Jesus-in-Japan

Vulture of Light (trainor@CS.UCLA.EDU)
Fri, 24 Jun 88 15:06:23 PDT

Legend Says He Escaped From Romans, Fathered 3 Children
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VILLAGERS ASSERT CHRIST DIED IN JAPAN

By Janet Snyder, Reuters

SHINGO VILLLAGE, Japan--Jesus Christ's direct descendant is a garlic
farmer living in northeast Japan, or so residents in this isolated
village say.

According to local legend, Jesus escaped here after the Romans tried to
crucify him and died a peaceful death at the age of 106 after having
fathered three daughters by a Japanese woman.

Whatever one makes of the legend, there must remain fascinating bits of
mystery in a Shingo village.

For centuries, villagers practiced customs unknown to the rest of Japan.
Newborn babies wore swaddling clothes embroidered with a Star of David.
Up to about 10 years ago, newborns had a cross painted in black ink on
their foreheads.

Villagers use words that other people don't understand--their words for
father and mother are apa and aya, which they say come from the language
Jesus spoke.

Village councilman Tomekichi Shimotochidana and at least half of the
hamlet of 4,300 people firmly believe that Jesus lived and died here.

But not a single one of them is Christian, not even his supposed
descendant, Toyoji Sawaguchi, whose farm contains a mound topped with a
tall wooden cross, said to be Christ's tomb.

The Jesus-in-Japan legend surfaced only in 1935, when a family to the
south discovered among their archives a set of ancient scrolls
designating Shingo as Christ's last resting place.

The scrolls exist today only in transcription because the originals were
destroyed during World War II, Shimotochidana said. He is the only
known person alive to have seen the originals, village officials said.

The copy, now housed in Shingo's village office, says in archaic
Japanese, ``Jesus married a japanese woman named Yumiko, and had three
daughters by her.''

It further says Jesus made two trips to Japan. The first time, he
arrived at age 21 to study theology and live an ascetic life near Mt.
Fuji in central Japan.

He returned to Palestine 10 years later, where he suffered religious
persecution. Threatened with crucifixion, Jesus escaped, but his
brother Iskiri was executed in his place, the legend goes.

The brother's ear and some of his hair, retrieved after the crucifixion
by some unexplained means, are buried next to the mortal remains of this
brother in Shingo, said Shimotochidana.

After a hard journey through Siberia, Jesus boarded a ship in Alaska and
made his way back to Japan.

``He landed in Hachinohe [the nearest port] and traveled overland to
Shingo, where he remained the rest of his life,'' said Shimotochidana.

The Japanese Jesus legend diverges widely from Scripture in another
respect--Christ is not known to have performed any miracles while in
Shingo.

``But he did a lot of good deeds,'' Shimotochidana said.

One local legend says that Jesus saved the villagers from starvation by
traveling a great distance to get them food.

One day in 1935, Japanese scholars arrived in Shingo to tell Sawaguchi
he was the direct descendant of Jesus and Yumiko.

The 67-year-old Sawaguchi, who grows garlic and rice, is skeptical of
the whole thing. He would prefer to discuss liberalization of farm
imports rather than his venerable reputed ancestor.

``I'm not a Christian, and I have my doubts about being Jesus'
descendant,'' he said. ``Somehow I just can't picture Jesus, a great
man, as my ancestor.''