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Chapter Fifteen Conflict with Yoshimune over Questions of Faith



Chapter Fifteen Conflict with Yoshimune over Questions of Faith

In the 4th year of Tenshō (1576), Sōrin abdicated his position, and two years later received the sacrament. From this period onwards, relations between Sōrin and his eldest son steadily grew more tense. One reason put forward for this (by Lourenço Messina) said that Yoshimune, on the advice of his mother (Sōrin`s former wife), had said that the child about to be born to Sōrin`s new wife should be killed regardless of its gender (Lourenço Messina, in a letter written on the 12th day of the 8th year of Tenshō). The second reason lay in the fact that Yoshimune, who was heavily influenced by his Christian-loathing mother, and in contrast to his free and devout father, had no faith, was caught between his mother and father, and prevaricated between showing an interest in Christianity in a manner similar to Sōrin`s and displaying an aversion to it (Lourenço Messina, in a latter dated for the 22nd day of the 11th month of Tenshō 7). There was, in other words, no consistency to Yoshimune`s actions.(194)

One might see Yoshimune`s actions as a conciliatory gesture stemming from a desire to bring about stability in the realm, yet in reality this situation emerged because of Yoshimune`s own weaknesses and core deficiencies as a ruler. In order to show just how Yoshimune dithered in the face of danger, one often cited example was his inability to hide his anxiety following the release of Hideyoshi`s order expelling all missionaries from Japan. On top of all this, he also possessed a stutter (these are comments attributed to a letter addressed to the head of the Society of Jesus residing in China and Japan over the years of Tenshō 18 to 19). In a jointly signed document addressed to Yoshimune by `toshiyori` members of the Ōtomo household, it doesn`t mince words in boldly stating that Yoshimune lacked the knowledge of his father, and had no ability to lead his subordinates.(195)

Of course, Yoshimune was the legitimate heir of Sōrin, and had initially taken a favourable stance towards Christianity. He praised Sōrin on the occasion of his baptism and conversion to Christianity. He also listened to sermons given by Luis Frois in the company of his wife. Yet Yoshimune`s mother and his wife`s mother attempted to influence his wife, and schemed to prevent her from receiving the sacrament. Such behavior caused Yoshimune no end of trouble, and caused a split to emerge among Yoshimune`s retainers. His retainers knew of the discord between their lord and his father, and thus began to align themselves with the rebellious Tahara Chikahiro and his forces (from a letter written by Francisco Galien, addressed to the monsignor (or head) of the Society of Jesus in Tenshō 7). (195)

As will be shown later on, in the early days of the campaign in Hyuga, the army of the Ōtomo were blessed with victory, and Yoshimune gave thanks to the god of the Christians for such fortune. All persons who chose to convert were allowed to do so, while all temples and shrines under Ōtomo control had their territory confiscated as spoils to be distributed among the victorious army.(195) Even after the defeat of the Ōtomo in Hyuga, Yoshimune`s faith did not waver. Indeed, he made public his desire to undergo baptism, and made a point of wearing a set of rosary beads around his neck whenever he had to give a public audience (according to Francisco Galien). In the 8th year of Tenshō, 2,300 new converts appeared in Bungo province, amongst whom there were definitely some regional figures of prominence (as recorded in a letter written by Lourenço Messina dated for the 12th day of the 9th month of Tenshō 8). Such numbers were a consequence of the faith exhibited by Sōrin and his son.(196)

However, in the west the Ryūzōji rose in the first of their revolts, which resulted in pressure being placed upon Yoshimune by influential lords in Higo province, urging him to renounce his faith in Christianity. They issued what amounted to a threat, saying that they would not send any aid at such a dangerous time unless Yoshimune gave up his beliefs. Yoshimune could no longer keep his thoughts a secret, and thus visibily `cooled` his relationship with Christianity, removing himself from the religion`s influence. His father and the missionaries tried to dissuade Yoshimune from taking such a path and encouraged him to express his faith, yet to no effect. Eventually Yoshimune would begin to try his hand at persecuting missionaries (according to a letter written by Francisco Galien, addressed to the head of the Society of Jesus in Tenshō 7). (196)

