By Theodore Shoebat
A museum in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, in Japan, contains over thirty sword guards said to have been owned by Christian Samurai. According to the Sawada Miki Kinenkan museum, it is believed that those who owned the sword guards were Christians courageously practicing their Faith even in the midst of the pagan Buddhist anti-Catholic persecution taking place in the feudal era of Japan. As we read from one museum official:
“It is extremely rare to find sword guards (hidden Christians) used after the adoption of anti-Christian policies… The findings indicate that they kept their deep faith (despite persecution).”
The museum is in possession of 367 sword guards. They were all reviewed by Yuhiko Nakanishi, the chairman of Nihon Token Hozon Kai (Japan sword preservation association), and other specialists, and they concluded that forty-eight of the swords belonged to Christian Japanese warriors. The sword guards are believed to have been made mostly in Kyoto and also in the western Kansai region.
The sword guards were part of a collection belonging to Miki Sawada, a devout Christian woman who founded the first Christian orphanage in Japan, called the Elizabeth Saunders Home, which was established to house the orphans belonging to American soldiers and Japanese women. Sawada collected around one thousand Christian Japanese artifacts, including statues of Mary and plates with crosses on them, which the Buddhist pagans would order people to trodden on, a command imposed in order to prove that one was not a Christian.
More than ten of the swords were said to have been likely made during the Sengoku (Warring States) period, which lasted from 1467 to 1568, when numerous warlords believed in the Catholic Faith. The remaining thirty or so sword guards are thought to have been made after the pagan tyrant, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, established and enacted his anti-Christian edicts in 1596. The sword specialist, Yuhiko Nakanishi, stated:
“A characteristic of sword guards made after anti-Christian measures were taken is that Christians carefully hid crosses in their designs… We concluded the designs show the faith of hidden Christians.”
During the despotism of the Buddhist pagans against the Christians, the carriers of the Cross began to inscribe the image of the Cross onto a variety of objects, on sword holders and even behind Buddhist statues, in order to maintain their Faith under the antichrist oppressions. It was a popular custom for Samurai to write their names on their sword guards. But the Christian Samurai, indifferent to fame, and detached from prestige, drew the image of the reason for their existence, and for existence itself: the Holy Cross. But the heathens in Japan today, who still hate Christ as did their wicked ancestors, are spreading doubt on the idea that the sword guards belonged to Christians. For example, Yukihiro Ohashi, who is a professor at Waseda University, stated:
“We can say the sword guard that has a statue of Jesus Christ inside it belonged to a hidden Christian, but others need to be carefully examined before confirming that they belonged to Christians”
The slanderers rage at the idea that there were Samurai who were not Buddhist or pagan. They utterly despise the fact that amongst their highly esteemed Samurai, there were warriors who did not step on that which is sacred, but rather, stepped upon their heathen ideas. One can imagine how they appeared: valiant men adorned with their armor, with sheathes filled by the sharp blade, embellished by the image of the Cross, with souls fortified by the Sword of the Spirit, with hearts filled with God.
A most horrific persecution occurred in Japan. Christians were repeatedly dipped in boiling hot water water; they were dressed in overcoats made up of straw and then set on fire; they were crucified; they were branded like animals with scorching irons. One pregnant woman was placed in a cage and then submerged into water until she and her little one died. In 1597, the warrior ruler, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan’s second “great unifier,” wanted to create an example in order to intimidate anyone from converting to Christianity: he crucified twenty-six Christians by crucifixion. Five of the martyrs were Franciscan missionaries, three were Japanese Jesuits, one was a Mexican monk, and seventeen were Japanese lay Catholics. All of these glorious martyrs were crucified in Nagasaki, one of the very cities that the US nuked in 1945. A dismal sea of darkness flooded the nation and eclipsed the land of the rising sun.
How we are reminded of the holy words of the Apostle, when he declared:
“And others had trial of mockeries and stripes, moreover also of bands and prisons.
