Is Jesus Buried in Japan?
· 14 min. read
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Some might consider the following to be blasphemy.
We are all familiar with "The Greatest Story Ever Told", and are well aware of the deviations of the story between the four Canonical gospels of The Bible. There are further deviations in other faiths as well, with some stories changing Jesus’ means of execution all the way to the true motives of why Judas betrayed the Son of God.
A whole other article could be written about different stories of Jesus and where he went during the unknown years of his life, but one of the most bizarre, and strangely well-documented, is that of The Legend of Daitenku Taro Jurai* or the story of how Jesus ended up being buried in Japan.
To the West, World War II began in 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland. However, in the other hemisphere, war was already long underway. Japan had invaded Manchuria three years prior, and by 1937, Japan's war machine was already firing on all cylinders, and nationalism had reached its zenith. Japan was on its way to creating their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
With the country embroiled in a violent and atrocious conflict that gave the term “war crimes” a new definition, an odd book began to appear on shelves throughout the country. Titled Light Comes from the East, by Yamane Kikuko (yes, it's on Amazon), this book discusses a set of family documents in the possession of Mr. O-Maru Takenouchi called “The Isohara Papers”. Amongst these papers were small stone artifacts with millennium-old writing on them. According to Takenouchi, these artifacts were created and signed by Jesus Christ.
Japanese artist Banzan Toyo of Aomori would then translate these artifacts, and come to the conclusion that they are in relation to two burial mounds located in the northern community of Herai. According to Banzan’s translation of the ancient relics, these two mounds belonged to Jesus Christ, and the hair of his brother.
Light Comes from the East further explores the research of Takenouchi and Banzan and unravels a tale that, if true, would upheaval the most popular religion in world history.
According to the story, Jesus was born in Judea. He would then flee with his family to Egypt, but would later return to Nazareth and be raised there. When he turned 21, he would disappear for 11 years, returning at 33, and began preaching the word of God.
Light Comes from the East and The Isohara Papers go a bit deeper to explain this absence. According to them, Jesus travelled East, across Asia, to Land of the Rising Sun. He would arrive at Port of Hashidate, during the reign of the 11th Emperor, Emperor Suinin (69 BCE - 70 CE). From there, he travelled to Ecchu (now Toyama Prefecture), became a disciple, and learned Japanese. He would also undergo various training.
At age 33, he would leave Japan and arrive in Monaco (most likely a mistranslation of Morocco), and then return to Judea. The returned Christ would preach the sacredness of Japan to John the Baptist and others.
Soon his teachings would upset both the Elders of Israel and the Pharisees, and he would be arrested by Roman soldiers. He would be put on trial and sentenced to crucifixion.
However, according to Light Comes from the East, it wasn’t Jesus on the cross that day. The belief was that sometime along the way, Jesus and his brother Isukiri had switched places. Instead of Jesus being executed, it was Isukiri, and it was he who uttered the ungodlike expression “‘Oh, God, why has thou forsaken me?”
Jesus would then visit his disciples one last time, get some of Isukiri's hair, and vanish into history.
Four years later, as the Word of God began spreading throughout the Ancient World thanks to the efforts of the Apostles, Jesus would arrive at the Hachinohe harbor. According to two sources I’ve read, his route was through Siberia. However, my primary source is that of Did Christ Visit Japan? by Spencer J. Palmer, and he wrote – although it’s difficult to determine if this was their opinion, that of the translator Banzan, or the author of Light Comes from the East Yamane – that Jesus did not travel eastward following his escape from death. Instead, he travelled westward, across the Atlantic Ocean and through the New World.
To most people, this is an outrageous claim. The possibility that Jesus travelled to North America over 1,000 years before Leif Erikson did unravels everything we know about the colonization of the New World. However there is one group of people who vehemently believe in this claim, and that is followers The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These people, more commonly known as Mormons, believed that Jesus touched every corner of the planet during his time on Earth, and gifted the Indigenous people of North America with the Word of God.
Spencer J. Palmer is a believer in Mormonism, so it’s possible that he interpreted the words of Banzan or Yamane incorrectly. However, he wrote his article in 1970, with a photo attached to it with followers of the Latter Day Saints in 1959 posing with O-Maru Takenouchi, the man who first announced the discovery of the “The Isohara Papers”. The men in the photo alongside Takenauchi are LaDon Van Noy, Maseo Watabe and Darrell Longsine. They are credited for bringing this story to light following the war.
