The Holy Annunciation Cathedral in Kyoto of The Orthodox Church in Japan

July 22, 2015

by Yuya Fukuda

churchIf you walk a few minutes from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, you will be able to see a mint green pretty church in the middle of local residential area. This building is The Holy Annunciation Cathedral in Kyoto of The Orthodox Church in Japan.

On the 10th of 1903, this Church was built. At that time, this church imported many iconostasis. For example, St. appliance, Chandelier, chandelle stands and carpets from Russia. Nowadays, those important things are not exist in other orthodox churches in Japan, and even in Russia, many of those things were lost after the Russian revolution.

During the Russo-Japanese war, this church had a difficult time, but after the war, they solaced Russian prisoners of war. When they returned to Russia, they offered 2 Icons to this church. At the end of the World War II, this church faced the danger of demolition. But immediately after this decision, the war finished, and the church was saved from the danger of demolition. Though twice restorations, in 1987 and in 1999, the original building still exists. In 1986, this church was designated a cultural property of Kyoto city.

iconostasis the Holy Bible and a cross the Holy Bible

The building was designed by Shigemitsu Matsumuro. This Church is one of the oldest Byzantine Architecture Orthodox Church in existence in Japan. The total area of the building is 21,778m, in addition to that, the dimensions are: 1) Depth 27,21m 2) width 15m 3) height 22,3m. The unique part about this building is the wooden copper roofing.

11755195_692656840839920_7038372100091351786_n 11248953_692656867506584_2977447807555968173_n chandelier 20592_692656940839910_3790338838675886822_n

Our first contact with the Orthodox Church was in 1861. It was brought by St. Nicholas of Japan (baptised as Ivan Domitrievich Kasatkin). St, Nicholas was sent as a presbyter to a chapel of the Russian consulate in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

iconostasisHis first converts in Japan were the retainers of the Sendai Domain. For that reason, there are many Orthodox churches in Tohoku region. In 1891 St. Nicholas founded a cathedral church in Kanda, Tokyo. This Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral is known as Nikorai-do today. Japanese Orthodox Churches got over very difficulties, such as Russo-Japanese war, the Great Kanto earthquake, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Fifteen Years War(1930-1945), which was part of World War II. In 1970, Orthodox Church in Japan became an Autonomous church of Eastern Orthodoxy under the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church.

On the 5th of July, I visited this Church, and joined in its Divine Liturgy for the first time. It was my first time to visit a church or worship. At first, I was surprised at its simplicity. I thought churches were more gorgeous, like Catholic churches with stained glass windows. In this church, there were no frescos on the ceiling, or statues. In spite of its simplicity, I felt the holiness from the many icons, hymns and the sounds of the bell. And through the worship, I found that this church is not only a legacy, it is still used today among local Japanese, Russians and other foreigners from orthodox countries. I also felt that these Orthodox Churches are a centre for the Slavic community in Japan. In the church, they think about their home, and they receive peace of mind in the far away and foreign country of Japan.


Address; 6-283, 2-Jo Agaru, Yanagino-banba, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto city
Tel; 075-231-2453

Miyadaiku: The Art of the Traditional Japanese Carpenter

by Kurumi Kato, Narumi Kitagawa & Yu Nakabayashi

 What is a Miyadaiku

In Japan there are carpenters called miyadaiku. They specialize in building and maintaining traditional structures such as temples, shrines, and special Japanese wooden houses. They are playing an important role in sustaining architectural traditions and Japanese cultural properties especially now by building new structures or repairing older ones. Special skills are required of these carpenters because the structures of old buildings are complicated and often use special techniques, tools, woods and other materials.

The History of Miyadaiku

The origin of miyadaiku is said to date back to the Asuka era, which is about 1400 years ago. At that time, many skilled craftsmen were brought over to the Kansai area from Korea to construct temples and palaces. Two priests from Korea were brought to build Asuka temple near Nara. At that time, Prince Shoutoku, Japan’s first regent, organized the first central government of the country and put forth many innovations. He promoted skills for making official and sacred buildings. This, it is said, was the beginning of the miyadaiku tradition. Since the government had close ties to Buddhism, temples as well as aristocratic residences would be built in Kyoto for the next thousand years.

Miyadaiku Today

Building traditional houses, temples or shrines is getting more and more difficult. This is because such work requires specialist knowledge, greater material costs and much time. In addition there are now stricter building codes that require buildings to be earthquake-proof and fire-proof. One result of such regulations is that there are now more temples being built that use concrete instead of traditional woods.

