When the Cross Meets the Samurais (Part 2)

In the previous part of this article, I have described Francis Xavier’s initial arrival in Japan, in which he was accompanied by Father Cosme de Torres, Brother Juan Fernandez, Anjiro and his two servants. I have also described Father Xavier’s initial missionary activities while he was in Kagoshima, after which he was forced to leave when the daimyo of Satsuma Province, Shimazu Takahisa reversed his pro-Christian policies. Leaving the new Christian community that he had founded in Kagoshima under the care of Anjiro, Francis Xavier then set sail with Father de Torres, Brother Fernandez, Anjiro’s two servants and the young samurai Bernardo.

A few days after setting sail from Kagoshima, Father Xavier and his party subsequently arrived in the port-city of Hirado (). There, he met the daimyo of Hirado, Matsuura Takanobu (松浦隆信) (1529 – 1599). Takanobu was extremely delighted with the presence of the Catholic missionaries in his domain, thus he subsequently granted them full permission to spread the gospel in Hirado. Within the short period of time that they spent in Hirado, the Catholic missionaries preached in several public places and read out the summary that Father Xavier wrote in Kagoshima. Reception towards the gospel there was more positive. Just within a short period of 10 days, approximately 100 people accepted Christianity.

Francis Xavier's journey from Kagoshima to Hirado (), with Hizen Province (肥前国, Hizen-kuni) coloured red

At this juncture, Francis Xavier had one wish: to journey all the way to the imperial capital of Japan, that is Kyoto, in order to have an audience with the Emperor of Japan himself. Having decided so, Father Xavier then left Hirado after 10 days from his arrival there. Father Xavier took Brother Fernandez and Bernardo with him, while Father de Torres and Anjiro’s two servants stayed behind in Hirado to continuously spread the gospel there.

Journeying the strenuous journey by foot, Francis Xavier and his party then arrived in Yamaguchi (), one of the richest and largest cities in Japan at that time. They decided to stop there momentarily to propagate the gospel to the inhabitants of the large city. Hence, Father Xavier and the others spent many days there preaching in public locations. Once again, his preaching mainly involved reading out the translated summary of Catholic Christianity. However, with Brother Fernandez’s improvement in the Japanese language, preaching in public became easier and they were able to express the gospel more freely with less reliance on the summary.

Public response towards the gospel was poor in Yamaguchi, as hardly anyone accepted Christianity there. This may have been due to the fact that the Catholic missionaries were poorly clad, and thus they were often looked down upon. Their strenuous journey from Hirado worn them all out, and their clothing wasn’t spared either. In addition to that, they did not bring many supplies with them when they left Hirado. As a result of all these, the missionaries frequently appeared in public clothed in poor clothing.

An artist's impression of Francis Xavier preaching to the Japanese people

In spite of that, the Catholic missionaries managed to attract the attention and interest of some aristocrats towards the gospel, who then invited the missionaries into their homes in order to learn more about the “new teaching.” Not long after, Father Xavier and his companions even received an invitation to have an audience with Ouchi Yoshitaka (大内義) (1507 – 1551). Yoshitaka was one of the most powerful and influential daimyos at that time, whose large domain included Yamaguchi itself. As expected, the Catholic missionaries presented themselves before Yoshitaka in poor clothing. Yoshitaka was interested to know more about the gospel, asking the missionaries many questions and listening to them reading out the translated summary. The meeting, however, bore no fruits, as Yoshitaka was disagreeable and, in fact, greatly angered by the teachings of the gospel. Coupled with the fact that the missionaries appeared before him very shabbily, he ordered them out of his residence without saying a word.
 Francis Xavier's journey from Hirado to Kyoto (京都)

Since the Catholic missionaries’ work in Yamaguchi at that time bore very little success, they decided to leave the city after a few months. They then continued their journey towards the imperial capital of Kyoto (), in order to have an audience with the Emperor of Japan, Emperor Go-Nara (後奈良天, Go-Nara Tennou) (1497 – 1557). They travelled an exhausting journey by foot all the way to Iwakuni (). From there, they subsequently went to Sakai () by ship, after which they made the final stage of their journey to Kyoto in the entourage of an aristocrat.

