►Japanese secular portraits do not show Justo Ucondono (15521-1615) – or Justo Ukon Takayama as he is known today — wearing the Holy Rosary. Lord Takayama was depicted — most famously in this portrait by Utagawa Yoshiiku (1833-1904) — as a fierce samurai, while many Western portraits show him “armed with the Holy Rosary.”
The Holy Rosary Was Introduced in 1214
According to Dominican tradition, the Rosary was given to Saint Dominic of Caleruega (1170-1221) in an apparition by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214 in the church of Prouille, France — the “cradle of the Dominicans” — where the first Dominican house was founded in late 1206 or early 1207. This Marian apparition received the title of “Our Lady of the Rosary.”
When the Order of Preachers (OP) was approved by Pope Honorius III via the Papal bull “Religiosam Vitam” on Dec. 22, 1216, the daily recitation of the Rosary soon spread among Catholics reached by Dominican missionaries in every corner of Christendom.
Prayer beads were in use in older religions – Buddhism for instance — for counting mantras since the 5th century BCE. In the case of Catholics, the beads are used to keep track of the number of “Hail Marys” in each decade.
What Does the Holy Rosary Mean for Catholics?
►For those of us who have grown up with the Rosary, Venerable Fulton Sheen expresses best what we believe about the Rosary. Archbishop Sheen was known for his preaching on television and radio on Catholic matters. The cause for his canonization as a saint was officially opened in 2002.
►As Jesuit missionaries in Japan’s Early Church were so thinly spread throughout the Japanese archipelago, they were not always available to celebrate a Eucharistic Mass at Takatsuki Castle. Lord Justo Ukon Takayama and his family used the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary to keep their fervor together.
Ukon understood that the Rosary was indeed a powerful weapon against evil — but that power comes from praying it, not wearing it. The physical beads on a string are only a device to help one keep count. Some people wear the Rosary as a symbol of their faith. The Rosary is not a tool for evangelization — but a tool for prayer.
‘Armed’ with the Holy Rosary
Throughout ● Ukon’s 12-year rule at Takatsuki Castle, his first feudal domain at age 21, ● his two-year rule in Akashi (in Hyogo Prefecture), and ● his 27 years of domestic exile in Kanazawa and Noto Peninsula, the Holy Rosary was the glue that kept the Takayama family together – as Jesuit missionaries were not always available every day.
When Ukon was out on military campaigns, his father, Dom Darius Takayama — Takayama Tomoteru (高山友照), 1531-1596 — led the recitation of the Rosary. When Dom Darius was absent, it was Doña Justa Kuroda Takayama who led the prayers. The sons and daughter of Takayama would take turns too. In their turn, the five Takayama grandsons did the honors.
The iconography of Blessed Takayama includes many paintings and statues with the Rosary — either around his neck or in his hand. While the samurai sword was his trademark weapon, the Holy Rosary was his constant jewel – as can be seen in various representations of him.
◘ MANRESA MOSAIC — This mosaic in a nave of the Jesuit church in Manresa, Spain depicted six Catholic noblemen who were all products of the Jesuits’ famed “Spiritual Exercises,” among them Lord Justo Ukon Takayama – shown holding a Rosary.
The six “Catholic princes” in the mosaic are: ● the Bourbon king of France, Louis XIII; ● Don Alvaro de Cordoba, a Spanish grandee whose public life was much influenced by the Jesuit manual; ● the Hapsburg prince, Don Juan de Austria (1545-1578) — victor of the Battle of Lepanto (1571); ● Justus Ukon Takayama (identified in the mosaic as “Justo Ucandono”); ● Marques de Villapuente, renowned for his charities, and ● Don Lupercio de Arbizu, the Aragon nobleman who was persuaded by the Jesuits to build Manresa into a city.
◘ MARBLE STATUE of the “Kirishitan Samurai” Ukon Takayama — at the plaza fronting the Takatsuki Catholic Church — with a Rosary.
◘ PORTRAIT of Ukon Takayama in Osaka’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary — in the heart of Tamatsukuri, Osaka– with a Rosary.
◘ ANOTHER PORTRAIT of Ukon Takayama in the Osaka Cathedral — with a Rosary.
◘ BOOK COVER for a children’s book — with a Rosary.
◘ STAINED GLASS — at Shodoshima Catholic Church. Shōdoshima (小豆島) is an island located in the Inland Sea of Japan.
◘ NEW IMAGE used in an “estampita” (prayer card) — with a Rosary.
Preparation for Martyrdom
During the trek from Kanazawa to Nagasaki, the Rosary was recited, not just daily, but as a frequent prayer exercise. It was a conscious preparation for martyrdom — whether at the hands of minions of the Tokugawa Shogunate, or from the perils of the exile-voyage to Manila.
