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Beatification of 16th century feudal lord sparks renewed interest in Christian samurai

A bronze statue of Takayama Ukon is seen in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture. (Mainichi)

ROME -- Christian feudal lord Takayama Ukon (1552-1615), who was ousted from Japan during the Edo period because of his faith, has come under the spotlight after the Roman Catholic Church approved his beatification in January this year.

    Study sessions on Takayama are being held in the Osaka Prefecture city of Takatsuki, where the Christian samurai served as the castellan for 12 years in the late 16th century, ahead of a ceremony to celebrate Takayama's beatification scheduled in February next year in Osaka.

    The congregation of the Catholic Takatsuki Church started seminars in April on Takayama's life and his faith. Takatsuki local Minoru Okamoto, 70, and Kazuo Nakata, 74, of the neighboring city of Ibaraki, are acting as lecturers at the study sessions.

    "(Takayama) Ukon preached about equality in the eyes of God even in a war-torn era. Although he strongly encouraged people to become Christians, he allowed freedom of religion," says Nakata, while Okamoto explains that Takayama chose faith over wealth.

    Until recently, Takayama had been famous as a warlord, while his Christian side had not been given much attention. "A graveyard for Christians in Ukon's age was discovered in 1998 in Takatsuki, and that was the turning point in how people saw him," Okamoto comments.

    Following the Vatican's decision to beatify Takayama on Jan. 21, the city of Takatsuki launched a campaign to promote the Christian samurai, making pamphlets to introduce sites related to him. Yuki Nakanishi, manager of the city's public history museum "Shiroato Rekishi-kan," hopes that the beatification will put the spotlight on Takayama as a Christian, and lead to further understanding of what Takatsuki was like during the turbulent Sengoku period.

    Meanwhile in Italy, local filmmaker Lia Giovanazzi Beltrami directed a documentary film featuring Takayama. It depicts Takayama defending his Catholic faith at all costs while also learning Japanese traditions such as the tea ceremony. DVD copies of the documentary will go on sale on Sept. 1 in Italy. Bishop Osamu Mizobe of the Takamatsu diocese in Kagawa Prefecture, who devoted himself to promoting Takayama's beatification but passed away on Feb. 29 this year at the age of 80, also appears in the Italian documentary.

    Beltrami says while many young Europeans are interested in Japan, not many people know about the Japanese respect for the beauty and essence of things. She added that she hopes to convey that mentality through Takayama, who lived as a Christian without ridding himself of his Japanese identity.

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