Once Jesus arrived in Japan, he would move to Herai (renamed as Shingō in 1955) and changed his name to Daitenku Taro Jurai*. He would leave carpentry behind and become a garlic farmer. Later, he would marry a woman named Miyuko, and they would have three daughters. Around the age of 106, he would pass away peacefully. He is buried in one grave, and the relics of either Isukiri or Mary (according to a 1939 Orient article) would be buried in the other.
One of Jesus’ daughters would marry into the Sawaguchi family, which remains in the community to this day. They are recognizable as they have a much paler complexion than most Japanese in the area, and have blue eyes. This is thought to be proof that the family is a direct descendant of Jesus Christ.
The story is bizarre, and could easily be dismissed as just another legend, however, there are a few more elements to the story that give it weight. First, the local museum, Nobara Pension, has a testimony of Jesus by locals, who described him as a “long-nosed goblin". The museum also mentions that the town of Shingō has traditions different from the rest of Japan, with traditional men wearing toga-like robes, women wearing veils, and babies being toted around in woven baskets. It is also said that newborns often have their foreheads marked with a charcoal cross.
Many experts have come to Shingō over the years to examine these claims, both to investigate local traditions, local dress, and the lineage that claims to be related to Jesus. The Sawaguchi does have a fairer complexion than other families, but some believe their origins are of the Ainu people, who were forced into annexation and assimilation by the Japanese people over hundreds of years. It’s also possible that Jesus spent some time in Japan in his younger days, as The Dead Sea Scrolls state he visited Asiatic countries.
It’s also possible that this belief originated during a time in Japanese history when Christianity was outlawed. Christianity first came to the island nation in 1549, but between 1603 and 1868, followers of it were repressed and persecuted. During this 250-year period, followers of Christ, known as Kakure Kirishitan, continued to practice their religion. However, because it was underground and in isolation, it began to differ more and more until the country opened up again. For example, some Shinto beliefs began to migrate into Christian beliefs, such as the moon being a symbol for humanity’s spirit, thunder being associated with Lucifer, and the Confucian concept of Tenchi being similar to their depiction of God. Therefore, it might be possible that Jesus’ resting place was then moved somewhere in Japan for followers to relate to as well.
But, what do the locals think? Yoshiteru Ogasawara, who ran Nobara Pension in 2006, said: "Somebody special lies there but I don't really believe it's the tomb of Christ. It's probably the tomb of a foreigner who settled in the village at some point. It's certainly interesting that some of the old customs in this village are said to be similar to those of ancient Judea, and it may explain why some people in the village have blue eyes. But this village has always been Buddhist and the Shinto shrine in the village is more than 1,000 years old, so I really don't think that there are any ancient links between Japanese and Jews or Christians of Jewish descent.”
In 2013, Junichiro Sawaguchi, the eldest member of the Sawaguchi, and an apparent direct descendant of Jesus, said to The Smithsonian Magazine, that while he celebrates Christmas, he remains a Buddhist. In fact, even though Jesus is apparently buried in Shingō, none of the locals identify themselves as Christian. When asked if Sawaguchi believes the story of his ancestor, he shrugged and said “I don’t know”.
Nevertheless, The Legend of Daitenku Taro Jurai is one of the more compelling alternative stories to The Greatest Story Ever Told, even if there aren’t any parts where Jesus turns water into sake.
What do you think of the story? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments below!
*According to 2013’s “The Little-Known Legend of Jesus in Japan” by Franz Lidz of Smithsonian Magazine, and 2006’s “Jesus of Japan” by Mary King of Metropolis, his name might have also been “Daitenku Taro Jurai”. However, 1970's “Did Christ Visit Japan?” by Spencer J. Palmer of BYU Studies Quarterly, says it might have also been “Torai Taro Tengu” or “Hachinohe Taro Tengu”.
The black and white images used in this article are from Did Christ Visit Japan?” by Spencer J. Palmer of BYU Studies Quarterly. The image of the roadsign with directions to the tomb of Jesus was taken by Calebincatania on Wikipedia on June 1, 2019. The image of Jesus' tomb was taken by ウィキ太郎(Wiki Taro) on August 11, 2018.
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Categories: Asia, History, Japan