16th c. Samurai, martyr, advanced closer to beatification

I like this story.  From CNA:

This sword-wielding Samurai just moved closer to sainthood!

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2016 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The martyrdom of a 16th-century Samurai who died for his Catholic faith was approved this week by Pope Francis, making the Japanese warrior one among nine other causes that advanced toward sainthood.

Takayama Ukon was born in 1552 in Japan during the time when Jesuit missionaries were becoming introduced within the country. By the time Takayama was 12, his father had converted to Catholicism and had his son baptized as “Justo” by the Jesuit Fr. Gaspare di Lella.

Takayama’s position in Japanese society as daimyo[a feudal lord] allowed him many benefits, such as owning grand estates and raising vast armies. As a Catholic, Takayama used his power to support and protect the short-lived missionary expansion within Japan, influencing the conversion of thousands of Japanese.

When a time of persecution set in within the country under the reign of Japan’s chancellor Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587, many newly-converted Catholics abandoned their beliefs.

Instead of denying their faith, Takayama and his father left their prestigious position in society and chose a life of poverty and exile. Although many of his friends tried to persuade Takayama to deny Catholicism, he remained strong in his beliefs.

Takayama “did not want to fight against other Christians, and this led him to live a poor life, because when a samurai does not obey his ‘chief,’ he loses everything he has,” Fr. Anton Witwer, a general postulator of the Society of Jesus, told CNA in 2014.

Ten years passed, and the chancellor became more fierce in his persecution against Christians. He eventually crucified 26 Catholics, and by 1614, Christianity in Japan was completely banned.

The new boycott on Christianity forced Takayama to leave Japan in exile with 300 other Catholics. They fled to the Philippines, but not long after his arrival, Takayama died on February 3, 1615.

In 2013, the Japanese bishops’ conference submitted the lengthy 400-page application for the beatification of Takayama to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On Jan. 22, 2016, Takayama’s advancement in the cause for canonization was further promulgated when Pope Francis approved his decree of martyrdom.

“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 explained.

Takayama’s life exemplifies the Christian example of “a great fidelity to the Christian vocation, persevering despite all difficulties,” Fr. Witwer continued.


I’ll take this opportunity to remind you about the great artwork by Daniel Mitsui.  Here is his marvelous battle of angels against the Enemy of the soul.  HERE

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  1. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Venerable Takayama Ukon Justo (Ukon was assumed as his office name; his baby name was Hikogoro and his young man name was Shigetomo) was a pretty prominent guy and general, so he shows up regularly as a historical character in Japanese anime and computer games set in the period. He was also one of the first guys to get into the Way of Tea. He also has his own TV Tropes page.

    But I still think the best example of a samurai martyr was Blessed Kagayama Hayato Diego, who was head retainer to the daimyo Hosokawa Tadaoki (and who was another influential tea guy). After the political changes, the daimyo stopped liking Christianity but his head retainer persevered. After using other kinds of pressure, the lord finally ordered Kagayama to report for execution. Kagayama thanked his lord sincerely for giving him an opportunity to die for Jesus, said goodbye to his family, dressed in his most joyous festival clothes, preached happily to everybody about Christianity on the ship taking him to his death, and then gave professional tips to his executioner (who was inexperienced) on how to behead someone with one really good swordstroke. He was martyred on October 15, 1619.

    The saints and martyrs of Japan came from all sorts of levels of society, and many of them were extremely courageous. Martyrs of Japan, pray for us!

  2. Suburbanbanshee says:

    However, it should be noted (since some sources are saying it) that Ven. Takayama Ukon would not become “the first samurai saint” if canonized.

    Two of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki (aka St. Paul Miki and Companions) were of the samurai class: St. Ibaraki Pablo (or Paulo) and his twelve year old son, St. Ibaraki Rudovigo (or Luis). Ibaraki’s brother, St. Karasumaru Leon (or Leo) was also of the samurai class, though he had later become a Buddhist monk, and then converted to Christianity and became the lay manager of the Franciscan mission facilities. So that’s three sainted samurai right there.

  3. Imrahil says:

    A martyr in the farther sense of the word, sure; but as for the form of process, and the color he should get afterwards, I think it should that of confessor resp. white.

    After all, bl. Fr. Rupert Mayer who died from exhaustion not long after his years of concentration-camp internment (where he clearly was put out of hatred for the faith) is styled Confessor too.

  4. MattH says:

    I tried last year to get my son to go to our parish All Saint’s event as Blessed Leo Zaisho Shichiemon, another Samurai. I did not know about Blessed Kagayama Hayato Diego or the others mentioned above.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Since Ven. Takayama Ukon was known for wearing white as his signature color for outfits (deeply weird to Japanese, since it is the mourning color), I think he would be happy to be named a confessor!

    Also, some people called him “the samurai pope”, because he built so many churches and supported the missions so much.

  6. Chon says:

    “Silence,” by Endo, is a book about this period we are reading in a book group led by our priest. This story about the Takayama family is a welcome encouragement after reading the book (though I’m only half way through it). I’d much rather read about a real martyr/confessor than a fictionalized apostate!

    [Thanks for the recommendation!]

  7. RichR says:

    Daniel Mitsui is my favorite religious artist, hands down. I’ve bought his prints numerous times for gifts, and each time the recipient is stunned at the quality and detail of the artwork. If any artist deserves patronage, it’s Mitsui.

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