Roman Catholic Missions — March 21, 2010 at 3:27 am



Tokugawa Ieyasu Term 1603 – 1605

Hideyoshi, shortly before his death, had appointed a board of five Regents, with Tokugawa Ieyasu at their head. Under their direction was another board of five ministers. To these last was committed the care of Hideyoshi’s son, Hideyori, who was then six years old. Ieyasu, who was born in 1542, had served under both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. His original territories had been in the provinces of Mikawa and Totomi; but in the re-distribution of fiefs made by Hideyoshi he had been transferred to the provinces lying about the Bay of Yedo. He made Yedo his capital, building there a castle that became the center of the great city that quickly grew up around it.

One of the first acts of the new government was to recall the army from Korea. This brought back to Japan some of the men who were recognized leaders among the Christians. The missionaries saw many reasons for believing that a new era of prosperity was about to dawn. Ieyasu’s desire for foreign trade made him ready to favor Christianity, or at least to shut his eyes to the fact that the edict of Hideyoshi, though un-repealed, was not being enforced. The daimyos were allowed to treat the Christians in their own territories as they thought best.

Handprint of Ieyasu at Kunozan Toshogu. (This is supposedly a real handprint of Tokugawa Ieyasu)

More serious trouble arose in Hirado. The Daimyo had recently died. The one who succeeded him was in Kyoto and sent back word to his son that all the people must be forced to take part in the Buddhist rites performed in honor of his predecessor. The son was also ordered to repudiate his wife, a daughter of Sumitada, unless she was willing to give up the Christian religion. She stood firm and sent for her brother, the Daimyo of Omura, to take her home; but her husband, unwilling to give her up, promised to leave her undisturbed in her faith. Several of the leading retainers, with their families and many other Christians, fled by night to Nagasaki, where they were sheltered by the missionaries. The Daimyo was so alarmed by this action, which was being imitated by others, that he sent orders to have none of the Christians molested.

The same year saw the first coming of men from other nations, who were in time to be powerful rivals of the Spanish and Portuguese. It was in April, 1600, that the first Dutch ship came to Japan. Moreover it brought as its pilot an Englishman, Will Adams, who holds an important place in the history of Japan’s relations with Western lands. A consideration of the state of affairs in Europe at that time will suffice to show that there was likely to be little love lost between the newcomers and their predecessors; while the Jesuits could not but be apprehensive that the advent of Protestants might be even more dangerous than that of rival orders.

Of a fleet of five ships that had sailed together from Holland, all but one had fallen out by the way, and this one met with severe storms and various disasters, until at last it anchored off the coast of Bungo. Of the twenty-four men on board, only seven were able to stand, and six died within a few days.

Woodblock print of William Adams.

In the main they were kindly treated by the people of Bungo, notwithstanding that the Portuguese tried to excite suspicion against them. In a letter from Adams to his wife he says:

“After we had been there five or six days, came a Portugal Jesuit, with other Portuguese, who reported of us that we were pirates, and were not in the way of merchandising. Which report caused the governors and common people to think ill of us: in such manner that we looked always when we should be set upon crosses: which is the execution in this land for thievery and some other crimes. Thus daily more and more the Portuguese increased the justices and people against us.”

After a while Adams with one of his shipmates was taken to Osaka, where they were brought before Ieyasu.

“He viewed me well, and seemed to be wonderfully favorable. He made many signs unto me, some of which I understood, and some I did not. In the end, there came one that could speak Portuguese. By him the king demanded of me of what land I was, and what moved us to come to his land, being so far off. I shewed unto him the name of our country, and that our land had long sought out the East Indies and desired friendship with all kings and potentates in way of merchandise, having in our land diverse commodities, which these lands had not; and also to buy such merchandises in this land, which our country had not. Then he asked whether our country had wars? I answered him yea, with the Spaniards and Portuguese, being in peace with all other nations. Further, he asked me, in what I did believe? I said, in God, that made heaven and earth. He asked me diverse other questions of things of religions, and many other things.”

In another letter Adams wrote:

“The Jesuits and the Portuguese gave many evidences against me and the rest to the Emperor (Ieyasu), that we were thieves and robbers of all nations, and were we suffered to live, it should be against the profit of his Highness, and the land; for no nation should come there without robbing; his Highness justice being executed, the rest of our nation without doubt should fear and no come here any more; thus daily making access to the Emperor , and procuring friends to hasten my death. But God that is always merciful at need, shewed mercy unto us, and would not suffer them to have their wills of us. In the end, the Emperor gave them answer that we as yet had not done to him nor to none of his land any harm or damage: therefore against Reason and Justice to put us to death. If our country had wars the one with the other, that was no cause that he should put us to death: with which they were out of heart that their cruel pretense failed them.”

