MANILA – The Philippines on Friday honored Takayama Ukon, a Japanese feudal warlord who was exiled to the Southeast Asian country 404 years ago because he was Christian.
In marking the anniversary of the daimyo’s arrival in the Philippines on Dec. 21, 1614, the municipal government of Manila declared Dec. 21 as Takayama Ukon Day in his honor.
An agency of the Department of Tourism launched a walking tour featuring areas related to Ukon in the historic area of Intramuros, situated within modern-day Manila.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, blessed a newly carved wooden statue of Ukon, who is just a step away from sainthood following his beatification in February last year.
Born into a samurai-class family in Osaka in 1552, a time of political upheaval and civil warfare, Ukon went on to become the lord of Takatsuki Castle and to participate in various battles under preeminent warlords Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
However, during the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which outlawed Christianity, the aging Ukon was exiled to the Philippines for holding on to his faith amid the persecution of its followers.
Arriving with his wife, a married daughter and five grandsons, as well as some 350 other Japanese Christian exiles, Ukon was warmly welcomed in what was then a colony of Spain, and given the honor of a parade-in-review of Spanish troops in recognition of his military standing.
During his brief time in the country, Ukon devoted his time to prayer and the evangelization of 3,000 non-Christian Japanese in what is now the city’s Paco district. He succumbed to a tropical ailment on Feb. 3, 1615, just 45 days after his arrival. His remains are buried in Manila.
Pointing out the Philippines’ record in accepting refugees during the 20th century, such as the White Russians, Jews and Vietnamese, the Tourism Department’s Assistant Secretary Roberto Alabado said Ukon may just be among the first of those who benefited from the country’s welcoming attitude very early on.
“This shows we are always welcoming people from all over the world, no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, and no matter what your religion is,” Alabado said.
“For this occasion, we are once again commemorating one of those refugees, but on another kind. He is part of us, as we are a Christian nation.”
Japanese Embassy official Takehiro Kano said the Philippine government’s efforts to honor Ukon are great ways to “resurrect memories of common history we share.”
Noting the robust exchange of tourists between the two countries in recent years, Kano said, “In a sense, Blessed Takayama Ukon was among the pioneering Japanese visitors to the Philippines.”
“Unbeknown to Blessed Takayama Ukon, he may have helped plant a seed of friendship that has grown a lot in time,” Kano said.
He expressed hope that the introduction of the walking tour and statue, and the declaration of the Takayama Ukon Day “will attract more Japanese tourists.”
Alabado said the government aims to promote faith tourism more in the Philippines and attract religious pilgrimages in the country.
“This is part of cultural tourism,” which, he said, will not only attract Japanese but also Catholics from other countries.
The Philippines received more than 5.3 million foreign visitors from January to September, with Japanese ranking fourth, after South Koreans, Chinese and Americans.