Accepted paper:

Making Protestant Church Space in Imperial Japan: Urban Space, Architecture, and Tokyo's Largest Churches, 1880-1923


Garrett Washington (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Paper short abstract:

This paper responds to lingering questions about Protestant Christianity's ability to influence society in imperial Japan. It investigates the unexamined importance of the urban and built spaces of Tokyo's largest, most popular Japanese Protestant churches in the religious movement's transformation.

Paper long abstract:

Protestant churches in imperial Japan fostered new, transformative forms of social discourse and activism that left an indelible mark on that country. This story has now achieved the status of scholarly consensus among historians. Yet Christianity's ability to impact a Japanese society so ideologically and institutionally opposed to the religion remains unexplained. Through a case study of Meiji- and Taishō-era Tokyo's largest and most popular Japanese Protestant churches, this research investigates the unexamined importance of physical space in the religious movement's metamorphosis. First, this paper applies the insights of scholars such as Augustin Berque, Sally Hastings, Philipp Brown, and Carola Hein to examine the ways in which Japan's first generation of Protestant pastors utilized urban space. They made conscious use of specific types of urban space in Tokyo to realize their conceptions about and ambitions for Christianity in the capital. They planned, built and rebuilt in areas abuzz with Japan's new educated elite, from the wealthy Reinanzaka neighborhood within blocks of the Imperial Diet to the bustling cafés and dormitories around the Imperial University in Hongō Ward. Second, the paper draws on the conclusions of Georg Simmel, Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault and others to investigate the relationship between the shape of Japanese Protestant church buildings and the minds and actions of the people within them. From the 1880s, the Japanese pastors and congregations imagined and realized church buildings that were more than simple American imports. The resulting sites were Japanese in conception, design, funding, construction, and use, but were also Western-style buildings that benefited from Christianity's special political status and from their associability with the West. These hybrid edifices evolved to possess distinct, eye-catching exteriors and attractive, multi-functional, interiors that could bring Japanese religious seekers together in new and meaningful ways. Using maps, photographs, architectural drawings, diaries, autobiographies, church bulletins, Christian periodicals, and other sources, this paper describes the evolution of Protestant urban and built space in Tokyo between 1880 and 1923. In doing so, it aims to bridge the divide between most Japanese historians and more spatially oriented disciplines in both the humanities and social sciences.

panel S7_30
Christian Histories: Space, Organisation and Global Comparison