In the Year of Our Lord 1616, a young samurai named Hoshino Kanzō returned to Fukushima Masanori’s castle-town of Hiroshima after some years’ absence to care for his father, who was mortally ill. The young man’s return must have been bittersweet, since his father, egged on by his Jezebel of a stepmother, had thrown him out of his home years earlier over his devotion to Christ. Perhaps his very baptismal name, Domingo, set her teeth on edge.
On his eviction, Domingo Hoshino had made his way to Nagasaki to seek spiritual help from the Portuguese Jesuit priest who had baptized him, Fr. Mattheus de Couros, and afterwards traveled to the island of Shikoku, where he found work as a samurai in the service of a prominent daimyō. When the Tokugawa persecution of 1614 extended its tentacles to Shikoku, however, Domingo was given the choice of abandoning either his faith or his living. Of course, he chose the latter. This made him not only a rōnin—a wandering samurai without a master, and thus perhaps considered a dangerous tramp—but also a Kirish’tan rōnin, perhaps treated as anathema by all and sundry.
Thus, on his return to Hiroshima, Domingo was longing for rest, for a home, and for a chance to repair the filial ties that his stepmother had sundered by dint of her malign influence over the old man—who now lay on his deathbed, shorn of any strength to resist his wife’s predations. It must have wrung his heart to see his eldest son’s face again after those years of absence. Certainly Domingo’s heart, too, would have stung on seeing his father near death, still neither baptized nor converted. Domingo did the little he could to nurse his father’s body back to health, but all his efforts to save his soul were frantically resisted by his Jezebel stepmother until the old man was dead.
One can imagine the desolation that must have followed fast upon the spent anguish in the heart of the dead man’s returned discarded son. His father’s apparently unrepentant death was not the final blow, however: as if not yet having injected enough venom into her despised stepson’s life and soul, that wanton shade of a mother snatched away Domingo’s inheritance, grabbing legal title over the family home. She was determined to make him a Kirish’tan outcast again.
No doubt these facts steeled Domingo’s certainty of the justice of his cause when he marched to Fukushima Masanori’s castle on 26 November 1616 to petition for redress of the theft of his inheritance. He was probably thinking not only of himself, but also of his younger brother, who would be solely under that Jezebel’s malevolent influence in his forced absence. His younger brother’s soul was in jeopardy just as his father’s had been.
Masanori’s castle stood on a rise in Hiroshima armored with massive masonry on all sides, surrounded by a moat, and planted with pretty groves of pine trees. Perhaps it reminded Domingo of his days of samurai service in Shikoku; perhaps he felt readmitted to the human race for a space of moments as he climbed the stone steps into the castle keep for an audience with the daimyō himself. That changed abruptly, though, when one of Masanori’s samurai, an ally of the stepmother’s in her rotten scheme, stood up to denounce Domingo as an incompetent, a coward, a madman, and above all an accursed Christian who had long before been thrown out of the family home for having defied his father’s orders to quit that banned religion—and would he now come storming back to Hiroshima to demand that home for his own?
Since the accuser had publicly denounced the petitioning Domingo as a flagrant violator of the shogun’s prohibition against practicing the Christian Faith, Masanori was forced to act enraged at the ‘discovery’ of the young man’s Catholicism. (This daimyō had in fact been sympathetic to Christianity before the shogun forced him to execute a crackdown; he may well have long known about the young man’s conversion.) He asked if it were true that he was a Christian and that he had indeed defied his father’s orders to renounce Christ; Domingo answered Yes.
Masanori then ordered him to commit suicide by hara-kiri.
“I will gladly die or suffer any torture you give me for the sake of Christ,” Domingo answered, “but I cannot commit suicide, for it is against our [Christian] law, as all know.”
This Masanori acknowledged. He then declared that, since Christians so esteemed the Cross, there was one obvious solution: “Crucify him!”
With his hands tied behind his back and a noose around his neck—gross ignominy for a samurai—Domingo was led out of the castle grounds by a cordon of soldiers. The man at the head of the procession held a sign proclaiming Fukushima Masanori’s sentence of death:
I order this man executed for having become a Christian against the law of the Lord of the Tenka (i.e. the Empire) and for having refused to renounce his religion in defiance of his parents…
It concluded with the charge that Domingo, having gone to Nagasaki to become a Christian, had thereafter returned to Hiroshima. Domingo had actually received baptism in Hiroshima at the hands of Fr. de Couros some years before the 1614 ban. That final charge in the death-sentence was obviously a ploy to absolve Masanori and his domains, far removed from Catholic Nagasaki, of any taint of Christian sympathies.
The condemned Catholic thanked God all the way to the execution ground, where a cross had been prepared, awaiting him. He reverenced the cross, said a prayer, embraced it, and passively allowed his executioners to tie his arms and legs to the wood (Japanese crucifiers did not nail their victims to the cross) and fasten his neck to the upright with an iron clamp. Then he was lifted up.
He began to preach of the truth of the Faith to all within earshot, insisting that they deceive themselves who hold that there is any salvation outside of Christ. Domingo Hoshino ended his sermon with the names of Jesus and Mary, shouted as the spearmen standing at the foot of his cross drove their spears into his flanks, up through his heart, and out the shoulders. This is how Japanese crucifixions culminated.
On Masanori’s orders, Domingo’s body was left to rot eight days on the cross as a terror to any who would dare to worship Christ. Rather than prove a deterrent, though, the corpse of the crucified Christian became a holy shrine, drawing a steady stream of Catholics come to do the faithful martyr reverence—and, if possible, scoop up some of that sacred earth baptized with his blood.
After that octave of would-be terror, the local Catholics took away Domingo Hoshino’s body for proper burial. He was the first Catholic martyred in Hiroshima and the first in all Japan crucified under the Tokugawa persecution, a samurai of 23 or 24 years of age, faithful unto death to his Lord above.
1. Pedro Morejón, Historia y Relacion de lo sucedido en los Reinos de Japon y China, en la qual se continua la gran persecucion que ha avido en aq̃lla Iglesia, desde el año de 615. hasta el de 19. Por el Padre Pedro Morejon de la Compañia de Iesus, Procurador de la Prouincia de Iapon, natural de Medina del Campo. (Lisboa: Rodriguez, 1621) 76-77.
2. Webpage of the Pauline Sisters: キリシタンゆかりの地をたずねて, 広島県 広島市 広島キリシタン殉教の碑. URL: https://www.pauline.or.jp/kirishitanland/20111104_koi.php