St. Francis Xavier and the Divine Wind That Brought Christ to Japan

Thus began the reign of Christ in Japan, carried on the wings of his own almighty wind. 

Joaquín Sorolla, “St. Francis Xavier,” 1891 (photo: Public Domain)

Luke O’Hara Blogs August 17, 2022

There is only one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and His Son Jesus Christ. He is not a foreign God. No, He is the God of all the world.” — Robert M. Flynn, S.J., The Martyrs of Tsuwano

Japan is a land of mystery and paradox — a bright, shining promise at first sight, but a puzzling perplexity on deeper study. St. Francis Xavier would find that out as he labored to plant Christ in the hearts of the Japanese. 

On the feast of the Assumption of 1549, his pioneering mission to Japan landed at Kagoshima. Clearly the saint was moved by his early encounters there, for in his first report from Japan, he states:

The people whom we have met so far, are the best who have as yet been discovered, and it seems to me that we shall never find among heathens another race to equal the Japanese. … They are a people of very good will, very sociable and very desirous of knowledge; they are very fond of hearing about things of God, chiefly when they understand them.

When they understand them” would prove to be a huge challenge at first, for Padre Francisco tells us, in his first weeks in Kagoshima:

Now we are like so many statues among them, for they speak and talk to us about many things, while we, not understanding the language, hold our peace. And now we have to be as little children learning the language.

And yet, his mission was clearly ordained of God, for although all hell’s furies seem to have conspired to stop his getting there, all things worked together for good in the end. The saint writes that he and his men had “set out from Malacca on the feast of St. John Baptist” and continues thus:

We sailed on board the ship of a heathen merchant … who promised the [Portuguese] Commandant at Malacca that he would carry us to Japan. By the goodness of God we had very favorable winds. However, as perfidy so often rules barbarians like him, our captain at one time changed his intention, and began to give up keeping to his course toward Japan, and loiter about the islands that came in the way, for the sake of wasting time. 

Wasting time, that is, until the monsoon wind for Japan had quit its seasonal blow. To St. Francis Xavier’s horror and disgust, the captain and his crew depended utterly on the auguries of an idol graven on the prow of their ship, where they sacrificed birds to the thing to glean their sailing orders. This captain was in fact a Chinese pirate, his ship having been the only one in Malacca ready to sail for Japan on short notice — and St. Francis Xavier was determined to carry the Gospel there without delay. The Commandant of Malacca had secured the Jesuit mission’s safety by holding the captain’s wife hostage until his return, and off they went. 

Enroute the balmy weather turned foul, and the captain saw one of his daughters fall overboard into a raging sea that swallowed her up; the idol later “told” him that she wouldn’t have died if one of the Catholic mission’s men had been killed instead. Tensions, thus, were high between the captain and his missionary passengers when he “learned” from the entrails of a bird that he would have no safe return to Malacca should he sail onward to Japan that year. He changed course for the Chinese port of Quanzhou.

But God Almighty overruled the idol. As the saint relates it, they were nearing that port …

when on a sudden a boat puts out to us in a great hurry, telling us that the harbor is invested by pirates, and that it will be all over with us if we come any nearer. This bit of news frightened the captain, who moreover saw that the brigantines of the pirates were not more than four miles distant from us; and so, to avoid that immediate danger, he determined to shun that port. 

Reluctantly the captain turned toward Japan, whereupon Providence took over in the form of a marvelous wind.

The word kamikaze, often translated ‘divine wind,’ is a landmark in Japan’s history, but it connotes diametrical opposites in the minds of Westerners and Japanese. At the mention of kamikaze, any Western student of history worth his salt will picture those suicide planes that came screaming down on Allied ships in the Pacific. To the ordinary Japanese, though, kamikaze conjures up chest-swelling visions of the seemingly heaven-sent typhoons that sank two Mongol invasion fleets attacking Japan in the 13th century — and thus the name, derived from kami (god, as in “the gods”) and kaze (wind).

But let me show you a truly Divine wind. Padre Francisco writes:

But now the wind was adverse to a return to Canton and favorable to sailing to Japan, and so we held our course thither against the will of the captain, the sailors and the devil himself. So by the guidance of God we came at last to this country, which we had so much longed for, on the very day of the feast of our Blessed Lady’s Assumption 1549. We could not make another port, and so we put into Kagoshima, which is the native place of Paul of the holy Faith. We were most kindly received there both by Paul’s relations and connections and also by the rest of the people of the place. 

Thus, that wind blew the reluctant pirate’s ship, along with him, his crew and his passengers, straight to Kagoshima — the home town of the mission’s main guide and interpreter, disallowing any turning back toward China or even heading for another port of Japan. The pirate captain later died in Kagoshima — unconverted, to Padre Francisco’s regret — having done one great service to God, if against his own will.

Paul of the holy Faith” was none other than Anjiro, a Japanese refugee from justice who had sailed to Malacca in 1547 after learning from a Portuguese ship’s captain of this priest, Padre Francisco, who could heal wounded souls. St. Francis Xavier sent Anjiro to Goa in Portuguese India to study the Faith and the Portuguese language, which he learned quickly. Arriving in Goa himself, the saint baptized Anjiro, christening him Paulo de Santa Fe. This man would do yeoman’s work for the mission through the countless perplexities facing them at every turn once they reached Japan. 