They were stoned, they were cut asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted:
Of whom the world was not worthy; wandering in deserts, in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:36-38)
Many people believe that Christianity will give them ‘happier’ lives, and this is why so many turn away from the Faith, saying ‘Where was God when this and that happened?’ or “Where was God when so and so died?’ This is the great confusion of the devil. Christianity is not here to prevent death, rather it is here to give us the strength to accept death, and through this indifferentism, to attain a courage before death. If God the Son put Himself through suffering on the Cross, then we should be instilled with valor for the Christian cause, in defense of good and in the fight against evil.
Men resided in the desert, in the age of antiquity, wherein monks who wanted nothing, had everything. For to desire nothing, is to have all. These were the monks, who fought the devils with the tenacity of their spirits, fortified and strengthened by the hand of God. The spirit of the monastic is not just found in the one who strives to become one with God in the wilderness, but in the warrior who holds the sword. As the Apostle Paul speaks of those who were persecuted, he also speaks of the warriors, “Who by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, recovered strength from weakness, became valiant in battle, put to flight the armies of foreigners” (Hebrews 11:33-34). These men were one with God; for Christ is the incarnation of justice, and in their participation of justice do they become one with Him. Oneness with God is shared with the monk and the warrior alike.
The warrior and the monk, they are the foundations of all Christendom; without both, there is no Christendom. The militant spirit of Christianity is taught by the monk, and the knight advances that spirit through zeal, and through the sword. This is why I find it so beautiful that the Apostle, in his epistle to the Hebrews, when giving examples on the Faith, describes both the monastics who endured persecution, and the warriors who conquered kingdoms, wrought justice and put to flight the armies of foreigners. The way of selflessness is the path towards martyrdom, and the path of martyrdom is the way of justice. Martyrdom, seen as death to the flesh, it is the transition from death to life, the gateway to eternity. “To live is Christ; and to die is gain”, says the holy Apostle. The way of the monastic is the way of justice, for the martyr dies for justice; for those who slay him are lawless, and his cause is only for the establishment of peace, and for the death of chaos and confusion. “Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
The Samurai of Japan who forsook the evils of their people, meditated on the Law of God and chose to defend it with all their beings, they were amongst the monastics who denied self, were indifferent towards the humiliation they were to receive from their countrymen, and who were determined to fight for God with all might, with all heart and soul. The Catholic Samurai were as Judas Maccabees, who said: “Cast them down with the sword of them that love thee.” (I Maccabees 4:33) The one who loves God is one with God, and thus when he strikes, it is God striking through him. “Fear them not: for the Lord your God will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22) This zeal of the Japanese Christians was shown so brightly in the heat of persecution in Japan.
The light of the solar flame hovered above the earth, only to project the shadows of the night, as the reflections of moving souls can be beheld upon the wall from the light of the glimmering candle. But the true light entered this land of the abyss, and the darkness could not comprehend it. In 1543, Catholic missionaries of the Portuguese Kingdom appeared in Japan and introduced the heathens to the light of the omnipresent Christ. In 1549, another wave of Catholic missionaries of the Spanish Empire arrived. The soul of the nation was ruled under Mahayana Buddhism, the largest branch of the Buddhist religion, but Christianity was now arriving, the Faith was coming to bring a chance to the people, to come to the light and receive repentance. In 1569, Luis D’Almeida began evangelizing to the people on the truth of Christ and the error of Buddhism and Shinto paganism. His evangelism was succeeded and continued by the feudal lord and Samurai, Konishi Yukinaga, who was christened as Augustino. Christianity would soon establish its presence in the Shimabara Peninsula and the Amakusa islands. In 1590 the Jesuits established their own printing press in Nagasaki, and both Katsusa and Amakusa would become centers for Christianity in Japan. Christianity could have been on its way to conquering Japan, but because of the wicked obstinance of the people and the elites of the nation, the Faith was heavily oppressed.
