Shingo, Japan: Where Jesus Spent His Old Age
"Nanyadoyara! Nanyaonasareno! Nanyadoyara!" the elderly women chant, clapping and spinning in careful circles in their white kimonos with orange sashes. They are performing a bon odori ritual summer festival dance in the farming village of Shingo, northeast of Tokyo. The scene is typical of similar pastoral celebrations throughout the Japanese countryside, as the geriatric audience on the town green pay more attention to the free-flowing sake and the glad-handing candidates trawling for votes in next month's legislative elections. But it's their chant that marks the Shingo dance as unusual.
"Nanyadoyara! Nanyaonasareno! Nanyadoyara!"— there's no translation, because even in Japanese, the words are gibberish. But, if local legend is to be believed, they express a secret that would rock Christianity to its foundations. The locals believe that Jesus wasn't crucified on Golgotha, but instead came to live in Shingo, where his remains are buried. I visited his "tomb," marked by a road sign that says "Tomb of Christ: Next Left."
The legend has it that Jesus — or as they call him in Shingo, Daitenku Taro Jurai — came to Japan at the age of 21, during the lost years when he was supposedly carpentering in Nazareth. Like many an eager gaijin student, Jesus became entranced with his adopted land's noble culture, learning the Japanese language and Shinto religion at the feet of a sage. At age 33, he went back home, where he preached about his experiences in Japan, which so annoyed the local authorities that he was promptly sentenced to death. From there, the story gets really weird. Instead of Christ being crucified, somehow his younger brother Isukiri ends up dying on the cross, while Jesus fled to Japan via Vladivostok and Alaska. (Such details as how Jesus had a younger brother and how the Romans got the wrong guy are not addressed in the legend.) Eventually he came to this tiny village, where he took up rice farming, married a local girl named Miyuko and produced three daughters before dying peacefully at the age of 106. In Shingo, Jesus kept a low profile — he didn't multiply any loaves or fish, although when the villagers were dying of starvation he did travel far to find them food.
You can read the story yourself, in Christ's last will and testament — which was supposedly discovered in nearby Ibaraki Prefecture in 1935. A copy of the will is on display at the Village of Christ Legend Museum, just a few steps away from the tomb itself. The final resting place of the Son of God might strike many as a bit of a letdown, just a humble mound of earth topped by a large wooden cross of suspiciously recent vintage, facing Isukiri's identical grave. (In addition to a lock of Mary's hair, Jesus supposedly brought his brother's severed ear back to Japan.)
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