During the Takayama’s 45-day lay-over in Nagasaki – in quarters in Upper Nagasaki, in the so-called Tori-no-Hane Yashiki which local historians have not been able to locate till now — Takayama made a 30-day Ignatian “spiritual retreat” under the guidance of Fr. Pedro Morejon, SJ, chaplain of the “Beatas of Miyako (i.e. Kyoto)” — (Miyako no bikuni), the only religious women’s group in Japan’s Christian Century. The pioneering nuns were being exiled to Manila too – with Ukon’s exile group of 350 Japanese Christians.
A few days before their boat sailed south to Manila, Lord Takayama and his family could only watch helplessly and pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ to protect His Church and commend the Church of Japan to the protection of the Blessed Mother as the Nagasaki Bugyō, Hasegawa Fujihiro (1605–1614) effected the wholesale destruction of all 12 churches of Nagasaki in October 1614.
Takayama’s Exile Boat — a Chinese Ocean-Going Junk
By Oct. 27, 1614, all Christian deportees were ordered by Nagasaki Bugyō Hasegawa to proceed to Fukuda (福田村 Fukuda-mura), at the mouth of Nagasaki Bay, to board their exile ships — either to Manila or Macau.
But the ocean-going Chinese junk bound for Manila, captained by the Portuguese mariner, Esteban d’Acosta, was still loading provisions and not ready to sail just yet. This junk had been contracted to carry Lord Justo Ukon Takayama, Lord Juan Tocuan Naito, their families, other nobles from Christian daimyo families, the nuns of the Kyoto-based “Miyako no bikuni,” the eight priests and 15 brothers of the Society of Jesus (SJ), as well priests from the three mendicant orders from Manila: the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Augustinians — plus some 100 Japanese catechists (“dojuku”). In all, some 350 Christian exiles.
With foresight, the Dominicans had rescued the Marian icon “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary” from the Santo Domingo Church before the church’s destruction. As they were going to take turns sleeping on crates on the open deck, the Dominicans implored Lord Takayama, who had contracted a large cabin for his extended family, to keep the Marian image in his safe-keeping.
A Christian knight, devoted all his life to the Holy Rosary, being asked to safeguard “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary”? Ukon lived for that. It was Ukon’s great honor and privilege to serve Our Lady. Throughout the voyage, the first ever ocean voyage for the Takayama, his family prayed the Holy Rosary together — this time, in front of “La Japona” — taking turns to lead.
‘Our Lady of Good Counsel’ — Enshrined in St. Augustine Church, One of 12 Churches in Nagasaki
The Augustinians had enshrined a statue of Our Lady of Good Counsel in St. Augustine Church in 1612. Now, only two years later, the church was being demolished. They scrambled to save the Marian icon, which had originated from Manila.
The Augustinian devotion to “Madonna del Buon Consiglio” (Our Lady of Good Counsel) dated back to 1356. (Statues based on this famous Marian image were sculpted for installation in Augustinian churches worlwide.)
But the Augustinians did not bring on board the statue of “Our Lady of Good Counsel” (“Mater boni consilii”) with them — as the Dominicans has done with “La Japona.” Perhaps they had already made alternative arrangements for the sake-keeping of the Augustinian Marian icon.
Was The Augustinian Statue of ‘Our Lady of Good Counsel’ Off-Floated to Luzon?
Could the “La Virgen Milagrosa de Badoc” found in a crate floating off the coast of Badoc, Ilocos Norte in 1620 be the statue of “Our Lady of Good Counsel” enshrined in Nagasaki in 1612-1614? The statue, based on the Marian portrait that has been revered by Augustinians since 1356, is now dressed in new raiment (Philippine iconographic style) and bedecked with jewels presented by Ilocano devotees across four centuries. The studies go on.
The Rosary — in Ukon’s Hands
Weather permitting, even with so many missionaries on board, there was only a single Mass on the topdeck daily. It was the Rosary the rest of the time.
During the 43-day voyage (instead of the normal 20 days), a fight erupted on deck, when a crewman stabbed a Japanese Christian for some unstated reason. As the ship’s crew prepared to face off with the Christian passengers, Lord Takayama stepped out of his cabin to break up the fight – not with a samurai sword on hand – but with a Rosary in his right hand. They had interrupted his prayers. The combatants immediately broke off.
Japanese ‘Refugees and Migrants’ in Catholic Manila
Finally, during his 44-day sojourn in Manila, Dom Justo Ucondono (aka Lord Justo Ukon Takayama) felt free at last to exercise his Catholic religion, with any of six Churches in Intramuros to visit on any given day. Striving to be a channel of God’s grace in his new country, he frequently visited the “nihon-machi” (Japantown) in Dilao to evangelize the Japanese expatriates there — traders, “wako,” castaways, mercenaries, fugitives or seafarers stranded in Manila. He brought the converts to the Paco Catholic Church (est. 1580) for Baptism — with individual Takayama grandsons standing as “ninong” (sponsor).
At the Jesuit guesthouse “Casa San Miguel” located in the PLM/Jesuit Compound in Intramuros, Manila — near midnight on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 1615 – with his father-confessor, Fr. Pedro Morejon, SJ, beside him, and surrounded by his family praying the Rosary — Ukon commended his spirit to the Lord — and implored Mother Mary to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”#
Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro