Before Takayama Was Born — St. Francis Xavier Brought Christianity to Japan

St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)

►Justo Takayama Ukon (1552-1615) lived during Japan’s Christian Century (1549-1650) – which started with the arrival in 1549 of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) and two other Jesuit missionaries.

The Japanese are “the best that until now has been discovered”

Born to a noble family in Navarre (Spain), Xavier was educated at the University of Paris, the theological center of Europe, where he met the other six co-founders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). As an ex-soldier who turned priest, he followed a career path similar to Japanese warriors electing to retire as Buddhist monks. Conversant with the broadest ramifications of civilization in Europe which was then in the throes of the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648), Xavier made one of the first European assessments of the Japanese as an “unknown” people: The Japanese are “the best that until now has been discovered” — “la mejor que hasta aguora esta descubierta.” He found them well-behaved, courteous and kindly. “They esteem honor more than anything … They will stand no insults nor slighting words.”

Having previously evangelized in Jesuit missions of Goa (India), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Moluccas Islands, Banda Islands, and the Malay Peninsula, which had varying stages of economic development, Xavier thought the Japanese exceeded all non-Europeans — through their goodness, honor, and politeness, and also because they are a “gemte bramqua” (white people) and as such, naturally pre-disposed to Christian conversion. Suddenly, the Jesuit practice of bringing a begging bowl as they preached in South Asia was not quite appropriate in Japan. Over centuries. the Japanese accumulated layers of civilization defining their daily lives, their relations, even their view of death.

“One Diety, One God”

In a land with hundreds of deities, Xavier struggled to find a Japanese word for “One Diety, One God” as the omnipotent and omniscient power over the Universe. He finally settled on “Deusu” — a modification of Deus, the Latin word for God.

Xavier labored in Japan more than two years. All these developments transpired three years before Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon was even born.◘

Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro
Takayama Trustee

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