Tokyo Orthodox Seminary (Tokyo, Japan)
The Tokyo Orthodox Seminary was established in 1880 by Archimandrite Nicholas, the future St. Nicholas of Japan, on the Tokyo site of the headquarters for his Orthodox Christian mission to the Japanese. The headquarters were located on the property that he purchased in September 1872 in the Surugadai Kanda section of Tokyo. Today, this is also the site of the principal Cathedral of the Church of Japan, the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, better know as Nicolai-do, and the administrative offices of the Church. The seminary has educated Japanese since its founding and has provided an education for the Japanese clergy continuously except for the World War II years and its immediate aftermath.
When Archimandrite Nicholas moved the center of his mission from Hakodate to Tokyo in 1872, his initial efforts were to establish a school for catechists and the Russian language as he had recognized the need to establish a ‘native’ base for evangelizing Orthodox Christianity. His early converts, Paul Sawabe, John Sakai, and others had been very successful in reaching out to the Japanese population. As money was raised, this move was followed a year later by a new building to support the schools. Additionally he started a school for women. After teaching music himself for two years, Nicholas began looking for a professor of Church Music. Hieromonk Anatoly Tikhay, who had succeeded to Nicholas’ Hakodate position, recommended his brother [Yakov Tikhai]] who was graduating from a seminary in Moldavia. Jakov accepted the position and arrived in Japan in late 1874 and quickly began learning the Japanese language.
Nicholas established the seminary in 1880 by combining the mission schools and the language school. In time the Theological Seminary became the center of Orthodox Christian religious education in Japan as other institutions were added to the language, catechists, and women’s schools. These included adding a women’s college, an orphanage, an iconography studio, and choral schools, as well as a printing facility.
The system of teaching as developed by Bp. Nicholas relied upon former graduates to teach the lower classes while Bp. Nicholas or various visiting clergy would teach the upper classes. Gradually Japanese teachers and professors replaced the Russian faculty and more and more of the class work was done in Japanese. By 1912, the Japanese language had replaced Russian as the language of instruction in the seminary.
A seven year course of study was implemented at the seminary. All were welcomed to attend the seminary, even non-Christians. But, by the fourth year they had to decide to become Christians or leave the school. By the fifth year the students were expected to undertake missionary endeavors.
The course of study at the seminary was a challenging set of subjects that provided the Japanese students a valuable introduction to Christian and Western subjects. It was an epochal education program as Japan entered the Meiji Era. Many of the alumni of the seminary were to serve with distinction in the religious, literary, academic, and political worlds of Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the education of the students with a combination of Western and Japanese knowledge gave them an advantage in the new world that Japan had entered. The seven year program included a myriad of subjects including in addition to the religious subjects of Church history, Holy Scriptures, liturgical theology, doctrine, Old and New Testament, Dogmatic Theology, Patristics, ethics, canon law, and the Christian West, the subjects of European history, philosophy, logic, psychology, languages including classic Japanese, Russian and Greek, and Church music.
After a comprehensive course of studies, a number of graduates of the Tokyo Seminary advanced on to studies at Russian academies including the Kiev, Moscow, and St. Petersburg Academies. While most of these men did not become Orthodox priests, they served the Japanese mission in various capacities as laymen, including as instructors at the Tokyo Seminary. In 1897, a three story building was erected for the seminary.
After Abp. Nicholas died in 1912, he was succeeded by his assistant Abp. Sergius who continued his predecessor’s work with the seminary.
The Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 caused a set back for the seminary as for the whole Church as all the main buildings of the Kanda Suragadai complex were destroyed or seriously damaged, including the library that held over 30,000 volumes. Abp. Sergius and the Japanese Church not only had to rebuild the Holy Resurrection Cathedral (Nicolai-do) but the administrative facilities also, including the seminary, with only resources of the Japanese Church to accomplish this work. After recovering from this catastrophe the Church and its seminary were disrupted again by World War II and its aftermath. The seminary was closed for most of the 1940s and early 1950s until it was reopened by Bp. Ireney in 1954, after he assumed leadership of the Church of Japan. As part of the recovery the Church and Seminary began again publishing Bibles and theological books as well as sending graduates of the Tokyo Seminary to the seminaries in the United States for advanced studies.
Today, the Tokyo Seminary continues to grow and continue on its path to the excellence it possessed during the turn over of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
- A. Ishido, The Achievement of St. Nicholas, Thesis for Master of Divinity, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York, 1974