It was around this time that Sōrin, ill and advanced in years, began to spend more time residing in his quarters, and did not appear to have too much longer to live (in the yearly report for Tenshō 11). This period also saw the emergence of voices critical of Sōrin from among his retainers. Some of these retainers attempted to hatch a plan to have both Sōrin and his son Yoshimune assassinated as retribution for Sōrin`s having converted to Christianity (which they believed was the cause of all their misfortunes) (from the yearly report for Tenshō 9) (196-197).  On the other hand, after Tahara Chikakata had removed Chikatora as his heir, he adopted Sōrin`s third son, Chikamori, to be his new successor. Yet Chikamori was passionate in his desire to convert to Christianity, in no doubt a consequence of his father`s urging him to undergo baptism. He was, however, no more than a youth of 13, hence the missionaries deemed it prudent not to baptize him yet, not at least until he came of age so that his elder brother Yoshimune would not begin to suspect him of disloyalty (From the yearly report for Tenshō 9).(197)

At the turn of Tenshō 9 (1581), the important retainer family of Usuki, the sister (possibly elder) of Sōrin`s former wife, and the highest Buddhist priest resident within Bungo province all agreed to undergo baptism (according to the same yearly record for Tenshō 9). Hayashi Iro (某), the husband of Quinta, Sōrin`s new wife`s daughter, converted to Catholicism in the same year, taking the name Gonzalo. Furthermore, it was in Tenshō 9 that Manjuji, the largest temple in Bungo province and spiritual home to generations of the Ōtomo family, caught fire and burned to the ground. Some believed that Yoshimune, in order to gain from the re-distribution of temple land among his retainers, deliberately set fire to the temple in order to abolish it. In the same year, Sōrin had Buzen Usa Hachimangū put to the torch, and reduced it to ashes (from a yearly record dating from Tenshō 10).(197)

In the following year (Tenshō 10), Tahara Chikamori underwent baptism (the yearly record for Tenshō 11 states that Chikamori had been baptized four years earlier in Tenshō 7, yet the yearly record for Tenshō 9 says that Chikamori had merely shown an interest in baptism, implying that he had not yet undergone the ceremony. The author has, on this occasion, decided to go with the theory put forward in the yearly record for Tenshō 10). Chikamori took the baptismal name of Pantaleon. There is a strong sense of irony surrounding this event, especially when considering that Chikamori`s predecessor, Chikatora, had been banished by Tahara Chikakata for harbouring a desire to convert to Christianity, only for Chikamori to turn around and undergo baptism himself.(197)  

On this occasion, Yoshimune, who in the past would have followed his mother`s instructions and barred Chikamori from converting, displayed a more conciliatory mood. He not only allowed Chikamori to undergo conversion, yet sent a messenger to Chikamori`s quarters congratulating him on his new faith. Sōrin`s nephew, the former lord of Hyuga province and elder brother to Geronimo Itō Yūkatsu (ゲロニモ伊藤祐勝), Itō Yoshikata (伊東義賢), also received the sacrament at this time (in the yearly report for Tenshō 10). This mood of conciliation spread as far as Sōrin`s former wife, a woman with an intense dislike of Christianity. From this time onwards, she underwent a change in attitude. After receiving a number of missionaries at her residence, her hatred of them disappeared, and she appears to have been resolved to `mend her ways` regarding her views on missionaries and churches (according to the yearly report for Tenshō 11).(198)

By Tenshō 10 (1582) Sōrin was already in retirement in Tsukumi, and had ordered all of the Buddhist statues within three temples in the area consigned to the flames. At the same time, Tahara Chikamori continued to hold steadfast to his faith in spite of the punishment he received from Tahara Chikakata. On one occasion, a number of Buddhist retainers came to pay Chikamori a visit at his residence at Myōken castle, where they presented him with a fabulous golden screen upon which pictures extolling the virtues of Buddhism were painted. Rather than being pleased with the gift, Chikamori grew upset, and in front of the retainers, ordered the screen to be destroyed. Afterwards, in Tenshō 12 (1584), Chikamori`s wife, despite the strong opposition of Tahara Chikakata, received the sacrament from Padre Gomez and took the baptismal name of Maria.(198)

Sōrin trusted and was fond of Chikamori, even more so than his heir Yoshimune and second son Chikaie. On one occasion, Yoshimune asked Sōrin for his opinion. Sōrin reportedly said the following in front of his retainers:

`Yoshimune asks me for my opinion - an event that has never before happened. Although Yoshimune professes to love me, he acts against my will and attempts to stop the growth in the number of Christian conversions. As my death may be near, I leave all of the funeral arrangements to my youngest son, the Christian Chikamori`.