The mission comprised three Spanish Jesuits: Padre Francisco himself, a Basque; Father Cosme de Torres, born in Valencia; and Brother Juan Fernández, from Córdoba. Their helpers were Paulo de Santa Fe (or Anjiro), from Kagoshima; João and Antonio, two other Japanese converts; Amador, from India; and a Chinese christened Manuel. Having made it to Japan in spite of all that man, nature and the Enemy could throw at them, they made dry land just in time to celebrate the glorious feast of the Assumption. Forty-five days later, Shimazu Takahisa, the Daimyo (or Duke) of Satsuma, gave them a warm reception at his palace on Sept. 29, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, and granted them permission to spread the Faith in his domain. 

Shimazu would soon scotch his seeming kindness and withdraw that permission when he saw that Portuguese trading ships were bypassing Kagoshima to trade at other ports and enrich other daimyos: he had expected St. Francis Xavier to command them to give him precedence. The mission thus moved on to greener pastures, notably Hirado, Ikitsuki and Yamaguchi, and conversions — which had been lagging — took off. 

And in Yamaguchi, the Jesuits added one to their number, a remarkable blessing in strange disguise. While boldly preaching the Gospel in the streets of that metropolis, the capital of the sprawling Ōuchi domains, St. Francis Xavier found himself standing face to face with a most curious image and likeness of God. Blind in one eye and almost sightless in the other, a bald-headed man with a misshapen face and a biwa lute slung over his shoulder heard the Word of God from the mouth of this strange foreigner and kept coming back time and again, asking ever more questions until there was no doubt in his mind. 

St. Francis Xavier baptized him as Lorenzo, the first Japanese Jesuit. Abandoning his old life as a wandering minstrel, Lorenzo would live out his days preaching brilliantly and fearlessly, daring any and every sort of affliction or danger to impede his spreading Christ’s love throughout his beloved land, and he is credited with bringing countless thousands of souls into the Kingdom of God, where the weak confound the strong.

And thus began the reign of Christ in Japan, carried thither on the wings of his own almighty wind. 


Two Sixths of August, 333 Years Apart

Mother and child with food ration of rice-balls (o-musubi) the morning after the Nagasaki bombing, one mile from Ground Zero. Photo by Yōsuke Yamahata, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

          Seventy-seven years ago, on August 6, 1945, B-29 Superfortress number 82 dropped an enriched-uranium bomb called Little Boy over its designated bull’s eye, the T-shaped Aioi Bridge in downtown Hiroshima. The pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, plunged her into a dive to pick up speed and turned to get as far as possible from the bomb before it exploded. Forty-three seconds after the weapon’s release, its shock wave hit the Superfortress, which “cracked and crinkled from the blast,” although it had sped eleven and a half miles distant by then. That blast smashed the city below like a titanic anvil dropped from the heavens while the bomb’s flash incinerated man and beast indiscriminately. Richard Rhodes writes:

People exposed within half a mile of the Little Boy fireball … were seared to bundles of smoking black char in a fraction of a second as their internal organs boiled away. … The small black bundles now stuck to the streets and bridges and sidewalks of Hiroshima numbered in the thousands.

Three hundred thirty-three years before that bombing of August 6, 1945, Tokugawa Ieyasu set in motion the genocide of Japan’s Catholics by the smash of his seal on a ban on the Catholic Faith in all shogunal domains. Mark this: the ban, that death-warrant for the faithful, was sealed on the 6th day of the 8th month of the old Japanese lunar calendar in the year 1612. The late Yakichi Kataoka, eminent historian and martyrologist, regarded that day in A.D. 1612 as the true start of the Tokugawa persecution rather than the more commonly accepted Christian Expulsion Edict of 1614 as its beginning. Given the horrors inflicted on the Catholics of Arima in conjunction with the edict of 8/6/1612 (by Japanese reckoning), this author must agree with Dr. Kataoka.

The legacy of the Hiroshima bombing is eerily reminiscent of the legacy of the Tokugawa shogunate’s protracted war on Catholicism, waged with countless  martyrdoms spread across two and a half centuries of Tokugawa rule. At the mention of those “internal organs boiled away,” the martyrdom of Fr. Peter Kasui Kibe springs to mind, while the “bundles of smoking black char” could describe the remains of countless priests and other faithful burnt to cinders by the Tokugawa terror, often by the slowest means possible. Additionally, the bombardment, starving-out and final extermination of Hara Castle’s 37,000 Christians by fire and sword offers a panoramic snapshot in miniature of the Empire-wide persecution of the Body of Christ under the Tokugawas.

Arai Hakuseki, whom Britannica lauds as “one of the greatest historians of Japan,” calculated in 1705 that two to three hundred thousand Kirishitan had been martyred by that writing. Most European chroniclers of the persecution give much lower numbers, but they had little (if any) access to accurate information from within much of the Empire after 1620 or earlier. Indeed, the frenzy of the persecution in the little domain of Arima alone suggests large numbers of anonymous martyrs, especially if one considers those starved by ruthless taxation or hounded out of their homes to scrape out a living in the wild.

