Ben Hills, Herald Correspondent

Shingo, Japan, Tuesday: Jesus Christ did not die – at least not on the Cross, not at Calvary and not in AD 33.

He escaped to Japan, where he raised a family, lived to the ripe old age of 106 and was buried under a maple tree on a hill not far from here.

In the valley below live his descendants, particularly Mr Toyoji Sawaguchi, 73, a farmer directly descended from Jesus, who grows rice, maize and long potatoes in Japan’s Holy Land.

The extraordinary legend of the Japanese Jesus brings thousands of pilgrims every year to this little town in northern Japan to worship at two mounds topped with timber crosses where Jesus and his brother are believed to be buried.

“Of course, it is true,” a local councillor, Mr Tomekichi Shimotochidana, said, unrolling a seven-metre scroll of tattered parchment on a table in the local village hall. “This is the evidence.”

The scroll is a copy of a translation of a document discovered in the early 1930s in the library of a Shinto shrine. The original, said to have been written on deerskin, was lost in the war.

It purports to be Jesus’ own testament, describing how he cheated the Roman executioners by substituting his brother, Iskiri, to be crucified. Jesus escaped and, after many adventures, arrived in Japan via Siberia and Alaska.

He made his way to Shingo and settled down with a local woman named Yumiko, who bore him three daughters. He also recruited two previously unrecorded disciples – presumably Saints Kanegasa and Ohira – according to the manuscript.

Although he did not proselytise and is not known to have performed any miracles during his Shingo years, Jesus did travel around the countryside performing good deeds and helping the sick. He had a long beard, a pale face and his Japanese name was Hachinohe Taro Daitengu – the last name means “Great Red-Nosed Goblin”.

Over the centuries, his grave became overgrown – as did the nearby mound where an ear and some hair of his brother were interred after being smuggled back from Palestine.

“We lost the graves but there was always this local story that someone important was buried up in the hills,” Mr Sawaguchi said.

The graves were rediscovered in the 1930s after a Shinto scholar deciphered the scrolls and pinpointed Shingo as the place where Jesus had lived. Then, Mr Sawaguchi said, the locals began putting two and two together. For instance, the local dialect contains some words that no other Japanese can understand – father and mother are apa and aya, believed to be derived from the ancient Aramaic that was the language of Jesus, as are some of the local folksongs.

Many years ago, the farmers of Shingo wore unique clothes, said to resemble the toga-like robes of Biblical Palestine; their wives wore veils, otherwise unknown in Japan.

As well, there was, until recent times, a custom of marking a newborn baby’s forehead with a black-ink cross, of swaddling it in clothes on which a Star of David was embroidered and putting it in a wickerwork cradle which resembled a children’s Bible illustration of Moses in the bullrushes.

Such artefacts are on display in the local museum.

Mr Sawaguchi displays his own family crest, carved centuries ago into wooden shutters and doors, which he said also resembled the Star of David. He is sitting cross-legged on a tatami mat in his farmhouse, with persimmons piled in front of a small Buddhist alter on the wall.

Like most folk hereabouts, Mr Sawaguchi is a Buddhist. There is not a Christian in the village, and the nearest church is 50 kilometres away – if Christ did leave a Christian tradition at Shingo, his followers would have been massacred during the Medieval purges of the Tokugawa Shoguns, according to believers in the legend.

Mr Shimotochidana and the local tourism promotion council – who erected the crosses and maintain fresh flowers on the graves – swear the story is true. It brings hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars to the town every year.

Roadside signs outside Shingo greet visitors to “Christ’s Home Village” and point the way to the graves. Every May, there is a Christ Festival with singing, dancing, food stalls and a Shinto priest consecrating Christ’s grave with salt and sake.

Across the road, a local shop does a thriving trade in Christian rice crackers, black molasses lollies and a brand of sake named after Jesus.

Publishing Info

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Pub date: Wednesday 26 July 1995
Edition: Late
Section: News And Features
Sub section:
Page: 14
Word count: 630