Category Archives: Japan

Ernie de Pedro’s Takayama Ukon Research

Two weeks ago I received an email from Dr. Ernie de Pedro. Turns out that he has been conducting research for years on the recently beatified Takayama. I was elated to know that he created a website with his son dedicated to the Christian samurai lord.

For those not familiar with Dr. Ernie de Pedro, he’s an Oxford graduate and former director general of the country’s film archive body. He took up his doctorate studies in UST and is now a Managing Trustee for Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation. He specializes in Philippine-Japan history and has worked with several presidents; from Magsaysay to Erap.

Manong Ernie is a down to earth historian, approachable, rare for someone with his credentials. I met him six years ago. The Chile-based writer, Elizabeth Medina, asked me to interview him in 2011. 

According to Ms. Medina, Manong Ernie witnessed her grandfather’s​ public execution. Emilio Medina y Lazo was governor of Ilocos under the Japanese. Ms. Medina wrote Sampaguitas in the Andes (2006) a tribute and memoir to her grandfather.

When I asked if his spiritual belief is “framed within a formal religion or as a personal religiousness?” Dr. de Pedro had a profound response but the line that stuck with me was that for him, “Catholicism is a good religion to die in.” 

He ended up helping Japanese researchers after being approached for help on several occasions. They thought he was in charge of the country’s archives. He was working with film archives, not national archives. He later decided to help with research.

Last month I was reminded of Takayama when I saw the trailer of “Silenced” by Martin Scorcece. I went to the local library to look for the novel the film was based on. No copy was available. The film made the Japanese novel in demand once more.

“Silence” is about Portuguese Jesuits who came to look for their missing compatriot. The setting was during the time of the “Hidden Christians” of the Tokugawa era. Christianity was banned in 1614. Takayama came to Manila in 1615. He died a few months after his arrival.

Takayama Ukon in Plaza Dilao

I wrote several blog entries about Takayama. I take inspiration from his example. His is a story of faith and loyalty. It must have been his wish or must be God’s design that he died in Manila. Catholic burial rites was impossible under the Tokugawa ban. He would have been deprived of one.

According to Dr. de Pedro, Takayama was interred in the old Jesuit church in Intramuros. When WWII leveled much of it, the Jesuits moved the residents of the crypt to the Jesuit Novaliches cemetery. Takayama’s​ remains (along with Lord Naito) were mixed up with other bones. They did test for DNA but so far has failed to get positive identification.

When I visited the Archdiocese of Osaka I saw a simple statue of Takayama holding a small cross. The one in Paco’s Plaza Dilao have a long pointed crucifix (similar to the one in Takatsuki). The church is close to the historic Osaka castle, about 20 to 30 minute walk. Umeda or Nakatsu (closest to the Archdiocese) are the train stations nearby.

Last February, the Christian samurai lord was beatified in the Archdiocese of Osaka. The beatification puts him closer to sainthood.

In his old age, with support mainly from close friends and family, Dr. De Pedro took on a daunting task but he seem happy with how things has turn out. In his email he said, “Everyone is involved. When I crowd sourced our ramen-money for the Japan trip — every relativr from the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, the US, Canada and Norway came through! Isn’t it great to have such a formidable Support group?”

Please drop by and learn more about Justo Takayama Ukon. Support the cause and its advocates, include them in your prayers!

Here are my old posts about Takayama:

The Japanese of Old Manila

Save the Old Paco Train Station

Takayama the Catholic Samurai


A Day in Kyoto

The trip from Osaka to Kyoto takes around 30 minutes. It’s a fast and convenient train ride. The journey provided this tourist a snippet of the Japanese metropolitan and country landscape. The city is not only ancient but emblematically spiritual for the Japanese.

