For being a country so heavily steeped in traditional culture, Japan sure does love to fiddle with an amalgamation of spiritual folklore. Just listen to the bizarre conglomerate of beliefs practiced in one particular “town of mystery” in Aomori Prefecture of the Tohoku Region.Shingou Town claims to be the true burial site of Jesus Christ, and if that’s not crazy enough, just wait until you hear about their connection to Dracula and the pyramids!
Shingou Town lies to the east of Towada Lake, near the border of Akita Prefecture. But in spite of being situated in the northeastern corner of Japan’s main island, the town claims to have the answers to many great mysteries of the Hebrew world, including the grave of Christ.
According to local legend, the man crucified at Calvary was not Jesus, but was actually Jesus’ younger brother. Whether they believe that this brother rose from the dead and saved Christians from an eternity in hell isn’t very clear, but what they are quite certain of is that the true Son of God avoided execution and secretly moved to Japan, where he had a long and happy life and eventually died of old age. There is a large cross upon a mound of earth, marking where he lay. Never mind that this story was drawn up by some religious leader in 1935 and that the Encyclopedia identifies this mound as a burial place for Edo period peasants. The town has its own museum dedicated to this story, so they must have verified their sources.
If this misplaced patch of holy ground sounds interesting to you, you may wish to check out Shingou Town’s annual Christ Festival, held on the first Sunday of June each year. Festivities taking place at the grave site include a ritualized prayer by a Shinto priest, the offering of a sacred tree branch, and a performance of the Nanyadoyara, the area’s traditional line dance. Apparently, the absurdity of it is something that should really be experienced at least once. In 2004, Japan’s resident Israeli ambassador made an appearance at the Christ Festival and gifted the town with the Jerusalem Stone, a piece of white limestone from the city’s outer wall.
▼ Townspeople dancing around the purported grave of Christ.
The legends of Shingou Town run far deeper than the grave of Christ. They also have their own Great Holy Pyramid, composed of the mighty sun stone, star stone, direction stone, and mirror stone. It wouldn’t surprise us if the Jerusalem Stone now sits among them. Imagine the surrealism that drivers must face when passing through the area.
▼ Go straight for Christ’s grave or turn left to see the pyramid.
It makes sense that a town riddled with so many folktales would gladly add Dracula to the mix. Perhaps the cross atop Christs’s grave inspired the introduction of vampires to the town’s call to fame. Though less a point of worship in this instance, Shingou Town has a local brand of ice cream called “Dracula the Premium,” which contains bits of garlic.
Aomori Prefecture is the nation’s top producer of garlic, and Shingou Town in particular prides itself on harvesting 400 tons of the stinky cloves each year. We’re not certain why they thought it’d be a good crop to mix in with their dairy products, but whatever floats your boat… Initially, manufacturers called their unholy mash-up “Garlic Ice Cream,” simple and straightforward. It sold relatively well on the pure strangeness factor, but as time went on, the sales numbers turned south, and a new marketing ploy was deemed necessary.
If there are two things that Dracula hates (aside from silver bullets, wooden stakes, wild roses, holy water, and a slew of other things) they are garlic and crucifixes, and if there are two things that the town of Shingou is known for they are garlic and “Christ’s grave,” with its large cross marker. These images juxtaposed to inspire a brand image, and thus the garlic ice cream got a makeover: jet black packaging with the name “Dracula the Premium,” a cross, and garlic gilded onto the front. Apparently, sales have picked up since the change, with cartons going for sale at highway rest stops and shopping malls across the prefecture.
▼ It’s better to avoid leaving Dracula ice cream beneath direct sunlight for extended periods. It best survives in the darkness of one’s freezer.
Although garlic is usually thought of as a very strong flavor, when used in powder form, like in Shingou Town’s ice cream, it’s not so overpowering. Every cup of ice cream contains half a bulb of garlic, and yet they still manage to market a variety of different flavors, such as peppermint, fruit, and good, old-fashioned vanilla. The inclusion of garlic is less for flavor and more for the amount of nutrients it contains. They say that a cup of garlic ice cream a day will keep both the vampires and the doctors away! That is, assuming you can keep it down. Maybe pray for protection at Christ’s gravesite before introducing Dracula ice cream into your home.
▼ An unhindered view of what Shingou Town calls Christ’s true grave site.
▼ This museum contains testimonies of Jesus’ life in Japan.