Newsletter of the District of Asia

 May - September 2007

Letters on Japan

By St Francis Xavier

1. Before the journey (Early 1549)

“ (…) I am sending you the Japanese alphabet. Their writing is much different from ours, since they begin from the top and go to bottom. When I asked Paul why they did not write as we do, he replied by asking me why we do not write as they do. He gave me the following reason: for just as a man’s head is at the top, and his feet at the bottom, so also, when a man writes, he should write from top to bottom. This information which I am sending you on the island of Japan and the customs of its people was given to me by Paul, a man of great truth. This Paul does not understand their writings, since these are among them as Latin is among us; but I shall send you a report on what they contain when I get there. (…)”

Letter 72, To Father Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, from Cochin (India),January 14, 1549

“(…) In April I sailed from India for Japan with two of my companions, a priest and a lay brother, and three Japanese Christians, who were baptized after they had been well instructed in the fundamentals of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. They were taught in our College of the Holy Faith in Goa, where they learned how to read and write and made the Spiritual Exercises with great recollection and desire to profit from them. God granted them the great grace of making them experience within their souls many realizations of the graces and benefits which they had received from their Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. They have gained so much, both during the Exercises and apart from them, that all of us here have good reason for wishing to share in the virtues which God has bestowed upon them.


They can read and write, and they commend themselves to God through books of prayer. I frequently asked them what prayers gave them the most relish and spiritual consolation. They told me that it was the reading of the Passion, to which they are most devoted. They experienced great devotion, consolation, and tears when they made the Exercises.

We kept them busy for many months before they made the Exercises, explaining to them the articles of the faith, the mysteries of the life of Christ, the reason for the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and of the redemption of the whole human race that has been wrought through Christ. I frequently asked them what they thought was the best thing that we have in our law. They always answered me that it was confession and communion, and that it seemed to them that no reasonable man could fail to become a Christian. After our holy faith had been explained to them, I heard one of them, Paul of the Holy Faith, say with many sighs: ‘O people of Japan, poor wretches that you are, who adore as gods the creatures whom God has made for the service of men!’ I asked him why he said this; he replied that it was for the people of his land, who adore the sun and the moon, even though the sun and the moon are like servants and slaves of those who know Jesus Christ, since they have no other function than to illuminate the day and the night, so that men, through their brilliance, may serve God, glorifying on earth his Son Jesus Christ.

My two companions, the three Japanese, and I, arrived in this city of Malacca on the last day of May 1549. After we had come to this city of Malacca, we learned much about Japan from the letters of Portuguese merchants who had written to me from there, informing me that a great lord of those islands of Japan wished to become a Christian; and that for this purpose he was sending an embassy to the governor of India in order to ask him for priests to explain our law to him.

They also wrote to me that a number of Portuguese merchants had arrived in a certain place in Japan, and that the lord of the land had ordered them to be given shelter in some abandoned homes. None of the natives were willing to live in them, since they were haunted by the devil. After the Portuguese had moved into them, they felt that they were being pulled by their clothes; but when they looked to see who was doing this, they could see nothing and were terrified by what it might be. One night a servant of the Portuguese had a vision and started to shout and scream. The Portuguese rushed up with their arms, thinking that it was something else. When they asked the servant why he had screamed, he told them that he had seen a vision that had terrified him immensely, and that this was why he had screamed. Terrified by the vision which he had seen, the servant erected many crosses around the house. The people of the land asked the Portuguese the reason for the screams that night and were told that a servant had been terrified. The lord of the land then informed them that the house was inhabited by the devil. When he asked them for means to expel it, they told him that there was nothing better than the sign of a cross. After the Portuguese had placed crosses inside and outside the house, the people of the land came to do the same; and crosses were thus erected in all those regions.

The Portuguese wrote to me that this land was greatly disposed for the increase of our holy faith, since the people were very prudent and discreet, guided by reason and eager to know. I trust in God our Lord that much fruit is to be gained in some and in all the Japanese, that is, within their souls, unless we are impeded by our sins, on account of which God would not wish to be served by us.

After I had received information on Japan, I was for a long time undecided as to whether I should go there or not; but after God our Lord wished to grant me to feel within my soul that it would be to his service for me to go to Japan to serve him in those regions, it seems to me that I would be worse than the infidels of Japan if I failed to do so. The enemy has worked hard to prevent me from going there. I do not know what he fears about our going to Japan. We are taking with us everything that we shall need to say Mass. Next year, God willing, I shall write to you at much greater length about all that is happening there.

