Looking Back

Justo Takayama Ukon

/ 12:12 AM February 06, 2015

Cardinal Chito Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, made a stopover in Japan this week en route to Rome. He celebrated Mass in Kobe marking the 400th death anniversary of Iustus Takayama Ukon, who was exiled to Manila in 1614. The Catholic Church in Japan expects Takayama to be one step toward sainthood with his beatification this year. While Takayama did not meet a painful martyr’s death, like Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint, did, it has been argued that his end in Manila in 1615 resulted from the persecution he endured for his faith under Hideyoshi and Ieyasu.

In his remarks, Cardinal Tagle said: “The Philippines, especially Manila, and Japan are linked by martyrdom of the faith: Ukon died in Manila; Lorenzo de Manila embraced a martyr’s faith in [Nagasaki,] Japan. Martyrdom is the deepest link between our two countries.”


While Lorenzo Ruiz is known to Filipino Catholics, Takayama is not, and if some remember the name at all it is in reference to a popular Japanese restaurant that has since closed down. A statue of Takayama stands in Plaza Dilao, between the old PNR Paco Station and the Philippine Columbian Club. This area was a Japanese settlement in the 17th century, in the same way that the Chinese were given an area outside the fortifications of Intramuros known as the Parian.

Takayama has many names in history: He is known to the Japanese as Takayama Ukon, but in Western sources he is known as Justo Ucon-dono (Justo, his first name in Spanish, is from Iustus in Latin; Ucon is his title and Dono is the general term for “lord”). In some sources he is known as Don Justo Tacayama Minaminobobo, a name he adopted when he shaved his head to signify his retirement from public life.


Aside from his fame in Japan as a Christian daimyo (feudal ruler) and military general, he is also remembered as one of the early masters of the tea ceremony, which probably explains why some of the slow, delicate movements in the cleaning of tea vessels resemble the movements of a priest preparing the bread and wine for consecration at Mass.

Takayama was born in 1553 and baptized in 1563 (these dates computed from 1615, when he was said to have died at 63 years of age, the 50th year of his baptism). His troubles coincided with the persecution of Christians in Japan, which started on July 24-25, 1587. He received a message from Hideyoshi asking him to give up his faith or lose his fief and position in the latter’s army. He replied that while he had made an oath of allegiance to Hideyoshi, he was prepared to give up wealth, position and power to follow a greater lord, Jesus Christ.

When Hideyoshi received this reply, he suggested a lesser sentence: Takayama would lose his fief and enter the service of Sasa Narimasa, daimyo of Higo, or be exiled in China with the Jesuit fathers. Takayama chose exile and retreated to Hakata Bay. Hideyoshi later relented and is quoted to have said that he did not want Takayama exiled to a foreign land but to some distant place within Japan.

In 1588, after lying low in Kyushu for some time, Takayama was tricked into a meeting with Hideyoshi in Kyoto, where he was turned over to Maeda Toshiie, daimyo of Kanazawa, as a prisoner. Hideyoshi then spread the rumor that Takayama was being rehabilitated.

Two years after fighting valiantly under Maeda in the Kanto campaign, Takayama was summoned to Kyoto by Hideyoshi and invited to the tea ceremony. He remained without title but was often asked for advice. Takayama remained in Kanazawa until the Christian persecution of 1614 where he was denied a martyr’s death but sentenced to exile. He left Kanazawa on Feb. 15, 1614, and after a 150-day journey in the winter, he arrived in Nagasaki where he boarded a boat for Manila on Nov. 8, 1614.

Takayama arrived in Manila on Dec. 11, 1614, and was literally greeted with open arms by the Spanish governor-general. He was accompanied by 300 people, including: Justa, his wife; a daughter married to Yokoyama Yasuharu, a mighty lord of Kanazawa; five grandchildren (the eldest 16, the youngest almost eight); and eight Jesuit fathers, 15 Jesuit brothers, four Franciscan fathers, two Dominican fathers, two Augustinian fathers, and two secular fathers.

Sometime in January 1615, Takayama fell ill. He died the next month, midnight of Feb. 5, only 40 days after his arrival in Manila. He was buried in the Jesuit church. After his death, his widow, daughter and grandchildren lived with other Japanese in San Miguel (not the present San Miguel near the Pasig with Hospicio de San Jose, but an earlier district in the vicinity of what is now San Marcelino street, where a convent for Japanese religious women of noble birth was established).


It is said that three days after sailing from Nagasaki to Manila, a delegation arrived too late to persuade Takayama to reconsider exile and remain in Japan. In reality, Hideyoshi’s successor, Ieyasu, was relieved to see a potentially dangerous Christian daimyo go into exile. Takayama’s fame was such that Ieyasu said: “In Ukon’s hands, 1,000 soldiers would be worth more than 10,000 in the hands of someone else.” Ieyasu would not have considered assassinating Takayama, or making him a high-profile Christian martyr, so the exile to Manila was the best solution.

Can Takayama be considered a martyr for living his life as he did? That is what his beatification will answer. When he is canonized a saint, the Philippines will be a footnote in his story.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Cardinal Chito Tagle, Hideyoshi, Ieyasu, Iustus Takayama Ukon, Lorenzo ruiz
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