The Protestant Missions — October 21, 2010 at 10:10 pm

" A Modern Paul in Japan "


Murata Wakasanokami, The First Protestant Believer in Japan (collotype plate)

In the spring of 1876 the missionaries of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (North), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland formed the “Council of the Three Missions” made up of two delegates from each mission. One of its chief objects was to effect a union of the Japanese churches that had been formed in connection with their labours. The rules drawn up by this council, and adopted by the churches, recommended the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort, as the standards of doctrine; and the rules of church government were modelled upon those of Presbyterian churches in the West, though somewhat changed so as to suit Japanese conditions. The name adopted for the new body signified ‘The United Church of Christ in Japan.” A few years later the word “United” was dropped from the title. The first meeting of the new organisation was held in Yokohama, October 3, 1877. Besides the missionaries, there were eight elders representing the same number of churches. These churches had a membership of six hundred and twenty-three. Requests were received for the organization of three new churches.

At this meeting, three persons were ordained to the Christian ministry. Their names were Okuno Masatsuna, Ogawa Yoshiyasu, and Toda Tadaatsu.

Rev. M. Okuno and Wife

Mr. Okuno was born in Yedo in 1823. He belonged to the military class, both his own father and the man that afterwards adopted him being vassals of the Tokugawa Shoguns. At the time of the overthrowal of the Shogunate he was serving as an official in the household of Ninnoji no Miya, the uncle of the Emperor Mutsuhito. An attempt was made to set up this prince as a rival emperor, and Mr. Okuno was among those that joined the army raised for this purpose by the northern daimyos. This movement soon ended in failure. Mr. Okuno, who was reduced to poverty, was still loyal to the house of his former master and longed to see it restored to its former prosperity. As a help in bringing this about, he had recourse to fasting and penance. He resolved to offer up petitions for help at all the Shinto shrines in Yedo. Setting out in the winter, he repeated his prayers at each shrine and poured cold water over his body. In fifty days the number of these ablutions had amounted to ten thousand. Sometimes he fasted for periods of seven days, eating absolutely nothing. He became so weak that he depended on his friends to help him as he crawled from one place to another ; yet on arriving in front of a shrine, he would pour bucketful after bucketful of ice cold water over his head until his skin turned black and his emaciated body could hardly be kept from falling.

When the bamboo tallies with which he kept account of the number of douches had been used up, his friends would help him to some house where they would seek to restore vitality to his almost frozen body. After he had visited five hundred shrines in this way, he returned to his family. His prayers and intercessions had been in vain, and his friends undertook to find out why the gods had not granted his desires. Thus it was ascertained that in his weakness he had sometimes failed to reach a shrine at the proper time. He therefore went over the whole weary round once more; but still the gods were unmoved. He told his friends that his efforts were vain and he could do no more. He had spent their money and his for naught; he had starved himself to a skeleton and almost destroyed his life; but not one comforting response had come from any of the gods. Soon after this he found employment with Dr. Hepburn, helping him in the preparation of his dictionary. Being thus brought under Christian influences, he at last became a believer in the truths of the Gospel, and he ever after showed a spirit as earnest as marked the days when he sought help by pilgrimages and penances.

Yoshiyasu Ogawa

Mr. Ogawa, like Mr. Okuno, became one of the leaders in the church. He was born in 1831 and belonged to the military class. Becoming Dr. Thompson’s teacher and so a helper in the translation of the Bible, he was greatly moved by its truths and was thus led to a belief in Christ.


Earlier in the year (February) another earnest young man had been ordained as pastor of the Naniwa Church, which at the same time was organised in the city of Osaka. Rev. Paul Sawayama was born in 1851 in the province of Suwo. During the Revolution he fought against the Shogun’s army, and soon after the restoration of peace came to Kobe, where he studied English with Rev. D. C. Greene. In 1872 he went to America, finding a home in the family of Mr. Greene’s brother, who lived in Evanston, 111. While there, he united with the First Congregational Church of that city, and decided that he would devote his life to preaching the Gospel. On returning to Japan in 1876, he was offered a government position at a salary of one hundred and fifty yen a month, which was a very large sum at that time; but he chose instead to become pastor of the little flock in Osaka, which could pay him only the paltry sum of seven yen. He was a man of deep faith, an earnest preacher, and one that exerted a great influence over all that met him. He and Mr. Neesima were the Japanese who did most to lay the foundations of what afterwards became the Kum-ai body of churches (Congregational). Though feeble health often kept him from the pulpit, yet in the sickroom or the ward of the hospital he was a great spiritual power. Other Christian workers went to him for advice and help to such an extent that he was often called “a pastor of pastors.” He was an earnest advocate of self-support for the native churches. His own church was noted for its readiness to contribute not only for its own expenses, but for carrying the Gospel to others. He died in 1887 but his memory is still a power for good among all who knew him. His biography under the title, ” A Modem Paul in Japan ” was written by Mr. Naruse Jinzo.

Japan Evangelist:




  1. Do you have any more information on Murata Wakasanokami.


  2. Just following up on our conversation on Murata Wakasanokami from May 12th.


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