When we reach Japan, we are determined to go to the island where the king is residing and to manifest to him the embassy which we are bringing on behalf of Jesus Christ. There are said to be great schools in the area where the king is. We are going with great confidence in the mercy of God our Lord that he will give us victory over his enemies. We are not afraid to encounter the scholars of those regions, for what can he know who has no knowledge of God or of Jesus Christ? And what can they fear or dread who have no other desire than the glory of God, the manifestation of Jesus Christ, and the salvation of souls? Not only when they are going among infidels, but also where there is a multitude of demons, since neither a barbarous race, nor winds, nor demons can do us any more harm or evil than what they are allowed and permitted by God to do.

We have only one fear and foreboding, and that is the fear of offending God our Lord, for we are certain of obtaining victory over our enemies if we refrain from offending God. But since God our Lord gives to all sufficient grace to serve him and to preserve themselves from sin, we consequently hope that His Divine Majesty will grant it to us. And insofar as all our good and evil consists in making good or evil use of his grace, we have great confidence in the merits of our holy Mother the Church, the Spouse of Christ our Lord, and especially in the merits of all those of the Society of the name of Jesus, and of all those men and women who are devoted to it; for their merits will be of such great help that we shall be able to make good use of the grace of God our Lord.

We are much consoled in seeing that God our Lord sees our intentions, desires, and motives for going to Japan. And since we are going there solely in order that the images of God may know their Creator, and that the Creator may be glorified by his creatures, whom he has made to his own image and likeness, and in order that the boundaries of our holy Mother the Church, the Spouse of Jesus Christ, may be extended, we are going with great confidence that we shall have a successful voyage. We who are going on this voyage are being helped by two things to overcome the difficulties, which the demon is placing in our way. The first is that we see that God knows our intentions; the second, that we see that all creatures depend upon the will of God, and that they cannot do anything without God’s permission. Even the demons are under God’s obedience, for the enemy, when he wished to do evil to Job, asked God’s permission for this.

I am saying this because of the many difficulties and dangers of physical death to which we are exposed in these regions. This voyage to Japan is very dangerous because of the great storms, the many shallows, and the numerous pirates, but most of all because of the storms, for if two out of three ships sailing from a harbor in these regions arrive safely, it is a great achievement.

I have often thought that the many scholars of our Society who are to come to these regions will feel some serious difficulties with respect to these dangerous voyages, since it will seem to them that it would be tempting God to run the risk of such obvious dangers that cause the loss of so many ships. But I then come to realize that there is nothing to this, since I trust in God our Lord that the learning of those of our Society is to be ruled by the spirit of God which will dwell in them, for otherwise they will have no little difficulty. I almost always bear before my eyes and mind what I frequently heard from our blessed Father Ignatius, that those who would be of our Society must make great efforts to conquer themselves and to reject all those fears that cause men to lose their faith, hope, and confidence in God, and to take the means to do so. And even though all faith, hope, and confidence are a gift of God, the Lord gives them to whom he will, but usually to those who strive to overcome themselves and take the means to do so.

There is a great difference between one who has confidence in God when he has all that he needs and one who has confidence in him when he has nothing, since he has deprived himself of what he needs in order to imitate Christ more closely, though he could have kept what he had. And there is also a great difference between those who have faith, hope, and confidence in God when there are no dangers of death, and those who have faith, hope, and confidence in God when, for his love and service, they freely place themselves in such evident dangers of death, though they could avoid them if they so wished, since they remain free to reject or accept them. It seems to me that those who are living solely, and without any other intent or purpose, for the service of God in a constant danger of death will soon come to abhor life and desire death, in order to live and reign forever with God in heaven, since this is no life but a continual death and exile from the glory for which we were created.

The Japanese, our brothers and companions who are going with us to Japan, tell us that the priests in Japan will be scandalized if they see us eating meat or fish. We have decided to fast continuously rather than to scandalize anyone. One who has come from there tells us that there are a great number of priests in Japan; and I am told as a definite fact that the people, both high and low, are very obedient to their priests. I am giving you this account so that you may understand how necessary it is that those of us who are going to Japan be helped and assisted by the pious prayers and holy sacrifices of all the brothers of the blessed Society of the name of Jesus.

