Shingo and the Tomb of Christ

The two crosses for Jesus and his brother, at Shingo's Tomb of Christ

There is a place in northern Japan called Shingo, in Aomori Prefecture, where a local story holds that it has the real Tomb of Christ. No, that’s not clickbait, but I wanted to get that in the first paragraph.

I heard about this place several years ago, and chalked it up to a bit of almost P.T. Barnum level marketing as a bit of a laugh, and it sort of is, but having visited the place, it also sort of isn’t.

The Story

Let me explain. Shingo is a small village in the northern prefecture of Aomori, which is itself very rural and more famous for its apples.

It seems that in the 1930s, some documents were found known as the Takenouchi documents though sadly since lost and only copies of which exist today. These documents are said to be based on ancient texts which amongst other things tell the story of how Jesus came to Japan in his youth. This is why he sort of disappears from the Bible for several years as he was travelling across Asia, finally arriving and settling in Japan. In the following decade or so, he was learning everything he needed from the Japanese for when he would return to the Middle East in his late twenties and become a teacher and healer.

According to these documents, he returned to the Middle East with his brother Isukiri to continue his teachings. It was then his brother was arrested and crucified by the Romans, leaving Jesus to return to Japan, and settle in Shingo for the rest of his life. During this time, he was said to have married and had several children before he died at the age of 106. Locals have claimed a genetic heritage ever since the documents were brought to light, with one local land owner in the 1930s claiming his son’s larger size, strength and more Caucasian features were due to this.

There’s a few places treat these Takenouchi documents akin to other contested religious texts as apocryphal and perhaps hints at other truths. Others dismiss them outright as just flights of fancy.

One of the two crosses for Jesus and his brother, at Shingo's Tomb of Christ
One of the two crosses for Jesus and his brother, at Shingo’s Tomb of Christ

The Tomb of Christ, Shingo

The place itself is interesting in its own right. It’s signposted from a few kilometers away, and has an official blue sign as well as it’s own signs, and a couple of small carparks for visitors. There also seems to be a small hut near the road, but that wasn’t open the day we visited. The carpark does have a basketball hoop and a sign which advertises the annual festival run most Julys.

From the car park it’s a short walk up a wooded incline to the main entrance of the Tomb area, which itself is at the top of some stairs with a multi-language sign explaining briefly the origins of the claim, as well as a commemorative stone apparently given to the site by the Israeli government. The main area features two mounds with large crosses in each. These are to signify the burial spots of Jesus himself, and one for the ear (a kind of reliquary) of his brother Isukiri, brought home by Jesus following Isukiri’s execution. It’s very nicely done and well kept, in sculptured grounds for sure.

A few hundred metres away is the main museum itself. This is actually split in content into some exhibits about the farming history of the area, complete with old farm implements and a mock up of a house, and the tale about this being the Tomb of Christ.

Various panels explain the link to the Takenouchi documents, as well as a copy of them in a glass case. There’s also a bit more information on how this is all true, much of which dates from around the documents in the 1930s. Again, it’s all multilingual and looks like any other small museum, with everything presented as very factual.

Does it add up?

Obviously I’m no theologian or historical scholar of Japan. I ride motorbikes and snowboard. I’m definitely not getting into a debate on the over the existence of Jesus here. In the context of Shingo though, it has to be noted the Takenouchi documents have no historical support aside from the person who collected them, and no original exists. It’s important to note these all came up in the mid 1930s when Japan was already involved in military campaigns in Asia and was signing up to some of the Nazi doctrines, and so I’d suspect a story where some Japanese could be descended from Jesus would probably get some traction if only locally. It certainly would have fit into the superiority ideas of the time. That some local son of a land owner had traits perceived as Caucasian possibly has other explanations, but who knows – that Jesus was broadly Caucasian is obviously a point of historical conjecture as it is. The other issue is that the modern Japanese had not settled this part of the island of Honshu two thousand years ago – the Yamato-jin as the early Japanese are known, likely arrived much later, so it’s unlikely Jesus and Isukiri had anything to do with the current inhabitants.

In closing

I treated the whole thing as a bit of a curiosity, an interesting local tale which seems to have taken on a life of its own. Some people think it borders on offensive, but the place itself is quite respectful of the Christian faiths, and sticks to the story they’ve put together. There isn’t any large Christian population nearby, and it seems most Christians in Japan distance themselves from the whole idea. I find it more likely some people got swept up in an odd legend then people just kept it going, never expecting anyone outside the area to care too much about it.

In closing, is it worth visiting? Yes, it is if you’re in the vicinity since there’s some beautiful scenery, good biking roads, and some other places to see in the area. Just prepare that pinch of salt to add to the Takenouchi stories.

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