Komyo-en Kazoku Church is located in a national Hansen’s Disease Sanatorium. Of the 13 national Hansen's Disease Sanatoriums, two are located in Okayama Prefecture – Nagashima Aiseien and Oku Komyo-en. Although Nagashima Aiseien is the more well known of the two, Komyo-en is actually 20 years older.
With only 13 such institutions in the whole nation, one might wonder why two are located in Okayama Prefecture. Oku Komyo-en was originally located in Osaka and was known as Sotojima Sanatorium. Likewise, the church was originally named Sotojima Kazoku Church. According to the Reverend Fukuda Arataro, visiting pastor of the congregation, the word kazoku, which means “family,” was added to the name of the church because the members had been separated from their families and many had entered the sanatorium under assumed names to avoid bringing shame to their families. Thus, the church opened its doors to them as a family.
When the sanatorium was destroyed by the Muroto typhoon in 1934, 187 patients, staff, and family members perished in the disaster. The government made plans to rebuild in the Senri District of Osaka but was unable to do so because of strong opposition by local residents. At the back of the 60 acres that made up the grounds of Aisei-en in Nagashima, an unused plot of about 20 acres was available where the sanatorium could be rebuilt. Four years after the 1934 typhoon, those patients who had survived were being housed in five sanatoriums across the nation as they awaited the opening of Oku Komyo-en Sanatorium.
According to records, in May 2015 there were 1,718 residents of the sanatoriums nationwide, with 132 residing at Oku Komyoen. (Currently there are fewer than 130 at Komyo-en, among whom 23 are members of the congregation). Roughly 80 residents pass away each year nationwide, and currently the average age is 84 years.
On Nov. 11, 2012, Komyo-en Kazoku Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding. The small church was crowded with over 100 people who came from as far away as Kanto and Kyushu areas to join in the celebration. We did not think that many would come to such an event, but on second thought it was a 100th anniversary, and there would likely not be another such celebration. So the event far surpassed our expectations.
Our congregation is different from an average parish church because one day its ministry will come to an end. When the sanatorium is closed, the church will be closed along with it. Until that day comes, as long as we are physically able, we desire to continue our worship services and prayer meetings.
Currently, there is a pastoral vacancy at our church. The Reverend Otsuka Shinobu is serving as the interim pastor. Our Sunday morning worship services are led primarily by retired pastors and the mid-week prayer meetings have been led by Aioi Church and congregations in the central region of the Okayama District, for which we are very grateful. Since the spring of 2015, Kurashiki Church has been holding its prayer monthly prayer meetings at Komyo-en Kazoku Church, which has been truly an unexpected blessing.
For the past several years the Kansai Choir League of the Korean Christian Church in Japan has been visiting Komyo-en annually, and along with sharing their beautiful music, the members have joined us in playing games and other fun activities. Given that recently only four or five people have been able to attend the performances of their beautiful music (and last year there were only three), we sent word that perhaps this should be the final year for their visit. We began the event, thinking it would be the final one. But as we enjoyed our time together, something happened that changed it all. One person said, “I remember years ago when the folks from Komyo Kaikan sang and the folding chairs were all set up in rows. The names of the donors are written on the backs of those chairs. I was surprised to find my father’s name written on one of those chairs. He was a pastor and had donated that chair. That shows just how many years we have been coming.”
The Church member Hanamura Keiko, who had kept repeating, “This is the last year,” said, “Let’s do this again next year,” and everyone laughed out loud in agreement. So we concluded the gathering with a round of applause, agreeing to meet again next year. So they will continue to gather to rehearse and to perform. What a wonderful thing indeed! (Tr. AKO)
—Nanba Satsuya, member and Komyoen Kazoku Church From Higashi Chugoku District News, No. 160
光明園家族教会は、創 立100周年の記念会を2012年1月11日に持ちました。狭い 教会に入りきれないほど、100名を超える方々が神奈 川や九州からもお祝いに駆け付けて下さいました。「
光 明園家族教会 長老 難波幸矢