St Francis and Br. Fernandez arriving in the port of Shimonoseki

We shall set sail from Malacca for Japan on the day or eve of St. John of the year 1549. We shall pass within sight of China on our way, but without touching land or entering any of its harbors. From China to Japan it is two hundred leagues. The pilots tell us that we shall arrive in Japan on the tenth or fifteenth of August of this same year. I shall write to you from there many things in great detail about the land, its people, their lives and customs, the errors in which they live because of their scriptures and what is found in them, the schools which they have, and the professions that are found and pursued in the land. (…)”

Letter 85, To the Society of Jesus in Europe, from Malacca (Malaysia), June 22, 1549

2. Three months after his arrival (Nov. 5, 1549)

“(…) To return now to our voyage: when the seas became calm, we weighed anchor and let out the sail. With great sadness we all started on our way, and within a few days we reached the harbor of Canton in China. The captain and his crew were all in favor of wintering there; we alone with prayers, fears, and threats opposed them, saying that we would write to the captain of Malacca, tell the Portuguese how we had been deluded and how they had failed to keep promises. God our Lord was pleased to change their minds so that they no longer wished to remain on the islands of Canton. We therefore weighed and set sail for Chincheo; and after a few days, with a good wind God continued to give us, we reached Chincheo, another Chinese harbor. When we were on the point of entering it in order to winter there, since the monsoon for sailing to Japan was dying down, a sailboat came up and told us there were many thieves in that harbor, and that we would be lost if we entered it. Because of this news and the sight of the ships of Chincheo that were a league from us, the captain, seeing that he was in a great danger of being lost, decided not to enter the harbor; and since the wind for taking us back to Canton swing against the prow and was assisting us at the poop for going to Japan, the captain and his crew, though unwillingly, were forced to sail for Japan. Neither the demon nor his minions could block our passage; and, on the feast of our Lady in August 1549, God thus brought us to these lands which we had so ardently desired to reach. And since we could reach no other harbor in Japan, we sailed to Kagoshima, the land of Paul of the Holy Faith, where we were received with great love by all, both by his relatives and by those who were not.

From the experience which we have had of the land, I shall inform you what we have come to know about Japan. First of all, the people with we have thus far conversed are the best that have as yet been discovered; it seems to me that no other pagan race will be found that will surpass the Japanese. They have, as a race, very fine manners; and they are on the whole good and not malicious. They have a marvelous sense of honor and esteem it more than anything else. As a race they are generally poor, but the poverty that is found among the nobles and those who are not is not deemed to be a matter reproach.

They have something which I do not think is to be found in any Christian namely, that the nobles, no matter how poor they may be, and the commoners, no matter how much wealth they may possess, have as much esteem for a very poor noble as they would have for him if he were rich. For no amount would a very poor nobleman marry into another caste that is not noble, even he were given great wealth; and they would not do so since it seems to them that they would lose their honor if they married into a lower caste. They thus have a greater esteem for honor than for wealth. As a race they are very courteous in dealing with each other; they have a high regard for arms and great confidence in them; they always carry swords and daggers, and all do so, both nobles and commoners; they carry a sword and dagger from the age of fourteen.

As a race they are intolerant of any injuries or contemptuous words. The common people are greatly attached to the nobles; and all the nobles consider it a great honor to serve the lord of the land, to whom they are very submissive. It seems to me this is so because they are of the opinion that if they did the contrary, they would lose their honor, rather than because they would be punished by their lord if they did not do so. As a race they are temperate in eating, though they are somewhat excessive in drinking. They drink wine made from rice, since there are no vines in these regions. They are men who never gamble, since this seems to them to be a great disgrace, for those who gamble want something that is not theirs and can thus become thieves. They swear little, and when they do swear, it is by the sun. A large proportion of the people can read and write, which is a great help in learning prayers and the things of God in a short time. They do not have more than one wife. There are few thieves in the land, and the reason for this is the strict punishment which they inflict upon those whom they discover to be such, since they spare the life of no one; they have a profound abhorrence of this vice of theft. They are a people of great good will, very sociable, and eager to know.

They take great delight in hearing about the things of God, especially when they understand them. Of all the lands that I have seen during my lifetime, whether of those who are Christians or of those who are not, I have never seen a race that is so strict with regard to theft. They do not adore idols in the shape of animals; most of them believe in men of ancient times who, according to what I have learned, were men who lived like philosophers. Many of these worship the sun, and others the moon. They are delighted with hearing things that are conformed to reason; and, even though there are sins and vices among them, when they are given reasons that show them that what they are doing is wrong, it seems to them that what is in keeping with reason is right.

