Though Lady Justa Kuroda Takayama (1563-?) Outlived Lord Takayama, Little Is Known about Her

Granite statue of Doña Justa Takayama was installed in Toyomo-cho (Osaka Prefecture) in 2016. It is the first known representation of Doña Justa.

►Her name, for instance: Was her baptismal name “Justa” aligned after Lord “Justo” Ukon Takayama? (No, it was not.) The Kuroda’s eldest daughter was given the Christian name “Justa” when Kuroda Tae (黒田妙)was baptized at age 11 — BEFORE the Takayama couple ever even met. Hikogoro Takayama (Ukon’s boy-name) was baptized “Justo” in 1563 (the year Justa was born) – after St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165). No, there was no effort to align the baptismal names of the Takayama couple.

Aside from what has been written about Sra Justa Takayama (高山ジュスタ)in the Jesuit history of Philippine evangelization, Colin/Pastells, Labor Evangelica, Ministerios Apostolicos De Los Obreros De La Compania De Jesus, Fundacion, Y Progressos De Su Provincia En Las Islas Filipinas(Barcelona: 1900) – what else is known about the wife of a celebrated “Kirishitan samurai”?

The Jesuit missionaries — who had a 50-year lead on other Catholic missionaries from the Philippines — studied Japan thoroughly as they sought methods of new evangelization. Fr. Lois Frois, SJ, was among the scholars who wrote studies on how the Japanese were different from, and similar to Europeans.

Fr. Luis Frois, Jesuit Historian

Alone among the contemporary Jesuit missionaries who wrote about Ukon Takayama during various stages of his life — from baptism to his death and funeral in Manila — it is only Fr. Luis Frois, SJ, who has mentioned Justa Kuroda — in Luis Frois (1532-1597), “History of Japan” (Historia do Japõo or Historia de Japam) written from 1583-1597. (The whole five volumes were published in Portuguese only in 1976-1984, and in a Japanese translation in 1977-1980).

The Japanese translation is: フロイス〔著〕松田毅一, 川崎桃太訳, 日本史, 東京, 中央公論社 1977-1980, 12 vols. (Luis Frois, “History of Japan,” trans. by Matsuda Kiichi and Kawasaki Momota.)

As Frois has it: Justa was the eldest daughter of the castle-lord of Yono, named Kuroda (FNU) and his wife Maria, who converted to Christianity – some two months after the Takayama family’s baptism in Sawa Castle. Justa’s mother, Maria Kuroda, was a well-placed noblewoman, being the sister of castle-lord Ikeda Katsumasa. As Ikeda was NOT considered a daimyo, his revenues must have been less than the threshold revenue of 10,000 “koku” of rice.

RE-ENACTMENT: Every year, during the “Ukon Festival” presented by the “Ukon-Honoring Association” to mark Ukon’s death anniversary on February 3, the townsfolk attend celebrations in costumes of Ukon’s time.#

From the sources — Ukon was 22, and Justa was 11/12 when the wedding was held in 1573-1574.

Many Details Unknown

Her Japanese maiden-name was Kuroda Tae (黒田妙), but she was baptized and given the Christian name “Justa” – before she had even met Lord Justo Ukon Takayama. Ukon was then 22, the bachelor-lord of Takatsuki for one year when he got married to Justa, who was 11/12. As a rooted Catholic, there would have been a Catholic wedding at Takatsuki Castle, but there is no mention of this ceremony in which a Jesuit priest would have presided. (Of course, only a Jesuit would have presided at the wedding Mass – there were no other religious missionaries in Japan yet — but there is no account of the wedding at all.)

Was it an arranged marriage between two families from adjoining domains? It does not look like it. Takatsuki, which straddled the strategic highway between Osaka and Kyoto was not adjacent to – in fact, was quite some distance away — from Yono. (Today, Yono is a 25-min taxi ride away.)

A Loyal Wife Who, Though Never at His Battles, Was Always There for Ukon

Doña Justa never joined her husband in his wars, but she governed his household – she was the “Lady of the castle at Takatsuki” (for 11 of the 12 years Ukon was lord there) and later, a second castle at Akashi, in Hyogo Prefecture. (When Ukon was stripped of all his possessions by Hideyoshi in 1587, Ukon had to scramble for life, with his family in tow, as he wandered for months as a masterless samurai. During these uncertain times, Justa took charge of his camp, keeping a savvy eye out on the needs of Ukon, their family and their retinue.)

