You have been warned...do not take this as gospel!
With Christmas fast approaching (just 10 days away!), we bet you're all feeling pretty confident that you know one or two things about the story of Jesus Christ. Whilst Christians across the world are getting ready to celebrate the birth of the blessed child born of the Virgin Mary, few of them are aware that he actually grew up to be a farmer...in Japan?!
Call it folklore, call it fakelore; this is the belief of the tiny mountain village of Shingo-mura in the northern prefecture of Aomori, Japan.
Shingo-mura (made up of two smaller towns, Nozawa and Herai) is home to a modest population of less than 3000 residents (ironically only one of whom claims to be Christian), many a rice and garlic farm, and zero churches.
Driving into the town along a winding road through typical Northern-Japanese countryside, we were confronted with these two rather perplexing road signs:
(Drive straight for the Pyramid, turn right for the Tomb of Christ)
Leaving the mysterious 'Pyramid' for another day, we turned right and took a brief walk up the hill. Here we were greeted by a small clearing in the forest and this enlightening sign:
When Jesus Christ was 21 years old, he came to Japan and pursued knowledge of divinity for 12 years. He went back to Judea at age 33 and engaged in his mission. However, at that time, people in Judea would not accept Christ’s preaching. Instead, they arrested him and tried to crucify him on a cross. His younger brother, Isukiri casually took Christ’s place and ended his life on the cross.
Christ, who escaped the crucifixion, went through the ups and downs of travel, and again came to Japan. He settled right here in what is now called Herai [Shingō] Village, and died at the age of 106.
On this holy ground, there is dedicated a burial mound on the right to deify Christ, and a grave on the left to deify Isukiri.
The above description was given in a testament by Jesus Christ.
As if to account for the 12 year 'gap' in Jesus' life left uncovered by the New Testament, it appears that Jesus - not unlike many young people today - decided to take a gap-year (or gap-decade) to go and find himself in the land of the rising sun.
During this time he is said to have studied theology under the direction of a great master near Mt. Fuji. He spent his days immersing himself in the local language and culture, before returning to Judea at the age of 33.
Once home from his travels, he ran into trouble with the Roman authorities for his preachings and claims to be the Son of man, ultimately being sentenced to death by crucifixtion. Clearly Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all missed the memo, as it seems Jesus in fact managed to escape crucifixtion thanks to the 'casual' self-sacrifice of his younger brother, Isukiri.
He then fled across snowy Siberia carrying two relics of his beloved family - the ear of his brother and a lock of his mother Mary's hair - before sailing to Hachinohe on the east-coast of northern Japan and eventually making his way across the rugged countryside to Shingo-mura.
Here it is said he took up a new identity as 'Daitenku Taro Jurai', became a farmer, married local girl Miyuko and raised three children before dying of old-age at 106.
Behold, the final resting place of Jesus Christ...apparently! The ear of his brother Isukiri and lock of his mother Mary's hair are buried in an adjacent, identical burial mound.
A simple enscription on the grave reads 'ありがとうございます' (Thank you).
Believers leave behind tokens of worship in a plastic basket.
A stone from the outer-wall of Jerusalem gifted to the village by the Ambassador of Israel to Japan, Eli Cohen, in 2004 as a sign of friendship and goodwill (presumably not as a sign of endorsement of the tale).
So what is the evidence for this outlandish tale, you ask?
The claims of Jesus the garlic farmer are said to have begun in the 1930s after the discovery of ancient texts (known as the 'Takenouchi Documents') supposedly a testament from Jesus Christ himself outlining his experiences and activities during the course of his life in Japan (amongst other equally ridiculous teachings). In a somewhat convenient chain of events, it is said that these documents were seized by the Japanese government and destroyed during World War Two, never to be seen again.
Aside from such 'concrete' evidence, there are a few other mysterious cultural and historical features of the village that are somewhat uncharacteristic of your average Japanese mountain hamlet.
Within the local dialect, the words for mother ('Aga' or 'Gaga') and father ('Aya' or 'Dada') are considered closer to the Hebrew words 'Ima' and 'Abba' than to the standard Japanese words. The name of the town where Jesus is said to have lived is known as 'Herai', a word very similar to the Japanese 'Heburai' meaning 'Hebrew'.
Furthermore, in the town's ancient history there is said to have been Holy Land-esque customs of blessing new-born children before their first outing by marking a charcoal cross on their forehead, wrapping them in swaddle embroided with a symbol not unlike the Star of David and carrying them in woven baskets. Clothes worn by men and women were said to have resembled traditional robes and veils of the Middle-East.
Slightly more vague and general observations suggest that residents with brighter eye-colour and prominent facial features point to the existence of non-Japanese heritage...
If this isn't enough to convince you, then perhaps you can pop-in to the 'Legend of Jesus Christ Museum', located in Shingo-mura just a stone's throw away from Christ's grave itself. Open from 9am - 5pm Tuesday-Thursday (closed on Wednesdays) you can enter for the reasonable price of just 200 yen and perouse artifacts from Jesus' life in Japan, as well as an English translation of the infamous Takenouchi Documents.
The 'Kirisuto no Sato Denshokan' (Legend of Jesus Christ Museum).
Entry to the museum is just 200 yen for adults, or 100 yen for children.
You can even take a family picture with Jesus while you're there!
Once you're done exploring the museum, don't forget to swing by the 'Kiristop' (not to be confused with popular convenience-store chain 'Ministop') for some souvenirs and a chat with some locals/decendents of Christ.
Why 'Ministop' when you can 'Kiristop'?
If you do feel like taking the journey in search of Japanese Jesus, we recommend that you wait until the summer sun arrives. Not only is the area difficult to access in the deep snow of winter, a rather special event awaits you on the first Sunday of June which will make your pilgrimage worth the wait. Every year since 1964, a 'Christ Festival' is held around the grave of Christ and his Japanese in-laws. Kimono-clad women dance a traditional Bon-dance around the grave, singing a hymn in a mystery language.
Obviously, the event is overseen by a Shinto priest.
For more of Tohoku's unique travel destinations, visit the Go!Go!Tohoku!! facebook page.
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hachinohe (a little under 3 hours).
You can also fly from Tokyo to Misawa or Aomori airports, and train from there to Hachinohe Station.
(From Hachinohe City):
The Tomb of Christ is located in Shingo-mura along the national route 454, about a 45 minute drive from Hachinohe City.
Public Transport Access: It is accessible by the 'Nanbu' bus (南部バス) service from Hachinohe station (八戸駅) to Gonohe (五戸) which takes about 40 mins. At Gonohe, change buses to another Nanbu bus service headed for Hainai (羽井内) and ride for 30 mins to 'Kirisuto-koen' (Christ Park) station.
Due to the infrequency of bus connections it is highly recommended to access the area by rental car or taxi.
The easiest way to search for the location is to follow directions to the nearby 'Legend of Christ Museum' (キリストの里: 伝承館）:
Phone: 0178-78-3741 (Legend of Christ Museum) or 0178-78-2345 (Shingo Tourism Association)
Opening hours: 09am - 5pm, Tuesday to Thursday (Closed Wednesdays and during winter period).