A History of Our Conference
In 1874, three young Japanese men met at an American Congregational church in San Francisco. It was the dawn of Christianity among the Japanese people in the United States. The first Japanese church, called The Gospel Society, was organized in 1877 with the enthusiastic assistance of Caucasian-American church members who had led these Japanese to salvation through English study sessions.
In 1910, there were thirty-five churches with thirty ministers and a total membership of 2,618. In 1915, there were seventy-one churches, seventy-eight ministers, 2,165 church school children, and a membership of 4,391—this membership represented approximately five percent of the Japanese population in California (Horikoshi 1977:37).
The Sunday schools were formed first, where children were taught and nurtured in the Christian lifestyle. Then youth groups were formed to serve the needs of the young people. They learned not only the Bible, but also the Japanese language, because their parents insisted they do so. Since Japanese children were not then admitted to public schools, some churches built their own gymnasiums so these children and youths would have opportunities to play.
Women’s groups were founded next; wives met to discuss the education of their children and the mother's role in the family. Many mothers who joined the church were attracted by these activities. These groups undertook mission activities in addition to their own concerns. Finally, men joined the church through family ties.
The Japanese Church Federation was founded in both Northern and Southern California in 1910. One of the main reasons for establishing this organization was to boost the morale of the community in view of incidents of racial prejudice and persecution at businesses, schools, and work places. The Federation helped the larger Japanese community learn American principles and grasp social concepts, spreading its assistance over a larger area than any single church could handle.
Churches became the first organizations in the Japanese community to offer social services. These included assistance after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, help during the wartime emergency, and the providing of hostels during the postwar resettlement of the people. Churches also preached about social justice, the sacredness of family and home life, and the prohibition of smoking and drinking. Church activities, therefore, became central in meeting many of the spiritual and social needs of Japanese-Americans.