Paulo Uchibori and Sons, Part I


          A glowering, scar-faced volcano named Unzen reigns over the Shimabara Peninsula in southwestern Japan.  Atop it, bubbling, sulfurous hot springs vomit out white crud and belch acrid steam.  They call this place “Unzen Hell.”  In the 1600s, the daimyo of Shimabara found the biggest of its caustic, skin-eating pools perfect for torturing Christians.
Photo © 2007 by Luke O’Hara

Most tourists connect Unzen’s boiling fury only with the posh spas that ring her “Hell”; almost unknown is the history that lies buried within that smoking netherworld–a tale of superhuman heroism and epic tragedy.  Unzen transfigured this land and laid bare its people’s souls.  The volcano has reshaped the Peninsula time and again, most recently in a series of eruptions from 1991-94; and as for Shimabara’s Catholics of old, it fired them in its crucible, proving some, like Paulo Uchibori, to be made of tempered steel.  If only the whole world knew.

Back in the days when it was ruled by Arima Harunobu, this land, known as Arima, had been the Catholic bulwark of Japan; but in 1612, the Shogun exiled Harunobu for bribery, ordering his death and giving Arima to Harunobu’s spineless son Naozumi.  Naozumi renounced Christ on the Shogun’s orders, joined a Buddhist cult, and vowed to his earthly lord and master to stamp out the Faith in his ancestral domain.  On 7 October 1613–the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary–he burnt three of his top samurai along with their families outside the walls of his castle because they had refused to deny Jesus; yet Arima’s staunch Catholics, rather than being cowed, attended this glorious martyrdom in their thousands singing hymns and wearing rosaries around their necks while their earthly lord Naozumi cowered in his fortress on a hilltop overlooking the scene.  Soon Naozumi asked the Shogun to transfer him out of Arima to another fief; rather than join him in apostasy and accompany their despised lord to his new home, most of Arima’s Christian samurai renounced their livelihoods for Christ and stayed behind in Arima.  One of the staunchest Catholics among these samurai was Paulo Uchibori, and his three sons took after their father, with souls as tough and keen as Japanese swords.


(to be continued)