June 26, 2017, 8:00 am
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Blessed is the warlord

YES, he was Japanese. Yes, he was Christian. And yes, he was a warlord. All three terms were applied to Lord Takayama by the “Japan Times” in reporting that the 16th century figure was beatified this week.

“Ukon, born in 1552 and baptized in his childhood, served as a warrior and was exiled to Manila in 1614 due to the Edo Shogunate’s ban on Christianity...Approval of beatification requires either martyrdom or a miracle to have taken place. Excluding Ukon, 393 Japanese have been granted the status while 42 others have been made saints.” [http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/02/07/national/japanese-christian-warlord-takayama-ukon-beatified/]

It was the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan that promoted the warlord’s canonization: “Ukon was often placed in situations where important and decisive life choices had to be made which could not be avoided by a military commander belonging to the powerful ruling class. He stood at the very forefront where the values of God and that of the world come into greatest conflict. Decisive choices that cannot be avoided have to be made by any Christian leader in whatever age. Ukon held clear principles for choosing the path that would lead to God and would lead to correct decisions. To answer to the love of God who, in order to love without limit and to save we sinners, took on himself mankind’s destiny to die—this was Ukon’s basic principle...There was no room for compromise. What moved Ukon was the belief that remaining in the love of God was the road to human happiness.” [“A Man Who Walked The Path Obedience,” https://www.cbcj.catholic.jp]

So, what is his story? In 1563, Takayama (lord of Hida), along with Yuki (lord of Yamashiro) and Kiyohara Geki, and before them, Omura Sumitada of Hizen, were baptized. Ukon was only 12 years old and it was his father, Dario, who was the Daimyo. Ukon would grow up to succeed his father as a Christian feudal lord who was, at the same time, an “active and trusted vassal” of the two shoguns, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Unfortunately for the 35-year-old daimyo, Hideyoshi in 1587 issued an edict forbidding Christianity and ordered all missionaries to leave Japan. Takayama Ukon was “deprived of fief and status.” [https://www.cbcj.catholic.jp/english/japan/history/1543-1944/]

According to the CBCJ: “The shogunate feared the influence of Ukon, and in 1614 exiled him to the Philippines along with more than 300 Christians. On reaching Manila, they were given a national welcome, but before long Ukon fell gravely ill and died in Manila during the night of February 3, 1615, some 40 days after his arrival there. He was given a national funeral and was buried in the Philippines.”

From the Spanish side: “The persecution of Christians in Japon is more bloody than it has ever been before, and has become as bad as could be imagined. It will suffice to say that in the city of Nangacaqui 30 bars of silver, each one containing about four ducados, are publicly offered to whomsoever may discover a religious. But just as tender plants, because of the cold of winter, take deeper root in the soil, these religious, because of their difficulties, plant themselves more firmly in the faith and bear more plentiful fruit. This has already been demonstrated. Indeed, during the last year more than 50 Japanese have nobly given their lives to the service of Jesus Christ; and almost 2,000 adults have for the first time received the water of holy baptism.” [“Relation of the Events in the Filipinas Islands. And in Neighboring Provinces and Realms, From July, 1618, to the Present Date in 1619,” Dated at Manila, July 12, 1619; The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898: Volume XVIII, 1617-1620. Edited by E. H. Blair and James Alexander Robertson]

The Church of Japan acknowledged the cooperation of its counterpart in Manila in actively pursuing the cause of the “Samurai of Christ,” with the Official News Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines having reported: “With persecutors hot on his heels, Takayama, with 300 others, sought refuge in the Philippines, a Catholic country then ruled by Spain and which opened its doors to Japanese Christians. He found sanctuary in Manila’s Dilao district (today’s Paco) which at that time was home to some 3,000 Japanese immigrants, mostly religious refugees like himself...The Spanish government gave him a burial worthy of a Christian and a samurai. Today, about half a million Japanese identify as Catholics; roughly 0.5% of the population...A statue of Takayama in full samurai gear stands at Plaza Dilao.” [http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=45511]

The utility of Dom Justo as an icon of Philippine-Japan relations had been cited by two heads of state, one from each country. At the December 2002 state dinner hosted by His Majesty Emperor Akihito in honor of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then visiting Tokyo, the Filipino Chief Executive “noted that these friendly ties could be traced as far back as the exile of Lord Ukon Takayama, a great Christian samurai, and his family to Manila in 1614.” [http://www.gov.ph/2002/12/04/the-presidents-day-december-4-2002/]

At the return bout with a different Filipino head of government, the same Japanese monarch intoned: “The peoples of the Philippines and Japan enjoyed exchanges with each other through commerce since around the mid-16th century, when a Japan Town was formed in Manila. In the 17th century, however, the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity and adopted a policy of national seclusion, forbidding Japanese citizens from traveling overseas and foreign nationals from entering Japan. As a result, the Christian daimyo, or feudal lords, Takayama Ukon and Naito Tadatoshi were exiled to Manila, along with other Japanese Christians, by the Tokugawa shogunate. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Takayama’s death from illness in Manila.” [Remarks by His Majesty the Emperor at the State Banquet in Honor of His Excellency, Benigno Aquino III, President of the Republic of the Philippines, Tokyo, June 3, 2015]

Yes, this may be an instance of two Asian nations sharing an historical moment of Christian heritage in a longer period of conflict and imperialism. Is this also a specimen of “Japan’s soft power viewed through the lens of the Philippines’ commemoration of historical events,” as defined by academia? [Lydia N. Yu Jose, Philippine Political Science Journal, Volume 33, Issue 2, 2012] Memories in Manila have “not proved strong enough to radically challenge Japan’s soft power.” [http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01154451.2012.734095?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=rpsj20]

Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francis had sent Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to preside over the Beatification Mass of Justo Takayama Ukon. Back in the Pacific, a commander-in-chief contemplated a passage to Hades.
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