Translation Works
The 2nd Selected Works
Takayama Ukon
Takayama Ukon
(Takayama Ukon)
GERMAN / Ralph Degen published
RUSSIAN / Evgeny Kruchina (The 3rd)
Originally Published by:
Kodansha (1999)
  • A fascinating, fictionalized account of the life of a Samurai who converted to Christianity
  • Insight into 16th/17th Century Japan, its landscapes, moral codes and beliefs
The Japanese samurai had a special aesthetic of death based on seppuku, or ritual suicide by disembowelment. What about a man obliged to follow the samurai code who then accepted Christianity? A man who lived out this dilemma in real life was the Sengoku-period warlord Takayama Ukon (baptismal name, Justo, 1552–1615).
Takayama Ukon was a man of leadership and intellect, held in esteem by all three of the great unifiers of the country: Nobunaga Oda (1534–82), Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537–98), and Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543–1616). He was also a highly cultivated man, one of the seven great disciples of teamaster Sen no Rikyu (1522-91), founder of the Sen school of tea ceremony. Above all, having converted to Catholicism at the age of twelve under his father's influence, Ukon was a fervent Christian who worked hard to spread the faith. In the end he was banished from Japan and died in Manila.
In the novel Ukon looks back on his turbulent life from the perspective of old age, regretting the countless lives he took and coming to the conviction that military might is not a proper backdrop for the propagation of faith. He makes no resistance to the proscription of Christianity, and preaches to those around him, including his wife and little grandchildren, the virtues not of suicide but of martyrdom. Herein, he believes, lies the pathway to heaven and true faith.
Another ingenious touch is the insertion of another perspective to provide an objective look at Ukon. This is done by having Clemente, a Jesuit priest who works with Ukon to spread Christianity, write letters home to his younger sister in Spain. As seen through the eyes of Father Clemente, Takayama Ukon takes on the scale of a great man whose name has deservedly gone
down in history.
2018 International Translation Forum on Contemporary Japanese LiteratureJLPP Translation Workshop 2018