Fewer sins are to be found among the laity, and I see that they are more obedient to reason than those who are here held to be priests and are known as ‘bonzes’. These are inclined to sins abhorrent to nature, which is something that they admit and do not deny; and this is so public and manifest to all, both men and women, young and old, that they are neither surprised by it nor do they abhor it, since it is so very common. Those who are not bonzes are delighted to hear us condemn this abominable sin, since they believe that we have good reason for saying how evil, and how much they offend God, are those who commit such a sin. We frequently tell the bonzes that they should not commit such shameful sins; and they condescend to everything that we tell them, since they laugh at it and are not the least ashamed at being reproached for such a hideous sin. These bonzes have many boys, sons of noblemen, in their monasteries, whom they teach how to read and write, and they commit their abominations with them; and this sin is so common that, even though it is deemed evil by all, they are not surprised by it.

Among these bonzes there are some who dress like friars: they are dressed in a grey habit; they are all shaved, and it seems that they shave both their head and beard every three or four days. These live very freely: they have nuns of the same order and live together with them; and the people have a very bad opinion of them, since they think that so much converse with nuns is bad. All the laymen say that when one of these nuns feels that she is pregnant, she takes a drug which immediately expels the foetus. This is something that is very well known; and from what I have seen in this monastery of monks and nuns, it seems to me that the people are quite right in their opinion of them. I asked certain individuals if these friars committed any other sin, and they told me that they did, with the boys whom they teach how to read and write. These bonzes, who are dressed like friars, and the others, who are dressed like clerics, are hostile to each other.

I was much amazed by two things in this land: the first was to see that great and abominable sins are deemed to be of little account; and the reason for this is that people in the past became accustomed to living in them, and those of the present have followed their example. See how persistence in vices that are contrary to nature corrupts what is natural; and also, how a continued neglect of imperfections defaces and destroys what is perfect. The second was to see that laymen live better in their state of life than the bonzes do in theirs; and since this is so obvious, it is very surprising that they receive the respect that they do. There are many other errors among these bonzes, and those who are more learned have those that are worse.  

St Francis preaching the Gospel in front of Fukoshoji Temple in Kagoshima

I have frequently spoken with some of  the most learned of these bonzes, especially with one who is highly esteemed by all in these regions for his learning, his life, and the office which he holds, and also for his advanced age, since he is some eighty years old. He is called Ninjitsu, which means ‘heart of truth’ in the language of Japan. He is like a bishopamong them; and if his person was in keeping with his name, he would be blessed. In the many conversations which I have had with him, I have found him hesitant and unable to decide if our soul is immortal, or if it dies together with the body; at times he has told me that it is, and at other times that it is not. I am afraid that it is the same with the other scholars. This Ninjitsu is an amazingly good friend of mine. All, both laymen and bonzes, are delighted with us; and they are greatly astonished to see that we have come front lands so far away as Portugal is from Japan, more than six thousand leagues, for the sole purpose of speaking about the things of God and on how people are to save their souls by believing in Jesus Christ, telling them that our coming to these lands is something that has been commanded by God.

I am letting you know one thing for which you should all give great thanks to God our Lord, namely, that this island of Japan is well disposed for there being a great increase of our holy faith on it; and, if we knew how to speak the language, I have no doubt in believing that many would become Christians. May it please God our Lord that we soon learn it, since we have already begun to have some experience of it; and forty days after we began to learn it, we are explaining the Ten Commandments.

I am giving you such a detailed account in order that you may all give thanks to God our Lord that regions have been discovered in which your holy desires can be employed and fulfilled, and also so that you may acquire many virtues and desires to endure many labors for the service of Christ our Redeemer and Lord, and may always remember that God is more pleased by a good will filled with humility, through which men offer themselves to him, making an oblation of their lives solely for his love and glory, than he prizes and esteems the services that are rendered unto him, no matter how many these may be.

