Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon, the Christian samurai

February 4 marks the feast day of Justus Takayama Ukon, a samurai who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and was beatified in 2017 by Pope Francis.

Loreto Rios-February 4, 2024-Reading time: 3 minutes

Scene from the movie "The Last Samurai" ©OSV

Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon was a samurai, that is, a Japanese noble warrior in the service of the daimios, aristocrats of a higher class.

He was born in 1552, the same year of the death of St. Francis Xavier, in the castle of Sawa, south of the Japanese city of Nara. His father was a Buddhist, but was converted by the preaching of Brother Lawrence, a Japanese converted to Christianity by St. Francis Xavier. As a result of his father's conversion, all the Takayama family was baptized. Ukon was 11 years old at the time, and received the name Justus at his baptism.

This "Christian samurai", as he is known, trained in arms at a very young age, and soon became lord of a territory, beginning his military and political career. Takayama Ukon was openly Christian and by his example many of his vassals converted to Christianity. In addition, "he received the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606) in Takatsuki as a guest of honor; he collaborated in the foundation of a seminary in Azuchi, Nobunaga's new city on the shores of Lake Biwa" and "advised Nobunaga in the preparations for the famous Kyoto parade in which the emperor himself was present," states a comprehensive article on this blessed man in the Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation.

Ukon was a vassal of Oda Nobunaga and, when he was assassinated in 1583, of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He propagated Christianity in several Japanese regions, and many of his noble friends were also baptized.


However, Hideyoshi was not entirely happy with Takayama Ukon's faith. In 1586 he ordered him to abandon the Christian faith. Upon his refusal, he was condemned to exile.

Six years later, in 1592, Hideyoshi readmitted Takayama Ukon to his circle, although he continued to openly practice his faith. After the death of his lord a few years later, the samurai became a vassal of Maeda Toshinaga, and, soon after, of his brother, Maeda Toshitsune. It was then, in 1614, that Tokugawa Ieyasu, considered one of the great unifiers of Japan, ordered the expulsion of the Christian missionaries, and with them, that of Takayama Ukon and his family, among others.

Death in Manila

At this news, Maeda Toshitsune, believing that Ukon would rebel because of this sentence, prepared to fight, but the samurai sent him a message in which he said: "I do not strive for my salvation with weapons, but with patience and humility, according to the doctrine of Jesus Christ that I profess".

So, accompanied by his wife and family, in a group of 300 Christians condemned to exile, Ukon embarked in November 1614 for Manila. Once there, he was received with great honors by the Spanish government, but a few days later he fell ill, dying in Manila on February 3, 1615.

"He was 63 years old, most of which he spent as an extraordinary witness to the Christian faith in difficult times of conflict and persecution," the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints states.

For his part, Cardinal Angelo Amato, who presided over his beatification ceremony in Osaka on February 7, 2017, called him "the Christian samurai," a "tireless promoter of the evangelization of Japan."

Takayama Ukon and the Popes

Pope Francis referred to this saint at the February 8, 2017 general audience, one day after his beatification, saying that Takayama Ukon "renounced honors and riches, accepting humiliation and exile. He remained faithful to Christ and to the Gospel, making him an admirable example of fortitude in faith and dedication in charity."

Francis also referred to this Blessed in a letter to the bishops of Japan on the occasion of the pastoral visit of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, on September 14, 2017. In it, Pope Francis noted that, in thinking of the Church in Japan, he recalled the many martyrs who had offered their "life for the faith." "They have always had a special place in my heart: I think of St. Paul Miki and his companions, who in 1597 were immolated, faithful to Christ and his Church; I think of the countless confessors of the faith, Blessed Justus Takayama Ukon, who in the same period preferred poverty and the path of exile rather than deny the name of Jesus."

Pope John Paul II also mentioned this at the general audience of June 15, 1988, when he greeted the pilgrims of Kanazawa: "I congratulate you on the celebrations with which you are commemorating the first centenary of the reconstruction of your parish church. Your parish church has as its founder the venerable Ukon Takayama, who was exiled for the sake of the faith. I wish you, following his example, to maintain and strengthen your faith more and more with the help of Our Lady".

Statue in Manila

In Manila there is a statue commemorating this Christian samurai, who is depicted with a cross instead of a sword. It can be seen here.

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