. Such legislation opened wide the door for unprecedented missionary activity.
Another step toward reestablishment of the church came through American Nazarene servicemen who were in the occupation forces. Many made a determined effort to find traces of the former Nazarene work and also contributed funds for their rehabilitation. Dr. Howard Hamlin, attached to General MacArthur's staff as assistant chief of the Surgical Section and chief of the Orthopedics Division of the 49th General Hospital in Tokyo, was able from his vantage point to make an invaluable contribution to the reestablishment of the church.
Lieutenant Doyle Shepherd of the air force was so impressed with the need as well as the opportunity for Christian work in Japan that he and his wife offered themselves to the church for regular missionary assignment. They were officially appointed by the General Board in January 1948. Without even returning to the United States, he resigned his commission and began full-time missionary activity. When the work in Okinawa was begun in 1957, the Shepherds took the lead there also.
Major Robert H. Shaw was attached to the military government in the northern island of Hokkaido. The Shaws conducted English Bible classes in their home with such success that several churches were organized out of their converts.
When the Korean conflict broke out, Robert Shaw, by then a lieutenant colonel, was transferred to Pusan where he gave invaluable assistance in the establishment of the Church of the Nazarene in that country.
Chaplain Joseph Pitts, searching for remnants of Nazarene work in Tokyo, came upon the still-intact church of Nobumi Isayama. Working in the yard were the pastor and his wife, who were overjoyed to see him. They had been praying for just such an eventuality.
Among other personnel in the occupation forces who helped reestablish the links with the Japanese church were Orval Nease, Jr., Chaplain Lowell George, Glenn Overholt, Raymond Bolerjack, Ardee Coolidge, and Viola Roberts.
The real reconstruction of Nazarene work in Japan began when W. A. Eckel returned to that country in January of 1947. During the war he had been superintendent of the Rocky Mountain District. He resigned that post to return to his former field of labor.
When his ship, the Marine Falcon, docked at Yokohama, he was greeted warmly by Lieut. Doyle Shepherd and Eckel's longtime co-laborer, Nobumi Isayama. The latter was thin and haggard and dressed in worn and ill-fitting clothes that bespoke the hardships he had been through. But the beaming smile and hearty "Amen" as he greeted the missionary reflected his indomitable spirit. To him, it seemed the dawning of a new day.
Word spread rapidly that Rev. Eckel had returned. Among those who came to greet him at the Dai Ichi Hotel were eight former Nazarene pastors. Then word came that Hiroshi Kitagawa was coming to Tokyo from Kyoto. The man Rev. Eckel met at the station was so changed that he hardly recognized him, but the fervent "Praise the Lord!" that came from his lips as the two shook hands thrilled the heart of the missionary.
Wisely, Isayama and Kitagawa had laid claim to all missionary property in their own names in order to hold it. Now the business of legally reestablishing the church structure and transferring deeds to the name of the denomination had to be worked out. It was a tedious process. The three leaders then made plans to tour the entire country to assess the situation and lay plans to revitalize the work that had been so disrupted.
One goal of General MacArthur's occupation policy was to break up the large landholdings of the formerly wealthy and redistribute the land. Not only did this make property readily available, but values dropped precipitously. The church made the most of the situation, and about 45 parcels in various parts of the country were acquired. In the following years, a church was built on each one, many also with parsonages and kindergarten schools. Dr. Hamlin was influential in having deeded to the church a beautiful tract in Oyamadai, a section of Tokyo, for a headquarters location. On this a two-story main building and several residences were erected to accommodate the district headquarters and the Bible college.
In January 1948 Rev. Eckel returned to the United States to report to the General Board concerning his findings. The wide-open opportunity and the urgency of the situation were the keynotes of his glowing report. Immediately plans were made to send Hardy C. Powers, general superintendent, and John Stockton, general treasurer, to Japan to appraise the possibilities.
With the Hamlin home as their base of operation, the two men were able to have interviews with several top officials, including Gen. Douglas MacArthur. They were strongly encouraged to invest heavily in the Japanese work, and Rev. Eckel's report of the great potential for expansion was readily confirmed in the minds of the visiting church leaders.