Forget trying to see all the temples. There’s more than 2000 of them. I did not craft a list of shrines to visit; I wanted to experience the town in my own phase and not just hop from one place to another. But I did went to Chionin temple, an enormous compound, to say my prayers for a relative that recently passed. I did the same in Tō-ji temple. The area of Kyoto (like Chionin) was used as location for the Tom Cruise movie “Last Samurai.” I think those Japanese period movies (like my brothers favorite “Satoichi”) spend less in recreating locations because there’s nothing to recreate; most of the place looks exactly the way they were as if time stood still!

I did enjoy the area in Gion because that’s where you see genuine Geishas. They’re still there; These iconic Japanese symbols are walking human art. They are trained in various facets of art and spends most of their lives learning and entertaining. Much of the popular novel “Memoir of a Geisha,” was set in this district. I saw an older man being guided by one; foreign tourists were snapping pictures left and right which I find to be rude.

I get to taste traditional street food in this area too. The fried sweet potatoes (simply sprinkled with sugar), rice cakes, traditional pastries and deep fried chicken. I was aware that some of the stores has been in operation for centuries—just like the temples that dotted the town. For a place with a 1000 year recorded history I was not surprised. I suspect that the restaurant where we ate soba near Kiyomizu-dera Temple (where they still perform a dragon dance according to old Shinto rites) has been around for ages but I did not trouble asking the staff because no one speaks English.

Geologically Kyoto is encircled by mountains that shelters it from typhoons that reaches the shores of Japan. Storms that sometimes pass us first in Manila. In Shitennoji Temple, an impressive Buddhist temple built in 593 AD, you get a view of the picturesque rolling hills complete with a giant torii gate. One could only imagine what Kyoto looked like back in the day. Thanks to locals who dress up in traditional way travelers like myself could get a snippet of the old feudal capital.

We probably took more hundreds photos. You’re surrounded by beautiful tradition, picturesque places, temples and people. It’s hard not to—even a simple carved stone water well has been around for ages.

Kyoto’s that kind of a place—what a wonderful place—another visit is in order!

They still have this Dragon parade ritual that goes around the area. I heard they’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. Great to see for tourists like myself.

The first photo is a small wooden post. Not sure if it’s a guardhouse. I can’t help but admire how they create things the way they do. Nothing is wasted; even a small space does not feel cramped at all. Of course there’s these mochi’s that I can’t stop thinking about now. Last two photos are various temples.

Saying my prayers and sending them to the Shinto gods. The Japanese are masters of using every single inch of space; just look at these small shops! And I took this photo of the To-ji temple; look at those young ladies bowing to each other. What a sight!

Eating and buying stuff in the streets of Gion. That guy frying chicken parts is straight out of a samurai period movie!

Kyoto, Japan March 2015

Takayama the Catholic Samurai & the Japanese Beatas of Manila

In front of the abandoned Paco station is a statue of a Samurai, Justo Takayama, who lived and died not far from where it stand. Takayama, a daimyo, was sent packing by an edict from Tokugawa banning Christianity. He was accompanied by Jesuit missionaries and was received with pomp by Filipinos. The conditions and perhaps the sadness of being cut off from his people and land must have caused his health to fail. The  Christian Daimyo died barely two months after he settled in Manila.

It’s already spring here in Osaka and the climate is still chilly especially during the night time. Summer in Manila brings a different kind of heat. Takayama was with his samurais, servants and family. They must have found the climate repressive.

Lady Hosegawa’s simple stone memorial in Japanese style. The zen-esque facade of the Saint Maria Osaka Cathedral. Takayama a potential saint.

Francis Xavier came to Japan in 1549 and was among the first westerners to introduce Christianity to Japan. Historians writes about this unfruitful mission but records shows that his work took root. After only four decades it is believe that Catholics in Japan already reached a quarter of a million.

Spanish authorities recommended to Takayama to overthrow the Tokugawa leadership in their country with the help of the Spanish empire’s military. It is said that he refused this offer; either he saw this as a harmful endeavor for Japan or against his faith.

Another Kirishitan daimyō from Kyushu, Konishi Yukinaga (baptised name Agostinho), fought against Tokugawa. The latter order him to commit suicide after his defeat. Yukinaga, a faithful Catholic refused to do so. He was executed by Tokugawa’s men.

