Roman Catholic Missions — October 30, 2009 at 8:11 am

Anectodes from Francis Xavier while in Japan.


Kagoshima (鹿児島市, Kagoshima-shi?) is the capital city of Kagoshima Prefecture at the southwestern tip of the Kyūshū island of Japan, and the largest city in the prefecture by some margin. It has been nicknamed the "Naples of the Eastern world" for its bay location (Aira Caldera), hot climate and impressive stratovolcano, Sakurajima. The St. Xavier church is a reminder of the first Christians who came to Japan. Kagoshima was the center of the territory of the Shimazu clan of samurai for many centuries. It was a busy political and commercial port city throughout the medieval period and into the Edo period (1603–1867) when it formally became the capital of the Shimazu's fief, the Satsuma Domain. Satsuma remained one of the most powerful and wealthiest domains in the country throughout the period, and though international trade was banned for much of this period, the city remained quite active and prosperous. It served not only as the political center for Satsuma, but also for the semi-independent vassal kingdom of Ryūkyū; Ryukyuan traders and emissaries frequented the city, and a special Ryukyuan embassy building was established to help administer relations between the two polities and to house visitors and emissaries. Kagoshima was also a significant center of Christian activity in Japan prior to the imposition of bans against that religion in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

  • Xavier frequently visited the Buddhist monasteries in Kagoshima. The abbot of one, belonging to the Zen sect was named Ninjit. He became very friendly with Xavier and often discussed religious questions with him. This abbot did not have a very high opinion of his associates, for when Xavier once found the monks engaged in the ceremony of meditation as practiced by the Zen sect and asked what they were doing,  “Some are reckoning up how much money they have gained from their parishioners, others are trying to think how they can manage to dress well and have good food, while the rest are thinking of the pleasures in which they wish to engage. Not one thinks upon any matter of importance.
  • Though Xavier writes that Ninjit was then 83 years old, he was still alive when visited 12 years later by Brother Almeida, to whom he said ” I wished to know all that Father Francis came to preach in Japan; but, for the lack of an interpreter, I was not able to understand. Though I should like to be baptized before I die, my position, my dignity, and the veneration in which I am held prevent me.” After wards he and the abbot of another temple asked to be baptized in secret, but Almeida refused their request.

    Father Alessandro Valignano

    Father Alessandro Valignano

  • The ” History of the Japanese Church” written at Macao in 1634 by Father Alessandro Valignano says the monks saw that the progress of the Gospel would cause the ruin of the monasteries, and so they decided to drive away the missionaries. They told the people not to listen to the foreigners, and circulated various rumors concerning them, such as that they ate human flesh. To increase the suspicion , they threw blood-stained rags about the house of the missionaries. The monks succeeded in getting the Daimyo to issue an edict forbidding under penalty of death that anyone should become a Christian.
  • From Kagoshima Xavier traveled to Hirado. he stopped for a few days at the castle of Ichiku. A retainer  of its commandant had already been baptized and several more were baptized. On reaching Hirado they were saluted with a salvo of artillery from the Portuguese ships that were lying in the harbor. They were honored with an escort to meet the Daimyo. Xavier wrote ” The lord of that country received us with much affection and kindness. In a few days about a hundred people became Christians, thanks to what was preached to them by Brother Juan Fernandez.”
  • Xavier remained in Hirado only ten days. He desired to go on to Kyoto, where he hoped to effect the conversion of the Emperor. They went most of the way on foot, their shoulders laden with the few things they needed. Sometimes they were refused shelter at the inns. In many places they were rudely treated by the people. The children hooted at them and pelted them with stones.
  • Fernandez says that while at Kagoshima, they had been reproved by the monks for eating meat and fish; therefore on his journeys, when these things were served at the inns, Xavier would explain that it was perfectly proper to eat such things, which God had supplied; but after taking a very small piece  in order to enforce his words by his example, he made his meal entirely of rice and vegetables. (Xavier was told that the Japanese would be offended if they ate animal food)
  • When they arrived at Hakata they visited a large temple of the Zen sect, whose priests received them with great pleasure as persons who came from India, the cradle of Buddhism. Before leaving them, Xavier reproved the abbot and priests in the severest terms for the abominable vice of sodomy which prevailed among them. He also reproached them because on the one hand they told people that there was no future life and on the other exhorted them to bring in behalf of their dead friends offerings which they used for their own benefit. His hearers were astonished that a stranger should reprimand them so vigorously.
  • In a few days they reached Yamaguchi. Here they met the Daimyo, who, after asking many questions about India and Europe, expressed a desire to know about Christianity. They read to him the account of creation and the commandments. When the Daimyo heard the condemnation of sodomy, a vice to which he was addicted, his countenance showed that he was much excited. The officer, who had arranged the visit, made a sign to the missionaries that they should withdraw. Fernandez said later: “I was afraid that the king would have our heads cut off.”



Central Area of Hirado City

Juan Fernández (missionary)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Juan Fernández (b. at Cordova; d. 12 June, 1567, in Japan) was a Spanish Jesuit lay brother and missionary. He was the first European to a grammar and lexicon of the Japanese language.
In a letter from Malacca, dated 20 June, 1549, Francis Xavier begs the prayers of the Goa brethren for those about to start on the Japanese mission, mentioning among them Juan Fernández. On their arrival in Japan Juan was active in the work of evangelizing.
In September, 1550, he accompanied Francis Xavier to Firando (Hirado), thence to Amanguchi (Yamaguchi), and on to Miako (Saikyo). They returned to Amanguchi, where he was left with Father Cosmo Torres in charge of the Christians, when Francis Xavier started for China.
There was in the records of the Jesuit college at Coimbra a lengthy document, professed to be the translation of an account rendered to Francis Xavier by Fernández of a controversy with the Japanese on such questions as the nature of God, creation, the nature and immortality of the soul. The success of Brother Fernández on this occasion in refuting his Japanese adversaries resulted in the ill will of Buddhist priests, who stirred up a rebellion against the local daimyo, who had become a Christian. The missionaries were concealed by the wife of one of the nobles until they were able to resume their work of preaching.
Francis Xavier says in one of his letters:  “Joann Fernández though a simple layman, is most useful on account of the fluency of his acquaintance with the Japanese language and of the aptness and clearness with which he translates whatever Father Cosmo suggests to him.”
His humility under pressure impressed all and on one occasion resulted in the conversion of a young Japanese doctor, who later became a Jesuit.


Map of Nagasaki Prefecture highlighting Hirado city. Borders of map as of July, 2006

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *