The Life and Times of the ‘Samurai of Christ,’ Justo Ukon Takayama — in 11 Japanese Woodcuts

BOOKS: There are “over 1,000 books, pamphlets, monographs” – and one fiction novel, “Justo Ucundono, Prince of Japan,” by Philalethes [John E. Blox], Baltimore: John Murphy & Co. 1854. (Reprint: Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2007) — about the celebrated ‘Samurai of Christ,’ Justus Ukon Takayama, the FIRST being Fr. Pedro Morejon, SJ, “A briefe relation of the Persecution lately made against the Catholike Christians, in the Kingdome of Iaponia… Taken out of the Annuall Letters of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus,” St. Omer, France: 1619, translated from the Spanish ‘by Fr. William Wright, SJ [1563-1639].’ (Copy at Bodleian Library, Oxford University)

Particularly important are accounts of contemporary Jesuit missionaries who worked with and documented every year of the life of Ukon Takayama: ◘ P. Gaspar Vilela, SJ (c1524-1572) who baptized Justo in June 1563; ◘ P. Luis Frois, SJ (1530-1597); ◘ P. Organtino Gnecchi-Soldo, SJ (1530-1609); ◘ P. Gaspar Coelho, SJ (1530-1590); ◘ P. Gregorio de Cespedes, SJ (c1532-1611); ◘ P. Antonio Prenestino, SJ (c1543-1589); ◘ P. Giuseppe Fornaleti, SJ (c1545-1593); ◘ P. João Rodriguez Giram, SJ (1558-1629); ◘ P. Mattheus de Couros, SJ (1567-1633); ◘ P. Pedro Morejon, SJ (1562-1639), and ◘ P. Gabriel de Matos, SJ (1571-1634). Some years of Ukon’s life were covered by as many as SIX Jesuit writers.

Even the during the years of Sakoku (鎖国, “closed country”), 1636-1854, many books in Western languages were published, among them, St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, CSsR (1696-1787), Victories of the Martyrs (1775, 1887, 1954) which, based on his research on documents at the Vatican Archives, declared that Takayama was truly a martyr.

►ARTISTIC REPRESENTATIONS: There are “over a hundred” different representations of the “Samurai of Christ,” Justo Ukon Takayama, in Google.com / Images. But there are no Japanese woodcuts – or woodblock prints — yet.

Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro translated and edited Fr. Hubert Cieslik, SJ, “Justus Takayama Ukon, Servus Dei” (Manila: 1994)

We are sharing 11 woodcuts that appear in Doc. XXX – ‘Opera Artistica et Monumenta’ in Hubert Cieslik, SJ (CBCJ Historical Committee lead historian), “Justus Takayama Ukon, Servus Dei,” trans., edited and laser-printed by Ernesto A. de Pedro (Manila: Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation, 1994), 661p.

On the basis of this bookbound document, the Congregation for the Canonization of Saints (CCS) at the Vatican granted on June 8, 1994, a ‘Nihil Obstat’ recognizing the Japanese Christian of heroic virtue, Justo Ukon Takayama, as a “Servant of God.”

The Woodcut-Carver Was Non-Christian – But Often Tackled Christian Themes

THE WOODCUTS of Akusawa Isamu (1909- ?), a non-Christian artist known for his monumental woodcut series, was often occupied with Christian themes. In a series of small woodcuts — (24cm x 24cm) — he represented key scenes from the life of Justo Ukon Takayama (1552-1615).

◘ Memorial-stone of the baptism of Justo Takayama at age 12 (at Sawa Castle in Haibara-cho, Nara Prefecture), with carp-flags in the background as symbols of the children’s feast.

Marker for the baptism of Hikogorō Takayama (baptized ‘Justo’) at Sawa Castle in June 1563. This stone marker was erected in 1970 — indicating that this woodcut series was made after that date. By 1937, the Catholic Press Center (Tokyo), under its Director, Fr. (later Osaka Archbishop-Cardinal) Paul Yoshigoro Taguchi, had completed research on keypoints of the life and apostolate of Ukon Takayama.

Justo’s father, Takayama Hida-no-kami or Don Dario Takayama, was the lord of Sawa Castle in the Yamato mountains to the south of Nara. He and his entire household were baptized on the same occasion.

◘ The boy TAKAYAMA Hikogorō (彦五郎), at 12 – at the time of his baptism in June 1563, taking the baptismal name “Justo” — after St. Justin Martyr (c100- c165 AD).

Justo Takayama, at 12

◘ Justus as Lord of the Takatsuki Castle (in Settsu Province) of which he became the castellan at age 21.

Ukon Takayama became Lord of Takatsuki, which was strategically important as it straddled the only highway between two power-centers: Kyoto and Osaka

◘ Justus entering the battle at Yamasaki (1582). Leading a vanguard of “less than 1,000” men, Ukon helped insure the victory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Of Ukon, the Daimyo Ieyasu Tokugawa would later say: “In Ukon’s hands 1,000 soldiers would be worth more than 10,000 in the hands of whosoever else.”

