A samurai lives on in Paco
The statue of a samurai leader standing proud at Plaza Dilao in Paco, Manila, may seem out of place to today’s locals.
History would show, however, that it conveys a message that transcends time, place and racial divides.
The stern-looking image of a man in robes, his hair tied back in a severe bun, depicts the 16th century Japanese warrior and feudal lord Takayama Justo, also known as Takayama Ukon.
But instead of wielding the legendary Japanese blade katana, Takayama is shown holding a Western-style sword pointed to the ground, with carvings depicting the crucified Christ.
Takayama sought refuge in the then young Catholic city of Manila in 1614 after being exiled from his fiefdom in Takatsuki, Osaka, for being a Christian. He was welcomed by the Jesuits in the Philippines as the charismatic leader of around 100 exiled Japanese Christians who had refused to renounce their faith despite the persecution they faced during Japan’s Tokugawa era.
Due to an illness he contracted during the sea voyage that took more than a month, Takayama died just 40 days after reaching Philippine soil. Still, his foothold was enough to establish the first Japanese settlement in Manila, particularly in Paco, where the Spaniards later designated the spot known as Plaza Dilao (yellow).
The warm welcome and honors Manila lavished on Takayama had since fostered ties between the Philippine capital and his home city of Takatsuki.
The two were declared sister cities in 1979, and the bond was renewed in rites held at the plaza last month.
“Manila is an important city for us because a lord of Takatsuki was welcomed here and he died here,” incumbent Takatsuki Mayor Takeshi Hamada said during the visit to Manila.
Hamada was one of 13 Japanese citizens who made a courtesy call on Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim. They formed the latest delegation from the Takatsuki International Association (TIA) which had been regularly visiting the Philippines for decades.
Amid brass band music, the two mayors presided over a wreath-lying ceremony at the statue, with the youthful looking Japanese official walking closer to the image, looking up and staring at the Takatsuki nobleman for almost three minutes as a sign of respect.
“Even now he’s very important to us. Takatsuki City is proud of him,” Hamada said later with the help of an English translator.
Hamada, who was elected mayor last year and was seeing the Philippines for the first time, thanked the Filipinos on behalf of his city for extending their warmth to the Japanese, from Takayama’s time to the present.
“We value your friendship,” Lim said in response.
Earlier during the TIA courtesy call, Lim remarked that though Manila suffered under Japanese occupation in World War II, postwar Japan had always been one of the first countries to come to the aid of the Philippines especially after major disasters.
Asked what Takayama’s life could mean to today’s Filipinos who barely knew the man who came from a different time and culture, the Takatsuki mayor broke into a smile: “From him, we could learn about strong convictions.”
“Once he had conviction, he never changed. This kind of attitude should be held not only by Filipinos but also by the Japanese and people around the world,” Hamada said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.