Dom Justo Ukon Takayama of Manila (1552-1615) – Kirishitan Samurai, Martyr     

Lord Justo Ukon Takayama (1552 Osaka-1615 Manila), first Manileno proposed for sainthood in 1630

►(By Anthony Mathison, May 26, 2022) —  A recent thread here on FB sparked my historical geek instincts. I’ve loved the samurai and Japanese history & culture since I was a young boy; studies I’ve kept up to this very day. I can speak rudimentary Japanese, and have a growing understanding of Kanji (katakana and hiragana, being syllabaries, was far easier to master, lol). Since my childhood, I’ve been a huge fan of Takayama Shigetomo “Ukon” (an affectionate title) 高山 重友 右近 who remains perhaps the most famous Christian samurai. 

He was converted by Jesuit missionaries from Portugal and baptized at the age of eleven (11), but he embraced his faith fully by the age of 20 after he was nearly killed in a sword duel. His baptismal name was “Iustus,” and the Jesuits called him “Dom Justo.” He fought and led armies to help stabilize a fractured, warring Japan under the warlord Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長), who in turn tolerated Christian missionaries. 

Yet, when Nobunaga was assassinated by a disgruntled samurai, his vassal, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), took his place and was named chancellor (関白) by the Emperor, Go-Yōzei (後 陽成 天皇).

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a devout Shinto-Buddhist, feared that the spread of Christianity in Japan would make it vulnerable to foreign invasion. A persecution of Christians soon began. Given Takayama Ukon’s past meritorious service, Hideyoshi offered to allow him to keep his castle and lands provided he renounce Christ. Without hesitation, Takayama refused and thus forfeited his rich lands. He sought refuge and service with an elderly warlord, Maeda Toshiie (前田 利家). From great lord to lowly samurai; a major downgrade!

Yet, it was not to last. Lord Maeda died in 1599, and the subsequent year, Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康), a former vassal of the now dead Toyotomi, won the shogunate over Japan at the massive Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原). Fourteen years later, the Tokugawa government exiled all Christians (Kirishitans) who would not deny their faith…the rest they martyred or drove underground. Takayama Ukon left Nagasaki for the Spanish colony of the Philippines. 🇪🇸 He would never see his homeland again. Forty-four (44) days later, he died of a fever after having lost everything, yet living humbly and simply in full acceptance of God’s Will.

In 2016, Pope Francis took up the cause of Takayama Ukon’s canonization as a saint. Moreover, the Pope felt that since Takayama died in exile because of the weaknesses caused by the maltreatment he suffered in his homeland, the process would be that of a martyr. This was confirmed further because he renounced all he had to profess his Faith.

Subsequently, in 2017, Cardinal Amato declared the Christian samurai a blessed & martyr during a beatification ceremony in Osaka, Japan.

As per custom among saints, Blessed Takayama “Iustus” Ukon’s feast-day is the 3rd of February in the Roman Martyrology (i.e. “book of saints”). His iconographic attributes and symbols are a katana sword, a crucifix, samurai robes, and the palm of martyrdom. Naturally, he is patron saint of persecuted Christians (especially in Japan), and all Japanese who are forced to live outside their homeland.#

►”It is a brave act of valor to condemn death, but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valor to dare to live.” ~Dr. Nitobe Inazō (新渡戸 稲造), “Bushido: The Soul of Japan” (1st ed., 1899).#

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