Be ready, since it is quite likely that I shall write to you before the end of two years that many of you should come to Japan. Dispose yourselves, therefore, to search for great humility, doing violence to yourselves in things which cause, or should cause, you to feel repugnance, striving with all the strength that God gives you to know yourselves interiorly for what you are; and in this way you will increase in greater faith, hope and confidence, and love of God, and in charity for your neighbor, since it is from distrust of one’s own self that true confidence in God is born; and you will in this way attain interior humility, which you will need everywhere, but more here than you think. Be careful not to take any account of the good opinion which people have of you unless it be to your own confusion, since by neglecting this some persons come to lose their inner humility and become somewhat proud. With the passage of time, those who praised them, not knowing how harmful this is, come to lose their devotion to them; and they in turn become disturbed, since they find no consolation either from within or from without.

In the city of Paul of the Holy Faith, our good and faithful friend, we were received with great kindness and love by the captain of the city and the mayor of the land and also by all the people, who were much amazed at seeing priests from the land of the Portuguese. They were not at all offended by the fact that Paul had become a Christian, but rather had a high regard for him; and all, both his relatives and those who were not, were happy that he had been in India and had seen things which those here had never seen. The duke of this land was greatly pleased with him and paid him much honor, and he asked him many things about the manners and means of the Portuguese. Paul gave him an account of everything, and the duke showed that he was much content with it.

When Paul went to speak with the duke, who lives five leagues from Kagoshima, he took with him a very devout picture of our Lady which we had brought with us. The duke was marvelously pleased when he saw it; he knelt down before the image of Christ our Lord and of our Lady, and he adored it with great respect and reverence. He then ordered all those who were with him to do the same; after this they showed it to the duke’s mother, who was amazed and showed her own great pleasure in seeing it. A few days after Paul returned from there to us in Kagoshima, the mother of the duke sent a nobleman to order another picture like it to be made, if this were possible; but since there were no materials for this in the land, it was not made. This lady sent a request that we send her in writing what the Christians believe. Paul thus spent several days in doing this, and he wrote many things about our faith in her language.

There is one thing which you should know, and for which you should give great thanks to God, namely, that a way is opening up for you to satisfy your desires; and, if we knew their language, we would have already gained much fruit. Paul has taken such great pains with his relatives and friends, preaching to them by day and night, that he has been the reason why his mother, wife, and daughter, and many of his relatives and friends, both men and women, have become Christians. Up until now the people here are not offended by others becoming Christians; and, since a large part of them know how to read and write, they soon learn the prayers.

Image of Our Lady similiar to what was shown to the Daimyo

May it please God our Lord to grant us a knowledge of the language so that we can speak to them of the things of God, for we shall then, with his grace, favor, and assistance, produce much fruit. We are now like so many statues among them, since they speak and talk much about us, while we, not understanding their language, are mute. We are now learning the language like little children, and may it please God that we may imitate them in their simplicity and purity of mind. We are forced to employ the means and to dispose ourselves to be like them, both in learning the language and in imitating the simplicity of small and innocent children.

The reason why God has granted us the very great and signal grace of bringing us to these pagan regions is so that we do not neglect ourselves, for this land is filled with idolatries and enemies of Christ and we have nothing in which we can hope and trust except in God, since we have here no relatives, or friends, or acquaintances, nor is there any Christian piety, but all are enemies of him who created the heavens and the earth. We are therefore compelled to place all our faith, hope, and confidence in Christ our Lord, and not in any living creature, since all, because of their unbelief, are enemies of God. In other regions where our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord is known, creatures are wont to be a reason for neglecting God and an impediment to his service; for example, a love of father, mother, relatives, friends, and acquaintances, and a love of one’s own country, and having what is needed in sickness and in health, the possession of temporal goods or spiritual friends who help with one’s physical needs; but what compels us more than anything else to place our hope in God is the lack of persons to help us in spirit. Here in a foreign land where God is unknown, he grants us the great grace that creatures help and compel us not to neglect to place all our faith, hope, and confidence in his divine goodness, for they have no love at all for God and Christian piety.

