Ōmura Sumitada

大村純忠

Ōmura Clan

Daimyō

Hizen Province

Lifespan:  Tenbun 2 (1533) to 5/18 of Tenshō 15 (1587)

Name Changes:  Shōdōmaru (childhood) → Sumitada

Other Names:  Minbu-Taifu, Tango-no-kami, Dom Bartolomeu (baptismal)

Rank:  bushō, daimyō

Clan:  Arima → Ōmura 

Father:  Arima Haruzumi

Adoptive Father:  Ōmura Sumisaki

Mother:  Daughter of Ōmura Sumimasa

Siblings:  Arima Yoshisada, Sumitada, Chijiwa Naokazu, Matsura Sakō, Shiki Morotsune, Gotō Takaakira

Wife: [Formal] Oen (daughter of Saigō Sumihisa)

Children:  Yoshiaki, Suminobu, Suminao, Sumihide, daughter (wife of Egami Ietane), Shōtōin (wife of Matsura Hisanobu), others

Ōmura Sumitada served as a daimyō during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.  He was the lord of Sanjō Castle in the Ōmura-Takabe neighborhood of the Sonogi District of Hizen Province.  Sumitada served as the twelfth head of the Ōmura clan.

In 1563, Sumitada became the first Christian daimyō in Japan.  Following his baptism, he adopted the Christian name of Dom Bartolomeu.  He is known as the person who opened the port of Nagasaki.  Sumitada was a nephew of Arima Harunobu who also became a Christian daimyō.

In 1533, Sumitada was born as the second son of Arima Haruzumi, a daimyō in Hizen.  His mother was the daughter of Ōmura Sumimasa so, in 1538, he became the adopted heir of Ōmura Sumisaki.  In 1550, he inherited the headship of the clan.  Sumisaki had an illegitimate son named Matahachirō (later known as Gotō Takaakira).  Owing to these familial ties through adoption, Takakaira was sent for adoption to the Gotō clan based in Takeo.

Path to become a Christian daimyō

In 1561, at Miyanomae in Hirado in the territory of the Matsura clan, an argument arose between Japanese and Portuguese traders that resulted in the murder of a Portuguese.  This is known as the Miyanomae Incident.  This led the Portuguese to search for a new port.  In 1562, Sumitada offered an area in his territory known as Yokoseura.  Sumitada understood that the Jesuit missionaries wielded a significant influence over the Portuguese merchants so he also offered residences to members of the Society of Jesus.  This turned Yokoseura into a bustling trade center, furthering his aim to generate wealth.

In 1563, after learning the teachings of the Christian church from missionaries, Sumitada, together with his retainers, was baptized by a Catholic priest named Cosme de Torres.  He then encouraged the residents in his territory to convert to Christianity.  At the peak, over 60,000 residents were Christian converts, accounting for more than one-half of the Christians in Japan at the time.  There is a view that Sumitada joined the religion for the ulterior motive of gaining through trade with the Portuguese.  According to records, however, Sumitada himself was an ardent believer and after his baptism disavowed relations with women other than his wife.  He endeavored to be a faithful believer until his death.  When he opened the area of Yokoseura to the Jesuits, he banned residences by followers of the Buddhist faith and granted ten-year tax exemptions to merchants engaged in the overseas trade.  The practice of his faith, however, was extreme to the extent that he destroyed temples and shrines in his territory along with the graves of ancestors.  He forced Christian beliefs upon the residents and murdered Buddhist monks and Shintō priests.  There was a series of incidents in his territory involving the murder or banishment of residents who refused to convert, inviting opposition from his retainers and the residents.

