Justus Takayama Ukon: The Great Japanese Missionary of the Sixteenth Century

Justus Takayama Ukon: The Great Japanese Missionary of the Sixteenth Century

Toni Witwer, SJ

Ukon Takayama was born in 1552 in Haibara-cho, Japan, to a family of landowners (daimyo). He converted to Christianity at the age of 12, after coming into contact with Jesuit missionaries.

The Gospel was introduced in Japan by Francis Xavier in 1549 and spread rapidly. When the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi rose to power, his advisors pushed him to forbid the practice of Christianity. All the major feudal lords accepted this order, except for Ukon. He preferred to lose his property, his position and honor, and was forced to go into exile.

With another 300 Japanese Christians he fled to Manila, where he became sick and died on Feb. 4, 1615. His witness of faith was and is convincing and, just as his life led many to the Gospel, so also can the blood of his martyrdom continue to be “the seed for Christians.”

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