Blessed Takayama Ukon: The Samurai of Christ

Bio-note of Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon

by Dr. Marilu Rañosa-Madrunio

UST Graduate School | March 28, 2017

Four hundred years ago in the land of the rising sun, an extraordinary moment dawned upon a warrior who, unwittingly, rose to become an inspiration of his time.

The man was Ukon Takayama, born in 1552 to a landed gentry called the daimyo, in Haibara-cho, Japan. When Jesuit missionaries led by Francis Xavier introduced Roman Catholicism in Japan, the Takayama family was among the first to be converted.

Ukon Takayama was 12 years old when he was baptized as a Catholic in 1563. In time, he rose to become governor of the castle town of Takatsuki near Kyoto, then the capital of Japan. Before that, he made a mark and gained fame as an outstanding general. In civilian life, he became known as a builder of castles, churches, seminaries and oratories. As a person, he had been reared in the ways of the samurai and in the best traditions of their civilization. The only difference was that he was a Christian samurai, which was rare.

The turning point came when a new shogunate rose to power in Japan, that forbade the practice of Christianity. Those who disobeyed the order were executed. But in the case of Takayama and other nobles and samurais who occupied positions of social prominence, they were exiled to Manila, which was then the bastion of Christianity in Asia. These sturdy Japanese chose to lose their possessions, honor and social status and lead ordinary lives in a foreign land than renounce their Catholic faith.

Takayama and his entourage of 300 followers arrived in Intramuros, the original site of Spanish Manila, in December of 1614. Upon arrival, he presented to the Dominican community in Manila a statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, a relic which later came to be known as La Japonesa. To this day, that statue is still enshrined in the church of Santo Domingo in Quezon City.

By some stroke of coincidence, the Dominican community that received Takayama and his entourage, included students from the Dominican-run Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santissimo Rosario — or the College of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary — which was established less than 3 years earlier, in 1611. That educational institution is the forerunner of today’s University of Santo Tomas.   

Perhaps, history has reserved that singular moment for Ukon Takayama because less than two months later, he fell ill and unexpectedly passed away on February 4, 1615. He left behind a grateful Japanese community that eventually thrived in the place called Plaza Dilao — or Yellow Square — some distance from Intramuros. Plaza Dilao is now part of the district of Paco in contemporary Manila. Many Filipinos today trace their roots from these noblemen and samurais who have since inter-married and blended with the local population.

Because of the extraordinary faith of Ukon Takayama, the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Manila, submitted to the Vatican as early as 1630 a petition for his canonization. That makes him the recipient of the first ever petition for sainthood from the Archbishopric of Manila, even if he was not a native of the Philippine islands. But then again, sainthood knows no bounds and Lord Takayama was the best example.

Last February 7, 2017, Lord Ukon Takayama was finally beatified as the “Samurai of Christ” after Pope Francis signed the decree for his beatification. That is one step away from sainthood. The beatification process that started in Manila in 1630 took almost 400 years, but even then, the way has been paved. It may just be a matter of time and this one Christian samurai who has since rested in peace on Philippine soil, will finally come as an intercessor in our spiritual journey to heaven.

This afternoon, we celebrate the blessedness of Justus Takayama Ukon as the samurai of Christ, with the dedication of his statue that has been enshrined in the University of Santo Tomas grounds. We receive him in our hearts as he was received by the Dominican community in Spanish Manila 400 years ago, and as he is also warmly welcomed today by the Catholic community in the land of his birth, in gentle and grateful Japan.

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