Upon hearing this, Yoshimune is said to have been made speechless, while Chikaie burst into tears. Sōrin`s announcement had the effect of strengthening the bonds both sons felt towards Christianity. Yoshimune seized the incomes of a number of Buddhist priests and had them expelled from Bungo province. Chikaie, hearing that Buddhist priests were passing through his territory, had some of them killed (according to the yearly record for Tenshō 12) (199). Sōrin mentioned that…「余りに世上笑止ニ見及び候」and sent his document titled `enlightenment` (as seen earlier) to Shiga Michiteru and Tahara Chikaie.(199)

By Tenshō 12, Bungo and Buzen provinces were home to a total number of 3, 279 Christian followers (Luis Frois set the number at 2,900, however this sum is considered incorrect). The number of converts in Bungo province itself would, in time, grow to 3, 154. The author draws our attention to a chart, outlining a breakdown in the number of followers by region. Although the names of certain places remain unclear, the number of converts shown in the chart corresponds to all those found in Bungo.(199) However Luis Frois, in a latter dated for the 25th day of the 7th month of Tenshō 13, wrote that…`In Urabe (浦部, in Nishi Kunisaki gun) lies the territory of unbelievers`. As Urabe lay within the confines of the territory of Usa shrine and its forces, it is very likely that the area did not contain many (if any) converts.(200)

In the same year (Tenshō 12), Yoshimune issued a decree, announcing a change in his policy by which all people within Bungo province would hereafter be granted the liberty to choose their own religion.(200) However, Yoshimune put a proviso in this decree, stating that four persons, including his senior retainer, the grandson of Shiga Michiteru and heir to Shiga Chikanori (married, of course, to one of Sōrin`s daughters), Chikayoshi (親次), would be exempted from the content of the decree (meaning that they were not free to choose their own faith). Those padres in residence within Bungo regarded the decree as a completely new set of legal articles, through which they would be obliged to admit anyone who came to their church and confessed that they wished to convert to Christianity. What this also meant was that the padres could ignore any attempts to disrupt or otherwise hinder their work. Yoshimune did agree that although he would not interfere in the activities of the Church, he wanted the padres to refrain from actively seeking out converts themselves. Sōrin, upon hearing this response of Yoshimune`s, began to harbor doubts about his son`s attitude towards Christianity, and thus urged a step-up in conversion activities within Bungo province. If this process was impeded, then Sōrin declared that he would leave Bungo, never to return (according to the yearly record of Tenshō 12). (200-201)

In the following year of Tenshō 13 (1585), Shiga Chikatsugu, against the wishes of his lord Yoshimune, converted to Christianity. Yoshimune was furious at this act of defiance, and went as far as to plan for the assassination of Chikatsugu and the destruction of the Shiga family. Yet this was opposed by Sōrin, and thus the matter was resolved without incident. However, Yoshimune, who still harboured a grudge against Chikatsugu, sent off a message to his father, stating that he did not need his father`s help in judging such matters. He also included some very brusque language in the message, castigating his father for interfering too much in provincial matters despite his father having withdrawn from public life. In response, Sōrin simply said that…「憎まるる者世にはびこる」, humorously suggesting that perhaps he had lived quite long enough, certainly longer than he had anticipated.(201)

In the same year, the total number of members of the Society of Jesus resident in Bungo province, which included those priests living within the Collegio at Funai and the Noviciado at Usuki, came to 35.(201) There were eight missionaries, while the rest of the order consisted of priests. Among the priesthood there were 13 European priests, with the remainder all Japanese. These Japanese were not simply Christian followers, but counted some ordained priests among their number. These priests continued the process of proselyitization in Bungo province, and found themselves occupied with trying to answer calls from various regions asking for sermons (according to the yearly report for Tenshō 13).(202)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in February 2012