Fighting under the Takayama Banner

Under the ‘Banner of the Cross’

With revenues of 20,000 “koku” of rice, theoretically Takatsuki could sustain a standing army of 20,000 men. As Ukon came into his own at 21, he organized an army of his own kinsmen, his retainers, and later, the males from the houses of Ikeda and Kuroda – and their retainers. Though not all of them were Christian, they fought with tunics emblazoned with a large Cross in red — draped over their armor.

Takayama’s Troops on the March

In June 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed Japan’s first hegemon, Oda Nobunaga at Honnoji – causing the death of Oda by “seppuku.” Hearing of Oda’s death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi raced back into the capital region and along the way he passed through the province of Settsu where both Nakagawa Kiyohide and Ukon Takayama had brought their armies and they joined the Toyotomi vanguard, eventually leading troops on the frontline during the Battle of Yamazaki.

Battle of Yamazaki
Battle of Yamazaki, 1582

In the Battle of Yamazaki (山崎の戦い), Hideyoshi sent three advance detachments (the first of them, the 700-man army of 30-year-old Lord Takayama) to spearhead the attack against “The 13-Day Shogun,” Akechi Mitsuhide. 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/killed] more than 200 nobles of Akechi.”

This led Tokugawa Ieyasu (r. 1603-1605; d. 1616), a future Takayama adversary — and the first of the Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868 — to remark: “In Ukon’s hands 1,000 soldiers would be worth more than 10,000 in the hands of whosoever else.” (Johannes Laures.)

The debacle at the Battle of Shizugatake (1583) wiped out the male heirs of the Kuroda and Ikeda families — under the generalship of Ukon Takayama

Disaster at Shizugatake

After Hideyoshi’s triumph at Yamazaki, conflict broke out between the late Nobunaga’s senior retainers over the matter of succession. The tensions culminated in open warfare between factions led by Hideyoshi and Shibata Katsuie (championing Oda’s interests).

Hideyoshi dispatched Takayama Ukon and Nakagawa Kiyohideto northern Omi and tasked them with holding two critical forts placed to block any movement from the Shibata down from Echizen. Takayama was given Iwasakiyama and, some miles to the south, Nakagawa was installed in Shizugatake.

Early the next year (1583), Katsuie dispatched an army under Sakuma Morimasa to capture these frontier forts, and in the course of the campaign Takayama was forced to abandon Iwasakiyama and take up in nearby Tagami. Giddy with his unexpected victory over Ukon, Sakuma went on to besiege Shizugatake and killed Nakagawa. But Sakuma was unable to take the castle itself and in the end, his imprudent advance cost his defeat by Hideyoshi in battle.

During the Battle of Shizugatake (賤ヶ岳の戦い), Ukon led the same Takatsuki force that won at Yamazaki – but, this time, experienced bitter defeat. Ukon himself was wounded in the fighting and he lost many valued retainers, many of them his own kin.

“Decimated” would be the incorrect word, as Lord Takayama, only 31, lost not only many of his own relatives, but lost the male kin of the Kuroda and Ikeda families, making the two families fade into history.

Takayama’s perfornance in this battle is debated by military historians to this day.

Did Takayama’s Military Setback at Shizugate Sour Hideyoshi’s Confidence in Ukon’s Generalship?

If Takayama lost favor with Hideyoshi because of the horrendous casualties he suffered, there was no sign of that because, two years later, Ukon was rewarded with the larger feudal domain of Akashi (in Hyogo Prefecture) which, with an income of 60,000 “koku,” had three times more revenues than Takatsuki. He was tasked by Hidesyoshi with building a new castle in Akashi. (Only the castle ruins remain today.)

As Ukon left the predominantly Christian Takatsuki for his new fief at Akashi, he brought some 800 Christian samurai with him, to form the core of his fighting force. Then he turned to the opportunity for new evangelization at hand – to the great dismay of the Buddhist bonzes – who however had access to Hideyoshi’s sympathetic mother.

Ukon, a Ronin on the Run

When Takayama was stripped his fief at Akashi (while he was in the middle of a military campaign in Kyushu), his family and his retainers were immediately affected. They had to vacate the premises as soon as they heard word of Ukon’s misfortune.

In the Service of Lord Toshiie Maeda

In the first year of his domestic exile, Takayama was sheltered by the Christian Daimyo Yukinaga Konishi, but eventually landed a position as a guest general (“Kyakusho”) in the domain of Lord Toshiie Maeda at Kaga. Here, with Justa at his side, he formed a Christian community of 600 Christian ronin in his lands in Noto Peninsula. Here, Justa ran the household of Takayama, while Ukon – outside his peace-keeping duties — devoted himself to spreading the Gospel.

