For many international travelers, one of the biggest reasons to visit Japan is the beautiful temples and shrines. They have unique architectural styles that are completely different from buildings that can be found in Western countries. On the other hand, however, unannounced to many, Japan is also home to countless numbers of beautiful churches and cathedrals. Visiting them will allow you to enjoy the magnificent beauty of western-style architecture while learning the fascinating hidden stories buried in their histories. Here we have prepared the list of the 10 best churches and cathedrals that you can find in Japan!
- 1. Holy Resurrection Cathedral (Nicolai-do)
- 2. Himonya Catholic Church (Salesian Church)
- 3. St. Ignatius Catholic Church
- 4. Karuizawa Kogen Church
- 5. Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Stone Church
- 6. Miyazu Catholic Church
- 7. Oura Cathedral
- 8. Catholic Church Hakodate Motomachi
- 9. Sakitsu Church
- 10. St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church
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1. Holy Resurrection Cathedral (Nicolai-do)
Holy Resurrection Cathedral is an iconic piece of architecture nestled in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. It is also widely known as “Nicolai-do” which has taken its name from St. Nicolas, the Russian founder of the cathedral who came to Japan in the late 19th century with the aim of introducing the Orthodox Church to Japan. It is conveniently located within a few-minute walk from JR Ochanomizu station. The admission is free, however, visitors are expected to contribute a ¥300 donation per person before entering the main building. As you pay the admission you will be given a multilingual brochure as well as a candle that you can light inside the cathedral. It is a perfect spot to feel at peace in the heart of the busy city!
Opening hours (※closed on Mondays)
1pm – 4pm (April – September)
1pm – 3:30pm (October – March)
2. Himonya Catholic Church (Salesian Church)
Himonya Catholic Church is a marvelous church located in Meguro-ku, Tokyo. It was originally built in 1954 by Salesians of Don Bosco, a religious congregation founded in the 19th century in Italy. The Romanesque-style building features beautiful white walls, green roofs, as well as a 36-meter bell tower. This tower has a huge bell which was donated by passionate believers in Milano as a sign of good faith. It also has been popular among several celebrities as a picturesque venue for their wedding ceremonies. Visitors can freely take a look inside the main building which has beautiful stained-glass windows, stunning marble statues, and impressive wall paintings. Mass is held at 7 am on weekdays, and Sundays at 7 am, 9 am 10:30 am, and 6 pm.
Opening hours: 6am – 5:30pm
3. St. Ignatius Catholic Church
St. Ignatius Catholic Church is a peaceful church nestled in Yotsuya, Tokyo. It is adjacent to Sophia University and easily accessible from JR Yotsuya station on foot. It was named after Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who is known as the founder of the Society of Jesus. The original church was built in 1936 but later was destroyed during the war. The current modern building was completed in 1999 and attracts people due to its sophisticated design. The oval-shaped building represents an egg which is believed to symbolize life. Mass is held on Sundays in multiple languages, including English, Spanish and Vietnamese. (※Mass is also temporarily available online.) A small gift shop is also available where you can find a number of items for sale.
Opening hours: 9 am – 7 pm
4. Karuizawa Kogen Church
Established in 1921, Karuizawa Kogen Church has been recognized as one of the most famous tourist attractions in the Karuizawa area. Many churches have been built around the area since 1886 when Christianity was brought there by a Canadian missionary. This lovely church has a long history and originally started as just a small lecture hall where young intellectuals got together to discuss their opinions freely regardless of religious beliefs.
These days, visitors from all over come to see the beautiful wooden building and to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere that is complemented by the lush greenery outside. Visitors can look inside the church from 10 am – 5 pm on weekdays. Worship services with gospel performances are also available from 1:30 pm on Sundays for free. Christmas Candle Night is also held annually from late November through December 25th.
