15 Most Beautiful and Awe-Inspiring Churches and Cathedrals in Japan

Oura Church in Nagasaki Japan
© beeboys/Shutterstock.com

Written by Alanna Davis

Published: September 5, 2023

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Japan is home to some of the most breathtaking architecture in the world. From towering skyscrapers to humble temples, every building has its own unique beauty. It’s not a surprise that their churches and cathedrals are no exception. Even though roughly 90% of the population practices Shintoism and Buddhism in equal measure, there is also a small presence of Agnosticism, Christianity, and other religions. This means that there is a large variety of places of worship to explore in Japan. However, due to the relatively low Christian population, churches and cathedrals are a rare sight in comparison to the abundance of shrines and temples. This list consists of the 15 most beautiful churches and cathedrals Japan has to offer, not in any particular ranked order. 

1. Oura Church, Nagasaki

Oura Church in Nagasaki Japan

This beautiful building was constructed in 1864 towards the end of the Edo Period.


In the 1600s, Japan banned Christianity, leading to the destruction of many churches and cathedrals. During this time, many Japanese Christians were forced into hiding for fear of being persecuted for their beliefs. This church serves as a memorial to the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan, a group of nine priests and 17 Japanese citizens who tragically lost their lives for practicing Christianity. Although this was not the first Christian church in Japan, it is currently the oldest due to the prior demolitions. Oura Church has been awarded several historical honors. In 1953, it was declared a National Treasure, and in 2018, it was added to the World Heritage List.

2. Holy Resurrection Cathedral, Tokyo

The "Nicholai-do", Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo, JAPAN

Nestled right in the heart of Tokyo, this cathedral is a stand out among the cityscape.


Ivan Dimitri Kasatkin, or St. Nicholas of Japan, founded this church. St. Nicholas was a Russian-born Orthodox priest responsible for bringing the Eastern Orthodox religion to Japan. Upon his arrival, he immersed himself in Japanese history, language, and religion, studying Buddhism for several years before beginning his religious ventures. He was an inspiring religious leader known for being very well-liked in his community. The Holy Resurrection Cathedral is the main cathedral of the Japanese Orthodox Church, and it was declared a Nationally Designated Important Cultural Property in 1962.

Built first in 1891, the Great Kanto earthquake greatly damaged the Holy Resurrection Cathedral. Those who worked on rebuilding the church in 1929 preserved as many of the original features as possible. Their goal was achieved, and the church that stands today is an accurate reflection of its predecessor.

3. St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church, Nagasaki 

St Francis Xavier Memorial Church in Hirado Nagasaki Japan.

The presence of a Christian church beside Japanese temples is unique.


Built in 1931, this church is younger than some of the others we’ve gone over. Despite its young age, its beauty is undeniable. This incredible church is located atop a hill, surrounded by traditional Japanese temples. Its positioning allows visitors to enjoy its beauty from great distances. There’s no doubt that this is a popular tourist attraction, partly because of its picturesque beauty, but also due to its unique location. They routinely offer mass for those looking to take part in their public services.

4. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Tamatsukuri

This next church is also known as the Catholic Tamatsukuri Church. Don’t let the untraditional style fool you. The grounds where this church currently stands were once the St. Agnes Cathedral. Unfortunately, the bombings during World War II eventually leveled it to the ground. The church was rebuilt two times before the building we see today was erected. This cathedral boasts roughly 100 stained glass windows in addition to its large-scale murals and stone statues. Weddings and funerals are performed here in addition to public mass. The rich history and strong community bonds combine to make this building a local landmark. 

5. St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral, Nagoya

Nunoike Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in NAGOYA, Japan., public place

You can enjoy the sight of this church from large distances due to its incredibly tall and imposing spires.


This striking gothic revival-style cathedral is known locally as Nunioke Church. Nunioke Church was constructed in 1962 and offers mass in a wide variety of languages due to the multicultural local community. Some languages offered are Japanese, English, and Tagalog. If you’re looking for a tourist-friendly cathedral to visit on your next vacation, write this one down! This cathedral was declared a Tangible Cultural Property back in 2015, which means that it possesses “high historic, artistic, and academic value to Japan.”

6. Himonya Catholic Church, Tokyo

Established in 1948, this church is known far and wide for its incredible beauty and Romanesque style. Many Italian people funded the construction of the building, imparting their style to Himonya Catholic Church’s interior. Awe-inspiring attention to detail fills every corner of this church. Some may have the wealth of stained glass catch their eye, while others may be drawn to the exceptional frescoed ceiling. The details all coalesce to create this architectural work of art. If you’re traveling in this area, this is simply a must-see. Weekday services are offered in addition to the usual Sunday mass. 

7. Saint Ignatius Church, Tokyo

This historic church has deep ties to Christianity’s initial introduction to Japan. St. Francis Xavier is well-known for bringing Christianity to Japan in 1549. However, a lesser-known fact is that Saint Ignatius of Loyola sent him, and this church takes its namesake from Saint Ignatius. 

The history of this church doesn’t stop there. Japan actively participated in World War II during the 1940s. Their involvement led to the destruction of many historic landmarks and buildings of cultural significance. The Saint Ignatius Church was one such casualty. In May of 1945, what some people call the ‘deadliest air raid in history’ burned the original building to the ground. It would take four more years to complete the reconstruction of the church. Since then, it has gone through additional renovations. In 1999, Japanese citizens rebuilt the church that still stands today. 

8. Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo 


St. Mary’s Cathedral is an intriguing structure that is laid out in the shape of a cross.

