Takayama Ukon (also known as Dom Justo Takayama, the name he assumed when baptized) was born to be the heir and lord of Castle Sawa, in the Japanese province of Yamato, in 1552. His father, Lord Tomoteru, was a man of a deep religious mind, and had invited a Jesuit, Father Gaspare Di Lella, to his castle to debate the virtues of Buddhism and Christianity.
It was 1564, fifteen years after the first Portuguese ships arrived in Japan and, with them, some Jesuits from St. Francis Xavier’s missions. Impressed by the Jesuit’s preaching, Lord Tomoteru and his family converted to Catholicism, including 12 years old Takayama. Takayama Ukon took the baptismal name Dom Justo (Justo meaning Righteous) and he lived up to his name, while he was a prominent Samurai he did much to encourage the spreading of the faith, offering Christians protection in his lands and building many churches.
Takayama and his father, who was baptized as Darío, fought serving Lord Nobunaga, who granted them permission to be Kirishitan Daimyo, that is, Christian feudal lords, with the right to practice and spread their faith if they wanted to do so. Many of Takayama’s fellow samurai and serfs converted to Christianity.
However, in 1614, Nobunaga’s successor, Shogun Totoyomi Hideyoshi, the great unifier of Japan, prohibited Christianity and exiled the missionaries. Many Kirishitan Daimyo obeyed The Shogun’s orders and apostatized, but Takayama refused to follow the great feudal lords and thus he decided to give up his properties, position, social status, honor and respectability and was eventually forced into exile.
With 300 other Japanese Christians he fled to Manila where, just 40 days after his arrival, he fell ill. His body had been weakened by years of malnutrition living in poverty and the trip just proved to be too much for him. He died on Feb. 4, 1615. Pope Francis signed a decree on 21 January 2016 clearing Ukon’s way for Beatification as a martyr.