Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon

Samurai and Martyr (1552–1615)
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Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon, image courtesy of Prayer Warriors of Blessed Takayama, Manila, Philippines. Used with permission.

Hikogoro Shigetoma, the son of Takayama Zusho, a feudal lord or daimyo, was born in Takayama Castle near Nara, Japan. Influenced by Portuguese Jesuits, his family converted to Christianity, and Hikogoro took the name Justus. He did not initially take his faith seriously. Trained as a samurai, he took part in many battles, and later succeeded his father as daimyo

By this time he had become more devout in his Catholic faith. He built a church in the imperial city of Kyoto and provided religious instruction to the families on his estate. In 1587 the Shogun Hideyoshi ordered the expulsion of all foreign missionaries and insisted that all Christian daimyo renounce their faith. Takayama refused. The situation grew more perilous under the subsequent reign of Lord Tokugawa. 

Takayama and his family were arrested and sent to Nagasaki, where they were imprisoned and awaited execution. But perhaps the Shogun hesitated to kill such a powerful and respected figure. Instead, on November 8, 1614, Takayama and 300 other Japanese Christians were sent into exile in Manila. There he was greeted as a hero. But with his health broken from his ordeal, he died only forty days later on February 3, 1615. Almost immediately, he was honored as a saint. His death was ultimately deemed the equivalent to martyrdom, and on this basis he was beatified in 2017. 

“Rather than compromise, Justus Takayama renounced honors and prosperity and accepted humiliation and exile. He remained faithful to Christ and to the Gospel; for this he is a wonderful example of strength in the faith and dedication in charity.” 

—Pope Francis 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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