Hideyoshi’s spy network kept him informed of Ukon’s whereabouts. After all, though Ukon was a Christian, he never felt personally threatened by Ukon. They had moments together as tea masters – and as builders. With a wink, he allowed Lord Maeda to employ Ukon to rebuild the Kanazawa Castle (still there to this day) and command a flank of Maeda’s army.

Kanazawa Castle, stronghold of the Maeda clan, was repaired and expanded by Ukon Takayama, a renowned castle-builder. The castle endures to this day.

Ukon’s Last Battle

As a guest general of the Maeda clan, Ukon was involved in one more battle – the Siege of Odawara (1590) — where Hideyoshi decisively crushed the forces of Hojo Ujimasa in August 1590. It is said that Lord Maeda took Ukon to the siege of Odawara in the hope that his valor would obtain the favor of Hideyoshi for him. By May 1590, Hideyoshi had started building up attack forces with the help of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Uesugi Kagekatsu (1555–1623), and Maeda Toshiie – the three Great Daimyo who would later comprise the Council of Five Elders, formed in 1595 by Hideyoshi to rule Japan in the place of his infant son, Hideyori, until he came of age. By June 1590, some 200,000 troops were arrayed against Odawara. In this last of Hideyoshi’s campaigns in Japan, Odawara Castle was finally taken because of internal treachery, resulting in the ritual suicide of the two Hojo leaders.

After the Odawara campaign, Hideyoshi invited Ukon to his Nagoya headquarters for tea.

Ukon Takayama having tea with Hideyoshi

After that military campaign, Ukon foreswore the role of a samurai-general, shaved his head, and devoted his remaining years in evangelizing the Hokuriku region.

Aside from Ukon’s family and kin, some 600 masterless Kirishitan samurai, including the former daimyo John Naito and his family, joined Takayama Ukon in Kanazawa where he served the Maeda clan for 26 years. There Ukon formed what is known today as a basic ecclesial community (BEC). Not always having the services of a Jesuit priest throughout the year. they formed a Christian movement that was ever on the look-out for a visiting Jesuit. (A Jesuit was assigned to that area when the widow Justa, returned to Kanazawa in mid-1616 to bury a fingerbone of Ukon in Japanese soil.) Takayama’s Christian community, with its own church, was the Church at the grassroots, in the neighborhood and villages.

Expulsion from Japan

On 1614, the Tokugawa issued a decree, expelling all Christian missionaries and all prominent Japanese Catholics – to remove the virus of Christianity, “that evil  religion,” from the land.

(Illustration from Luchie Tajima’s FB wall) — Ukon knew, at age 63, there would be no returning to Kanazawa. But the Jesuit Vice Provincial Jeronymo Rodriguez, SJ. reported on July 18, 1616 that Dona Justa brought back to Kanazawa a fingerbone of Ukon, for burial in his beloved Japan — while Manila now claimed the “Kirishitan Samurai” of heroic virtue who died there as a “Son of Manila.”

Goodbye to Kanazawa

The odyssey of Ukon started on Feb. 14, 1614 in Kanazawa and would take him and his family by foot (through snow-covered roads) to the port of Nagasaki. After waiting some weeks for a Chinese sampan (captained by a Portuguese mariner, with a Chinese and Japanese crew), Lord Takayama and 350 other Catholics, including some 100 “Katekisuta” (カテキスタ) left Nagasaki on Nov. 8, 1614 on their voyage to Manila. The normal voyage took 20 days, but with a turbulent typhoon which cut their main mast in two, it took the junk 43 days to reach Manila. Takayama and his family had a cabin, so the precious cargo of “La Japona” — the statue of “Our Lady of the Rosary” extracted from the demolished Santo Domingo Church in Nagasaki — was entrusted to Ukon’s care. The expelled Jesuit, Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian missionaries were on their own, taking turns sleeping on crates – on the open deck. Mercifully, only one passenger was lost during the voyage: Fr. Antonio Critana, a Jesuit. His old age could not cope with the extreme rigor of the voyage.

The first exile boat brought 350 Japanese Christian exiles to Manila on Dec. 21, 1614. It was the first wave of refugees and migrants fleeing religious persecution in Japan across 250 years. The Japanese migrants were eventually absorbed and integrated into the Filipino community — seamlessly, as Japanese Christians all bore Christian names. (Who could say that “Jacobo de la Cruz” was a Japanese Christian from Nagasaki?)#

The exile voyage (and stay in Manila) of Lord Takayama, Lord Joan [John] Tokuan Naito (Hideyoshi’s ambassador to the Ming Court in China during the Korean Truce), and the first women’s congregation of religious women (“Bikuni de Miyako”) are related in six chapters of Colin/Pastells. “Labor Evangelica” (Barcelona: 1900).#

Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro
Takayama Trustee

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