In the year 1614, Tokugawa Ieyasu officially outlawed Christianity and declared that missionaries must be thrown out of Japan and that any converts to the Faith would be executed.
It was this persecution, on top of heavy taxations, that would eventually provoke the Shimabara Revolt of 1637, in which mostly Christian peasants and Christian Samurai would lead a struggle against the despotism of the Buddhist pagans. The Samurai in this great struggle, they were what was considered ronin, or Samurai without masters. One can say that these Samurai had no master, but the only true Master, Jesus Christ. These warriors all came from the Shimabara Peninsula or the Amakusa islands. They were led by the zealous Samurai, Amakusa Shiro.
The Christians arose and destroyed the idols of the Japanese, hacking off the heads of Buddha statues.
As soon as news of the revolt broke out, Terazawa Katakata, the lord of Amacusa, sent out a force of three thousand men and nine nobles to confront the Christians and vanquish them. The men and their nobles arrived, all clad with their armor and frightening appearances; these were fierce warriors, armed with swords and weapons of slaughter. The Buddhists and the Christians gazed at one another, the latter’s souls alighted by the flames of countless calls of justice to martyrdom, all set aflame by the pure spirit of zeal. The battle commenced. The warriors of the Cross collided with the slaves of the Buddha; the holy warriors, they cried out, “Jesus and Mary!” as they struck, as they sprinted, laughing at death, towards the enemy with full ferocity. The Christians slaughtered 2800 of the enemy, with the rest fleeing. The Christians even killed a general, Miwake Tobe.
In another battle, on January 3rd, 1638, the Christians were defeated, and one thousand of them retreated. The Christians regrouped in Shimabara and then took over two fortresses, the Ficnojo and the Hara fortress. The Christians destroyed the rice stores and vessels and were very close to taking over the Shimabara fortress. With 30,000 warriors, the Christians valiantly defended the Hara fortress from the enemy. The pagans used canons taken from ships, but even with these they could not extinguish the flames of tenacity within the Christians’ hearts.
The Buddhist pagans had to go to the enemy of the Catholics: the Dutch protestants. The Dutch, encouraged by hatred for Catholics, arrived to the battle to back up the Buddhists with their cannon fire. The Dutchman, Nicolaes Couckebacker, provided the heathens with canons and gunpowder. And when the Buddhists requested from him a ship by which to bombard the Christians, Couckebacker came personally on the ship to assist the Japanese in their fight against the Catholics. He positioned the ship near the shore from where he could fire upon the Hara fortress. The Japanese took the Dutch canons and positioned them, and a bombardment of cannon fire upon the Catholics commenced. They incessantly fired for fifteen days, and in that duration of time managed to fire 426 rounds. After all of this gunfire, no Catholics died and the Catholic warriors slew two Dutch Protestants in the heat of the fray. After such embarrassment on the part of the Buddhists, the Catholics cried out to them:
“Are there no longer courageous soldiers in the realm to do combat with us, and weren’t they ashamed to have called in the assistance of foreigners against our small contingent?”
The Buddhists, humiliated by this, requested that the Dutch leave. In one part of the conflict, the Catholics slaughtered eight thousand of the enemy. But eventually the Catholics had to face an army of 200,000 men. The Catholic forces, numbering only at around 30,000, attacked at night, but lost around 380 of their men. The Buddhists took prisoners of war, and from these they learned that no food, gunpowder or cannon balls were left in the Hara fortress. Knowing this, on April 12th, 1638, the enemy made their attack and besieged the fortress. The Catholics, being almost completely absent of weapons, valiantly fought to the death, going so far as to use cooking pots for weapons. The heathens flooded the fortress, and spared none. What took place was, in the words of historian Jonathan Clements, “a genocide against fellow Japanese, all to create a Japan that could claim unity of belief and purpose.”