We are confused when we reflect upon this great grace which our Lord is giving us along with many others and perceive the manifest mercy that he is employing in our regard. We formerly thought that we would render him some service in coming to these regions for the increase of his holy faith; but now, through his goodness, he has made us clearly understand and feel the immense grace which he has conferred upon us by bringing us to Japan and by freeing us from the love of many creatures, which hindered us from having a greater faith, hope, and confidence in him. Judge now for yourselves how calm, consoled, and completely filled with joy our lives would be if we were what we should be, having all our hopes in him from whom all good comes. He does not deceive those who trust in him, but is, instead, more generous with his gifts than men are in their requests and hopes. For the love of our Lord, help us to give thanks for such great favors, so that we do not fall into the sin of ingratitude, for in those who wish to serve God this sin is the reason why God our Lord ceases to grant greater favors than he does, since they fail to recognize and profit by so great a good. It is well for us to give you an account of our stay here in Kagoshima. We arrived here at a time when the winds were opposed to our going to Miyako which is the principal city of Japan, where the king and the chief lords of the realm reside. There will not be another wind to take us there for another five months, when, with God’s assistance, we shall go there. From here to Miyako it is three hundred leagues. We have been told great things about this city, which is said to have more than ninety thousand dwellings, a large university with five main colleges, and more than two hundred residences for bonzes and for others, like friars, who are known as Gixu, and for nuns, who are called Amacata.

In addition to this university of Miyako, there are five more leading universities, the names of which are as follows: Coya, Negru, Fieson, and Omy. These four are in the vicinity of Miyako, and we are told that each one of them has more than 3,500 students. There is another university many leagues from Miyako that is called Bandu. It is the largest and most important in Japan, and it has more students than any other. Bandu is a very great seigniory with six dukes, one of whom is the principal duke, whom all obey, though he is himself subject to the King of Japan. We are told so many things about the magnitude of these lands and universities that we shall first have the pleasure of seeing them before we can relate and write the truth about them; and if it is what we have been told, we shall write to you in great detail what we shall have learned from experience.

St Francis before Otomo Sorin, Daimyo of Bungo

We have been told that in addition to these main universities there are many other small universities throughout the realm. After we shall have seen the disposition of these regions for producing fruit in souls, it will be easy to write to all the leading universities of Christendom to relieve our consciences and to burden theirs, since with their great virtues and learning they could remedy this great evil by converting so much unbelief into a knowledge of their Creator, Savior, and Redeemer.

We have been moved by God in these regions to come to a true knowledge of him. During the course of the year 1551, we hope to write to you in great detail about all the dispositions that there are in Miyako and in the universities for their coming to a knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord. This year two bonzes who have studied in the universities of Bandu and Miyako are going to India, and together with them many Japanese to learn our law.

On the day of St. Michael we spoke with the duke of this land. He showed us great honor and told us that we should take great care to guard the books in which the law of the Christians is written, saying that if the law of Jesus Christ is good and true, the demon will have much to suffer from it. A few days later he gave all his subjects permission to become Christians if they wished to do so. I am writing you this great good news at the end of my letter for your consolation and so that you may give thanks to God our Lord for it. I believe that we shall be busy this winter in composing a rather long explanation of the articles of the faith in the language of Japan so that it may be printed, since all the leading people know how to read and write, in order that our holy faith may be spread through many regions, since we cannot go to all of them.(…)”

Letter 90, To his Companions living in Goa, from Kagoshima, November 5, 1549

3. After having returned to India, two and a half years later (Jan. 29, 1552)

“(…) I shall now tell you what has happened to us in Japan. First of all, as I have already observed, we reached the land of Paul, which is called Kagoshima, where, because of Paul’s extensive preaching to his relatives, around a hundred became Christians; and almost all the people of the land would have been converted if it had not been for the presence of the priests of the land. We were in this city for more than a year. The bonzes told the lord of the land, who is a duke of many lands, that if he permitted his subjects to accept the law of God, he would lose his land and his pagodas would be destroyed and plundered by the people, because the law of God was contrary to their laws, and the people who accepted the law of God would lose their earlier devotion to the saints who drew up their laws. The bonzes eventually persuaded the duke of the land to forbid under the pain of death anyone to become a Christian; and the duke thus forbade any of his vassals to accept the law of God.

During the year that we dwelt in Paul’s city, we kept busy teaching the Christians, learning the language, and translating many things of the law of God into Japanese, that is, with respect to the creation of the world in a very summary fashion, indicating what they needed to know, that there is a Creator of all things, about whom they had no knowledge, and other necessary things, until we came to the Incarnation of Christ. We then took up the life of Christ, going through all the mysteries up until the Ascension and giving an explanation of the Day of Judgment. We composed this book in Japanese with much toil, but we wrote it in our own script. We read it to those who have become Christians, so that they may know how they must adore God and Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

Both the Christians and those who were not were greatly pleased to hear these things, since it seemed to them that this was the truth, for the Japanese are highly talented and very obedient to reason. If they failed to become Christians, it was through fear of the lord of the land, and not because they failed to perceive that the law of God was true and that their laws were false.