One of the two Japanese suits of armor presented by Tokugawa Hidetada to John Saris for King James I in 1613, now in the Tower of London.

Adams spent the remainder of his life in Japan, where he was “in such favor with two emperors as never was any Christians in those parts of the world.” Ieyasu relied not a little on his advice concerning matters connected with foreign trade. He taught the Japanese how to construct ships in the European style, and was also a source of information concerning various sciences. He helped to open the way for Dutch and English commerce. Pages says that in 1605, when one of the Jesuits visited Yedo, where “still dwelt the Englishman Adams and many Hollanders who were his companions,” the missionary, in behalf of the Bishop, offered them a safe-conduct for going to Nagasaki, and from there wherever they wished. “In fact, it was feared that these heretics might scatter the seeds of evil among the people. The offer was declined by Adams, who alleged as a reason that the Shogun would never consent to his departure. The Father did all he could for the conversion of these unfortunate men, but he found them rebellious and confirmed in their error.”

Adams probably did not hesitate to say things derogatory to the missionaries. He is said to have told Ieyasu that the Roman Catholic priests had been driven out of Protestant countries. This led Ieyasu to exclaim: “Why should I tolerate those that are not endured by European rulers?” Richard Cocks, who became the manager of the English factory in Hirado, wrote in 1614 about a friar who had a long argument with Adams, and for the purpose of convincing him offered to perform a miracle by walking on the sea. The affair was well advertised, so that thousands of people came to behold the event. The friar stepped out boldly into the water and would have drowned, had not one of the Hollanders saved him. He after-wards reproved Adams for lack of faith, saying: “Had you only believed, I should have been able to do it.” He was after-wards obliged “for very shame” to leave the country and went to Manila, where the Bishop imprisoned him for his rash attempt that had brought dishonor upon the Church. Carlevoix, who also relates the incident, is inclined, as a Jesuit, to make merry over the discomfiture of this fanatic, who belonged to another order.

Portrait of Katō Kiyomasa

Soon after Kato Kiyomasa came into possession of the territory formerly belonging to Konishi, he commenced to persecute the Christians. Having banished the missionaries, he ordered the leading retainers to sign a document in which Christianity was renounced. Many were weak enough to yield, while some allowed others to sign in their behalf. The goods of those that remained faithful were confiscated, and they were forbidden to leave the daimiate as some others had done immediately after their former master’s fall. Driven from their houses, they built huts for themselves in the fields and forests. Other people were forbidden to rent houses to them or sell them food. The Bishop and other Jesuits sent letters to comfort the afflicted Christians and one missionary managed to reach them in disguise.

The persecution was kept up until the middle of 1602, when Kato, apparently moved by fear that his acts would be censured by Ieyasu, permitted those who desired to do so to depart from his domains. The most of them went to Nagasaki, where the Jesuits gave them shelter and provided for their necessities. We shall soon see that no long time elapsed ere still more bitter persecution arose in Higo.

During the following years a bitter conflict raged between them and the other orders, especially the Franciscans. Each side tried in various ways to get the advantage over the other, and the letters written to Europe abounded with charges and counter-charges. These contentions had not a little to do with the increasing distrust excited among the Japanese against the missionaries. The division extended to the native Christians and did not cease with the expulsion of the foreigners. Two and a half centuries later, when descendants of these Christians were discovered in Kyushu, it was found that they were still divided into groups having to some extent different religious vocabularies, paying homage to different saints, and suspicious of each other.

King James I of England, the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley was the successor of Elizabeth I for the rule of England. (1566_1625)

Persecution was renewed in Higo. It is asserted that Kato Kiyomasa at first gave orders for the execution of all his officers who were Christians, but was led to desist by the thought that such an act would excite horror and might enable the Christians, who were numerous in Ieyasu’s court, to bring about his downfall. As he had done before with those who had been Konishi’s leading retainers, so now he did with many others, confiscating their goods and driving them from their homes.

