Lord Takayama Ukon — Born in Three Cities?

Lord Takayama Was Born in Haibara-cho, Nara City
Lord Takayama Ukon Was Born in Haibara-cho, Nara Prefecture

►As Japanese church historians record it, TAKAYAMA Hikogorō (彦五郎) – (later, Justus Takayama Ukon – 1552-1615) was born in 1552 at Sawa fortress, stronghold held by Ukon’s father, Takayama Tomoteru (高山友照), 1531–1596, a samurai in the service of the Daimyo Matsunaga Hisahide (松永 久秀), 1508–1577, in Yamato Province (today in Haibara-cho, Nara Prefecture). This is the conclusion of a Historical Commission appointed in 1963 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ), headed by Sophia University’s Fr. Hubert Cieslik, SJ (1914-1988) to study the life and times of Takayama. Fr. Cieslik specialized in early Japanese mission history.

But two other places claim the honor:

►SECOND CLAIMANT: Takayama Castle in Settsu Province (now in Ibaraki City), Osaka Prefecture. — (P. Luis Frois, SJ). Father Frois (1532-1597), who was the second of eleven (11) contemporary Jesuits who reported on the life and times of Takayama Ukon while Ukon was still alive, is best remembered for writing “The First European Description of Japan,” 1585. This was the earliest systematic comparison of Western and Japanese cultures.

►THIRD CLAIMANT: Toyono-cho, Toyono-gun, Osaka Prefecture. The Takayama district of Toyono-cho is claimed to be the hometown of Takayama Ukon. In the account of Yoshihiro Shintani, Superintendent of Education of Toyono town: “Justo Takayama was born in our town, Takayama, in 1552. He moved to Uda, Nara prefecture, where he was baptized at the age of 12.”

Indeed, the grave of Maria Takayama — wife of Takayama Tomoteru, later known as Darius Zusho Takayama – is located here, where it is a tourist attraction to this day. Maria Takayama was the mother of three sons, the eldest being Justus (and thus heir), and three daughters — but it is quite a stretch to claim that Justus and his other siblings were born there too. Maria died in Kanazawa in 1596 (indicating she had joined Ukon in his domestic exile in Kanazawa which began in 1587), but the Takayama family chose to bury her in Toyono-cho. (Today, Toyono-cho produces the well-regarded sake brand — “Takayama Sake” – of which its city officials are very proud.)

But it is Haibara-cho that is historically accepted as Ukon’s birthplace. ◘

Dr. ERNIE A. DE PEDRO
Managing Trustee
Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation

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