©Daderot / CC0 – Original / License

It’s hard to ignore that this cathedral’s interior is completely unique from the other churches we’ve covered so far. This architectural oddity may look untraditional from the outside, but it holds a curious secret. The building’s floor plan is laid out in the shape of a cross, with windows carefully placed along the edges of the building to form a cross of light inside. Incredibly clever and playful, this design may have influenced St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco which displays a similar style. 

9. Church of the Light, Osaka

Church of the light (sometimes called "Church with Light") is the Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church's main chapel. It was built in 1989, in the city of Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture.

This simple and sleek church was completed in 1989.

©Sira Anamwong/Shutterstock.com

While we’re on the topic of crosses made of light, what better example is there than Osaka’s Church of the Light? The designer, Tadao Ando, conveys a “profound emptiness,” through the large vacant space and absolute silence. This is also polarizing for many, with some finding the atmosphere unnerving. Others argue that this inspires peace within them, noting that the emptiness is meant to be filled by the Holy Spirit. 

Inspired by Zen philosophies, this church is barren of all ornaments. Tadao Ando constructed it using simple materials such as concrete and wood, making sure light was the principal feature. He positioned the cross of light behind the holy altar. As the light spills in and illuminates the empty space, the congregation may feel struck by the profound divide between the heavens and the Earth. In turn, they may also become aware of this contrast within themselves. 

10. Motomachi Roman Catholic Church, Hokkaido

Motomachi Roman Catholic Church, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan

Motomachi Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest in Japan.


Gothic-style churches are a less common sight in Japan, especially ones as beautiful as the Motomachi Catholic Church. This building nearly burnt to the ground in 1921 after a devastating fire. Pope Benedict XV sent the church a breathtaking altar as a sympathetic gesture after they reconstructed it in 1924. This altar is one of the most striking features of the church and still stands today. 

Hokkaido is located in the northernmost region of Japan. In the winter, a picturesque scene can be enjoyed. The snow-covered church is illuminated by soft lights, and visitors note that it kindles feelings of peace and serenity. 

11. Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Nagasaki

Night view of NagasakiLighted up Urakami Cathedral

The tall spires and red brick exterior give this cathedral an imposing aura.


Often referred to as Urakami Cathedral, the interior of this church rivals some others we’ve covered in complexity and beauty. However, it wasn’t always this way. The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II was just meters away from the location of this cathedral. All that remained of the original church was a few stone statues. Unfortunately, everything else was completely destroyed. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum now displays much of what they recovered from the atomic blast. They completed the church we see today in 1959, and it welcomes visitors for weekend mass on Saturday and Sunday. 

12. Catholic Suzuka Church, Suzuka

After Honda’s car factory opened in 1960, Suzuka became home to an influx of Catholics working there. To accommodate the growing Catholic population, the Suzuka Catholic Church was constructed. Another architectural marvel, its most prominent feature is its layered roof. Drawing inspiration from the mountains, the full beauty of the exterior can be best enjoyed at nighttime. 

13. Kashiragashima Church, Nagasaki

Kashiragashima Catholic Church in Nagasaki Japan.

Tetsukawa Yosuke is the genius architect responsible for designing this church.


In the early 1600s, a ban on Christianity was implemented in Japan, and the subsequent persecution of Japanese Christians forced many of them into hiding. Some of them chose to settle down on the once-abandoned island of Kashiragashima, located slightly off the southwest coastline. The inhabitants practiced their religion secretly for roughly 250 years. Shortly after the ban was lifted, a wooden church was built in 1873 as people settled down and formed communities on this island. Approximately 40 years later, construction began on a more permanent stone church, which still stands today. This church was declared a World Heritage Site in 2018 for the instrumental role it played during the ban on Christianity.

14. Karuizawa Kogen Church, Tokyo

Karuizawa Church at Nagano, Japan.  Translation of sign on door: "Hoshino Church" (church's name)

Karuizawa Kogen Church is a work of art that transforms with each passing season.


A hidden oasis in the forest, this church is unlike any other that we’ve discussed so far. Karuizawa Kogen Church was established in 1921 and is best known for being accepting of people from all walks of life. Even if you’re not Christian, they welcome you with open arms and encourage all to attend. When mass is not in session, a variety of services are available to the local community, such as weddings and general education courses. 

15. The Anglican-Episcopal Church of Japan, Kyoto

Kyoto St Agnes Episcopal Church

The Anglican-Episcopal Church of Japan is tourist-friendly and offers Sunday service in English.

©663highland / CC BY-SA 3.0 – Original / License

Last, but certainly not least, we have the Anglican-Episcopal Church of Japan, also known as St. Agnes’ Episcopal Church. This incredible building celebrates its 125th anniversary in November 2023. The red brick exterior and gothic architecture easily capture the attention of those passing it on the street. Once inside, it is clear to see that the interior of this church is just as decorated as the outside. Exposed timber beams compliment the stained glass windows peppering the walls, creating a warm and relaxing atmosphere.

The rich history Japan has with Christianity is undeniable. The journey that Japanese Christians endured so that future generations could practice their religion without persecution was noble. As a result of their plight, Japan is now home to some of the most thought-provoking and breathtaking cathedrals in the world.

Religions Practiced In Japan (2020)Percentage Of Population

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About the Author

Alanna is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering insects, animals, and travel. In addition to writing, she spends her time tutoring English and exploring the east end of Long Island. Prior to receiving her Bachelor's in Economics from Stony Brook University, Alanna spent much of her time studying entomology and insect biology.

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