Internal revolt

Owing to his grievances toward Sumitada, Takaakira acted in concert with like-minded members of the band of retainers of the Ōmura family and launched a rebellion, burning down Yokoseura.  In 1570, Sumitada opened Nagasaki to the Portuguese.  At the time, there were only poor villages in this area but thereafter it experienced rapid development as a good port.  In 1572, Takaakira, backed by reinforcements from the Matsura clan, launched a sudden assault against Sumitada at his base at Sanjō Castle.  There were only approximately 80 people in the castle but they were able to hold-out until the arrival of reinforcements, forcing the besieging forces to withdraw.  In 1578, after the port at Nagasaki was attacked by the Ryūzōji army, Sumitada repelled them with help from the Portuguese.  Following his earlier donation of Nagasaki, in 1580, Sumitada also donated the area of Motegi to the Jesuits.

Later years

Sumitada met with Alessandro Valignano, a Catholic priest and member of the Society of Jesus from Italy during the latter’s visit to Japan.  In 1582, Sumitada decided to send a group of youth envoys to Europe known as the Tenshō Youth Mission to Europe.  Sumitada sent his nephew, Chijiwa Miguel, as his representative.

Sumitada had four sons, each with a baptismal name, including Yoshiaki (Sancho), Suminobu (Reno), Suminao (Sebastian), and Sumihide (Luís).  In the period from 1576 to 1577, Sumitada endured pressure from Ryūzōji Takanobu and his sons (except for Yoshisaki) were taken hostage.  He was nearly in a position of subservience.  In 1584, during the Battle of Okitanawate, he served on the side of the Ryūzōji.  He did not, however, have a desire to fight against the Arima (who were relatives) so shot blanks from his arquebus instead.  As a result, after the death in this battle of Takanobu, the Ōmura forces were not subject to pursuit by the Shimazu, were released, and regained control of the Sonogi District.

In the summer of 1586, Nagayo 純一 (who seized the territory of the Nagayo clan after the death of his older brother) revolted against Sumitada.  Sumitada sent his army to topple 純一’s base at Hama Castle and quickly suppress them.

In the third month of 1587, during the Pacification of Kyūshū by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Sumitada submitted to Hideyoshi and received recognition of his rights to his landholdings.  At this time, however, Sumitada was seriously ill with throat cancer and pneumonia, so his nineteen-year-old lineal heir, Yoshiaki, deployed in his place.  Weak from illness, Sumitada called upon a priest to frequently speak with him about the afterlife and while listening to the priest he wept with contentment.  Conscious of his impending demise, Sumitada released 200 prisoners who were held in his territory and, on the day before his death, set free to the sky a cute, small bird from his cage.  At this time, owing to his illness, Sumitada did not have the strength to release the bird so he requested his lady attendant but she handled the bird carelessly so he became angry.  After reflecting on the fact that anger violated the will of God, Sumitada gave her a beautiful obi, or kimono sash.  According to the accounts of Luís Fróis, Sumitada said: “The small bird was created by God so I took care of it.  Therefore, going forward, I want you to handle it with care.”

On 5/18 of Tenshō 15 (1587), Sumitada died at his residence in Sakaguchi.  This occurred shortly before the prohibition against padres (Jesuit missionaries) issued by the Toyotomi administration on 7/24 of Tenshō 15 (1587).

Character

As noted in the story of the small bird in the accounts of Luís Fróis, Sumitada was a pious Christian.  After his baptism, he held another wedding with his formal wife, Oen, under the precepts of a Christian ceremony and turned away his consorts.

Meanwhile, as the lord of a small and vulnerable fief, he is surmised to have embraced Christianity as a means to stabilize his territory by acquiring wealth and weapons through trade with the Portuguese.  He had 60,000 residents of his territory convert to Christianity through relatively forceful means, destroying the graves of ancestors along with shrines and temples.  He also banished Buddhist monks who refused to convert.  He engaged in heavy persecution and discrimination toward followers of the Buddhist and Shintō religions.  There are records indicating that he enslaved those who refused to convert to Christianity, selling them off overseas as currency to acquire western weapons.  There are theories that these acts were the cause of the order by the Toyotomi administration to prohibit padres in Japan.