SHINGO, Aomori Prefecture—Villagers here have long believed that Jesus was not crucified on the cross, but actually fled to Japan, married a local woman, raised three children and lived until the ripe old age of 106.
They even will direct tourists they hope come in droves to the grave where they believe he is buried. In June, villagers will hold an annual memorial service in front of the "Tomb of Christ," marking the 50th year of the festival, complete with a traditional dance.
“The legend is a romantic one, regardless of whether it is true or not,” Shingo Mayor Yoshimi Suto said with a smile.
The agricultural village, with a population of slightly less than 3,000, is located in a mountainous area in the southern part of the prefecture. Two tumuli burial mounds are on a hill along a national road that runs through the village. An old wooden cross stands on each of the tumuli.
One of the tumuli is called the “Tomb of Christ.” The other is the “Tomb of Isukiri,” who, the legend says, was Jesus' younger brother and was crucified on the cross in his place.
In 1935, Kiyomaro Takeuchi, a religious man, visited the village and “discovered” that one of the tumuli is the tomb of Jesus. Indirect evidence also added to his discovery. One was that the village’s name in those days, Herai, was derived from Hebrew. Another was the local custom of drawing a cross on children’s foreheads in ink.
According to local legend, Jesus escaped crucifixion and found sanctuary in Shingo, where he married a local village woman, raised three children and died at 106.
The memorial service, named, “Christ festival,” which started in 1964, has been held in the manner of Japan’s traditional religion Shinto. The chief priest of a shrine, with a long and distinguished history in the village, delivers a congratulatory message to the festival. Around the tombs, local people perform the traditional dance “Nanyadoyara,” which is usually performed for the mid-summer Bon season. In 2012, the festival drew about 500 visitors from throughout the country.
The village constructed a museum near the tumuli and named the area “Christ no Sato Koen” (Christ’s hometown park). The village now calls itself the “Shinpi no Sato” (hometown of mystery).
“Many of the local residents do not completely believe the legend. But the legend has been passed down for a long time. Because of that, it has become not only part of the village’s strategy to attract tourists but also the identity of the village,” said Ryosuke Okamoto, a part-time lecturer of sociology of religion at the University of Sacred Heart in Tokyo, who conducted on-site research into the village.
“The village’s strategy can be said to be a precursor of the contemporary ‘pilgrimage to a holy place,’ which is used by many local governments to attract tourists to areas in their municipalities, which have become the settings of anime,” he added.
- « Prev
- Next »