The training of ministers was a No. 1 priority. By 1949 there were 45 churches in operation; and to serve these, many of the available pastors had to be circuit riders on foot, by bus, or on bicycle ministering to several congregations. Growth would be stifled unless more pastors became available.
In commemoration of Mrs. S. N. Fitkin's long service as president of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society (1915-48), a denomination-wide offering of $70,000 had been raised to build a Bible training school in China to be named in her honor. However, due to the Communist takeover there in 1949, this plan had to be tabled. It seemed appropriate to divert $25,000 of this fund to starting a similar school in Japan. Harrison Davis of Pasadena College was appointed to assist in organizing the school and to supervise the building.
The Oyamadai property in Setagaya Ku was chosen to accommodate both headquarters and Bible college, as mentioned above. Here, on March 10, 1951, the groundbreaking ceremony was held, and on April 13, 1952, the Susan N. Fitkin Memorial Building was dedicated. Five days later 16 students registered and began the four-year course of study. The following year 12 more enrolled, bringing the total to 28. W A. Eckel was named president, and Makoto Oye dean. Instructors included Hiroshi Kitagawa, Rev. and Mrs. Harrison Davis, Makoto Oye, Aishin (Ross) Kida, Susumu Okubo, Yozo Seo, and Nobumi Isayama.
Later a church building was erected on property across the street from the seminary and dedicated to the memory of Mrs. W A. (Florence) Eckel, who passed away in June 1952.
The rapid expansion of the Japanese work called for a strengthened missionary force. Several new recruits were thus commissioned. Besides the Doyle Shepherds and Harrison Davises already mentioned, the Hubert Hellings and Merril Bennetts arrived in 1952, the Bartlett McKays in 1954, the Maurice Rhodens in 1956, the Wendell Woodses in 1959, the Charles Meltons in 1960, and Miss Jean Williams in 1961. In 1952 Miss Catherine Perry, who had gone to Japan under the United States government to serve with the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, was appointed a missionary by the General Board and a year later she married Rev. Eckel.
Along with Japan's rapid recovery from the ravages of war came an intense interest in education. It seemed an open door for the church, so when a high school and junior college complex in Chiba City, across Tokyo Bay, became available (partly through earlier ties formed by Chaplain Geren Roberts and Dr. Howard Hamlin), Dr. Eckel contacted Headquarters in Kansas City on the matter. After a visit in 1959 by Hugh C. Benner, general superintendent, who voiced his approval, the General Board agreed to take over the property. In April 1960 Rev. Eckel was named chairman of the Board of Regents of the school. Harrison Davis was transferred from the Bible college to become president of the junior college, while Hiromichi Oba was continued in his position as principal of the junior and senior high schools. The combined enrollment of the latter reached 687 in 1964.
Although in many ways this was a successful venture, it was never truly a Nazarene mission school, and to continue to fund its operation was considered an unwarranted expenditure of missionary funds. To resolve the matter, a new educational corporation was organized to operate the junior college under the name Japan Nazarene College, while the high school continued as a separate entity under the direction of its founding body.
At the time of the division, the junior college acquired a seven-acre plot of land on which it constructed its main building. Enrollment was restricted to 120 because of the limited size of the facilities and faculty, but it enjoyed the distinction of being an accredited institution of higher learning. Harrison Davis, following an extended home assignment for advanced studies, returned to Japan and served as president of the newly incorporated institution from 1965 to 1984. Under his leadership the school gained acceptance and a reputation for solid scholastic work. Over the years new buildings and faculty members had been added. The enrollment increased to its present (1985) student body of 185. Following Dr. Davis's resignation, Fred Forster served one year until his home assignment. The school board then appointed Yozo Seo acting president in 1985.
The Department of English Literature of the junior college trained young people for business and teaching fields, while its Department of Religion included all course work required by the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene for ministerial ordination. The seminary, a separate institution operating on the headquarters property in Tokyo, provided an additional three years of graduate work. Enrollment at the seminary has ranged between 3 and 10 since the mid-1960s.