There are about 500 miyadaiku in Japan. Even though the construction of wooden buildings has been decreasing, the number of practicing miyadaiku has remained the same because traditional buildings require constant maintenance and repair. Many of these jobs are passed from one generation of miyadaiku to another. That is why their work doesn’t disappear. Also, there are some people who want to become miyadaiku. Some begin their careers at age 15; others switch to miyadaiku work in their 40s or 50s. Some people even come from foreign countries because they love Japanese architecture, Japanese tools and Japanese carpentry techniques. Sometimes miyadaiku go abroad to teach about traditional Japanese tools and techniques.

Temples were originally built to last for hundreds of years on the assumption that future generations would visit them. When a building ages, it needs to be repaired, and the reconstruction of complex joints or layered mud walls requires special skills that only miyadaiku know how to do. They do protect historical buildings.

We visited Mr. Tomita, a miyadaiku who works in Kyoto. He started his career after graduating high school. However,  it was a late start for him and he recommended starting to work soon after graduating from junior high school if you want to be miyadaiku. He says that today houses are built with pre-cut lumber, but in the past beams or pillars were shaved by a carpenter’s own hands so the size of each one is different. So repairing and matching them need high skills. Therefore, becoming skilled in the traditional techniques takes about 15 years, he says.

These skills are handed down orally from a master to his apprentice. A master doesn’t explain to a student how to do, so pupils must learn by watching and imitating. This way hasn’t changed from the past. Apprentices learn not only traditional ways but also new ones. They are trying new skills to make traditional buildings better. So the arts of traditional carpentry are still developing.


There are carpentry competitions called kezurou-kai that are held once a month everywhere in Japan. This competition lets carpenters show off their skills and see how thin can shave wood with traditional tools. Also, at such competitions you can see new and masterful techniques. And it is possible to meet craftsmen who make the traditional carpentry tools. Anyone can participate in these competitions, find new techniques and meet other craftsmen. So, this competition is place for exchanging knowledge and tools.

Kyoto Prefectural Library

by Yuya Fukuda

When people think of Kyoto, they imagine the traditional temples and shrines. However, there are also many modern western style architectures that exist in Kyoto.

Modern Western style Architectures in Japan

Most of those buildings were built from Meiji period to early Showa period (end of 19th century to early 20th century). In the Meiji period, the Japanese government hired many foreign government advisors (Oyatoi gaikokujin) to gain the knowledge of western countries to assist in modernization. Those western style buildings were one of the symbols of progress for the Japanese people. In 1877, the Japanese government funded the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo. It was the very first university of architecture in Japan. In 1879, the first students graduated from the university. They became the architectures who represent Japan.

Why does Kyoto have so many western style buildings today?

Today, Kyoto has more than 25 modern style buildings. Kyoto is traditionally known as a cultural city in Japan. Why? There are some reasons.

  1. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1000 years. But in the Meiji period, the capital transferred to Tokyo. At that time, Kyoto faced some difficulties. Since the Emperor and imperial families moved to Tokyo, many people and industries also left the city. Kyoto needed to rebuild its economy and social systems. For this reason, Kyoto invited some exhibitions and businesses. In the Meiji period, Kyoto held 2 big exhibitions. “4th National industrial exhibition” and “1100th anniversary of the transfer of national capital to Kyoto.” Kyoto had relocated those pavilions to another place, and used them.
  2. Kyoto didn’t have air raids by the United States during World War II. Therefore, many old buildings still exist in Kyoto.

Kyoto Prefectural Library

Kyoto pretectural Library

Kyoto pretectural Library

The Kyoto prefectural Library is located in the Okazaki area (east part of Kyoto), near Heian shrine. It was established in 1873 as the Shushoin library, the first public library in Japan. In 1898, it became the Kyoto Prefectural Library in the Kyoto Imperial Park. In 1909, it was relocated to the Okazaki area. At this time, the building was designed by Takeda Goichi.  The main building was a 3 story building which made by bricks. This library was one of the Takeda’s most famous work. However in 1958, the building suffered serious damage during the Great Hanshin Earthquake. In 2001, it was renovated, but the original building is still preserved to this day. The original building is combined to new, modern style building.

Goichi Takeda

Goichi Takeda was a one of the most important Japanese architects, and is often called “the father of Kansai architectural circles”. His study in Europe influenced him. Takeda is said to have introduced several new architectural styles, such as Art Nouveau or Wiener Secession, to Japan.

Address : 9 Seishoji-cho, Okazaki Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8343

Tel : +81-75-762-4655

Website :


The Miho Museum

by Kana Matsumoto and Satoko Nasu

Miho Museum Tunnel

The Miho Museum is located in the southern area of Shiga Prefecture, which is next to Kyoto, and it is surrounded by rich nature. It exhibits a private collection of Asian and European antiques gathered by Mihoko Koyama, who was the leader of new religious group called ‘Shinji Shumeikai’. In the museum there are more than 2,000 works of various origins, such as pieces from Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near and Middle East, Gandhara, China, and Japan. At any given time, around 250 pieces are exhibited in the museum.

