Catholic Church

There’s a ‘Takayama’ in Manila, and it’s not what you think it is

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There’s a ‘Takayama’ in Manila, and it’s not what you think it is

ENTHRONED. A statue of a Japanese Catholic, the Blessed Takayama Ukon, in San Miguel, Manila.

Japan Embassy

A statue of a Japanese martyred Catholic, the Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama, has been enthroned in San Miguel, Manila

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos who have traveled to Japan may be familiar with Takayama or Hide-Takayama, a city close to the popular UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawa-go.

But did you know there’s also a “Takayama” that you can see in Manila?

It’s the statue of a Japanese martyr, the Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama, a former feudal lord and samurai who was persecuted in Japan and exiled to the Philippines for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. He died in Intramuros less than two months after his arrival on February 3, 1615, and was beatified by the Vatican in 2017. He is one step away from sainthood.

On Wednesday, December 21, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko, along with Manila Archbishop Jose Cardinal Advincula, attended the statue enthronement of the Blessed Takayama at the San Miguel Pro-Cathedral in San Miguel, Manila. Shrine Rector Rev. Msgr. Mario Enriquez presided over the Mass after the enthronement.

The statue enthronement marked the 408th anniversary of Takayama’s exile to Manila along with 350 other Catholic Japanese.

In his blog posted on the Blessed Takayama Ukon movement for his canonization, Jesuit priest Fr. Johannes Laures says the Catholic lay apostle was “one of the greatest heroes” of the Church of Japan. 

As a governor of Takatsuki and later a local leader of Akashi, Takayama was an “able ruler,” Laures says. He adds that Takayama had an “amiable and attractive personality,” and was a good preacher of the Gospel. He thus converted many Japanese to the Catholic faith. 

When Japanese leaders threatened to kill all Christians and destroy their churches in Osaka, Laures says Takayama “gladly gave up everything rather than turn traitor to his Divine Master.” He was later exiled to the Philippines by a Japanese “tyrant” who knew he would not survive the hardships of the voyage. Takayama died only 44 days after arriving in Manila. 

“Many who have remembered this heroic champion of Christ across the centuries continue to pray fervently that Ukon Takayama would someday be raised to the honors of the Altar, and thus be set as a model for young people,” Laures says.

On February 3, 2015, a Commemorative Mass was held in Kobe, Japan, marking the 400th anniversary of Takayama. In his homily, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said the Philippines and Japan were linked through the “bridge of faith and martyrdom.” He said Takayama died in Manila while the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, was martyred in Nagasaki, Japan. “Martyrdom is the deepest link between our two churches,” Tagle said. 

Ruiz, an altar boy, fled to Japan in 1636 after he was accused of killing a Spaniard. He left the country on a ship with three Dominican priests, and was arrested and imprisoned in Japan for being a Christian. In 1637, he and his companions were taken to Nagasaki, where they were tortured and died for refusing to renounce their faith. He was beatified in 1981 and canonized in 1987.

BLESSED TAKAYAMA. Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko looks at a painting of Japanese martyr, Blessed Justo Ukon Takayama, in San Miguel Pro-Cathedral, San Miguel, Manila on December 21, 2022. /Japanese embassy

In his speech on Wednesday, Ambassador Koshikawa paid tribute to Takayama for helping build close relations between the citizens of Japan and the Philippines.

“He was able to experience the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino people and this created a seed for the long-standing friendship between Japan and the Philippines,” Koshikawa said. –

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