Also on that boat were what some historians suggest to be the first Catholic women Order, headed by Sor Julia Naito, in the country. Little is known about this lady aside from that she was from a noble Japanese family. Historian Jose Victor Torres writes: “She struck upon the idea of establishing an order of religious women. The convent and its members are to be women dedicated to the service of the one true God.” 

Having been guided by Jesuits, their way of religious life had similarities to that of their fathers. Their Order upon reaching Manila predates that of the Poor Clares of Sor Gerónima (est. in Manila in 1621) by about 7 years. Records shows that Naito’s was the first women order in the colony.

The beatas of Miyako, joined Lord Takayama and Lord Juan Naito in Nagasaki on 1614. They reached Manila December that same year.

I made the short walk from the Osaka castle to Osaka Cathedral hoping to catch mass. I heard that there are Filipino priests in there and that they celebrate Tagalog mass. Our timing was off and found the church to be under construction.

There’s a church in Takatsuki that also honors the memory of Ukon; they lived in this town for more than decade.

In front of the Osaka church stands two simple solid stone monuments for Lord Takayama and Lady Hosegawa. While both did not perish under their tormentors hands their decision to embrace Catholicism gave them unimaginable difficulties. In Takayama’s case, a samurai lord, it meant losing everything.

An interesting question that I have not found a ready answer is what happened to the Japanese of Spanish Manila? The ghetto they occupied in Paco? The samurai warriors the Spanish hired to fight?

It’s hard to imagine that they just vanished considering their deep and rooted traditions.

Did they found a way back to their homeland or did they, as some theorize, fully integrated and became Filipinos?


March 2015

Seeing Osaka’s Castle

On the plane to Osaka, I overheard these group of people who were talking about spending a day shopping and visiting the Universal Studios. They’re from a local Filipino bank and must be on a team building holiday if not a business trip.

The moment we landed in Osaka I immediately reviewed the destinations I listed. Of course, the Osaka castle’s on  top.

A great view of the Osaka castle from NHK Osaka building. One of the turrets; the outer moat. NHK Osaka houses a museum which offers awesome presentation about the history of Japan; I have seen some of these flags back home. Headed to one of the many memorial in the area; this one, near the Otemon gate.

Certainly not an expert but I’m aware of the castle’s significance to the Japanese. The thought that the great samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, fought with the Tokugawa side against the Toyotomi clan fired up my imagination. After the success of the Tokugawa in capturing Osaka, Ieyasu finally had power over all of Japan. He united the country.

It was nice that the day we arrive, plum and cherry blossoms has started flowering. It was not in full bloom yet but its colors and scents was already attracting people. Some had already set up picnic blankets around these low leafless trees with the Osaka castle for a background. They would drink tea and beers, eat out of their lacquer bento boxes. It was a great sight to see.

A samurai at the gates. The building where warriors of feudal Japan once trained; now children and adults practicing martial arts used it. The great castle of Osaka. These balls are takoyakis; I enjoyed watching vendors make them.

Being a martial art fan I was thrilled to see the old building where martial arts were taught in feudal Osaka. Here I saw Japanese children studying karate. Not far is a popular samurai statue that I believe to be Hideyoshi Toyotomi (but don’t take my word here).

Around this area there are food stalls. The best Takoyaki I tasted here.

Everywhere I see people taking pictures. I noticed that majority of the tourists were Japanese. Another curious thing I observed was that most of them have simple, some old, point and shoot digital cameras. You’d expect them to have sophisticated gadgets but these people are very basic in their attire and possessions.

Some of the most beautiful shots I took of Osaka involves Sakuras and other tree blossoms. Japanese would picnic around these low flowering trees.

I remember a story from a friend who visited Japan a few years ago for a job assignment. He was fortunate that instead of a hotel a co-worker offered him one of the rooms in their house for the entire week of his stay. The house is typical Japanese, small and modest. But what surprised my friend was the television was a very old unit; one of those bulky squarish ones. No flat screen. The area he said was not far from electronic shops that offered the best in television technology.