After the passage of a year, since the lord of the land was not happy that the law of God was increasing, we set off for another land, taking leave of the Christians, who sent us on our way with many tears because of the great love which they had for us; and they thanked us profusely for the pains which we had taken to teach them the way of salvation. I left Paul, a native of the land and an excellent Christian, with these Christians so that he might teach and instruct them.

From there we went to another land, where its lord received us with great pleasure; and after we had been there for some days, around a hundred persons became Christians. By this time one of us could already speak Japanese and through our reading of the book which we had translated into Japanese and our other instructions, many became Christians. Father Cosme de Torres remained in this city with those who had become Christians. Juan Fernandez and I went to a land of a great lord of Japan which is called by the name of Yamaguchi. It is a city of more than ten thousand inhabitants and all of its houses are made of wood. Many nobles and others in this city were most eager to know what the law was that we preached. We therefore decided to preach for many days on the streets, twice each day, reading from the book which we carried and giving some talks in keeping with the readings from the book. Many people listened to our preaching. We were invited to the homes of great nobles so that we might be questioned about the law that we preached; and they told us that, if it were better than theirs, they would accept it. Many expressed their joy on hearing the law of God; others scoffed at it, and others were saddened by it. When we passed through the streets, we were followed by boys and others who mocked us, saying, ‘These are those who say that we must worship God in order to be saved, and that no one but the Creator of all things can save us.’ Others said, ‘ These are those who preach that a man may not have more than one wife.’ Others said, ‘ These are those who forbid the sin of sodomy,’ for this is very common among them. They also mentioned the other commandments of our law with the intent of ridiculing us. After we had spent many days in this exercise of preaching both in homes and on the streets, the duke of Yamaguchi, who was living in this city, had us summoned and asked us many questions. When he asked us from where we had come and why we had come to Japan, we replied that we had been sent to Japan to preach the law of God, since no one can be saved if he does not adore God and believes in Jesus Christ, the Savior of all nations. He than asked us to explain the law of God to him, and we therefore read him a large part of our book. He was very attentive all through the reading, which lasted for more than an hour; and he then dismissed us. We persevered for many days in this city, preaching in the streets and homes. Many were delighted to hear the life of Christ, and they wept when we came to the passage of the Passion.

Many of those who became Christians were nobles; and after they had become Christians, they were such great friends of ours that I could never end writing about it. And they thus gave us a very faithful account of all that is contained in the laws of the pagans; for, as I said at the beginning, there are nine laws, each one different from the others. Now that we have a definite knowledge about the contents of their laws, we are searching for reasons to prove them to be false. Every day we have therefore asked them questions about their laws and arguments; but neither the bonzes nor the nuns, the soothsayers nor any others who are opposed the law of God, have been able to answer them. When the Christians saw that the bonzes could not answer our questions, they were delighted. Every day they came to believe more firmly in God, and the pagans who attended the disputations lost confidence in the erroneous sects in which they had believed.

The bonzes were greatly distressed when they saw that many had become Christians; they therefore reproached those who had accepted the faith, telling them that they had abandoned the laws which they had held and had accepted that of God. The Christians and those who were about to become such answered this by saying that, if they had become Christians, it was because it seemed to them that the law of God was more consonant with reason than their own, and also because they saw that we answered the questions which were put to us, but that they could not answer those which we raised against their laws. In the teachings of their sects, the Japanese have no knowledge (as I have already indicated) about the creation of the world, the sun, moon, stars, heaven, earth, sea, or anything else. It seems to them that the world has had no beginning. What they felt the most was to hear us say that souls have a Creator who created them.

Almost all were astonished by this. It seemed to them that there could not be a Creator of all things, since this Creator is never mentioned in the teachings of their saints; and, even more, if all things in the world had a beginning, the people of China, from whom they had received their own laws, would have known this. They take it for granted that the Chinese are very wise, both with regard to the things of the other world and with regard to the rule of state.

They asked us many things about this principle which created all things: whether it was good or evil, and whether there was but one principle for all things, both good and bad. We told them that there is only one principle, and that it is good and has no share in evil.

