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12 Popular and Famous Churches in Japan

Japan is full of historic, beautiful churches—many hosting events around the holidays.

By 5 min read 1

Though not known for widespread Christian practice, many churches in Japan have diverse denominations. Like Shinto shrines, churches have a unique historical backdrop, from historic landmarks and pilgrimage sites to architectural marvels.

Catholicism’s introduction in the 1500s faced a subsequent ban lasting two centuries, leading to the clandestine practices of Kakure Kirishitans, hidden Christians in Japan who hid to evade persecution. In the 19th century, churches for foreign residents were sanctioned, yet Japanese nationals remained barred from Christianity until 1873.

Today, these churches, some products of post-ban construction, offer a blend of spirituality, history, and welcoming and peaceful spaces for prayer and contemplation. Here are just some of the famous churches around the country.

Visiting Etiquette

If you plan to visit a church in Japan—particularly those used for regular worship services more than sightseeing—there are some general manners to remember.

  • Silence your cell phone inside the church, and be aware that photography and video recording might not be allowed.
  • Modest clothing is a common preferred dress code, and it is polite to remove hats.
  • Pay attention to posted signs, and do not enter off-limits areas.
  • In Japan, bowing is a common greeting and showing respect, even in church.

St. Mary’s Cathedral (Tokyo)

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St. Mary´s Cathedral was designed by Kenzo Tange.

Originally built in the late 19th century and destroyed by World War II air raids, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Bunkyo, Tokyo (seen above), was later redesigned by Kenzo Tange—a renowned architect who created other famous structures such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Mass is held at the cathedral in the mornings from Monday to Saturday and multiple times on Sunday.

3-16-15 Sekiguchi, Bunkyo City, Tokyo - Map

Harajuku Protestant Church (Tokyo)

Photo:
A work of art.

This church’s original building was destroyed during a massive air raid in 1945. Later, the church was rebuilt, and the architectural office Ciel Rouge Creation designed the current structure—a work of art that matches Harajuku’s reputation as a modern, fashionable neighborhood. Visitors to the church can admire its architecture while strolling through the streets or attending a Sunday worship service.

3-42-1 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo - Map

Yokohama Union Church (Kanagawa)

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Performances at Yokohama Union Church

Established in 1863, Yokohama Union was Japan’s first inaugural English-speaking Protestant church, initially catering to foreign residents. Presently, it embraces a diverse congregation of all nationalities. Regular Sunday services, including English services, foster an inclusive spiritual community.

66-2 Yamatecho, Naka Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa - Map

Yokohama Kaigan Church (Kanagawa)

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A church on the coast.

Yokohama Kaigan Church was established approximately a decade after Yokohama Union Church and is the first Protestant church for Japanese citizens. The church conducts worship services on Sundays, occasionally hosting special Christmas events, and primarily offering services in Japanese.

8 Nihonodori, Naka Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa - Map

St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral (Osaka)

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The Catholic Tamatsukuri Church.

This church was built on the former site of the residence of the Hosokawa daimyo (feudal lord). The grounds include paintings and monuments dedicated to famous Japanese Christians. These figures include Hosokawa Gracia—a Christian convert who married into the Hosokawa family—and Takayama Ukon—a daimyo who became a Christian and was later banished to Manila because of his faith. Visitors to the church can attend English, Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean Mass at different times. The church is also known as the Catholic Tamatsukuri Church.

2-24-22 Tamatsukuri, Chuo Ward, Osaka - Map

Miyazu Catholic Church (Kyoto)

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The oldest church in Japan.

While Kyoto is famous worldwide, fewer people know about Miyazu—a seaside town in northern Kyoto Prefecture about two hours away from Kyoto City by train. Miyazu Catholic Church is one of the best-known local landmarks because it is one of the oldest operating churches in Japan. Built in the late 19th century, the church incorporates Japanese and European building styles with features such as stained glass windows and tatami mat floors—reflecting the beginning of Japan’s modernization period.

432 Miyamoto, Miyazu, Kyoto - Map

Fukuoka International Church (Fukuoka)

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Christmas services at Fukuoka International Church.

This bilingual church in the heart of Fukuoka City welcomes all visitors to weekly worship services and events throughout the year. These include regular banquets, Christmas celebrations and special events for Easter. Services here are held in English and Japanese.

1-12-45 Daimyo, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka - Map

Church of St. Philip (Nagasaki)

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The unique architecture of Nishizaka Church.

This Catholic church in Nagasaki is located next to the 26 Martyrs Museum—a site that commemorates 26 Christians who were executed in 1597 for their beliefs. The church holds Mass in Japanese every morning, while Sunday afternoons are dedicated to an English Mass. Outside of Mass, the church is open for visiting and private prayer. In addition to its beautiful architecture, the church is known for possessing relics—bones of three of the 26 Martyrs. This church is also known as Nishizaka Church.

8-11 Nishizakamachi, Nagasaki - Map

Urakami Cathedral (Nagasaki)

The Immaculate Conception Cathedral Church.

 

Built after the ban on Japanese nationals practicing Christianity was lifted, the atomic bomb later destroyed this Catholic cathedral dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. However, the building was reconstructed in 1959 and continues to be a place of worship for the local community. Parts of the cathedral are not open to sightseers on a typical day. Still, outside the building, visitors can see statues and remnants of the original cathedral that were damaged by the atomic bomb. Urakami is also known for a Christmas Eve Mass and light display.

8-11 Nishizakamachi, Nagasaki - Map

Karuizawa Kogen Church (Nagano)

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Spirituality in nature.

Karuizawa Kogen strives to be a space where people from all walks of life can gather. The church’s wooded locale makes it a popular wedding venue, and in December, the surrounding forest is lit up in a special illumination event. Anyone is free to attend this illumination with a reservation. Karuizawa Kogen also hosts a special worship service on New Year’s Day—a Christian alternative to hatsumode (the first visit of the new year to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple).

Hoshino Karuizawa, Nagano - Map

Tsuwano Catholic Church (Shimane)

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Tsuwano Catholic Church

In Shimane, Tsuwano Catholic Church is a poignant memorial to Japanese Christians imprisoned in the late 19th century. During a period when the ban on Christianity persisted, authorities arrested Christians, exiling them to rural areas and employing torture to coerce renunciation. Tragically, 37 exiled to Tsuwano, known as the Martyrs of Tsuwano, lost their lives. The church in the town center welcomes visitors throughout the week and conducts regular Mass services.

66−7 Ushiroda, Tsuwano, Kanoashi District, Shimane - Map

Otome Toge Saint Mary’s Chapel (Shimane)

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A secluded church in the woods.

Nestled in the woods just outside the town, Otome Toge Saint Mary’s Chapel is a solemn remembrance of the Martyrs who were once held captive here. Open for private prayer, the chapel provides a tranquil space for reflection. Visitors can also explore a nearby trail through the woods adorned with the Stations of the Cross, adding a contemplative dimension to the historical site.

Tsuwano, Kanoashi District, Shimane - Map
Have you been to any churches in Japan? Which do you recommend visiting? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Trevor Peace says:

    It’s nice to see Karuizawa’s Kogen Church on the list. Attended a wedding there in 2017 and stayed at a nearby traditional Japanese hotel for a few days related to the celebration. Very nice setting!

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