The Mystery of Jesus in Japan
No matter what one’s religious affiliation, there is no denying that one of the most readily recognizable figures in all of the world’s religions is none other than Jesus Christ. There is a rich history of stories and adventures attributed to this iconic figure, but did one of these adventures involve Jesus traveling to ancient Japan? According to the folklore of one remote mountain village in the northern corner of Japan, Jesus Christ not only journeyed to Japan, but also found his final resting place here rather than dying on the cross in Golgotha. For all of you scratching your heads right now, let’s take a look into the weird story of Jesus Christ’s alleged life in Japan.
Tucked away within the mountainous terrain of Aomori prefecture, in the northern region of Japan, is a village by the name of Shingō. It is a modest village of only 2,632 people, mostly farmers who live a simple rural lifestyle. Most of the population here is strictly Buddhist or Shinto, with only one Christian resident and there are no churches to be seen. Indeed of Japan’s 128 million people, only 1% identify themselves as Christian. This makes it all the more perplexing that such an enduring legend involving Christianity’s most important figurehead has taken root here. It is hard to imagine that of all of the places in the world, Jesus Christ would find his way to this sleepy mountain hamlet in Japan, yet it has long been maintained by those in the area that this is precisely what happened and the story is just about as bizarre as you might expect.
According to the folklore, Jesus made his way to Japan when he was 21 years old, during a 12 year gap in the New Testament known as his “lost years.” It is said that he came to study theology, and that he made his first landing in Japan at a place called Amanohashidate, which was a port on the west coast. Upon his arrival, Jesus Christ is said to have studied with a master of theology at Mt. Fuji, learning about religion, philosophy, and about the Japanese language and culture. Jesus is said to have completely immersed himself in the Japanese lifestyle during his days here. This study continued until he was 31 years of age, after which he took the long voyage back to Judea, where he told of his exotic adventures in this mysterious, far away eastern land, which he referred to as a sacred land.
This is where the tale takes a turn for the even more bizarre. According to the legend, upon returning to his homeland, Jesus was later sentenced to his crucifixion, but he was able to escape when his brother, called Isukiri by the Japanese, secretly traded places with him. In the story, it was Isukiri rather than Jesus Christ who was crucified upon the cross, while Jesus himself fled back to Japan carrying none other than a lock of the Virgin Mary’s hair and the severed ear of his doomed brother. After an arduous overland journey across the frozen wasteland of Siberia, Jesus arrived in the town of Hachinohe, Japan, before traveling on to the nearby village of Shingō.
In his exile in Shingō, Jesus was known as Daitenku Taro Jurai, and is said to have taken up a simple life growing garlic and helping the needy. He even supposedly ended up marrying a farmer’s daughter by the name of Miyuko and fathered three children with her. The story says that Jesus lived a long and happy life here in this mountain town, and lived to be 106 years old. When he died, his body was subjected to the burial customs of the time. The body was laid out exposed on a hilltop for four years, after which his bones were bundled up and interred in a grave, which can still be found in the village. The ear of Jesus’ brother Isukiri, as well as the lock of the Virgin Mary’s hair were also purportedly buried in adjacent graves. To this day, the living descendants of Jesus are said to live in the village, the most well known of which being the Sawaguchi family.
The whole legend seems ridiculous, absurd, maybe even blasphemous to some, but there have been many pieces of “evidence” offered up over the years to support the story. It has been pointed out that some of the traditional clothing of the region included toga-like robes worn by men that were unlike other Japanese clothing, as well as veils worn by women, all of which seem more like something from biblical Palestine than Japan. In addition, some of the ancient traditions of the area included other things that are considered to be decidedly non-Japanese, such as carrying babies in woven baskets, wrapping them in robes embroidered with something akin to the Star of David, and marking their foreheads with crosses of charcoal. Even the regional dialect is said to have connections to the Holy Land, with some words resembling Hebrew more than Japanese. Even the name of the village itself was once Herai, which is remarkably similar to the Japanese word for Hebrew, Heburai. On top of all of this, it was once said that many of the villagers had decidedly foreign looking facial features and even blue eyes- let’s ignore that Jesus most certainly did not have blue eyes- that were seen to be a sign that they were descended from someone of non-Japanese origin.
Perhaps the most well known piece of evidence is the very thing that started the whole legend to begin with. A collection of papers known as the Takenouchi Documents are supposedly transcribed from a scroll that was found in the area in 1936 and dated to the time of Jesus. Within the scroll were texts that allegedly outlined the last will and testament of Jesus Christ, as well as musings on his life in Japan. The documents are said to have been transcribed around 1,500 years ago from even older documents and scrolls, and then handed down through the generations by the Takenouchi family before they were finally made public in the 1800s. The papers, while curious indeed, are mostly thought to be a hoax perpetuated by the one who penned the original Japanese language version, a self proclaimed “cosmoarcheologist” by the name of Wado Kosaka. This is a man who would later go on to try and contact a UFO on national TV, so perhaps anything coming from him should be taken with a grain of salt. The fact that the documents supposedly went missing during World War II further add to the enigma. Currently, these documents are widely considered to be fabricated, and one Kyoto University professor by the name of Toji Kamata has even gone on record calling them “fakelore.” Even so, there are allegedly other scrolls that have been unearthed here that tell of Jesus’ days here at this mountain village.
In modern times, the purported graves of Jesus, the Virgin Mary’s hair, and Jesus’ younger brother’s ear, all remain in Shingō. The purported tomb of Jesus himself, known as Kurisuto no Haka in Japanese, or literally “Grave of Christ,” sits atop a hill with a prominent cross on it, while the mound containing the other remains lies nearby. Reproductions of the Takenouchi scrolls, including an English translation of them, outlining Jesus’s life here are also held at the village. In fact, the village features an entire museum, called The Legend of Christ Museum, devoted to the legend of Jesus in Japan located not far from the graves themselves. The museum contains the reproduced Takenouchi documents and various other relics and memorabilia related to the vilage’s Jesus legend.
To this day, there are many curious people who make there way to this remote town around 3 hours outside of Tokyo by train to see the supposed grave of Christ with their own eyes, and it is estimated that around 20,000 such pilgrims come through here every year either out of genuine religious zeal or mere morbid curiosity. There is also a festival held here every spring called the Christ Festival, in which kimono clad women dance about the grave and chant. In a rather bizarre turn of events, in 2004 the Israeli ambassador Eli Cohen came here and donated a plaque, written in Hebrew, commemorating the ties between Jerusalem and Shingō. The plaque was later explained as a symbolic show of friendship rather than any real endorsement or acknowledgment of the village’s Jesus claims.
It is all rather bizarre that this legend has become so rooted here in Shingō, Japan. The village is mostly Shinto and there is only one Christian reported to live here. Even the alleged living descendants of Jesus who still live here are not Christian. As for the legend itself, it is unclear how much truth, if any, it holds. The remains contained within the graves themselves are considered to be sacred and have not been made available for any sort of DNA analysis, so it really could be anyone buried there. Nevertheless, whether one believes the myth or not, it certainly seems that Shingō’s claim as the last resting place of Jesus Christ will continue to endure and draw curiosity for some time to come.