That persecution went on into the Meiji Period, after the so-called opening of Japan—her door actually only slightly ajar with a security chain stopping anything wider than the tip of a nose from getting in. Thus, modern weapons, modern manufacturing, even foreign languages poured in, but not that dreaded religion that made clear nonsense of the “gods” created out of rocks, trees, monkeys and the like until Western diplomatic pressure forced the door open wider.

Meanwhile, with those modern weapons, Japan sank a Russian fleet, annexed Korea (where they forbade the speaking of Korean), rampaged into China (300,000 unarmed Chinese murdered in Nanking alone, not to mention the gang-rapes and the discarded, bayonetted victims), bombed Pearl Harbor, enslaved the Philippines, drove the Bataan Death March, invaded Singapore and cut off the city’s water supply to parch its populace into submission; starved, tortured and executed prisoners of war against all international law; and on and on and on.

And to top it all off, the Japanese army was training women and girls to thwart any invasions of foreign troops by mass suicide-charges with sharpened-bamboo spears. And the smaller schoolboys were being trained to blow up foreign tanks by rolling under the oncoming armor and pulling the detonator on suicide bombs strapped to their chests.

So the Atom Bomb, once proven at Trinity in July of 1945, was the obvious choice to stop the madness. But then, mysteriously, came Nagasaki.

The target designated for Fat Man — a plutonium bomb, unlike Little Boy with its charge of U-235 — was the Kokura Arsenal, at least by Man’s planning. Superfortress number 77, nicknamed Bockscar, was to drop its weapon over that “massive collection of war industries” on the northeast corner of Kyushu on the morning of 9 August, but before reaching Kokura, Bockscar wasted fuel circling over Yakushima Island for almost an hour awaiting a rendezvous plane that never showed up. On top of that, the reserve fuel tank was inaccessible because of a stuck valve.

Once over Kokura, the pilot, Major Charles Sweeney, and his bombardier found the city blanketed in smoke and cloud too thick to spot any hint of their aiming-point. They made three passes over Kokura to no avail, and with fuel dwindling, Major Sweeney turned southwest towards Nagasaki, the secondary target, whence he could reach Okinawa for an emergency landing.    

About twenty minutes later, Bockscar reached the west coast of Kyushu to find Nagasaki also blanketed in cloud; but a hole opened in that blanket just long enough to give the bombardier a glimpse of Nagasaki’s stadium, and he let Fat Man drop. Forty-three seconds passed before the Apocalypse flashed in the face of Urakami Cathedral, incinerating all at the eleven o’clock Mass.

Urakami Cathedral after the Bomb, date unknown. Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Priceless Nagasaki, with her Catholic roots dug centuries deep, exploded into pulverized ash and white-hot flame as students and teachers at her university saw the ceilings collapsing onto their heads and windows exploding into glass shrapnel, while factories became smoking heaps of twisted steel. Only the mountains surrounding Urakami stopped the blast and fireball from reducing the whole city to cinders, just as Mount Hijiyama in Hiroshima had shielded a stretch of the city behind its shadow.

Hiroshima had housed the military headquarters of western Japan, set to direct war within that sphere to the last drop of blood in case of invasion and national fracture. In Nagasaki were the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Torpedo Works in addition to a shipyard and a major port, among whose laborers were Korean slaves and Western prisoners of war.  


Some hours before the Apocalypse, as Major Sweeney was aiming for Japan, plowing his bomber through stormy skies at 17,000 feet above the Pacific, St. Elmo’s fire had shrouded his ship in unearthly light. William Laurence, watching from an escort plane, wrote,

           The whirling giant propellers had somehow become great luminous discs of blue flame. The same luminous blue flame appeared on the plexiglass windows in the nose of the ship, and on the tips of the giant wings it looked as though we were riding the whirlwind through space on a chariot of blue fire.

That same blue fire had appeared atop the masts of the Mexico-bound galleon San Felipe in 1596 as a typhoon drove her relentlessly toward Japan, where the ruler’s greed for the rich cargo in her wrecked hull would drive him to crucify the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki. Their crosses stood atop a slope called Nishi-zaka, from which Urakami would have been in plain view. A great red brick cathedral would stand on a hilltop at Urakami three and a half centuries later, overlooking Nagasaki’s stadium.

That cathedral, Urakami Cathedral, was dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Her feast day is December 8th.

Japanese naval aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Hawaii time, plunging America into war with Japan. In Japan, though, it was December 8th when those bombs came whistling down on America.

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ first reached Japan in the hands of St. Francis Xavier with his landing at Kagoshima on August 15, 1549, the Feast of the Assumption. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to the Allied powers in a radio broadcast to his broken nation on August 15, 1945, another Feast of the Assumption.

Somewhere in the great vault of Heaven, countless thousands of martyrs from both sides of that abysmal horror must be singing God’s praises as their hearts weep along with Heaven’s Queen.

Luke O’Hara became a Catholic in Japan. His articles and books about Japan’s martyrs can be found at his website,