Nonetheless, after arriving in Kyoto, Father Xavier was utterly upset with the condition of the city and the position of the Emperor. Apparently, Kyoto at that time was badly devastated by the civil war and the Emperor himself was reduced to such a powerless man living in an impoverished house. In trying to get an audience with Emperor Go-Nara, Father Xavier and his companions were barred from doing so. This was because they did not have any luxurious gifts to present before the Emperor, since they had left almost everything they had back in Hirado.

Emperor Go-Nara (後奈良天, Go-Nara Tennou) (Reigned 1526 – 1557)

Only in Kyoto did Father Xavier finally realize the true political status of Japan during that era: that Japan was amidst a series of civil wars in which the central authorities of the Emperor and the shogunate (central government) had been greatly diminished. In place of these central authorities were the numerous daimyos who attempted to exert influence over their own domains and conquer the domains of other daimyos by waging successive wars. Prior to his attempts to meet the Emperor, Father Xavier thought that, by seeking the Emperor’s favour and permission, the Catholic missionaries could then freely spread the gospel anywhere throughout the land of Japan. Nevertheless, with the Emperor’s poverty and powerlessness amidst uncontrolled civil wars, what was the worth in gaining the Emperor’s consent and favour?

Father Xavier did not want to waste their long trip to Kyoto. He and his companions remained there for a few days and tried preaching publicly in the city. Once again, to their disappointment, reception was very poor and hardly anyone came to listen to the missionaries. After remaining in Kyoto for about 10 days, they left the imperial capital and made their journey back to Hirado by foot.

 Saint Francis Xavier Memorial Church, Hirado (平戸ザビエル記念教会, Hirado Zabieru Kinen Kyōkai), built in commemoration of Francis Xavier's arrival in Hirado

In March 1551, Father Xavier, Brother Fernandez and Bernardo arrived back in Hirado. In Father Xavier’s absence, Father de Torres had made some success in spreading the gospel in Hirado, whereby the latter had baptized about 40 more people. After arriving back in Hirado, Father Xavier did not give up, but decided to change his strategy in spreading the gospel in Japan. Before this, he thought that gaining Emperor Go-Nara’s favour would be a great boost for the propagation of Catholic Christianity throughout Japan; now, in order to encourage the spread of the gospel, he set his heart on gaining the favour of one of the most powerful and revered daimyos of that time – Ouchi Yoshitaka.

Ensuring that nothing would go wrong this time, Francis Xavier carefully packed many exotic gifts on a ship. Accompanied by Brother Fernandez and Bernardo, Father Xavier left almost immediately after returning back to Hirado. The missionaries travelled in the ship and sailed back to Yamaguchi, where they once again had an audience with Ouchi Yoshitaka.

Not wanting to repeat his mistake of appearing in poverty before the great daimyo, Father Xavier dressed himself in luxurious attire and introduced himself as the ambassador of the Portuguese Viceroy of India and the Bishop of Goa, bringing with him two official letters from them respectively. This, combined with the numerous exotic gifts from the great missionary, tremendously impressed and delighted Yoshitaka. The great daimyo then granted full permission for Father Xavier and his companions to propagate the gospel throughout his vast domain, guaranteeing also their protection. In addition, Yoshitaka provided a residence in Yamaguchi for the usage of the missionaries.

 An European painting depicting Saint Francis Xavier preaching to the masses

This time, Father Xavier’s strategy bore much fruits, as Yoshitaka’s continuous support and protection for the missionaries made the works of spreading the gospel a lot easier. Hardly a day passed by when the missionaries’ residence was not filled with people of all walks of life, including aristocrats, samurais and highborn ladies, who came to listen to Father Xavier’s teaching. Almost every day, the great missionary would not only talk about the gospel and the teachings of Christianity, he would also teach knowledge about Western sciences, mathematics and astronomy to everyone who visited his residence.

If you recall what I’ve written in Part 1, you’d remember that Anjiro suggested the usage of the term Dainichi to refer to the biblical God, since there was no Japanese term at that time that could suit the meaning of the biblical God. Not knowing that Dainichi was actually the Japanese name of Vairocana, the celestial Buddha, Father Xavier continued using this term when spreading the gospel.

