On February 5, 1597, twenty six people were crucified in the Nishizaka hills in Nagasaki. Among the martyred were 6 Catholic missionaries and 20 Japanese Catholic Christians. This was the first martyrdom in Japan's recorded history.
Hideyoshi Toyotomi was the national ruler of Japan that decided to arrest and martyr Christians. On December 9 and 10, 1596, twenty four Christians were caught and imprisoned. Among the worst punishments that they had to endure were having their left ear cut off and marching long distances with their hands bound together.
On January 10, 1597, they made the torturous walk from Osaka to Nagasaki. Francis and Pedro Sukejiroo were two followers that took care of the martyrs and joined their plight, making the final count 26 people.
The 26 Martyrs walked about 620miles (1000km) over the course of one month. They left Sakai and went to Osaka, Hyougo, Akashi, Himeji, Akaho, Okayama, Omichi, Mihara, Hiroshima, Shimonoseki. They traveled by boat from Shimonoseki to Okura and they walked to Hakata, Karatsu and Sonogi. By traveling the boat from Sonogi they went to Tokitsu and they walked to Nagasaki.
I believe that as they marched to Nagasaki, they were sowing the seed of the gospel. Paul Miki, a 33 year old priest at the time of the Nagasaki marches, spread the gospel throughout the journey.
Among the 26 martyrs were three young boys - Louis Ibaraki who was 12-years-old, Antonio, who was 13 -years-old, and Thomas Kozaki who was 14-years-old. Their leader was Fr. Peter Baptist, a 48 year old Spanish missionary.
They were martyred rejoicing! Returning to Heaven while taking the cross of the Martyr.
More than 400 years have passed since the first martyr occured in Japan. On February 5, 1997, I was very fortunate to stand on the Nishizaka Hill, where the first execution took place. It was the 400th anniversary of the killings.
It was, and still is, very difficult for me to express how I felt. I was amazed to be there. I did not feel sadness nor agony. Rather, my mind was at peace. I thought about the 26 martyrs and read the verse of Mark 8:34: "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross , and follow Me."
Taking up their cross to follow Jesus, the original 26 martyrs obediently lived a life devoted to Jesus, setting an example for the generations of Christians to come.