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Japan pushes samurai as its first individual saint

OSAKA (AsiaNews): The Japanese Church has finished preparing the application for the beatification of Ukon Takayama, a feudal lord, or daimyo, who, after his conversion to Catholicism, played a pioneering role in the spread of Christianity in Japan in the 16th century.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan presented a 400-page application to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints containing the results of research into his case.

The bishops hope to celebrate the creation of him as a new blessed in 2015 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death.

Takayama was born in 1552, in what is now Greater Osaka, to Tomoteru Takayama, the lord of Sawa Castle.

When he turned 12, his father received baptism, taking the name of Darius, whilst his son received the name of Justo. 

Both father and son were daimyos appointed by the Imperial Court. They were entitled to raise a private army and hire samurai.

Before his conversion, Justo practiced bushido, the way of the warrior, a code of conduct for Japanese samurai.

In the 1580s, Japan was ruled by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known as the country’s second great unifier.

Through their political activity, the Takayamas come to dominate the Takatsuki region.

During the rule of the two Christian daimyos, many local residents followed their example and received baptism.

In 1587, Hideyoshi was convinced by some of his advisers to ban the western religion. Whilst many feudal lords chose to abjure their Catholic faith, Justo and his father chose instead to give up their land and privilege in order to maintain their faith.

During subsequent years, Justo Takayama lived under the protection of aristocratic friends. 

However, when Christianity was definitively banned in 1614, the former daimyo, Justo, chose the path of exile and led a group of 300 Christians to The Philippines. 

They were welcomed by Spanish Jesuits and the local Catholics when they arrived on December 21.

In The Philippines, some of the exiles wanted to seek Spanish support for an attempt to overthrow the government of Hideyoshi, but Justo refused to join in the movement.

On 4 February 1615, exactly 40 days after his arrival in The Philippines, he died and was buried with full military honours in a Catholic ceremony. Today a statue of him dominates Manila’s Plaza Dilao.

It features a large statue on a pedestal inscribed with his name and a black tablet set in white marble nearby bearing a short history of his life.

This is not the first time the Church has petitioned for his beatification. The first attempt was made in the 17th century by the archdiocese of Manila.

However, due to the isolationist policy of the Tokugawa shogunate, which prevented foreigners from entering Japan, it was impossible to get the necessary documents for a canonical investigation.

A second attempt was made in 1965, but failed because of several errors in the formal presentation of the case.

“The application was not accepted, because no one knew how to put it together nor how to best publicise his case,” Father Hiroaki Kawamura, head of the diocesan commission that sent the papers for the current application to Rome, explained.

But he believes that they have learned their lesson and that this time the petition is much better prepared.

Last October, Archbishop Leo Jun Ikenaga, from Osaka, who is also the president of the bishops’ conference, sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking for approval of the cause.

The Vatican answered, saying that it would take the cause into special consideration.

The Vatican placed an added significance on the case as the daimyo would be the first individual Japanese to be made a blessed.

There are 42 saints with some connection to Japan, as well as 393 blesseds.

All of them were martyred together during the Edo Period (1603 to 1867) and are celebrated as groups.


“Takayama was never misled by those around him. He persistently lived a life following his own conscience,” Father Kawamura said. “He led a life appropriate to a saint and continues to encourage many people even today.”

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