The Japan Times has recently run a couple of interesting articles on a tourist attraction in Japan, in quiet town far north in Aomori Prefecture. The tourist attraction is the supposed tomb of Jesus, or as the locals call it (and the road-signs): kirisuto no haka (キリストの墓).
The first article linked above does a nice job explaining the origin of this local myth, which comes from an apocryphal set of papers, supposedly handed down through a certain Shinto-priest family for 1,500 years, and a modern researcher of dubious claims supposedly transcribed them for the wider public. It was the Takenouchi family who claimed the two mounds belonged to those of Jesus and his brother, named Isukiri (not mentioned in the Bible).
However there’s more to the story. The article also mentions some unusual traditions in the town:
For instance, there was a tradition of mothers marking the foreheads of their babies with a cross drawn in charcoal the first time they went outside. Babies were also kept in round woven baskets like those in the Holy Land. Odd words were used, and some villagers were said to look foreign.
It’s possible that at some point in the village may have been visited by missionaries, either from Russia or Europe who settled there and married with the locals. The grave itself may belong to some of these past foreign settlers. As Wikipedia shows, Russians have settled in Hokkaido and northern Japan as far back as 1861, and setup churches there. However, according to Wikipedia, painting a charcoal cross on children’s foreheads is not a part of the Orthodox rites. It may exist as a cultural tradition, though. I am not sure.
Additionally in the second article linked above, it mentions a tradition Obon dance to placate the spirit of Jesus (in true Shinto fashion), but it mentions the song has words that no one understands anymore. Could these also come from foreign settlers, or from the indigenous Ainu/Ebisu? Aomori Prefecture in general is famous for it’s almost unintelligible dialects, but these dialects are still widely understood and spoken by locals. So the song has some other origin, now lost.
It’s all a big mystery. The tourist attraction may be of dubious origin, but on the other hand, it’s origin is an interesting mystery too.