The History of The Miho Museum

Inside The Tunnel

Mrs. Koyama loved to collect tea ceremony tools due to the influence of her parents. She gradually hoped to open a gallery to exhibit them. She asked Ieoh Ming Pei, a great architect famous for the East Hall of The National Gallery in Washington and the ‘Glass Pyramid’ in the Louvre, to design her museum. He proposed the idea that it is better to display not only the works of tea untensils, but also many different things. Therefore, Mrs. Koyama traveled around the world to gather various antiquities when Mr. Pei started to build the musuem’s unique architecture. The Miho Museum was finally completed in 1997. Its construction is very unique because 80% of the buildings are buried in the ground to harmonize with the environment and the surrounding view. Pei respects the thinking of the Japanese people and their culture and traditions. He said, “I think you can see a very conscious attempt on my part to make the silhouette of the building comfortable in the natural landscape.”(Miho Museum) Mr. Pei thought the Shigaraki Mountains were the most suitable place to set up the museum. In addition, the location is close to the headquarters of the Shinji Shumeikai group.

Visitors From Around The World

The Main Building

According to the museum, 120,000 tourists visit the Miho Museum each year, and surprisingly more than 10% of them are from foreign countries. Yet even some people from Shiga prefecture do not know about the museum. A marketing campaign for The Miho Museum was conducted for a whole year leading up to the anniversary of the establishment. Many influential government officials in Japan were involved the campaign and helped to spread awareness of the museum all over the world. In addition, a documentary video about The Miho Museum was made and broadcasted by The Discovery Channel in various languages. The press agent we interviewed said this video includes an interview with Mr. Pei and shows the process of constructing the museum. Since then, awareness of the museum has increased amongst foreign tourists by word of mouth.

Why Does The Miho Museum Attract So Many Visitors?

Great Interior Design

The Miho Museum is held in high regard around the world. There are three reasons for this.

1. The Unique Architectural Design of I.M. Pei.

The first thing that surprises visitors is the design of the museum. The theme of design is Shangri-La. It is said that the construction of The Miho Museum is the recreation of an old Chinese story in which a man loses his way and eventually ends up discovering the wonderful Shangri-La. Indeed, through the mystic tunnel and bridge to the main hall, a different world unfolds before your eyes. It’s like a real Shangri-La, harmonized well with nature off from the urban area and surrounded by magnificent mountains. In fact Mr. Pei strongly wanted to respect Japanese people’s heart and tradition, which values the harmony of buildings with landscapes. Those constructions are the results of his mind. What is more, the inside of the buildings will also surprise you. Natural light is streamed down from the uniquely designed roofs, while softly-colored walls of limestone offer warmth and relaxation. Everything was carefully designed with consideration of visitors in mind. In addition, the museum offers great facilities for storing and exhibiting art under the best possible conditions. For this reason, visitors can enjoy viewing art during any season of the year.

2. Great Displays Bring Happiness to Visitors

Beautiful Interior Passage

In the museum, there are many selected exhibits from around the world. They vary from Japanese arts such as tea utensils, Buddhist art, ceramic, lacquerware and Yamato-e paintings of the ancient arts of the world, such as Egypt, West Asia, Greece, Rome, South Asia, China, Persia, and so on. There are a many rare pieces of art each having long histories; all of them displayed beautifully. And they also seem to have a strong presence, as if they were sending some special message to us. In fact, all of the displays were carefully gathered by Mrs. Koyama based on the idea of making people happy and being influenced by beautiful things. Visitors will surely feel a great sense of satisfaction and happiness to encounter these great collections.

3. Great Hospitality

The service by the museum staffs is another wonderful feature of this museum. In the interview with the press agent of the Miho museum, she seemed to be very proud of the services the Miho offers to visitors as well as its architecture and art collection. The museum staff have made several great efforts to increase visitor satisfaction. First, they serve visitors from foreign countries with staff members who can speak foreign languages such as English, Chinese, and so on. Thanks to this service, the museum has become popular among foreigners. In addition, the restaurant in the museum serves meals which are made of all organic ingredients. They try to make people’s heart and body refreshed and fully satisfied. Of course, all staff members are sure to maintain a polite and courteous demeanor toward each visitor. Such great hospitality definitely helps to make people satisfied and happy.


Take the JR Biwako line from Kyoto Station to Ishiyama Station ( 230 yen, 15 min.). At the south gate of Ishiyama station, take the Teisan bus number 150 to the Miho museum ( 800 yen, 50 min.). It takes just over an hour in total from Kyoto.

300, Tashiro Momodani, Shigaraki, Shiga

Tel. +81 (0)748 82 3411

10:00 to 17:00 (Admission until 16:00)

1,000 yen for adults; 800 yen for high school and college students; 300 yen for elementary school students.