The Catholic saints and martyrs of Japan will have a new member in its ranks in the personage of a faithful Daimyo who died in Manila after fleeing from Japan’s anti-Christian policies, choosing to stick with his faith rather than comply with the warlords’ decree of eschewing Christianity.
His name is Ukon Takayama (高山右近) or Dom Justo Takayama, as he was known in Manila. He was born to be the heir and the lord of Sawa Castle in the Yamato Province, the son of Tomoteru Takayama (also known as Zusho; 1531-1596). His name as a child was Hikogorō (彦五郎). At the age of 12 in 1564, Ukon converted to Catholicism, following the suit of his father and the mission of Saint Francis Xavier, and Hikogorō was christened as Justo by Jesuit Fr. Gaspare di Lella.
Justo and his father fought through the turbulent age to secure their position as a daimyo (A Japanese Feudal Lord). They managed to acquire Takatsuki Castle under the warlord Nobunaga. During their domination of Takatsuki Region, Justo and his father Dario pushed their policy as Kirishitan daimyo (Christian daimyo) forward. Many of his fellows converted under his influence.
However, Nobunga’s successor, the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi grew against Christianity and, in 1587, he ordered the expulsion of missionaries. While many daimyo obeyed this order and discarded Catholicism, Justo proclaimed that he would maintain his religion and rather give up his land and property.
Justo lived under the protection of his friends for several decades, but following the 1614 prohibition of Christianity by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the ruler of the time, he was expelled from Japan. On 8 November 1614, together with 300 Japanese Christians he peacefully left his home country from Nagasaki. He arrived at Manila on 21 December and was greeted warmly by the Spanish Jesuits and the local Filipinos there.
Sadly, his stay in Manila proved to be his twilight days as he soon died of illness after settling within 40 days.
When he died in 1615, the Spanish government honored him with a Christian burial, replete with full military honors befitting a Daimyo. He is the first and so far, the only Daimyo to be buried in Philippine soil.
Ukon is being considered for sainthood for his desire to die as a martyr. Instead of opting for a ritual honorable suicide, in the form of seppuku, reserved for samurais, Ukon allowed himself to live through his exile.
Movements to declare Ukon as a saint started many years ago, but did not gain momentum until recently.
Historical consultants met to discuss the cause in December 2013 and the cardinal and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints met on June 18, 2015 to make a final decision on the cause for Ukon’s beatification. This was the final step before it could go to Pope Francis for papal approval.
“Since Takayama died in exile because of the weaknesses caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland, the process for beatification is that of a martyr,” Fr. Witwer, a general postulator of the Society of Jesus, explained.
On January 21, 2016, Pope Francis signed a decree approving his beatification as being that of martyrdom; it will be celebrated in 2016 with the date to be confirmed sometime in the near future.
Immortalized now in a known historical Japanese settlement town in Plaza Dilao in Paco, Manila, where a statue of him stands, he will soon be immortalized further to stand in the pantheon of saints and faithfuls.
His beatification ceremony is expected to be held in Japan within 2016, at the 400th anniversary of his martyrdom.
Following the announcement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan issued a statement saying that the way he lived serves as a light that still shines on people of the present time.