Lord Takayama Ukon – Patron of the Jesuit Missionaries

Dedicated Evangelizer Among His Peers and Vassals

►“A leading and actively Christian daimyo,” Lord Takayama’s life intersected the careers of the Three Hegemons who unified Japan – from the beginning of Oda Nobunaga’s rule (1573), through Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s consolidation of the interrupted unification, to the Shogun Tokogawa Ieyasu’s death (1616) – as the three rulers effectively ended a century of turbulent civil warfare in Japan. Though he was a minor daimyo, Ukon’s fief in the castle-town of Takatsuki (which he ruled for 12 years) straddled the strategically important highway between Osaka and Kyoto. One center of power could not attack the other rival power without reckoning with Takatsuki forces first.

As Daimyo of Takatsuki, and later, of Akashi, Ukon became instrumental in the widespread Christian evangelization of Japan. He became the patron of the pioneering group of Jesuit missionaries — (by 1600, numbering 95) — who had learned to work a sombra de Justo Minami-no-Bô – exemplified by three formidable Jesuits with contrasting personalities and strengths:

Fr. Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606, Jesuit Inspector General of Missions in the Far East), who effected a strategy of avoiding religious conflict by adapting Christian teachings to Japanese customs and cultural traditions. The Jesuits built their churches in the Japanese style with interior rooms that followed local models, such as the use of “tatami” to cover the floor or of “shoji” to divide the inner space. These compliant churches conveyed the Jesuit approach to “accommodation,” according to which special attention was paid to the European priests’ and Brothers’ integration into Japanese society.

Fr. Organtino Gnecchi-Soldo (1530-1609) who, after earning the respect of Oda Nobunaga, built a Jesuit church in Kyoto in 1576, a monastery and another church in Azuchi by Lake Biwa in 1580. He also opened a seminary for the training of native Japanese clergy. In sum, he made a foundational contribution to missionary work in Japan.

Fr. Gaspar Coelho (1530-1590), Superior and Vice-Provincial of the Jesuit mission in Japan who became infamous among Jesuits and Japanese Christians alike for catalyzing the disfavor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi against the Jesuit mission in Japan. As he unwisely dipped his fingers into local internecine politics, Coelho tried to incite armed resistance by the Japanese Christian lords and wrote to Goa, Macao, and Manila for armed assistance. All of those he approached had much more sense than to comply, and his ecclesiastical superiors were furious at his ineptitude. ◘


Dr. Ernie A. de Pedro
Managing Trustee
Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation

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