Japan is a country that I’ve always wanted to visit, and earlier this month, I had the opportunity to do so. From 4-13 November 2019, about 46 of us (consisting of Muslims, Hindus and Christians) made our pilgrimage and tour to Japan. It was led by Susan Yee and Doris Yap from Petaling Jaya. Fr. Albet Arokiasamy Parish Priest of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Puchong, and I, were appointed as Spiritual Directors for this group. We landed at Narita Airport , Tokyo, in the morning, on 4 November 2019. Our trip started in Narita and we went for a quick half day Tokyo city tour. After that, we gradually travelled up to the north of Japan, taking a total of five days, with various stops and overnight stays before heading down south to Narita via a different route, to conclude our trip. Japan is ranked the 5th most peaceful country in the world, and it is the only Asian country ranked among the top 20 in the world.
We travelled in two buses and along the way we stopped in a few great cities, towns and villages for sight-seeing purposes. Japan is a country with astonishing mountain ranges running through it. It has a long history of culture and tradition, not forgetting the country’s wonderful cuisine of sushi and sashimi! The Japanese food was delicious everywhere we went! It was an adventure travelling during autumn, with temperatures ranging between 6-18 degrees Celsius. The vibrant coloured autumn leaves were a sight to behold. It was my first experience of autumn, and a delightful one indeed.
Another memorable experience was going up to Mount Zao Okama (1841 meters high) by cable car to the height of 1631 meters, to a breathtaking view from the platform, where we experienced snow. From that platform, it took a bit of courage for both Fr. Albet and I, to climb on our own to the op of the summit of 1703 meters. We were rewarded with a great view from the mountain top, with the temperature below at – 4 degrees Celcius. It was so cold!! When it started to get dark, we quickly ran down to get to the cable car in order to return to the foot of the mountain. It was a great accomplishment for us and the snow experience was priceless!
On Day 5 of our trip, we had a Eucharistic celebration at the Church of Akita, Japan. After Mass we gathered at the wooden statue of Our Lady of Akita for the Recitation of the Rosary, followed by the Stations of the Cross in the garden. The miracle of Our Lady of Akita took place on 13 October 1973, when Sister Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa discovered tears, sweat and blood on the wooden statue of Mary in a convent in Akita. On 22 April 1984, Bishop John Ito (Diocese of Niigata) had authorised his entire diocese to venerate the Holy Mother of Akita.
As for me, one of the most fascinating things I learnt was about the Samurai Martyrs in Yonezawa, Japan. It is a story of the Martyrdom of 53 Yonezawa Christians and their families, who were beheaded in 1629. These Samurais were witnesses of Christ and they were proud to be Christians.
Japan is known as a land of saints and martyrs even though it has less than a 2% Christian population, with majority being Catholics. At least 2138 Christians were officially martyred between 1640 and 1873. During the 16th Century, the Catholic faith reached Japan through St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552). He was a Jesuit missionary and he converted 800 people during his 2+ years in Japan and from that moment, the Church in Japan continued to grow. Christianity “has struggled, and will always struggle, to take root” but the Church’s mission will never fail in Japan.
Saint Paul Miki, a Jesuit priest and native of Japan, who was born in 1562, became very well-known among the Martyrs of Japan. On 6 February every year, the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Paul Miki and the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki (a group of native Japanese Catholics and foreign missionaries). They were stabbed to death for their faith, with lances on 5 February 1597. They were beatified in 1627 and finally canonised in 1862 by Pope Pius IX. Pope Benedict XVI beatified 188 Martyrs in Nagasaki on 24 November 2008, and it is also likely that Pope Francis may beatify or canonise a few Martyrs during his Apostolic trip to Japan from 23-26 November 2019.
“After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain,” (St. Paul Miki).
Rev. Fr. George P.