Blessed Takayama Ukon


Kanji: 高山右近

Date(s): c.1552-Feburary 3, 1615

Other Known Names: Dom Justo Takayama, Iustus Takayama Ukon, Hikogorō Shigetomo

Beatified: February 7, 2017

Feast Day: February 3

Attributes: Sword, Crucifix, Samurai robes

Patronage: Persecuted Christians, Japanese immigrants, University of Santo Tomas Graduate School


Takayama Clan Mon

Blessed Takayama Ukon was a Roman Catholic kirishitan daimyō, martyr, and a candidate for canonization for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. He was dedicated to his faith and even gave up his position as a daimyō as a result. He is also the only daimyō to be buried on foreign soil.

Takayama Ukon was born sometime around the year 1552 in Haibara. He was the eldest son of Takayama Tomoteru, who was the lord of Sawa Castle and was a retainer of the infamous Matsunaga Hisahide. His childhood name was Hikogorō and his coming of age name was Shigetomo. His father became a Christian in 1564, and became baptized along with Ukon, whose baptized name was “Justo” (or “Iustus”).

Problems began to arise in 1565 when Matsunaga Hisahide assassinated the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshiteru, which led to a war within the province of Yamato with the Miyoshi clan. During the feud, Sawa Castle was lost, causing the Takayama clan to flee and ended up in the service of Oda Nobunaga while serving under Wada Koremasa in 1568. In 1574, Ukon was married and had three sons (two died as infants) and one daughter.

It was during the 1570s that Takayama Ukon would have an epiphany. A fight broke out between Wada Koremasa and Araki Murashige, and the Takayama clan was thrown into the mix. Murashige besieged Tomoteru’s castle and Koremasa came with relief, however, was killed in the ensuing battle. The castle remained standing, and Ukon’s father became the adviser to Koremasa’s son, Korenaga. The relationship began to sour, especially when word got to Tomoteru that Korenaga was plotting to have him and his son killed. In order to save his family, Tomoteru acted first. In April 1573, Tomoteru invited the young lord to his castle, which he accepted and came with an armed escort. A melee ensued, and Ukon killed Korenaga. As a result, he was gravely injured, and sat on the edge of life and death. He began to realize that he had neglected his faith and after his recovery, began to focus more on his Christian faith. After Korenaga’s assassination, the Takayama clan took over the Wada clan’s castle and served under Araki Murashige who they got the support of prior to the assassination. The Takayama served under Araki at Takatsuki Castle until 1578.

In 1578, Araki Murashige rebelled against Oda Nobunaga, and thus, the Takayama were thrown into another battle. Nobunaga had Takatsuki Castle surrounded and brought the Jesuit Padre Gnecchi-Soldo Organtino to help persuade the Takayamas to surrender. Organtino got through to Ukon, who left Takatsuki in the night, unwilling to harm to come to his faith. His father was furious with his son’s decision and went to Murashige to apologize. Ukon was well awarded by Nobunaga for his decision, especially after convincing the Nakagawa clan to surrender peacefully. Both clans got to keep their castles and Takayama went on to convert much of the population in his fief, and some temples were even converted into churches.

In 1582, Ukon served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi after Nobunaga was killed at Honnōji. He and Nakagawa met up with Hideyoshi at Settu Province before the Battle of Yamazaki. He and Nakagawa were relocated to northern Omi Province: Ukon at Iwasakiyama and Nakagawa at Shizugatake. In 1583, Ukon was forced to abandon Iwasakiyama and ended up settling in Tagami. Sakuma Morimasa, sent by Shibata Katsuie, besieged Shizugatake which resulted in Nakagawa’s death. Morimasa was unable to take the castle and Hideyoshi was able to defeat them in battle.

His service with Hideyoshi was uneventful in the earlier years. He served in Shikoku and was transferred to Akashi Province. There he managed to convert 18,000 people out of the total population of 25,000 to Christianity, which enraged the local Buddhist population. He served during the Kyūshū Campaign, which became his last. It was at this point that Hideyoshi began to turn on Christianity, and Ukon was considered to be untrustworthy because of his faith. Before the Kyūshū Campaign ended, Ukon had lost his lands for not renouncing his faith and ended up taking shelter with another fellow kirishitan daimyō, Konishi Yukinaga. In 1588, he ended up in Kaga Province and became a retainer for Maeda Toshiie.

Hideyoshi continued to persecute Christians for the last decade of his life and the persecutions stopped briefly after Hideyoshi’s death. In 1614, however, the Tokugawa Shogunate outlawed Christianity in Japan and ordered the exile of all missionaries and samurai who refused to recant their faith. Maeda Toshiie’s son, Toshitsune, was afraid the Ukon would not surrender without a fight, but Ukon agreed to leave Japan, rather than denounce his faith. On November 8, 1614, Ukon left Japan for Manila, and there he was welcomed by the Jesuit missionaries there. He did not live long there. On February 3, 1615, Takayama Ukon died of a high fever at the age of 62.

Takayama Ukon is on the path to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. It has taken three tries to get him on the road to canonization: first was in 1630, the second was in 1965, and finally, the validation process began in 1994. It took some time, but his case was re-examined again in 2012. The beatification date was changed several times until he was finally beatified on February 7, 2017. His official feast day is February 3.