Every country has its legends and myths, and Japan is no exception. Most Japanese legends or myths originate from the two great religions that have coexisted in the country from more than 1500 years—Shintoism and Buddhism.
Shintoism, the indigenous religion, can be traced back to about 500 BC. In Shinto, a host of natural objects, including mountains, rivers, water, rocks and trees as well as the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, are venerated. So, naturally, many Shinto myths or legends feature natural objects as the subject.
Buddhism arrived in Japan around 584 AD from Korea. It was not a popular religion in its early stages, and it is only due to the tenacity of its missionaries or zealous converts that it survived and eventually took root. Consequently, many Japanese Buddhist legends testify to the piousness and powers of these men.
Taken at face value, the claims made in many Shinto and Buddhist myths or legends seem outrageous and incredible in the twenty-first century. Yet, in comparison to the claim made by the town of Shingo in Aomori Prefecture, all of these outrageous and incredible claims are highly plausible.
Shingo bills itself as ‘Kirisuto no Sato,’ which translates as ‘Hometown of Christ,’ and it has developed an amazing mythology—amazing even for a country like Japan that has a mythological structure that dates the founding of the country back to 4004 BC—to support this claim.
According to this mythology, it was not Jesus who was crucified at Golgotha; it was his brother. Jesus did what any man who had been marked for crucifixion would do. He left the area as quickly as possible! Apparently he headed north and then east across Siberia until he reached Japan, where he changed his name to Daitenku Taro Jurai.
As soon as he settled down, he did what most committed immigrants to Japan do: he married a local girl and raised a family. The girl he is supposed to have married was called Miyuko, and she bore him three daughters. Apparently, this arrangement suited him so well that he lived to the amazing age of 106, which is much longer that he would have lived had he stayed in the Middle East or headed west into Europe.
This astonishing story of Christ’s miraculous flight to Japan germinated in 1935, when a Shinto priest found some ancient scrolls that told the tale. After World War II, the people of Shingo realized that the discovery of Christ’s tomb could have enormous economic benefits. Consequently, the myth really took off—and so did the related commercial activities.
The site itself actually contains two ancient graves—one said to be Christ’s, the other that of his brother Isukiri—marked by two tall wooden crosses and surrounded by a white picket fence. Nearby is the Kirisuto no Sato Denshokan (Museum of the Village of Christ Legend).
Not far from the grave of Christ—on top of a hill just off the road from Shingo to Lake Towada—there is a mysterious circle of megalithic stones. The O-Ishigami Pyramid circle marks a site that was probably used for sun worship thousands of years ago.
Despite the religious symbolism of these two unusual monuments—the grave of Christ and the pyramid—the local people have no qualms about vigorously capitalizing on them. Local gift shops offer the secular sightseer a host of souvenirs like dolls, cups, coasters, chopsticks, thermometers, and telephone cards as well as the local equivalent of the Biblical wine: Kirisuto no Sato sake.
Is it true that Shingo hosts the grave of Christ? Who cares? It’s a great story, and it is not likely to lead to a rewriting of the Bible! Besides, if Jesus did really turn water into wine, what would have stopped him hiking to Japan?
© Charles R. Pringle 2007
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