After this, the Japanese determined that Japan was to be utterly absent of Christians. All Portuguese, and any children with Portuguese blood, were ordered to leave Japan. They left, alongside many Japanese Catholics, to Macau. In 1640, the Portuguese sent delegates to Japan with the hopes of having its exclusion policy reversed. The Japanese were at first very cordial, only to have sixty-one of the delegates executed, sparing thirteen of them to return back and tell the story.
It was the Shimabara Revolt that provoked the Japanese to commence their policy of exclusion. They received a chance to embrace the light, but their rejection of it only enabled the abysmal spirits to overshadow the land of the Rising Sun. At times the darkness of evil is so great, we feel helpless in its presence, with hope only arising in prostration before the One Who the darkness cannot not comprehend — the Samurai of Nazareth— that is, the Christ.
There is nothing more beautiful than the Christian Faith. For although the warriors of the Cross may die in battle, they do so for the cause of Love, and since there is nothing greater than this, they live blissfully in the pure presence of Love. There is nothing in this world but the Holy Faith that can compel you to cease to look outward, and to begin to look inward, into the very depths of the soul, to bring ourselves into the cosmic mystery of the divine and into unity with God. As the monk of Mount Athos, Maximos, said, “it is when the Prayer is energized like a soothing flame within the individual that divine insights and inspirations are offered.” Before death and combat, the soul is needful of inspiration that it could embrace martyrdom and battle with zeal and alacrity. This inspiration can only be sparked through the forgetfulness of self and the realization of unity with Christ and the Holy Trinity.
Most of us get caught in that horrid web of Satan that comes to us in the form of thoughts in the mind, that have us think that the purpose of life is to satisfy the natural inclinations of the flesh. While the intellect is clouded and hindered by the raging bombardments of thoughts and desires, we say to ourselves, “Come therefore, and let us enjoy the good things that are present” (Wisdom 2:6). We give way to the strength of the passions while allowing the spirit to be smothered under the weight of the tyranny of the mind’s strong delusions, which can be stronger than any drug.
We deceive ourselves and say that the purpose of life is to satisfy the body, and the lie that descends upon our minds is that such a life is the natural state of humanity, as though we are animals, functioning solely on instinct. When a cat sees a bird or a fish, it moves and it eats; it does not glamor at the luster of its scales or the beauty of its colors, but simply it pounces on its pray strictly for the sake of survival. We look at the animals and many of us, without ever realizing this, emulate the creatures, because we believe that it is our natural state.
We rarely observe our thoughts as the fisherman observes the seas; we rarely stop looking outward into the glamor of the world, in order to look heavenward, to behold the inspirations of the sublime. “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) We may look upwards to see the stars or the birds, but scarce are the moments when we contemplate on the cosmos of the eternal. We may jump into a pool to cool our bodies, but so few are the moments in which we to leap into the waters of transcendence, which are more endless than the oceans of the earth.
The path of contemplation is the path to the realization that the satisfaction of the flesh is not the natural state of man, but rather unity with God and the emulation of Christ in His life of sacrifice and combat is the original state of mankind.
As the rays of the sun illumine the soils of the earth, as they enrich the vines and make the leaves of the plants appear strong and luscious, so God becomes one with man in the enlightenment of theosis, fortifies his soul and purifies his mind with the light of inspiration, gives his heart joy before death, and enriches his being with the knowledge of the heavenly. A man cannot rush into the battle against evil without inspiration. Inspiration is the transition between the slavery of superficiality and liberation from self and carrying the Cross of Christ. Inspiration is the chrysalis between living as Adam after he consumed the fruit and ascending the mountain of silence, the sacred peak where lies the souls of warriors and martyrs.
