“There are a variety of arguments about the Tomb of Christ in Shingo, but our institute sees it as a legend … and a precious tourism resource in a village that is aging and being depopulated,” Kazutsura Hareyama, office manager of the Research Institute of Hachinohe University and Hachinohe Junior College, told ENInews in an e-mail interview.
The “Christmas tour for efforts to find a marriage partner” is aimed at single people ages 25 to 45, according to the organizers, the institute and an organization called the Hunters for the Legendary Buried Treasures in the village of Shingo in Aomori Prefecture, the northernmost state on the main island of Honshu.
The tour program includes a Shinto ritual by a priest of the local Mitake Shinto Shrine at the “tomb,” praying for successful matchmaking. Participants will also attach “keys of love” and strips of paper containing wishes on a Christmas tree.
The tour also includes trout fishing, punning on the words “Christmas” and “masu,” Japanese for “trout,” as well as making lunch and Christmas wreaths.
A local legend goes that Jesus secretly came to Japan and lived in the village to die there at the age of 106. The legend is based on an old Japanese document known as the Takenouchi Document. Kiyomaro Takenouchi, then-Japanese priest of Koso Kotai Jingu shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, came to the village to explain the document and in 1935 “discovered” the “tomb,” which became the root of the legend.
The village holds an annual festival in June for local women to dance around the “tomb.”
The “tomb” is being used to boost tourism, as the Hunters for the Legendary Buried Treasures is aimed at finding tourism resources. The village has a museum that explains the legend, but there is no Christian church there.
“Hachinohe University and Hachinohe Junior College have Catholicism as the spirit of their foundation, and at the same time, they are making various efforts at local revitalisation as community-based institutions of higher education,” Hareyama added.
As of Nov. 1, the village population was 2,979, according to the village government. About 37 per cent of the residents are at least 65 years old, and 22 percent are 75 or older, according to the Aomori Prefectural government.