They say Japan was made by a sword. They say the old gods dipped a cold blade into the ocean, and when they pulled it out four perfect drops fell back into the sea, and those drops became the islands of Japan. I say, Japan was made by a handful of brave men, warriors willing to give their lives for what seems to have become a forgotten word: Christ.
Of course, the opening narration of The Last Samurai actually ends with the word “honor,” and the men it describes are those of the legendary samurai warrior class of Japan. But replace that word and you have a good summation of the life of the first Japanese Christians, spiritual warriors willing to give their lives for the honor of knowing, loving, and serving Christ (and some of whom were, in fact, samurai warriors as well).
Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan, was the first to persecute the Christians. Over a span of fifty years, the Faith had spread so far in Japan that he grew suspicious of its influence. In 1587, he gave the missionaries twenty days to be gone from Japan. Nothing further was done, however, and the missionaries stayed, working with greater caution.
Ten years of wary quiet passed; some of the missionaries relaxed and began preaching more in public.
Then the axe dropped.
In 1597, Hideyoshi accused the Christians of being Spanish spies, sent by Spain to infiltrate and take over Japan. Twenty-six Christians were rounded up, mutilated, and condemned to death on this charge. The fact that seventeen of the accused—the youngest of whom was twelve—were Japanese by birth was ignored.
The stalwart Christians, joyful and courageous despite their mutilated faces, were forced on a bitter, month-long march to Nagasaki. Along the march they sang and prayed; one Jesuit priest preached to those about him at every opportunity.
After crucifying the Twenty-six, Japanese soldiers brought spears and pierced their hearts one by one. As they expired, the martyrs chanted joyfully, “Jesus! Mary! Jesus! Mary!”
The greatest legends come, not from old gods or warriors of honor, but from those who seek Christ above all things, even life. The Church is adorned with thousands of such Christians, some of whom you will encounter in The Book of Saints and Heroes. Filled with the gripping tales of medieval saints—such as St. Margaret of Scotland and St. George and the Dragon—this page-turner won’t let you put it down. A book that will inspire the whole family! Available today at The Catholic Company!