It seemed to them that this was impossible, since they believe that there are demons who are evil and hostile to the human race, and that if God were good, he would not create such evil things. We answered them by saying that God created them good, that they had become bad by themselves, and that God has punished them for this and that his punishment will be without end. At this, they said that God is not merciful, since he is so cruel in his punishments. They further asked that if it were true that God created the human race (as we said), why does he permit the demons, who are so evil, to tempt us, since God created men to serve him (as we said); and that if God were good, he would not create men with so many weaknesses and inclinations towards sin, but would rather create them without any evil; and that this principle could not be good, since it had made hell, such an evil thing as it is, and has no compassion upon those who go there, because they must remain there forever (as we said); and also that, if God were good, he would not have given us the Ten Commandments, as he did, since they are so difficult to observe.

And since, according to their teachings, even though they were in hell, they would be released from it if they were summoned by the founders of their sects, they deemed it a very great evil on the part of God that men who go to hell should never be redeemed, saying that their laws were more based upon mercy than was the law of God. We could only answer all these, their most important questions, in a satisfactory manner through the grace of God our Lord. And for the greater manifestation of God’s mercy, the Japanese are more subject to reason than any other pagan race that I have ever seen. They are so curious and importunate in their questioning and so eager to know that they never ceased asking us questions and telling others the answers, which they had received from us. They did not know that the world was round, nor did they know the course of the sun. They asked about these and other things, for example, about comets, lightnings, rain and snow, and similar phenomena. They were very content and satisfied with our replies and explanations; and they deemed us to be learned men, something that was of some help in gaining credit for our words.

In their discussions about their laws, they had always argued about what was the best of them. After we had come there, they ceased discussing their own laws and discussed the law of God. It was simply incredible to see how the law of God was being discussed in all the homes of such a great city. If one wishes, down all the questions that they asked us, one would never come to an end.

Among the nine sects there is one which holds that the souls of men are mortal, exactly like those of animals. All the others, those who are not of this law think this is a very wicked sect. The members of this sect are evil; they have no patience to hear it said that there is a hell.

During the course of two months, five hundred persons, slightly more or less after they had asked many questions, were, through the grace of God, baptized in this city of Yamaguchi. Many revealed to us the deceits of the bonze their sects. If it were not for them, we would never have become familiar with the idolatries of Japan. We are ardently loved by those who have become Christians; and, believe me, they are Christians in very truth.

Before their baptism, these people of Yamaguchi had great doubt the supreme goodness of God, saying that he could not be merciful, since he had not revealed himself to them before our coming; if it was true (as we said) those who did not adore God all go to hell, God had had no mercy on their ancestors, since he had let them go to hell without having given knowledge of himself.

This was one of the great doubts which had kept them from worshipping God. It pleased our Lord to make them able to perceive the truth and free them from their former doubt. We gave them a reason by means of which we proved to them that the law of God was the first of all, telling them that before the laws of China came to Japan, the Japanese knew that it was wrong to steal, to bear false witness, and to act against the other Ten Commandments that their remorse of conscience was an indication of the evil which they committed, since the obligation of refraining from evil and doing good is in the hearts of men; and pagans thus knew the Commandments of God without their having been taught by anyone except the Creator of all mankind.

If they had any doubts about this, they might make take the example of a man who had been born on a mountain and knew nothing about the laws which came from China, and who could neither read nor write. They might ask this man, who had been born in a forest, if it was a sin or not to kill, to steal and to act against the Ten Commandments; if it was good to observe them or not. From the answer which he would give, as barbarous as he was and without being taught by others, they would clearly see how such a one as he knew the law of God. Who, then, taught him good and evil if it were not God who created him? And if such a knowledge is found among barbarians, what will it be among a prudent race? Thus, even before the law was a written law, there was a law of God that had been written within the hearts of men. This was so much in keeping with reason that they were all very satisfied. The removal of this was a great help to their conversion.

During all the time that we were in Japan, which was more than two and one-half years, we continued to maintain ourselves on the alms which the most Christian king of Portugal ordered to be given us in these regions; for when we went to Japan, he ordered us to be given more than a thousand cruzados. It is incredible how much we have been assisted by His Highness and how much he has spent on us by granting us such generous alms for colleges, houses, and all our other needs. (…)

With this I come to a close without being able to do so, since I am writing to such loved and cherished fathers and Brothers of mine and about such great friends as are the Christians of Japan. I thus bring this to an end, asking God our Lord to unite us in the glory of Paradise. Amen

From Cochin (India), January 29, 1552.
 (In Xavier’s hand:) Entirely yours in Christ,
Francisco (Letter 96)



Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact