“The Japan Methodist Church is one of the most progressive and influential denominations in Japan. It has been the great and good fortune of that church to be under a strong and influential leadership both native and foreign. Among the bishops and other high officials of that church in Japan were and are men of supreme devotion sound judgment and high intellect who have been the guiding spirits not only of that church alone but of the entire Christian forces in Japan.
“… The great success of the Centenary Movement of the Methodist Episcopal Churches of the United States which with the Methodist Church of Canada united in Japan to form the Japan Methodist Church had much to do with this decision.
– Japan Review, November 1920
The first modern-day Christians arrived in the 1850s with Admiral Matthew Perry, whose fleet of “Black Ships” was sent by the US to more or less force Japan to open itself to trade. 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.