In Nagasaki, Japan the Order of Saint Augustine suffered the spilling of the blood of more of its members and parishioners than at almost any other place recorded in its long history.
The Christian faith was first introduced to Japan in the sixteenth century by the Jesuits (and next by the Franciscans). The first of them was Francis Xavier, one of the six founding members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Sent to the Far East with the support of the Portuguese king, on 15th August 1549 Francis was the first Christian missionary to reach Japan. This was only six years after the first Europeans - Portuguese traders - had arrived there. After a perilous sea voyage, the first four Augustinians landed on Japanese soil in 1584, but were unable to remain. They were Spanish, hoping to sail from the Philippines to China when their ship was blown off course in a violent storm. Their ship docked for repairs at Hirado, an island near Nagasaki.
One of the Augustinians, Fr Francisco Manrique O.S.A., was immediately impressed by the natural beauty of the Japanese landscape, and of the prospects of unlimited missionary work in a land where the Jesuits and Franciscans had already been established. It was not, however, until 1602 that the Order of Saint Augustine was assigned the territory of Bungo (the present Oita Prefecture of Japan) as its area of missionary responsibility. One of the early leaders of this mission was Fr Hernando Ayala O.S.A., a saintly priest who came to be dearly loved by the local Japanese people. After working in Bungo for some years, he opened the first Augustinian monastery (convento) in Nagasaki in 1612. Until 1602, both the colonial Spanish government and the superiors of religious orders in the Philippines had deliberately forbade missionaries to go to Japan because of Spanish political difficulties with the emperor of Japan.
It was also the time when the international power of Spain was in decline, and that of England and Holland was increasing. About fifty years after the arrival of the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries (Portuguese) in Japan, they were joined by Spanish Dominicans and Augustinians from the Philippines in 1602. Unfortunately this prompted rivalries between the different groups of missionaries and attempted political interference by the Spanish and Portuguese governments, along with power politics among factions in the Japanese government itself. As well, there were increasingly more conflicts and battles between Spanish and Japanese or Dutch ships. In two of these contests at the Port of Nagasaki in 1610, Giovanni Damarín O.S.A. and Francesco de Osorio O.S.A. lost their lives. A consequence of the instability and rivalries was the suppression of the Christian religion in Japan. In 1614, the Japanese Emperor outlawed the Christian religion and expelled all the foreign missionaries.
At this time, twenty thousand people in Nagasaki, constituting half its population, were baptised, and 10,000 of these Christians were members of the Augustinian Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation. In this decision, the emperor was aided by the Protestant English and Dutch traders on the one hand and by the local Buddhist priests on the other. Over 100 priests and religious were deported to Manila or Macao. But some missionary priests, like Fernando Ayala O.S.A. mentioned below, ignored and evaded the decree. They risked their lives by defying the decree and going into hiding. As Europeans and South Americans in an oriental country, it was almost impossible not to be seen and reported to the authorities for execution.
Among those foreign priests who died in the attempted suppression of the Christian religion in Japan were Augustinians from Spain, Portugal and Mexico. The first of them was Fernando Ayala O.S.A. (Ferdinand of Saint Joseph) from La Mancha in Spain. He had reached Japan in 1614 and was beheaded on 1st June 1617. Pedro Zuñiga O.S.A. was from Seville in Spain and a nobleman by birth. His father had been the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico. He became an Augustinian in Seville in 1604. Five years later he enlisted for the Philippines, in spite of the opposition of his family. Immediately he asked to go to Japan. He was chosen as companion for the Mexican, Bartolomé Gutiérrez O.S.A., who had previously reached Japan in 1612 and had been expelled in 1614 as a result of the decree of the emperor. Disguised as merchants, both arrived in Japan in August 1618. Pedro lived in hiding while the persecution raged in Nagasaki.
When he was found out, the Nagasaki governor preferred not to detain the son of an ex-Viceroy of Mexico and made him return to the Philippines. Pedro Zuñiga then headed for Japan a second time in June 1620. When the junk in which he was a passenger was captured by Dutch and English ships, Zuñiga was handed over to the Japanese authorities and was their prisoner for two years until executed. He was burnt alive in Nagasaki on 19th August 1622. Martyred with him was Joaquin Hiroyama (or Firoyama), a Christian layman who had taken Gutierrez about his ship in order to smuggle him into Japan. Among the crowd of 1,000 Christians and onlookers at his death was Blessed Bartolomé Gutierrez O.S.A., his travelling companion, and Miguel de San Jose O.S.A., one of the first Japanese-born Augustinians who was then ministering secretly in his homeland. (Miguel was later martyred, along with 637 Augustinian lay tertiaries.)
Bartolomé Gutierrez O.S.A. had arrived in Japan for the second time in 1620. He was forced to spend his daylight hours hidden in a cave and minister to the Japanese Christian community in the darkness of night. Betrayed by a former Christian, he and his catechist John Shozabaco were arrested on 10th November 1629. While John was beheaded in 1630, the torments of Bartolomé began in earnest in December 1631. He was submitted to the painful torture of hot sulphur baths which had succeeded in bringing many Christians to renounce their faith. Because of his constancy his torturers had physicians heal his wounds so that he could be tortured again and again. He was finally burned alive on 3rd September 1632. Born in Mexico, Bartolomé Gutierrez O.S.A. became the first Augustinian born in the New World to become a Christian martyr. Other foreign Augustinians to suffer death in 1632 were Vincenzo Simeons O.S.A., Francesco Terrero O.S.A., Martino Lumbreras O.S.A. and Melchiorre Sánchez O.S.A.
In the persecutions of the Christian faith in Japan during the seventeenth century, numerous Japanese-born Augustinians (priests, oblates and lay confraternity members) gave their lives for Christ. Tommaso Jihyoe O.S.A., a Japanese who became an Augustinian priest was like a legendary Zorro or Scarlet Pimpernel in the way he very skilfully eluded capture by the forces of the emperor for five years. Tommaso (Thomas) was the first Japanese to become an Augustinian priest. He had an extraordinary life of only thirty-five years. Born in Omura in 1602, he was admitted into the Order in Manila (Philippines) in November 1623. Because of his Christian Faith, he had been expelled from Japan and sent to Macao, but returned to Japan six years later. He was simply professed in Manila during 1624 and then ordained in Cebu in 1628, only to return to Japan in 1631 against the will of his superiors in the Philippines.
Called "Kintsuba," in Japan he mastered the art of disguise, and even for a time worked as a gardener in the sight daily of those seeking him. Finally captured in 1636, he endured severe torture, and died towards the end of 1637 rather than accept the offer to be freed if he denied the Christian faith. He was 35 years of age when executed. There is a statue of him in Nagasaki. He has been beatified (i.e., declared a Blessed of the Church) as one of 188 Christian martyrs of Japan. His ceremony of beatification occurred in Nagasaki on 24 November 2008.
The final Augustinian priest to be killed in Japan was a Japanese man named Michael of Saint Joseph, for whom death came in 1637. He was also known as Fr Michael of Bungo, the town of his birth. He was ordained to the priesthood as an Augustinian in the Philippines, and returned to minister secretly in Japan around the year 1632. First he ministered in Bungo, but then moved to Nagasaki and was soon captured. He died in the sulphur pits in a way similar to the death of Thomas Jiyhoe O.S.A., and only a few weeks after Thomas' martyrdom. As well as these two Japanese-born Augustinians, of thirty-eight foreign Augustinians who served in Japan during this troubled period it is thought that as many as twenty-five of them were killed. Other religious orders - present in Japan in greater numbers - lost considerably more members. At that time an immense number of Japanese Christians were executed over a number of decades.
The total has variously been estimated as anywhere between 30,000 and 300,000 persons. Japan remained officially closed to all foreign influence. For the next two hundred years between 1638 and 1854, very few missionaries entered Japan, but were rapidly arrested and executed. Finally, when Japan reopened its doors for economic reasons soon after 1850 missionaries did not miss the occasion. The Augustinians, however, did not return to Japan until 1952. Early in the year 1951 Thomas Hunt O.S.A., who had not long before become the first Provincial of the Order in Australia, was travelling from Australia to Europe by ship. When the ship berthed at Nagasaki, he met the local archbishop, who asked him if the Augustinians could return to that part of Japan. Thomas Hunt recommended the American Augustinians for the task. After due negotiation, Fr Joseph Dougherty O.S.A., the Provincial of the Villanova Province (eastern U.S.A.), obtained permission from the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith on 16th June 1952. Augustinian priests from the United States arrived in Nagasaki on 22nd November 1952. Now using a majority of Japanese-born Augustinians, the Order today conducts a parish with P-10 school in Nagasaki, and also has communities staffing a parish each in the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Fukuoka.
There is also in Tokyo a formation residence for Japanese entrants to the Augustinian Order. In 2009 nine Japanese are Augustinian priests. In 2009, less than one percent of the total Japanese population was Christian, whether Catholic or Protestant. In 2009, there were thirteen Augustinian friars in Japan, one oblate, one seminarian and one postulant. In terms of nationality, three are from the U.S.A., one from Cebu Province (Philippines), and the remainder are Japanese.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet gallery on the Augustinian history of Japan, click here.
The Life of a Witness for the Love of Christ: a story of the first Japanese person to be ordained a priest in the Order of Saint Augustine. Written for Augnet by Thomas Masaki Imada O.S.A., Fukuoka, Japan, February 2006:File AN3332 Click here.
Return to Nagasaki. By Thomas Purcell O.S.A. in Augustiniana (6), Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain, July 1956, pp. 838-841.AN4846