The Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs: From photographs in publications held by the National Diet Library - Tokyo, Kansai, Tohoku in Photographs


Column <Tokyo>

6 Nicorai-do

Nihon no Meisho
Greek Church, Tokyo from "Nihon no Meisho"

Nicorai-do, located in Kanda's Surugadai in Chiyoda-ku (Chiyoda Ward), Tokyo, is the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church in Japan. While officially known as the Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral, it is commonly referred to as "Nicorai-do" (Temple of Nikolai) after the Russian Orthodox Archbishop Nikolai Kasatkin, who oversaw its construction in 1891 during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Over the years the cathedral has emerged as a popular sightseeing spot for visitors to the capital. It was a favored destination for students of the Tokyo Music School (present Tokyo National University of Fine Arts & Music), who came to listen to the Sunday choir.

The structure was initially designed by Russian artist M.A.Shchurupov and was later modified and completed by J.Conder, who is known for his work on the Imperial Hotel. Construction of the cathedral was commissioned to Nagago Taisuke while the actual building was carried out by Shimizugumi (presently Shimizu Corporation). The iconostasis inside the cathedral is believed to be the work of V.M.Peshekhonov, while the four icons were created by icon painter Yamashita Rin. The Byzantine, cruciform cathedral has an octagonal dome in the center as well as a bell tower. Total construction costs came to 240,000 yen, most of which is said to have been donated by members of the Russian Orthodox Church who lived in the Russian Empire.

Nicorai-do served as an important religious center for the estimated 40,000 members of the Russian Orthodox Church living nationwide during the latter part of the Meiji era. However, with the passing of Archbishop Nikolai in 1912 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Orthodox Church in Japan lost much of its support―financially and otherwise―from Russia and its missionary work began to lose momentum. It was against this backdrop that the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake struck the Kanto area, causing widespread destruction in Tokyo. The cathedral was seriously damaged when the temblor caused the bell tower to topple onto the dome. Meanwhile the iconostasis inside the cathedral and the annexed library and school were burned to the ground.

While the Orthodox Church in Japan made immediate plans for the reconstruction of Nicorai-do, financial difficulties considerably slowed progress and it wasn't until 1929, six years after the disaster, that the cathedral was rebuilt. The new cathedral was designed by Okada Shinichiro, whose design plans can be viewed in the collection of design drawings created by the Okada Brothers (Japanese) at the National Diet Library. The reconstructed Nicorai-do is similar in design to the old structure, except for the shape of the large domed roof and the bell tower, which is shorter in height and is located in closer proximity to the central dome.