Omura Sumitada

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Ômura Sumitada, lord of Hizen province, was the earliest, and one of the most prominent, of the Christian daimyô. He ceded the port of Nagasaki to the Jesuits in 1580, and

The Ômura family traced its roots back to the 10th century, when Fujiwara (Ômura) Naozumi settled in Kyushu and later achieved a certain modicum of local influence. Following the Ônin War (1467-1477) the Sonogi peninsula was divided into a myriad number of petty fiefdoms and the Ômura struggled for dominance. In 1474 the neighboring Arima clan dealt Ômura Sumiyoshi a significant defeat and afterwards exerted considerable influence over the Ômura clan. Ômura Sumisaki adopted a son of Arima Haruzumi, an event that was to cause the adoptee in question, Sumitada, much difficulty in his own rule. Haruzumi's natural son, Takaaki, had been disinherited in the move, and after ending up in the Gotô clan was extremely hostile towards his former family. In fact, Sumitada had to contend with the resentments of a number of local lords, all of whom were in some way kinsmen, including Saigô Sumitaka (a brother-in-law) and Fukahori Sumikata. In addition, the Matsura and Arima pressed the Ômura's borders; yet the greatest threat to Sumitada was Ryûzôji Takanobu, the most powerful daimyô in Hizen.

Faced with the seemingly inevitable fall of the Ômura, Sumitada turned to the only party that seemed capable of providing him with telling assistance: the Jesuits. In 1562 he allowed the Christian priests to preach in his domain and gave Portuguese traders special privileges in the port of Yokoseura; the following year Sumitada became the first Christian daimyô, baptized with the name Dom Bartolomeu in June. Unfortunately, Ômura's religious and political workings initially bore bitter fruit; the same year Sumitada was baptized, Gotô Takaaki rose against him and in the course of the struggle Yokoseura was destroyed. The event seemed to presage the fall of the Ômura, and in 1566 Sumitada was forced to flee his headquarters at Aonogi castle. Yet the Portuguese returned and with the weapons they supplied, Sumitada was able to retake Sonogi and stabilized his position. Ômura managed to fend off his many rivals for the next two decades and Portuguese vessels continued to call at Ômura ports. To a greater or lesser extent the Ômura-Jesuit pact was beneficial to Sumitada, even if it provoked families already hostile to him. In 1572 Saigô Sumitaka led a coalition of Ômura's enemies against him, a threat Sumitada countered with the help of four Portuguese warships in 1574. That same year, Sumitada submitted to Portuguese pressure that he abolish all "idol worship" in his lands; numerous temples were destroyed, and all the residents of Ômura lands were now obliged to convert to Christianity, or be killed. Some sixty thousand people were then baptized.[1]

Ômura took this even further in 1580. By that year, Ryûzôji Takanobu had become the most dynamic lord of northern Kyushu, and his advances into the Sonogi area compelled Sumitada to make a remarkable donation to the Jesuits. On 9 June he ceded rights to the port of Nagasaki, including the transfer of all judicial authority to the Jesuits.

This dramatic move followed in the wake of two Ryûzôji incursions (1577, 1578) and was not made so much to preserve the survival of the Ômura house as to preserve the Christian presence in Hizen. Above and beyond any possible pious motivations, Sumitada stood to gain much through continued trade with the Portuguese, especially if this were combined with an end of the war with the Ryûzôji. Concerned that Takanobu would drive out the foreigners once the Ômura submitted, Sumitada officially 'gave' Nagasaki to the Jesuits, maintaining the rights to collect duty tariffs on the goods that passed through the port. Later that year, Ômura went to Saga and submitted to the Ryûzôji.

Takanobu hesitated to confront the Portuguese directly, as the power of these 'Southern barbarians' was still something of an unknown element. Just as Sumitada had hoped, Takanobu left Nagasaki alone, leaving the Jesuits to report their unexpected boom to an amazed Rome.

Ômura was now a vassal of the Ryûzôji and finally allowed some breathing room. Takanobu turned his eye on the Arima of the Shimabara peninsula, a clan who, like the Ômura, had turned to the foreigners for assistance. In 1584 Shimazu Yoshihisa led an expeditionary force to Shimabara to assist the reeling Arima, prompting Takanobu to personally lead an army to the area. Sumitada was summoned to lead his own men in support, but was late in taking to the road and managed to miss the decisive Battle of Okitanawate. Takanobu was killed during the battle and the political picture in Hizen changed drastically.

In 1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Kyushu and the Ômura submitted, though they suffered the loss of the Nagasaki trade. Sumitada died that same year and was succeeded by his son Yoshiaki (1568-1615). Like his father, Yoshiaki was a Christian, and in that capacity was known as Dom Sancho. Yoshiaki served in the 1592 Korean invasion, leading 1,000 men under Konishi Yukinaga. In 1600 he elected to remain neutral during the Sekigahara campaign and as a result was ordered to retire in favor of his son Suminobu. Although baptized in his youth, Suminobu persecuted those Christians still residing in Ômura lands and helped put down the Shimabara Rebellion (1637-38). The Omura stood as a daimyô house until the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate and the abolition of the han in the 19th century.


  1. William Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur Tiedemann (eds.), Sources of Japanese Tradition, Second Edition, vol 2, Columbia University Press (2005), 147.