In October 1603, he visited several cities, coming first to Yatsushiro, where he gave the officers charge to do all they could to make the Christians apostatize. In November, all the under-officials were ordered to appear before a famous bonze who had been invited to the city that he might superintend a ceremony that implied an acceptance of Buddhism by all that took part in it. Some who had been numbered among the Christians shared in the exercises, but fourteen refused. After-wards these yielded, with the exception of two, John Minami and Simon Takeda. The former of these had shown less bravery two years before when, in order to save his own life and the lives of his family, he had signed the promise to renounce Christianity, a weakness of which he soon repented. Takeda’s name had also been signed to the paper; but this was done without his consent by a friend who wished to protect him. At this time, therefore, their sentences declared that, since they continued to adhere to Christianity after having abjured it, they with their families were condemned to die. Orders were given that the two men should be sent to Kumamoto for execution, while the members of their families would be put to death in Yatsushiro. The officer that was charged with the duty of carrying out these orders was a very intimate friend of Takeda and, wishing to save him from the disgrace of public execution, obtained permission that he also should suffer in Yatsushiro. He did his best to induce Takeda to abjure his faith and even offered to connive at his escape. The execution took place in Takeda’s own house. An account, perhaps somewhat embellished, is given of the way in which the sentence was carried out. December 9, 1603, a little after midnight, an executioner told him that he must be beheaded that night. When Takeda had finished reading the missive, he thanked the bearer, and after kneeling a few minutes before a picture of Christ, went to awaken his mother, Joanna, and his wife, Inez. They prepared for him the bath that it was customary for the Japanese to take under such circumstances. After writing a few letters, Simon entered the bath and, on coming out, he clothed himself in his richest garments He then said farewell to his mother, wife, and servants. From these last he asked pardon for any wrong that he might have done them, gave each of them a present, and exhorted those that were Christians to stand firm in the faith. Three catechists who resided in the city had been called to assist him in his preparations for death. They, the two women, and the Christian servants, joined with him in repeating the General Confession, three Paternosters, and three Aves. To his wife he then said: “The hour for separation has come. I go before you and thus show the road by which you also should reach paradise. I will pray to God for you. I hope that ere long you will follow in my footsteps.” He repeated such words several times, although he was not aware that the wife had also been condemned to death.

The little company marched n solemn procession to the room chosen for the execution. At the head was one of the catechists bearing a crucifix, while the two others carried lighted candles. The martyr followed, holding the hands of his wife and mother. Then came the executioner with three attendants, and last of all, the household servants.

The 1613 letter of King James I remitted to Tokugawa Ieyasu (Preserved in the Tokyo University archives).

Arrived at the place where he was to die, Takeda first prostrated himself before an image of Christ and then took the appointed seat on the mats. Opposite him was the catechist with the crucifix, and on each side was one of those that held the candles. The three women sat a little behind him. Once more they repeated the Confession, the Paternosters, and the Aves. As they finished their devotions, a soldier, who had previously denied the faith, came in to pay his respects to the martyr, who abstained from him a promise of repentance. After Takeda had given his reliquary to Joanna and his chaplet to Inez, he loosened his robe and bent forward to release the fatal blow. As the head fell upon the mats, one of the catechists, following the form that Japanese etiquette prescribes for taking up anything deserving of honor, raised it reverently as though about to put it on his own head. The mother then placed her hand carefully on the severed head, saying: “Oh, my fortunate son, you have been deemed worthy to give your life for God’s service. How blessed am I, sinful woman though I am, that I should be the mother of a martyr and that I can offer as a sacrifice this my only son, for whom during these many years I have so lovingly cared.” The wife also venerated the relic as though it were a sacred object, showing herself no less heroic than her mother-in-law.

In accordance with Kato’s orders, the head was sent to Kumamoto that it might be exposed in a public place beside that of John Minami. The body was buried in Yatsushiro, but soon after was transferred to Nagasaki, that it might be placed in the church of the Jesuits.

Maruni-mitsubaaoi ("Circle Around Three Hollyhock Leaves"), the Tokugawa clan mon (crest).

Later in the day of Takeda’s martyrdom, the two women, together with the wife and adopted son of Minami, were taken to the execution ground and there crucified. The corpses were left hanging on the crosses for a whole year in order that they might serve as a warning to the Christians. For some time, however, the believers were left unmolested, except that the three catechists were thrown into prison. The executioner who had beheaded Simon and superintended the crucifixion of the women, had been so much moved by their conduct that he soon after went to Nagasaki to ask that the missionaries would teach him the religion that enabled its followers to meet death with such joy and courage. On the day of his baptism he presented to the Bishop the sword with which Takeda had been beheaded. On his return to Yatsushiro, attempts were made to bring him back to his former religion. The next year he was banished and went to Nagasaki, whence a little later he removed to Siam.

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