Impact of Canadian missionaries still felt in Japan

In the Japanese town of Shinchi-cho, Archbishop Fred Hiltz writes his condolences for a teacher and 11 kindergarten students who died in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Photo: Paul Feheley.
In the Japanese town of Shinchi-cho, Archbishop Fred Hiltz writes his condolences for a teacher and 11 kindergarten students who died in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Photo: Paul Feheley.
By on October 15, 2012

Archbishop Fred Hiltz says he felt overwhelmed by the “deep respect and affection” that Japanese Anglicans have for the Anglican Church of Canada and the “gratitude” they feel for the work of Canadian missionaries that began in Japan in 1888.

“The memory of the missionaries is still very much around,” said the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada in an interview. “We’ve heard people say their spirit is still at work among us. It’s pretty humbling.”

Responding to an invitation from Bishop Peter Ichiro Shibusawa to take part in the 100th anniversary celebration of the diocese of Chubu, Hiltz visited Japan Oct. 1 to 9. The diocese of Chubu was established by Canadian Anglican missionaries in 1911, said Hiltz, adding that everywhere he went, there were tributes to Canadian missionaries and Canadian Anglicans.

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The activity of Canadian missionaries in Japan had a “very positive impact” and “continues to shine,” said Hiltz. “It’s bright. They see it as a foundation that was laid and they want to build on it.” There are many similarities between the Canadian and Japanese Anglican churches, he noted, including diversity of liturgical expressions and theological perspectives [as well as] the way in which the Japanese church views its place in the Anglican Communion.

Hiltz was impressed by the way the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK or the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan) cherishes its national identity.

Although it has a membership of 57,000, the NSKK represents only 0.3% of Japan’s total population. And yet, “there’s a real sense that, as St. Paul says, when one rejoices, we all rejoice, and when one suffers, we all suffer together,” said Hiltz. The primate and all bishops of the NSKK’s 11 dioceses were at the diocese of Chubu’s anniversary celebration at St. Matthew’s Anglican Cathedral, in Nagoya, on Oct. 8.

Hiltz visited Sendai where the NSKK’s “Let’s Work Together” program ministers to 2011 earthquake and tsunami survivors from the diocese of Tohoku. Today it is run by young people from dioceses across Japan and there, Hiltz spoke with some of the survivors.

“It was really profound to see the bishops and other leaders of the church speak of the church’s response to the tsunami in terms of rebirth, a renewed focus on what’s absolutely at the heart of mission: sharing the good news, helping people and rebuilding the world,” he said.

Hiltz also visited a kindergarten classroom in Shinchi-cho, where 11 children and a teacher died in the tsunami. Then he was taken to the new kindergarten school where he found the contrast between the “stillness” of the old school and the “joyful sound” in the new school very powerful. Hiltz delivered Hope Bears and Hope Bear colouring books from the Anglican Foundation of Canada.

The primate also visited the graves of Canadian missionaries in Karuizawa, Nagano, and attended the 80th anniversary celebration at New Life Hospital, which was established by the Anglican Church of Canada in 1932 as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. The first director of New Life, now a general hospital, was Dr. R. K. Start, a Canadian.

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  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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