St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asakusa, Tokyo, c. 1920.

1920sHistoric DistrictReligious
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“St. John’s Church is situated in the very centre of the great Buddhist locality of Tokyo. If any congregation can be said to carry the Light for Christian faith and worship into the heart of the idolatrous’ camp, that honor should be given to this church. Asakusa is the Tokyo home of the Great Kwannon, the goddess of mercy. This was once a male deity, but at some period in its existence changed its sex.

“… It was begun as a mission of the ‘Shinko Church’ [‘True Light’] more than twenty-five years ago by the Rev. B. Cooper during his term of years in Japan. Asakusa was by no means a restful place, as was speedily discovered, and the Church led a very nomadic life for many years. After Mr. Cooper’s return to America, Bishop Williams himself ministered to its needs and for a few years all went well.

“In the big fire of ’86, however, its building, with many others, was consumed in the conflagration. This greatly lessened the ardor of the Christians but in a year a new church was built … and has occupied a necessary and important place in the general life of the district.

“… Many will remember that this church was partially destroyed during the riots resulting from the dissatisfaction over the Portsmouth Peace Conference. This ought not to be taken as an attack on Christianity. The Asakusa park is a play-ground for some of the worst elements in Tokyo, and on the day of the rioting they were being preached to by a good brother whose zeal was much greater than his discretion and common sense. He took this occasion to abuse the riot and praise the Conference for what it had done.

“The passions of the mob had already been terribly excited, they were bent on mischief without really knowing why. St. John’s church was near, it was the home of the ‘Prince of Peace.’ But they did not know the Prince, as somebody remarked, and how then could they know His dwelling?

“It was finally saved by the police but not before considerable damage had been done it. In a little while, however, it was repaired and again in use, and the result is that much sympathy has been directed toward the church and its works.”

The Japan Mission of the American [Episcopal] Church, by John Wells Andrew, 1908

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asakusa, Tokyo, c. 1920. After a nomadic existence in the Asakusa district beginning in 1883, a more permanent home for the church congregation was completed in 1888, dedicated on Trinity Sunday that year by the Reverend Theodosius S. Tyng, a missionary from North Cambridge, Massachusetts. The riots mentioned above and below (the “Hibiya incendiary incident”) occurred in September 1905, and were directed against the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth agreed to by the government ending the Russo-Japanese War. More than 350 buildings were damaged, including 70% of the police koban in the city. Seventeen people died. Similar rioting occurred in Yokohama and Kobe. Because the United States acted as the mediator of the Treaty, the terms of which the rioters felt were a humiliation given the decisiveness of Japan’s victory over Russia, the US embassy and other structures symbolically or peripherally associated with the US – including churches – were among the many buildings vandalized during the riots.

See also:
Panoramic view of Asakusa, c. 1910.
Asakusa Rokku (Theater Street), c. 1910-1950.
St. Hilda’s Chapel, Tokyo, c. 1912.

“There was recently held in the Young Men’s Christian Association Hall, Tokyo, Japan, an interesting meeting. It consisted of representatives from the various churches and missions whose property was more or less damaged in the Tokyo riots in September, 1905.

“They were called together to receive a consolation fund which had been raised for their benefit under the auspices of the Congress of Religionists. This body comprises in its membership Shintoists, Buddhists and Christians of all kinds, and it enlisted the interest of prominent business men, bankers and statemen.

“By this means a sum of 13,189.65 yen was raised, of which religious circles contributed about 5,000 yen. Of this amount the portion of the Christians was comparatively small, because they had already made relief contributions to their fellow Christians. The whole amount was divided carefully, even down to mills, as follows:

Roman Catholic Church, Honjo ¥5,123.92
Scandinavian Alliance, Honjo3,601.742
Methodist Episcopal Church, Asakusa1,128.205
Gospel Mission, Asakusa367.12
Salvation Army, Asakusa176.845
Presbyterian Church, Shitaya939.935
Canadian Methodist Church, Shitaya430.542
Presbyterian Church, Nihombashi208.56
St. John's Episcopal Church, Asakusa *100.00
[ *The last church declined the relief ]

“The motive in this movement was not to reimburse the losses, but to show that the riots were not religious, and to exhibit the common spirit of sympathy in the religious world. The giving and the receiving together constitute a striking evidence of spiritual brotherhood.

“The meeting of the World’s Student Christian Federation, which was held April 3 [1906] in Tokyo, made a profound impression upon the country. General Ito [Ito Hirobumi, former Prime Minister] gave $5,000 toward evangelistic campaigns, and his gift may be regarded as significant of the attitude of many Japanese officials.”

“The Aftermath of the Riots of 1905”, The World To-day Company (Chicago), The World To-day, May 1907

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