In the postwar years, religious radio became popular, and the Church of the Nazarene played its part. Bartlett McKay, who was very knowledgeable in this area, set up a recording studio at the mission headquarters in Tokyo. Eight programs a week were produced and taped for broadcasting from both the Tokyo/Yokohama and Osaka/Kyoto areas, which had the highest concentrations of people. Soon responses to "The Nazarene Hour" were averaging about 100 per month. For 18 years Yozo Seo, dean of the Department of Religion at the junior college, was the principal speaker. He is also an able translator of books and a capable author in his own right. He became chairman of the Evangelical Publishing Association, an organization of holiness denominations in Japan committed to the task of publishing holiness literature. The EPA has already published over 60 volumes, 15 of which were written by Nazarene authors and released through the Nazarene Publishing House.
In the early 1980s the cost of air time had risen so much that the church was forced to cancel its broadcasting contracts. As an alternative plan, weekly programs were aired from Guam on a strong shortwave band. But the results were very disappointing, and the broadcasts were terminated. In 1985 the Radio Committee began negotiations with a company on the west side of the main island (Honshu) where the programs could be aired over stations that reach a large radius.
At the 17th district assembly, held March 20-22, 1964, Dr. and Mrs. W. A. Eckel concluded their ministry in Japan. Dr. Eckel had arrived in Kobe, Japan, 48 years before on February 25, 1916. Apart from the war years, he had given 42 years of service on this field. His name was synonymous in Japan with the Church of the Nazarene, and he was well known both within and without the church.
He had been vitally related to the Japanese church almost from its infancy and had seen it grow to 54 organized churches and 92 preaching points with 48 ordained elders and 28 licensed ministers and other workers. Total membership had reached 3,608.
By the time Dr. Eckel left, Dr. Aishin (Ross) Kida had become district superintendent, to be followed in 1967 by Takichi Funagoshi. In 1970 Rev. Tsurutaro Sakurai was elected to the office, and in 1973 Sadao Harada. An unofficial three-year pattern seemed to have been established. A new twist came in 1976 when Rev. Sakurai was elected to a second term. Shin Kitagawa, son of the pioneer, Hiroshi Kitagawa, then succeeded him in 1979. It was at this assembly that General Superintendent Strickland read the official proclamation recognizing Japan as a regular district. In 1983 Shinobu Dohi became district superintendent.
Through the years the Japan church followed the policy of assisting with all travel and lodging for delegates to the district assembly, In order to meet the challenge of being a regular district and yet remain financially solvent, the assembly passed a resolution to hold the district assembly every other year. In the interim year a mini-assembly was held, with about 55 pastors and several laymen gathering to conduct the annual session required by the church Manual.
A major move was made in October 1964, when two-thirds of the Setagaya Ku property was sold for $750,000 and the headquarters offices temporarily moved to the Florence Eckel Memorial Church building across the street. The seminary was moved to the junior college campus in Chiba, but it was soon realized that it would be better to be separated from the junior college. By action of the General Board in January 1970, the Japan Theological Seminary was relocated in Tokyo to the new headquarters building that had been completed in February 1967. Dr. Ross Kida served as president until 1976, when Yozo Seo was elected to leadership. Masanao Tanimoto succeeded him in 1979, to be followed in 1983 by Masao Fujii. The teaching load was carried principally by local pastors. Small enrollment — never over 15 (1967) and as low as 6 (1976) — was a continuing problem.
In the early 1960s an English-speaking church was organized in Tokyo to minister principally to United States servicemen and their families. It was called the Far East Church of the Nazarene. A serviceman, Gerald Bohan, served as pastor for the first few years, followed in 1963 by Ralph Wynkoop, whose wife, Dr. Mildred Wynkoop, was president of the seminary as well as a teacher at the junior college. From 1967 on, missionaries served as pastors for varying periods. Among them were Merril Bennett, Hubert Helling, Fred Forster, Chester Mulder, and David Cox. U.S. servicemen, such as Richard Schwartz, often assisted as associate pastors.
As the number of American servicemen in the country rapidly declined in the 1970s, Japanese people began moving into the housing areas being vacated. As a result, the Far East Church became quite cosmopolitan. During this transition period, pastors have been Doyle Shepherd, Donald Byrnes, Wendell Woods, and Larry Wagner.
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma
City, OK 73132 | Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax:
Updated: February 7, 2019
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Article by Howard Culbertson. For more original content like this, visit: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert