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In 1860 the Japanese and Americans, under the diplomatic leadership of Townsend Harris, proclaimed their Treaty of Amity and Commerce, Article VIII of which gave foreigners the freedom to practice Christianity (when had been punishable by death) and to "erect suitable places of worship."  Nine years later the city of Tokyo was opened officially to Westerners, who were confined to the are of reclaimed land called Tsukiji, now famous as the world's largest fish market.

By January of 1870, missionaries of various denominations had begun having Sunday afternoon worship services which they called 'Union Church services'. Two years later in Tsukiji, the first Tokyo Union Church building was completed; funds of its construction were donated by diplomats, missionaries and businessmen.  This building served the TUC congregation as well as Japanese and German-speaking congregations until 1902.

At that time, Japan finally allowed foreigners to reside outside Tsukiji, and the church moved out with them.  Until 1930 Tokyo Union Church had no fixed home; services were held in various churches, such as Ginza Methodist Church, before deciding to buy land for a new church in Toranomon.  The 1923 earthquake which devastated most of Tokyo halted all building plans.  After that the TUC congregation worshipped first in St. Andrews Episcopal Church and then at Aoyama Gakuin.  TUC eventually sold the Toranomon lot and bought the present site on Omote-Sando.  The architect J.Van Wie Bergamini designed the first church on this site, which was dedicate in 1930.

During World War II, Tokyo Union Church entrusted the church to a Japanese pastor, Ugo Nakada, a member of the congregation who struggled throughout the war to keep the church from being taken over for secular purposes.  On May 25, 1945, during a fierce bombing raid, Tokyo Union Church was hit by a firebomb that completely gutted the building.  By 1947, however, worship services had begun again for the TUC congregation at Aoyama Gakuin, and in November 1951, the rebuilt church, restored to the Bergamini design, was rededicated.

After the war, the composition and character of the TUC congregation changed as the foreign community gradually expanded; the congregation began to include more business and professional people and fewer missionaries.  Up to this point, ordained pastors from among the missionary community had always volunteered to lead worship services.  In 1952, however, the church decided to call the first full-time pastor for the congregation.

In 1979, after almost thirty years of constant use, the church building on Omote-Sando needed drastic repairs and expansion.  The congregation, after much consideration, decided to tear down and rebuild on the same site.  The new building, designed and built by Nishimatsu Construction Co., was dedicated on November 16, 1980.  Former members of the church who are scattered all over the world provided the furnishing for the building.

Tokyo Union Church is well into its second century of ministry to Christians from many nationalities, races and denominations.  We can celebrate the past and look forward to the future of this extraordinary family of God. 

For more information on the fascinating history of TUC, please see Robert Hemphill's A Church for All Seasons, a complete history of TUC. Unfortunately, this book is now out of print.


Click here for time line of events in the life of Tokyo Union Church.

Click here to see a snapshot of our Website circa June 2001!


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