From inspiration comes living in the spirit; for that is the true significance of the word inspiration, to be in spirit, to be under divine guidance. The true state of man is self-sacrifice, this is the true natural state of man and the very essence of living. The sacrifice of self comes about only in charity, and in charity does the soul touch heaven and is enflamed with the fires of love through inspiration. As the Apostle says:
“I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named,
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity,
You may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth: to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
God — the Absolute and the Truth — became one with Humanity in the Hypostatic Union, and sacrificed Himself in the eternal struggle against the imperialism of the abysmal kingdom. Since God is the ultimate reality and the reason for reality, and since He, in His sublime oneness with Humanity, sacrificed Himself as a combatant against evil, then the highest state of man can only be found in the sacrifice of self, the forgetting of the “I”, and the exertion of one’s whole being as a combatant against the forces of evil and tyranny. “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20) The essence of the Faith is combat.
True inspiration is not some abstract concept, it is an actual experience in which a person looks within his own soul and lives in a realization that the desires of the flesh and his sinful indulgences are not of his original state, but of an impulsive self; it consists of the realization that self-pleasure is imprisonment from which the soul must be freed. Thus is the path to God. “Try your own selves if you be in the faith; prove ye yourselves. Know you not your own selves, that Christ Jesus is in you, unless perhaps you be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) It is the reprobate who does not see himself as a sinner, and thus God does not live in him. But it is the one who is close to God who evaluates himself and cries out to God for His mercy.
The pharisee did not see himself as a sinner, but the Lord listened to the publican who said, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) The monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church call this the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is the prayer of the publican, the prayer that cracks open the walls of the ego that surrounds our hearts; it is the prayer that enflames the heart with the fires of love. As the monk, Maximos, says, “when the spirit of the Jesus Prayer takes over the heart, only then do people get healed within the heart, only then do people get healed within their being. The flame of God has now been ignited in the heart.”
To emulate Christ is to be unified with Him, and to be one with Christ is to immerse oneself in the sacrificial life. This union with Christ is the return from slavery to self that began with the sin of Adam, to the original state of man before his Fall. When man was first formed he bore the image of God, but after the fall he lost the image. But through Christ we return to the image with all of its beauties and illuminations, having the Wisdom of the Father, that is, the Crucified Savior. There is an Eastern Christian chant that says: “Lead me back to Your likeness, and renew my original image.” St. Paul himself affirms this most majestic truth when he writes to the Corinthians:
“The first man was of the earth, earthly: the second man, from heaven, heavenly.
Such as is the earthly, such also are the earthly: and such as is the heavenly, such also are they that are heavenly.
Therefore as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of the heavenly.” (1 Corinthians 15:47-49)
The return to God is the immersion into the waters of inspiration, an inspiration that enflames us with the beauties of God, with the ecstasy of knowing His love, His forgiveness, ascending to the heavenly Mount Zion. “He who is renewed in the spirit of his mind has put on the new man,” says St. Ambrose, “which is created according to God. That more excellent regeneration is then the work of the Holy Spirit; and the Spirit is the Author of that new man which is created after the image of God, which no one will doubt to be better than this outer man of ours.” (Ambrose, Of the Holy Spirit, 1.7.65-66)
The Apostle tells us, “Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him.” (Colossians 3:9-10) Such a beautiful passage enlightens our minds on the return of man to his original state — the image of God — through Christ, and the unity of God with all of Humanity. This is why in the next verse the enlightened Paul wrote:
“Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
Christ is one with all of Humanity, for He is God in unity with Mankind. Since man’s original state was to bear the image of God, and since God became one with humanity and sacrificed Himself in victory against the despotism of evil for the purpose of bringing man back to his original state, then the purest state of humanity, the most natural and the original state of man, is self-sacrifice, combat and martyrdom in the war against the diabolical. It is in the Hypostatic Union — the oneness between Christ and all of Humanity — where man beholds his original state.
But so few men have returned to the original state of humanity, where the Spirit and the body are one; so few have reached the summit where the spirits of warriors reside and intercede for the icon of mankind, fighting against the demons that wage war upon humanity. So few have looked beyond the physical and reached the transcendent peak of Mount Zion where the chant of the martyr resounds in the cosmos and ascends the ceaseless mountains and endless pinnacles of the eternal Heaven. Some of these valorous knights were the Catholic Samurai of Japan.