This church began in 1861 with the arrival in Japan of a young Russian missionary priest-monk named Nicholas Kasatkin. Originally assigned as chaplain to the Russian consulate in Hakodate, he soon turned his attention to missionary work among the Japanese, baptizing his first converts in 1868. The Russian Orthodox Holy Synod approved of his work and established an official mission to Japan in 1871. Following the abrogation of the Japanese anti-Christian laws in 1873, the mission quickly gained ground. Fr. Nicholas began to recruit native Japanese clergy, and he oversaw the translation of the New Testament and many liturgical books into the Japanese language. He was ordained a bishop in 1880, and by the time of his death in 1912, some 30,000 Japanese had been baptized into the Orthodox faith. Nicholas also supervised the construction of Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo, commonly called Nikolai-do, which was dedicated in 1891, and the establishment of a seminary in 1880. Because of his central role in the foundation of the Orthodox Church in Japan, he was canonized in 1970 by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Orthodoxy in Japan quickly became an indigenous phenomenon, which enabled it to survive periods of hostility between Japan and Russia. Bishop Theodosius (Nagashima) was installed as the first native Japanese Metropolitan in 1972.
Because of difficulties in dealing with the Russian Orthodox Church under communist rule, from 1945 to 1970 the Orthodox Church in Japan placed itself under the jurisdiction of the American Metropolia (the future Orthodox Church in America). When the Moscow Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America in 1970, the OCA returned the Japanese Orthodox Church to the jurisdiction of Moscow, and Moscow simultaneously granted autonomy to the Japanese church. Consequently, the election of the head of the Japanese Orthodox Church must now be confirmed by the Moscow Patriarchate, but the church can elect and ordain its other bishops without such confirmation. The autonomy of the Japanese church has not been recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and most other Orthodox churches. Nevertheless, Metropolitan Theodosius met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew when he visited Japan in April 1995.
Metropolitan Theodosius died on May 9,1999. On May 6, 2000, an Extraordinary Local Council of the Japanese Church elected Bishop Daniel (Nushiro) as its new primate. This election was subsequently confirmed by Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow and All Russia, who traveled personally to Japan to enthrone the new Metropolitan on May 14, 2000. This was the first time a Russian Patriarch had ever visited the country.
At present the church has three dioceses: the Archdiocese of Tokyo, the Western Diocese based in Kyoto, and the Eastern Diocese based in Sendai. In 2014 the church reported that its 67 worshiping communities were being served by 37 members of the clergy. Liturgical services are ordinarily celebrated in Japanese. Almost all the clergy are now native Japanese, trained at the church’s seminary in Tokyo. Some of them have pursued higher studies at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York, USA.
Head: Metropolitan Daniel (born 1938, elected 2000)
Title: Archbishop of Tokyo, Metropolitan of All Japan
Residence: Tokyo, Japan