A celebrated daimyo stands immortal in the middle of a plaza in the busy Paco district of Manila.

The statue in Plaza Dilao is a representation of Takayama Ukon, Japan’s best-known Christian daimyo. Takayama was banished from Japan and fled to the Philippines in 1614 for refusing to disavow his Christian faith.

According to one scholarly work, Takayama occupies an “enduring and crucial place in the history of the Japanese Church.”

In 2003, his legacy will come alive in a Japanese-Philippine joint production of an opera titled “The Blessed Lord — Ukon Takayama.” The opera will mark the 450th anniversary of the daimyo’s birth, along with the centennial of Japanese migration to the Philippines.

Edward Tuazon Ishita, the key organizer and overall director of the opera, said that ever since childhood, he has wanted to do something related to Takayama and to enhance ties between the two nations.

Ishita’s Japanese father and Filipino mother met in the Philippines during the war. Ishita recounted how his mother, who has since migrated to Japan and now lives in Osaka, often told him the legend of Takayama. Herself a Catholic, she had great respect for Takayama, who chose to live for his faith.

“I want to use this opera for world peace,” the 55-year-old general director of the Tokyo Opera Association told Kyodo News at his office in Shinjuku Ward.

For Ishita, the work is not only a vehicle for boosting relations between Japan and the Philippines, but also a project that is close to his heart.

“I want to remind people to think about the way to eternal peace,” he said, stressing that he regards working on the opera as a privilege rather than a duty.

In Manila, the opera’s composer, the Rev. Manuel Perez Maramba of the Conservatory of Music in the Catholic University of Santo Tomas, echoes these sentiments, stating that the opera will focus on the messages of peace and harmony.

Based on “Takayama Ukon,” a novel written by Otohiko Kaga, the two-act opera opens with the tale of Takayama’s banishment to Manila in November 1614, along with his family and followers.

The Tokugawa shogunate had ordered the general persecution of Christianity earlier that same year.

Takayama died in Manila on Feb. 5, 1615.

The opera will be staged by Ishita’s Tokyo-based opera association and UST, the oldest university in Asia.

It is expected to showcase a variety of talent, featuring cast members from Japan and the Philippines. The libretto is primarily written in English, with some parts in Tagalog, Japanese and Spanish.

Twenty-one performances will be given in both countries, with the premiere scheduled for Tokyo in late June. Performances will be given in other parts of Japan, including Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, which also hosts a Takayama Ukon statue. The Philippine tour will begin in August.

The project’s supporters — including the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, the Japanese Embassy in Manila and former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata — have been abuzz with preparations.

When the project was launched at the Philippine Embassy in August, Ambassador Domingo Siazon said Takayama was a symbol of “one of the early foundations of Japan-Philippine relations.”

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also mentioned the project during a recent state visit to Japan.

“It’s a very big work,” Maramba said of the opera, which marks 100 years since Japan mobilized road construction laborers to work on the scenic Kennon Road linking Baguio City in northern Luzon with the lowlands in the first major wave of Japanese immigration to the Philippines.

Maramba said he is now putting the final touches to the score, adding that he hopes it will appeal to an international audience. “One of the things Ishita says is we are writing an opera about a Catholic, but the opera should have an appeal for everybody” whatever their nationality and religion.

With the recent Japan-China joint production of the opera “Country of Horai — Tales of Jofuku” staged in Japan adding to his list of international collaborations, Ishita hopes the Takayama opera — which reflects this unique instance of shared Christian heritage between Japan and the Philippines — will convey the message he wants to his audience.

“I would like people to think and reflect on his life, on his choice to live a peaceful life instead of taking up arms,” he said.

All too often, the theme of world peace, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, seems trite. But Ishita’s fervent desire to combine music, peace and faith emerges strongly in this project.

In a takeoff of an oft-quoted biblical passage, one line in the opera goes, “Anybody who holds swords will be ruined by swords.”

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