Denis Fujishima belonged to a noble house of Aitzu, in the Harima province of Japan. He had become a Christian as a young man. When he was in his forties, he and Peter Onizuka were catechists with the Jesuit Fr Peter Paul Navarro, who had arrived in Japan from Italy in 1586. In 1614, after an edict against Christians had been promulgated, Navarro went underground. Denis and Peter were with Navarro and his servant, Clement Yuemon, after Christmas in 1621, when they were captured by priest-hunters.
They were brought before the Daimyo of Harima, who treated the captives with great respect. The Daimyo detained them in a house owned by a Christian where they were cared for by their fellow believers. He permitted Fr Navarro to celebrate Mass and frequently came to converse with him. The Daimyo was prepared to release them if they could renounce Christianity, an offer which they turned down. The Daimyo then wanted to transfer them secretly to Macao where they could be set free. But before he could do anything, he received orders from the Shogun that the three were to die by slow fire.
On the day of execution, 1 November 1622, Fr Navarro celebrated the Mass of All Saints and the two catechists, Peter and Denis, who had asked to enter the Society of Jesus, pronounced their Jesuit vows during that final Mass.
In the afternoon the four prisoners, escorted by fifty soldiers and a large crowd of Christians, made their way to the place of execution at Shimbara, near Nagasaki. As they approached the place, the martyrs saw the standing stakes awaiting them. The Daimyo had instructed the soldiers to place the wood around the stakes so as not to prolong the prisoners’ suffering.
The four martyrs were beatified by Pope Pius IX, together with another 201 martyrs of Japan, in 1867. The lives of these martyrs are celebrated on 1 November, but Blessed Denis is also remembered on 5 March in some parts of the Church.