The Mainichi Daily News (1961/5/29)

90 Years Of Kobe Union Church (I):

The Church And Its Inception – January 1, 1868 To April 22, 1871


This starts the series of six brief historical reviews of the past 90 years of the Kobe Union Church.  Dr. John Lovell Jr., compiled these episodic reviews in chronological order from materials provide by Harold S. Williams and from clippings of the past issues of English newspapers on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the church.

Dr. Lovell is a Fulbright exchange professor of American Literature and Drama at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies. He was professor of American Literature at Howard University, Washington D.C.


The day is New Year’s Day 1868. Fourteen years have gone by since the famous treaty was signed between Commodore Perry and the Tokugawa Shogunate opening the seaports of Japan to the West. Five years have gone by since a port named Hiogo was scheduled to open, but only on this year New Year’s Day did it actually open. There are no spacious department stores, no shiny shops, no stone banks, no fast trucks, cars, or buses, no overhead electric trains – not even rikishaws. There are mainly fields and a few fishing huts. Motomachi is a narrow, muddy street with buildings to match.


Three weeks later, the prospects of foreigners in the nearby settlement, called Kobe, were very bleak indeed. As one correspondent wrote, “death and numberless disadvantages were busy.” In spite of this sad beginning, a foreign settlement did develop in Kobe, and in January 1869 the first foreign baby was born. According to Harold S. Williams, the outstanding Australian historian of this period, the Foreign Settlement had 126 lots and came to have its own fire brigade, police force, and Municipal Council. Foreigners, however, were confined to Kobe, and could not approach the sacred Imperial City of Kyoto without permission.


A church for the Protestant English-speaking people of the vital new community was eagerly expected. Yokohama had enjoyed English language services almost from its opening to foreigners in 1859. Tokyo also had such services. Reverend Henry Blodgett, a missionary on his way to China, was touched by the great immorality of the bustling new Kobe. He succeeded in persuading the American Board to send to Kobe a young missionary couple who had just settled in Yedo (Tokyo) for language study.


This couple were the Daniel Crosby Greens. The Reverend Mr. Green has been called one of the great missionaries of Japan. He served on the first two Bible Translation Committees; he was an influential editor of the first few numbers of the Japan Christian Year Book; he was one of the organizers of the Tokyo Grammar School, which became Tokyo American School; he even designed church benches for the vacation missionary chapel tent at Mt. Hiei.


Rev. Greene’s road in Kobe was not easy. According to his letter to the American Board, dated June 14, 1870, he had held four services up to that time – on May 22 and 29, and on June 5 and 12. The services were held in the new Masonic Hall, which had been consecrated on May 14, 1870 – a building near the Oriental Hotel. Later in 1870, Rev. Greene initiated a serious campaign to have a regular church and a church building.


On April 22, 1871, this campaign reached a small but definite pinnacle of success: the scheme for the erection of a church building was approved at a meeting attended by twenty persons. Mr. Bradfield, owner of plot 48 Akashi-machi, donated a lot to the new church on condition that the land be always held for church purposes or revert to him and his heirs. Rev. Greene reported $2,500 already subscribed and made himself responsible for acquiring another $1,000 from American friends. Besides Rev. Greene, the original trustees were Mr. Gower, British Consul; Mr. Korthals, Dutch Consul; Mr. Ed Fischer, representing the Germans; and Mr. A.S. Fobes, representing the Americans.


At the suggestion of Anglican Bishop Alford of Hong Kong, passing through Kobe in July 1871, arrangements were made for the new church to hold services which would include members of the Anglican faith. And so was the new church born and sent on its dedicated and adventurous way.

(To Be Continued)