It was at this time in Yamaguchi when Father Xavier finally realized the true meaning of the term Dainichi. From his discussions and conversations with Buddhist monks in Yamaguchi, he then realized the true meaning of Dainichi and concluded that it was definitely not a suitable name to refer to the biblical God. He immediately stopped using the term Dainichi and instead reverted back to the Latin word for God, Deus. The Buddhist monks in the city were greatly angered by this, as they now saw Christianity as a totally foreign religion that would bring harm to the Japanese. Many a times did the monks try to harm the Catholic missionaries in opposition, but Yoshitaka’s support and protection prevented any major harm from befalling upon them.

In spite of all the opposition faced by the missionaries, about 500 people throughout Yamaguchi accepted Christianity and were baptized. This included not only commoners, but also aristocrats, samurais and learned scholars. Even after Father Xavier left the city, the Christian community in Yamaguchi continued to grow, with its members being very devoted to their newfound faith.

 Saint Francis Xavier Memorial Church, Yamaguchi (山口ザビエル記念聖堂, Yamaguchi Zabieru Kinen Seidō), built in commemoration of Francis Xavier's arrival in Yamaguchi

In August 1551, Father Xavier was informed that a Portuguese ship had anchored in Bungo Province (豊後, Bungo-kuni). Wishing to meet the captain of the ship in order to check if any important mail had arrived for him from the Portuguese settlement in India, Father Xavier immediately prepared to leave Yamaguchi. Before leaving, however, he summoned Father de Torres from Hirado and entrusted the task of caring for the Christian community in Yamaguchi to the latter and Brother Fernandez. Father Xavier then left the city with Bernardo and a few new Japanese believers.

The entourage’s arrival in Funai () (present-day Oita []), the capital of Bungo Province, was warmly welcomed by the Portuguese ship. Shortly after arriving there, the great missionary also had a chance to meet the daimyo of Bungo Province, Otomo Sorin (大友宗) (1530 – 1587), who maintained close friendship with the Portuguese and was very keen to know more about Christianity. Immediate permission was granted by Sorin for Catholic missionaries to preach the gospel in his domain. Although Sorin did not personally accept Christianity at that time, he later became one of the few daimyos who converted and received baptism 27 years later.

 Location of Funai (), with Bungo Province (豊後, Bungo-kuni) coloured red

Father Xavier did not stay long in Funai to propagate the gospel, for he was anxious to go back to Goa and Europe to update himself on the state of affairs there. Before leaving Funai, Father Xavier received devastating news from Father de Torres and Brother Fernandez, who were in Yamaguchi. Some of Ouchi Yoshitaka’s subjects organized a rebellion against the great daimyo, in which he was defeated and subsequently committed harakiri (腹切) (ritual suicide). As a result, Yamaguchi went into chaos and the Christian community there was not spared either. Father de Torres and Brother Fernandez, however, managed to escape safely. Fortunately, Ouchi Yoshinaga (大内義) (1532 – 1557), who succeeded Yoshitaka as daimyo over his domain, continued ensuring protection for the Christian community and missionaries in Yamaguchi, thus Christianity could still flourish in the city.

 Otomo Sorin (大友宗) (1530 – 1587), Christian daimyo of Bungo Province

Finally, in November 1551, Francis Xavier left Japan for Goa in the Portuguese ship, after spending approximately 2 years propagating the gospel in the Land of the Rising Sun. The great missionary vowed to return to Japan the following year with more Jesuit missionaries to enhance the spreading of the gospel in the land. Nonetheless, he never returned, after having succumbed to an illness and consequently died in December 1552 in Shangchuan Island, China.
Artist's impression of Francis Xavier at his deathbed in December 1552 in Shangchuan Island, China

Francis Xavier may not have been able to realize Anjiro’s six-month prediction for the whole of Japan to accept Christianity, but the great missionary had definitely laid down the foundation for the spread of the gospel into the land. With Father Xavier’s pioneering work in introducing the gospel into Japan and subsequently establishing Christian communities in several cities, the propagation of Christianity could thus be carried out more easily and effectively by missionaries who later followed in his footsteps. Having said this, feel free to proceed to Part 3 to learn more about this matter.

Main References:
1)      Cieslik, H. (1954), Early Jesuit missionaries in Japan 1, Sophia University Private Home Page Service, viewed 5 July, 2010, http://pweb.sophia.ac.jp/britto/xavier/cieslik/ciejmj01.pdf

2)      Ropp, M. (1997), Francis Xavier and the Land of the Rising Sun, theRopps.com, viewed 5 July, 2010, http://www.theropps.com/papers/Winter1997/FrancisXavier.htm

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