In the Battle of Yamazaki to avenge the death of Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi sent three advance detachments to spearhead the attack against “The 13-Day Shogun,” Akechi Mitsuhide, while Hideyoshi himself force-marched an army of 20,000 troops that was eight miles behind the forward forces, advancing by “30 to 40 km a day.” James Murdoch writes in A History of Japan (1903) that Takayama led the first detachment of “less than 1,000 troops” but “they were so fired with the ardor of battle, and so confident with the help of God that on seeing the enemy, Justo did not hesitate to lead them to battle. And they so bore themselves that in a twinkling, they [accounted for] more than 200 nobles of Akechi.” This led Ieyasu (r. 1603-1605; d. 1616) — the first of the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan till 1868 — to remark: “In Ukon’s hands 1,000 soldiers would be worth more than 10,000 in the hands of whosoever else.”

◘ Justus as father of the people.

Lord Justo Takayama converted the majority of the residents of Takatsuki, who had his example as an authentic Christian witness to inspire them

◘ Mission-work of Ukon at Akashi, in Hyōgo Prefecture (1586-87)

On his transfer to the fief of Akashi, which was three times larger than Takatsuki, Ukon devoted time spreading the Word of God, infuriating the Buddhist bonzes who complained to the Kampaku, Toyotomi Hideyoshi

◘ Justus, as tea-master, was known as ‘Minami-no-Bô TAKAYAMA Hida no-kami’

Ukon Takayama was known in tea circles as the teamaster ‘Minami-no-Bô.’

Ukon Takayama was one of seven prized pupils of Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591), who is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on the development of ‘Chanoyu.’ The principles Sen set forward for the “Way of Tea” — harmony (和 wa), respect (敬 kei), purity (清 sei), and tranquility (寂 jaku) — are still central to tea ceremony today.

Ukon, who is always included in the variable list of “Rikyu’s Seven” (‘Rikyushichitetsu’), was credited with refining the tea ceremony into a serene celebration, with ritual movements “almost like a Mass.” The spirit of the art of tea – characterized by the qualities of harmony, reverence, purity, and tranquility — found in Ukon Takayama its Christian transfiguration.

◘ Justus in Kanazawa

Ukon Takayama spent 26 years ‘in domestic exile’ in Kanazawa

In Kanazawa, Ukon — no longer a Daimyo — served as a samurai-general of the Maeda clan for 26 years. During this period of ‘domestic exile,’ Ukon rebuilt the Kanazawa Castle.

Ukon also built a church in Kanazawa; from 1604, a Jesuit priest and brother resided permanently in the church.

Some 600 of his former retainers and other Christian exiles, such as Naito Tokuan and Ukita Kyukan, took refuge in his lands in Noto Peninsula, where Ukon had built two churches for his Catholic community.

◘ Justus, expecting martyrdom in Nagasaki.

Wary about the hostile designs of the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, Ukon Takayama was ever-ready for martyrdom.

Ukon prepared for death by undergoing the 30-day “Spiritual Exercises” under his Jesuit confessor, Fr. Pedro Morejon, SJ (1562-1639).

The “Spiritual Exercises” are a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices developed by St. Ignatius Loyola to help people deepen their relationship with God. For centuries the Exercises were most commonly given as a “long retreat” of about 30 days in solitude and silence.

◘ Voyaging to exile in Manila – with 350 other Japanese Christians, including his wife, Dona Justa Takayama, daughter Lucia Yokoyama, and five grandsons.

The 350 Japanese Christian exiles with Lord Justo Takayama looked forward to life in religious freedom — in the Philippines which was newly Christianized.

◘ Ascent to Heaven.

When Ukon Takayama died, the religious missionaries in Manila were confident that Takayama would be raised to ‘the honors of the altar.’ In 1630, only 15 years after his death, the Manila Archdiocese presented to the Vatican the ‘Cause for his Beatification’ written by Ukon Takayama’s father-confessor, P. Pedro Morejon, SJ. The first candidate for sainthood of the Philippine Church was, in the Decree of Martyrdom issued by Pope Francis on Jan. 21, 2016: a “layperson … from Japan [who] died from the hatred of the Faith on Feb. 3, 1615 in Manila, Philippines.” 
During the Sakoku Period, the Japanese had no way of knowing whatever happened to Ukon Takayama in Manila. With the Meiji Constitution (明治憲法), proclaimed on Feb. 11, 1889, providing for ‘freedom of religion,’ the first Japanese Catholic pilgrims arrived in Manila on Feb. 3-7, 1937 — to attend the XXXIIIrd International Eucharistic Congress being hosted by Manila. They brought with them a historical research group tracing the footsteps of Ukon Takayama in ‘Old Manila.’ This was the first Japanese Catholic delegation sent abroad since the ‘Tenshō Embassy’ (Japanese: 天正の使節) of four Japanese seminarians visited the Pope and the kings of Europe in 1582.

By coincidence, the Eucharistic Congress started on Feb. 3, 1937, the 322nd death anniversary of the ‘Kirishitan Samurai’ Justo Ukon Takayama.

Justo Ukon Takayana, a ‘Kirishitan Samurai’ during the turbulent ‘Sengoku Period’ — a Catholic Saint?

Since then, students and devotees of Justo Ukon Takayama have kept the fervor burning. Now Beatified (Feb. 7, 2017), Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama is – at this stage – waiting for an ‘intercessory miracle’ required for final canonization.

Dr. Ernie A. de Pedro
Takayama Trustee

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