Opening hours: 10am – 5pm
5. Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Stone Church
Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Stone Church is another famous church in the Karuizawa area. It was built by an American architect in 1988 to commemorate the contribution of Uchimura Kanzo, a Japanese author who was also a Christian evangelist who dedicated his life to the non-church movement. The unique design of the stone church naturally integrates the beautiful surroundings. As you walk through the stone path leading to the main hall, sunlight comes through the glass ceilings and peacefully lights up your way. Inside the church, there is no cross, stained glass, or statue of Mary. Instead, you will find stone walls decorated with lovely plains and a calm wavy stream. They also have a small museum that showcases the letters written by Uchimura Kanzo and other exhibits about the history of Karuizawa.
Opening hours: 9am – 6pm
6. Miyazu Catholic Church
Located in the heart of Miyazu city, the northern part of Kyoto, Miyazu Catholic Church is adored as an iconic landmark in the city. It was designed by a French missionary and completed in 1896. The main building of the church is officially designated as a tangible cultural property which adds to its historic value. It is also known as one of the oldest churches in Japan which still holds a mass regularly. The design of the building combines both Japanese and Western architectural styles. While the beautiful exterior of the church is the Romanesque style in France, you will find tatami, a traditional Japanese mat made of straw inside the church as well. It is about a 10-minute walk from Miyazu station, and admission is free. Note that they are open to the public from 9 am – 5 pm, except for 9:30 am – 11am on Sunday when the mass takes place.
9 am – 5 pm
9:30am – 11am (Sunday)
7. Oura Cathedral
Oura Cathedral is one of the most famous Catholic churches in all of Japan. It is also widely recognized as Japan’s oldest church with a history extending back over 150 years. It was built in 1864, soon after Japan resumed international trade with Western countries after 220 years of national isolation. The World Heritage-listed church played a role as the main church in the region for both foreign residents as well as hidden Christians in Japan. Admission is ¥1,000 which includes entry to the newly opened museum added in 2018. The museum showcases informative exhibits about the history of Christianity in Japan!
Opening hours: 8:30am – 5:30pm
¥400 (junior high/ high school student)
¥300 (elementary school student)
8. Catholic Church Hakodate Motomachi
Catholic Church Hakodate Motomachi is a breathtaking church located in the Motomachi area of Hakodate City in Hokkaido. The church dates back to 1859 when a French missionary built a small hall where he taught English to Japanese people and held a mass for local Christians. The current building was finally completed in 1924 after having been destroyed by fire on multiple occasions. This beautiful Catholic church is constructed in the classic Gothic style, displaying a holy and majestic atmosphere. They are open to the public from 10 am – 4 pm on weekdays, and noon – 4 pm on weekends. It is about a 5-minute bur ride from Hakodate station.
10am – 4pm (weekdays)
Noon – 4pm (weekends)
9. Sakitsu Church
During the Edo period (1603- 1868), Kumamoto and Nagasaki played a huge role as the center of Christianity in Japan. During this time, Christianity was strictly prohibited and Christians were not allowed to confess their faith openly in public. Sakitsu Church is a Gothic-style Catholic church tucked away in a small fishing village in Amakusa city, Kumamoto. Hidden Christians secretly gathered there and held on to their faith under the strict persecution for over 200 years. The current church was finally completed in 1934 and is a sight for sore eyes. It offers a stunning waterfront view of the lovely village as well as the beautiful scenery created by the surrounding mountains.
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm
10. St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church
St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church is a Catholic church that is located in Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi prefecture. It was built in 1952 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of St. Francis Xavier, a Roman Catholic missionary who visited Yamaguchi with the aim of spreading Christianity across Japan. The pearly white beautiful church has a modern design that is simple and naturally blends with the serene surroundings. The church also features two iconic towers which stand about 50 meters tall and are recognizable even from a distance as a landmark of the city.
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm
No matter what religion you believe in, there is always something to be learned from visiting the buildings from other religions, and it fosters a greater appreciation of the aesthetic beauty that has inspired such architecture. Although the history of churches and cathedrals in Japan is relatively short compared to traditional temples or shrines, they are definitely worth a visit!
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with traveling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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