Nicholas of Japan

Saint Nicholas, Equal-to-the-Apostles, Archbishop of Japan, born Ivan Dmitrovich Kasatkin (Russian: Иван Дмитриевич Касаткин; 13 August [O.S. 1 August] 1836 16 February 1912) was a Russian Orthodox priest, monk, and bishop. He introduced the Eastern Orthodox Church to Japan.[1] The Orthodox cathedral of Tokyo (metropolitan diocese of Japan), Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral, was informally named after him as Nikorai-do, first by the local community, and today nationwide, in remembrance of his work.

Saint Nicholas of Japan
Saint Nicholas
Equal-to-the-Apostles, Archbishop of Japan
BornIvan Dmitrovich Kasatkin
13 August [O.S. 1 August] 1836
Smolensk, Russian Empire
Died16 February 1912(1912-02-16) (aged 75)
Tokyo City, Empire of Japan
Venerated inEastern Orthodoxy
Canonized1970, Tokyo, Japan
Major shrineTokyo Resurrection Cathedral
Feast3 February
16 February (old style)

Early life

Nicholas was born in the Smolensk prefecture in the Russian Empire to Dimitry Kasatkin, a Russian Orthodox deacon. His mother died when he was five years old. In 1857, he entered the Theological Academy in Saint Petersburg.

On 24 June 1860, he was tonsured with the name Nicholas by the Academy Rector, Bishop Nectarius Nadezhdin. Nicholas was ordained deacon on 29 July the same year; the following day, on the altar day of the Academy church[2] (the feast day of the Holy Apostles, according to the Julian Calendar), he was ordained to the holy priesthood.[3]


On 2 July 1861, Nicholas landed at Hakodate, Hokkaidō, Japan, as a priest attached to the chapel of the Russian consulate in Hakodate. He had volunteered for the appointment to this duty, attracted since the day he noticed a poster calling for a priest for this chapel when he was a seminary student. After he arrived at the consulate, he studied Japanese and quickly gained mastery of the language. He studied Buddhism during the first eight years of his time in Japan, when, in his words, he “strove with all diligence to study Japanese history, religion, and the spirit of the Japanese people”.[4]

While at the consulate chapel, he converted three Japanese, one of whom, a former samurai and Shinto priest named Sawabe Takuma, had originally come to his home to kill him. After conversion, Sawabe became one of the first Japanese Orthodox priests. In 1870, Nicholas was made an archimandrite and moved to Tokyo, and began an extensive missionary effort. He bought property on a height in Kanda Surugadai for his headquarters which later became the site of the see of the Orthodox Archbishop of Japan. Under his leadership, by 1870 the Orthodox community numbered more than 4,000 people, and by 1912 about 33,000 people and 266 Orthodox communities.

Nicholas was consecrated bishop on 30 March 1880, as Bishop of Revel, auxiliary to the Archdiocese of Riga. While Nicholas never visited the city, the parish of Revel supported his Japanese mission financially. In the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, bishops sign with their see, but Nicholas made his habit to sign as "Episcop (Bishop) Nicholai", without mentioning Revel.[5] He presided over the consecration of the Tokyo Resurrection Cathedral in 1891, and was elevated to the dignity of Archbishop of All Japan by the Russian Orthodox Holy Synod on April 6, 1907.

Russo-Japanese War

During the Russo-Japanese War, Nicholas stayed in Japan. Those days were very difficult for him. His love for the land of his birth conflicted with his duty as the bishop of Japan to support his faithful and to pray for the Japanese Emperor and the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy: in the orthodox liturgy at that time, priests had to explicitly pray not only benediction on the sovereign and his army, but also for the defeat of his enemies in the intercession. Nicholas therefore did not participate in any public services during the war; instead, he encouraged his Japanese faithful to both pray for and to contribute to the Army and Navy. Some encouraged him to go back to Russia, but he refused and worked eagerly for Japanese faithful and Russian prisoners of war. In a letter on the conditions of a camp in Hamadera, Osaka, Nicholas wrote of his astonishment at the Russians soldiers' illiteracy: nine of ten captives could not read.

Nicholas sent priests and teachers to camps to educate and care for the captives. His attitude and manners impressed not only the Orthodox faithful but also non-Christians.


Even Emperor Meiji was impressed with his character, especially his diplomatic efforts between the Russian Imperial Household and the Japanese government. When the Russian Tsar Nicholas II was the Tsarevich under Alexander III, the young Nicholas II visited Japan and was injured during the Ōtsu Incident by a Japanese policeman. Bishop Nicholas made a great effort to resolve this incident.

Nicholas's study of Japanese was fruitful, allowing him to translate all liturgy books and many parts of the Bible including the whole of the New Testament and Psalms, most of the Book of Genesis and the Book of Isaiah with help from a Japanese Christian and scholar Nakai Tsugumaro who ran a kanbun private school Kaitokudo in Osaka.[6] His translations are still used in the liturgy of Japanese Orthodox Church. Being fond of church singing, Kasatkin made a significant contribution in introducing this art to the Japanese.[7] He also established a theological seminary, primary schools for boys and girls, a library, shelter and other agencies.

Nicholas wrote a diary in Russian for years, recording the pastoral life of early Orthodox Church of Japan as well as his thought and observation of Meiji era Japan. His diary was believed to have been burned and lost in Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, but rediscovered by Kennosuke Nakamura, a Russian literary researcher, and published in 2004 as Dnevniki Sviatogo Nikolaia Iaponskogo (5 vols. Saint Petersburg: Giperion, 2004). Nakamura translated the whole diary into Japanese and published with his commentary in 2007.[8]

Nicholas offered an integral study of Buddhism in his work, “Japan from the point of view of Christian mission”, published in 1869. This was the first description of Japanese Buddhism accessible to the Russian language reader.[4]


Nicholas was the first saint of the Japanese Orthodox Church. After his death, his body was buried in Tokyo Metropolitan Yanaka Cemetery, near Ueno. In 1970, he was canonized as 'Equal-to-the-Apostles, Archbishop of Japan, St Nicholas'. His feast day is 3 February (Old-style), 16 February (New-style). The Russian Orthodox Church and the Japanese Orthodox Church celebrate this feast nationwide on the old-style date.

There is a church which commemorates him in Maebashi, Gunma, built in 1974. There is also an Eastern Orthodox Church dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Japan in Moscow.[1]

See also


  1. "Святый Николае, иерарше равноапостольне... молися о всем мире", Pravoslavie.RU, February 2007, in Russian
  2. Храм Двенадцати апостолов в историческом здании Санкт-Петербургской духовной академии
  3. St. Nicholas, Equal of the Apostles and Archbishop of Japan. OCA.
  4. Maximov, Priest George (2020-02-15). "St. Nicholas of Japan on Buddhism". The Catalog of Good Deeds. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  5. 小野貞治「聖アンドロニク主教来日百周年」、『西日本正教』、2007年
  6. Orthodox translation of Gospel into Japanese, Pravostok Orthodox Portal, October 2006
  7. St. Nikolai of Japan and Japanese church singing, by Maria J. Matsushima, The Orthodox Church Singing in Japan web-site
  8. 『宣教師ニコライの全日記』(教文館、全9巻)