Death and Martyrdom in the Month of Love

Published February 15, 2021, 12:27 AM

by Jaime Laya

WALA LANG

PICTURES OF MARTYRDOM A Japanese print representing Takayama Ukon. Photos from Google Images.

February is not a happy month in Philippine-Japan relations. The Battle of Manila raged 76 years ago in February 1945 and a persecuted Japanese feudal lord died here in February 1615.

By the late 1500s, the Dutch were already in the Spice Islands, the Spanish were colonizing the Philippines, and the Portuguese were in Macao. They all wanted to have part of the action in China and Japan, in both trade and religion. The Japanese were Buddhists and Shinto believers. Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, wanted conversions.

Japan was feudal with four major ranks. The Shogun controlled the military and was the most powerful person of Japan. Under him were Daimyo, a couple of hundred lords who controlled, in effect owned, whole provinces and everything in them. Daimyos each had an army of Samurai who were independent knights and soldiers and in the fourth rank were farmers and peasants. People in the two lower ranks were compensated by the Daimyo for their loyalty and service with rice, land, housing, or other valuables.

PICTURES OF MARTYRDOM. A print of the Nagasaki executions. Photos from Google Images.

Above the Shogun was the Emperor who was more symbol than real power. Below farmers and peasants were merchants. Still lower on the totem pole were the Ainu, the ethnic minority, as well as butchers and other workers in taboo occupations.

The first European missionaries reached Japan in 1542 and by 1549 when the Jesuit San Francisco Javier came, Christianity already had a foothold. Allowed much leeway, the Jesuits were successful and it is estimated that by 1580 there were 150,000 converts and 200 churches.

Among the high-ranking converts was Daimyo Takayama Tomoteru of Sawa Castle in Yamato province. He converted in 1564 at which time he also had his eldest son Takayama Hikogoro (1553-1615) baptized. The son was given the Christian name Justo and consequently also bore the names Justo Takayama Ukon and Dom Justo Takayama. While still in his teens, he was already an outstanding Samurai, distinguished for courage and fighting skill.

Spanish Franciscans followed the Jesuits and with their combined and intensified proselytization, complaints and intrigues proliferated—missionaries ignored the authorities, displayed antisocial behavior, were intolerant of the established Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. There was suspicion that they aimed to weaken the existing social and power structure. It also seems there was rivalry and differences in approach between Jesuits and Franciscans, which did not help any.

The outcome was an order issued in 1587 by Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi for the expulsion of all missionaries and for Japanese Christians to renounce their faith. The order was not strictly enforced but life became more difficult for Japanese Christians.

Takayama Ukon refused to repudiate Christianity, choosing instead to lose his lands and possessions and be stripped of authority and privileges. He was sentenced to be prisoner of another Daimyo.  He wasn’t locked up but retained a position of respect, winning battles on behalf of his custodian. That may also have been when he became a Master of the Japanese tea ceremony.

Among the Franciscans who worked in Japan was San Pedro Bautista. He had arrived in the Philippines in 1584 and served among other places in Sta. Ana, Manila and in Lumbán and Los Baños, Laguna. He rose in the Franciscan hierarchy and built a novitiate and convent that still exists in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City. In 1593, he was sent to Japan to appease Hideyoshi who had threatened to invade the Philippines. He succeeded and was allowed to establish a hospital and begin work in Kyoto.

A couple of years later, the galleon San Felipe, on the way to Mexico, was driven by a typhoon to Japan. The authorities found soldiers, cannon, and ammo aboard and confirmed suspicions that religion and trade were the thin edge of the wedge that would lead to conquest.

Thus began the persecution of missionaries and converts. It eventually resulted in the martyrdom of some 500 persons, starting with the torture and crucifixion on Feb. 5, 1597 of the so-called 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki—six Spanish Franciscans and Dominicans from Manila, 17 Japanese and Korean catechists, and three Japanese Jesuits, including San Pablo Miki. About 130 churches were set afire.

Among the 26 martyrs were Franciscans San Pedro Bautista and San Felipe de Jesus.  San Felipe de Jesus was collateral damage. He was Mexican and went to Manila to live the good life selling jewelry. He had a change of heart, however, and decided to become a priest. He completed his studies and was a passenger on the ill-fated galleon returning to Mexico to be ordained, and not to be a missionary in Japan.

Takayama Ukon had been living quietly. Matters had gone from bad to worse, however, and a new Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu directed draconian measures against Christians. Takayama was sent to exile and after an arduous 10-month trek across Japan, he and some 300 family members, fellow converts and religious, reached Nagasaki where a ship waited to bring them to Manila. The ship lifted anchor on Nov. 8, 1614 and arrived in Manila a month later, on Dec. 11, when a huge crowd led by Governor-General Juan de Silva welcomed them with high honors.

Weakened by the hardships of the long journey, Takayama Ukon died 40 days after arrival, on Feb. 5, 1615. He was interred in the Jesuit Church, located in the present Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila campus at the south end of Intramuros. His resting place may have been at the church sanctuary, where the university’s main entrance now is, at the corner of General Luna and Muralla Steets.

Takayama Ukon was beatified in a ceremony held in Osaka on Feb. 7, 2017.

Notes:  (a) San Pedro Bautista built the first stone church and convent of San Francisco del Monte in Quezon City.  It still exists as the sanctuary of the existing enlarged structure. The cave where San Pedro spent time medicating is under the original church sanctuary; (b) San Felipe de Jesus is Mexican and is the patron saint of Mexico City. A certain type of gold bead necklace is called sampelipe, recalling the Saint’s initial occupation as jeweler; and (c) Takayama’s widow and family moved to a Jesuit convent in the village of San Miguel that was on the left bank of the Pasig River, between Quezon and Ayala Bridges.  Residents were relocated to the present San Miguel district near Malacañang after the British Occupation (1762-64).

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected]

Photo caption

PICTURES OF MARTYRDOM A Japanese print representing Takayama Ukon and a print of the Nagasaki executions. Photos from Google Images.

 
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