Less is more, they live it.

I was a little embarrassed that day in the Nishinomaru garden when I took pictures of myself beside a man who was smelling and snapping macros of sakuras. Obviously, we see the world in totally different ways.

The castle is among Japan’s most visited historic sites. There’s a queue everywhere. They have converted the entire castle into a multi-level museum, with amazing original period items and interactive audio-visual narrations. They have installed an elevator and in almost every corner there’s a staff. The castle is surrounded by moats, turrets, citadels and gates. The last full restoration was made only in the 90’s. It took damage during WWII but was never totally ruined.

The top floor of the castle provided a magnificent view of Osaka. This is the same view that was once reserved only for the masters of the castle in the days of feudal Japan. Now I stand in the same spot where they used to observe theirs subjects taking selfies. How rude.

One of the things I learned from this trip is how Japanese would saved up and spend time visiting their heritage places. You see them in the train terminal with their traveling cases and bags. Like me, they would stand in front of the train maps, trying to figure out how to get to Osaka’s main tourist attractions. They’re more excited to see the real Japan than those Filipino tourists who went to Universal Studios.

In the castle I observed how Japanese, young and old, would fall in line to watch a presentation or get close to a museum item. You could see how they try to absorb everything in. Even children appears to understand the significance of what they’re witnessing. I don’t know if they’ve been taught to behave that way or if they already have it in them since birth. They are, after all, a very loyal and disciplined race.

A few years ago I found out that Japanese visitors would arrange trips to an obscure site in Muntinlupa where some of their last soldiers were executed. They were the aggressors and committed many crimes but you would have to respect how the succeeding generation still values these men who died so young. I believe it’s not what they’ve committed during that terrible war that the Japanese of today looks up to but those soldiers willingness to die when their country asked them to—it is that spirit that even I respect.

Osaka Holiday

Osaka’s a good jump point if your planning a trip to nearby Kyoto, Kobe and Nara. But if I had just one day I won’t mind spending it all here. Osaka offer a glimpse of traditional and modern Japan. It’s an impressive metropolis dotted with historical sites.

I’ve always wanted to eat authentic Japanese ramen and tonkatsu all my life in Japan and I decided this is the city where I should do it! There was a food bazaar, offering never-before-tasted Japanese dishes, not far from where we stayed. Most customers were from the offices around Umeda and passengers from Osaka station. I have never seen a busier train interchange.

It was challenging just to ask for directions here. They can’t explain well in English and they don’t exert much effort to. In fact even when they know you don’t speak Japanese they would speak to you in Japanese. But I see this more as a sign of great pride than lack of consideration. You don’t see a Japanese imitating English accents to impress outsiders. In fact, when they speak and write in English, they do so in their own way too.

Clouds over the Northern provinces (could be Ilocos) of our beautiful motherland. A delectable tonkatsu meal after that long flight—best porkchops—ever. Some old sign written in Japanese, English and Spanish; Osaka’s a historic port visited by many western empires when it opened its doors. This I found out, Japanese have a healthy reading habit, and it should not come as a surprise really.

These banners are so cool but I learned that they’re just names of food being served in this food fair. That rice and beef curry, Japanese style, is to die for! The Dragon Ball Z franchise was such a hit back when I was a teenager that one of its character now have a soft drink product of his own. Bikes for rents; these won’t last a minute in Manila.

I enjoyed walking around and observing both people and trains in Osaka station, one of the busiest railway station in the country; the busiest I have ever seen in my life. The hotel I was in had a great view of the station. It took some studying, maps, books and websites before I got comfortable riding trains. I don’t think I really got the hang of it but we did well considering that English is hardly spoken. I took my brother’s advise, “enjoy it (trains), there’s nothing like it,” and I did but not after getting dazed and confused and lost.

