I have seen a fair bit of Japan and Asia during the two tours that I have lived on Okinawa, and I will leave here in July with the full realization that I did not see everything that this beautiful country and region of the world has to offer. Today, quite accidentally, I learned about a little known tourist site in northern Japan of which I was completely unfamiliar - and, if the site happens to be legitimate, it could have an astounding impact on the religious beliefs of over 2 billion people.
Two graves are located in a very idyllic spot in extreme northern Japan near the village of Shingo in the Aomori Prefecture. It is an area famed for growing apples. The graves are reportedly the last resting places of Jesus Christ of Judea and his brother, Isukiri. Christ, it seems (according to local legend) first came to Japan when he was about twenty-one and lived west of Tokyo for several years. When he was thirty-three he returned to Judea where he taught, stirred up trouble, and was supposed to have been crucified.
But the Japanese take on the crucifixion is that the brother, Isukiri, took the place of Jesus on the cross, and after his death Jesus took some of Isukiri's remains and lit out for Japan where he eventually settled near Shingo, married, had children, and lived to the ripe old age of one-hundred-and-six.
The purported graves of Jesus and Isukiri are in a beautiful shady grove. Evidence related to Christ's presence in Japan was reportedly uncovered by a Shinto priest in 1935 and is housed in a museum adjacent to the burial sites. The entire site is maintained by people who follow Shinto beliefs.
There are a couple of local idiosyncrasies which back up this story. First, Shingo's original name was "Herai" which is very close to the Japanese word for Hebrew: "Heburai." And secondly, there is a local traditional song that has no Japanese words but does have words that are similar in sound to Hebrew.
The following is on a signpost near the graves:
"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 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."
The legend says that after leaving Jerusalem, Christ traveled to Siberia, Alaska, and finally to the Japanese port city of Hachinohe before making his way inland to the area around present-day Shingo.
To me, this story is given some credibility by the fact that Shinto priests and some of their followers care for the graves as they would any holy site, and nobody has tried to take this story and make a religion out of it. It is basically huckster-free. The people around Shingo took a simple tale, one that came down to them through the mists of time, and preserved it. It sounds to me like it was handled in a way that Jesus would have appreciated.