The north district’s food haven can be found in the streets of Umeda. It’s crowded, there’s a lot of heavy drinking (and heavy eating) but true to the image that we see of Japan on TV and books, restos were orderly. Discipline is what sets these people apart.

I rarely saw a bike that’s padlocked in the streets. Ironically, in NHK Osaka, the umbrella rack have locks but this I learned was not because they’re being stolen, the locks were made to avoid people picking someone else umbrella accidentally.

They have everything in these small stalls; even meals in bento boxes. Another tonkatsu meal; feeding my pork chop addiction. The iconic Glico man; you can’t say you’ve been to Osaka without a photo with this neon ad in Dotonbori—even Michael Douglas in Black Rain had a scene here. Walking in a sunny weather is easy, the temperature during day time is around 5 to 8 degrees. They say there’s still some winter left around this time.

I read somewhere that the Japanese population is fast aging. I did notice that couples with children are not that visible; children are a rare sight here unlike in other countries where you hear children every where. People in developed countries eventually would have less time raising children, and this is true across the globe, while people in 3rd world countries have time, but not the resources, to do so. Big families are good for developed economies but not for struggling ones.

There’s another reason why I wanted to see Osaka. Black Rain. The Ridley Scott movie that starred Michael Douglas. I love that film; some of its memorable scenes were shot here in Osaka. I have three original DVD at home and one of them is this film.

Traveling to Japan is not as expensive as it used to be—but still expensive—at least for me. We saved up for the trip with the intention of seeing this country’s culture and people which we greatly admired—and of course, to sample the food which I admire even more; some say that Osaka is the food capital, not only of Japan but of the world!

It must be fate or chance that the month of our visit coincided with the passing of my Sister-in-Law. A Japanese whom my Brother met in Yokosuka. I know she wanted us to see Japan; she told me this and I feel that us making it all the way to her Land of the rising Sun is something that made her smile.

March 2015

For Miki

When I found out that my sister-in-law was in critical condition late February I thought of cancelling my trip to Japan this month. When she died two weeks ago, I was no longer thinking of our holiday. My heart and thoughts was with my brother who was dealing with the situation all by himself.

Recently retired from the US military, my brother and his kind Japanese wife intended to spend the rest of their lives in sunny Florida. It was her choice (she loves the “Sunshine State”) as do most American retirees; they both love the coast, the sea and watching sunrise during their early morning walks with their two dogs.

When they found out about the cancer, they bravely fought it together. Far from family and friends they kept it to themselves. My brother, the ever optimist, believed there’s hope up to the last moments of his wife’s life. I was shocked to find out that his wife was already in critical condition when March came. We talk in Skype all the time and he never, not once, brought up what his wife is going through.

I spoke with Miki about our planned trip to Japan in January. She sounded really excited. I felt it in her voice. I had no idea that at that time she was so weak that speaking was already a struggle. Late February she slipped into a coma.

(1) A Shinto shrine (2) Water for cleansing (3) Traditional rice cakes and other Japanese delicacies

I told her we love Japanese food. I was waiting for her to make recommendations; sushi places, tempura stalls, things like that. She recommended Japanese cheesecake and rice cakes—these, according to her are “not so sweet and very soft.” She mentioned no other food but these.

So we went around Osaka and Kyoto savoring assortments of rice cakes. My favorite are these purple mochi wrapped in cherry leaves. It looks so good that I had second thoughts eating it.

I regret that I failed to visit them last year while I was in Chicago. I don’t understand why this tragedy happened to such kind and loving people—Miki’s so generous that she’s always on a look out for people and organization to help—even dogs to rescue. As Catholic, I was taught to deal with such a terrible lost by reflecting on the suffering of Christ and the Virgin Mary. But still I struggle to find answers, and maybe there’s none. She was taken from us too soon.

Yesterday, in Kyoto, near the Tō-ji temple, I said my prayers and wishes for Miki. I felt peace and was consoled that I reached her native land—The trip was our humble homage to her. We were thinking of her the whole time…

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