Continued from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

Israelites Came To Ancient Japan

Chapter 3
Did the Lost Tribes of Israel Come To Ancient Japan?


(The information of this Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 is mainly from what I learned from Rabbi Marvin Tokayer's book published in Japan, plus my study.)

The Land of Far End

There is a book called the Forth Book of Ezra, which was written in the end of the first century C.E.. Although this is not the Bible but just one of the ancient Hebrew documents, an interesting thing is written:
"They are the Ten Tribes which were off into exile in the time of King Hosea, whom Shalmaneser king of Assyria took prisoner. He deported them beyond the River and they were taken away into a strange country. But then they resolved to leave the country populated by Gentiles and go to a distant land never yet inhabited by man, and there at last to be obedient to their laws, which in their own country they had failed to keep. As they passed through the narrow passages of the Euphrates, the Most High performed miracles for them, stopping up the channels of the river until they had crossed over. Their journey through that region, which is called ARZARETH, was long, and took a year and a half. They have lived there ever since, until this final age. Now they are on their way back, and once more the Most High will stop the channels of the river to let them cross." (13:39-47)
This article was mentioned in the form of a vision and we cannot immediately think that this is a historical fact. But it is possible to think that there was some fact which became the background for this article. There might be the news or oral tradition that the Ten Tribe of Israel started their journey to the east and settled to a land of a year and a half distance away.
Where is ARZARETH which the Ten Tribes are said to have gone to? We cannot find the same name in the world by looking at the map.
Dr. Schiller Szinessy suggests that this is nothing else but the Hebrew words "eretz ahereth" (ARZ AHRTh) which means the other land. Otherwise, if we interpret this as the Hebrew words "eretz aherith" (ARZ AHRITh), they mean the end of land, or most far away land. Not a few people thought that Japan might be the land.

Japan Which Kaempfer Saw

Engelbert Kaempfer was a German medical doctor who stayed at Dejima, Nagasaki Japan during 1690-1693 C.E.. He came to Japan after he traveled and saw various countries of the world. He was an erudite man and published a book about Japan after he went back to Europe.
In the book Kaempher states that the Japanese language, customs and religion are much different from the ones of the Chinese or the Koreans, and that the main race of the Japanese are not derived from the Chinese or Koreans but rather a tribe from the area of Babylon came to Japan and became the main race of the Japanese. He wrote:
"The Japanese must be of a tribe who emigrated directly from the area of Babylon."
The area of Babylon is the Middle East where there was the Assyrian Empire which the Ten Tribes of Israel were exiled to. Kaempher also states:
"The appearance of the Japanese is so different according to regions in Japan that we can clearly distinguish. This proves that the Japanese are formed through the process that several tribes were added to a basic nation. The most noble, old lineage family and "daimyo", feudal lords, and high officials are generally intelligent, elegant in appearance than others, full of dignity, having higher nose and somewhat look European. The people in the region of Satsuma, Oosumi, and Hyuga are middle in the height, but strong and manly in language and ability...."
And he states that there are differences in appearance and nature according to the peoples of various parts of Japan. He also states:
"As for the roots of the Japanese and their origin, it seems that we should admit the Japanese are independent from others and did not derived from the Chinese."

Rabbi Tokayer's Experience

Rabbi Marvin Tokayer tells a story about what he saw in Japan. He lived in Tokyo, and on the first Sunday in Japan he visited Meiji-jingu, a grand shrine of Shinto which is the religion unique to Japan. There he saw a Shinto priest wearing a white robe, putting a unique cap, and on the corners of his robe were fringes which were cords of 20 - 30 centimeters long.
The Shinto priest was waving a branch of Sakaki tree to right and to left and upward and downward. He was purifying a baby of one month old who was brought to him by the parents but never carried by the mother. When seeing this scene, he says he thought:
"Did I come to my home land?"
Because all of these he saw were the customs of ancient Israel. The way of waving the branch by the Shinto priest resembled Jewish custom. And in ancient days of Israel, the mother was considered impure, after birth, and would not carry the baby for the ceremony in the temple. Today, Jews no longer observe this ritual, but how fascinated he was to see everyone except the mother holding the baby. He said, "Cute." to the family and asked why the mother was not carrying the baby, and his wife and he were stunned into silence, when told that the mother was still impure, just as the Bible.
He asked a Shinto priest, "Why do you put on fringes on your robe?" The priest answered, "This is just a tradition from ancient times." But this is originally the custom of Israel. There is a description about the fringes in the Bible (Deuteronomy 22:12).
Fringes were actually a trademark that he was an Israelite. Today, Jews wear prayer shawl called Tallit which is a large white cloth with fringes (called Tzitzit) on the corners. These are the same as the ones of the Japanese Shinto priest.

The Three Holy Objects in Israel and Japan

Like the ancient Israelites had three holy objects, the Japanese have three holy objects, which are a mirror (called Yata-no-kagami), a bead (Yasaka-no-magatama), and a sword (Kusanagi-no-tsurugi). These have been believed very holy as the tokens of authority of the emperors and as the holy Yorishiro since very ancient times. Today these three are kept separately in different places.
There are several differences between the holy objects of ancient Israel and the ones of Japan, but are common in having three things and thinking them holy. Though in fact the three holy objects of Israel were lost in the time of Babylonian Empire, so it was impossible to have the same objects in Japan.
An orthodox Shinto believer, a Japanese scholar and a professor of Kyushu Imperial University, Dr. Chikao Fujisawa, believed that the three holy objects of Japan originated from the three holy objects of ancient Israel. And there are not a few Shinto scholars who think the same. Some suggest a parallelism between the mirror and the tablets, the bead and the manna, the sword and the rod.
Some point out that mirrors were also used in the temple of King Solomon (1 Kings 7:28). Others point out that the shape of the Japanese bead is the same as a Hebrew letter yod which is also the first letter of the holy name Yahweh.

Offerings

To Shinto shrine people bring rice, Mochi (Japanese Matzah), Japanese liquor (Sake), cereals, vegetables, fruits, confectioneries, salt, water, fish (sea bream, etc.), and bird (pheasant meat, etc.) as their offerings to god and place them in the Holy Place of the Shrine. These must be the best ones, and the fire for cooking them must be a holy one lit by flint or heat of rubbing.
The offerings are displayed beautifully on a table of wood and the priest prays to god in front of it. After the ceremony the priest and participants are to eat the offerings. In that, modern Shintoists find significance that man eats with god or dines with god.
In the Holy Place of the Israeli tabernacle or temple, there was also a table of wood on which the bread made of cereals of the land, liquor (wine), and incense were offered (Exodus 25:29-30). These offerings to God had to be the best ones. The priest prayed to God and after the ceremony the offerings, which had been offered to God, were eaten by the priest and his family (Numbers 18:11). And in the Bible there is an article that Moses and the leaders of Israel "ate and drank" in front of God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:11).
The Bible does not mention the concept of "dining with God" though, later, Jews in Talmudic times find significance of dining with God.
With a few exceptions, meat of four legged animals is generally not offered in Shinto religion. The most common offerings are first fruits, salt, fish as bonito, Mochi (Japanese Matzah), rice, liquor (Sake), seaweeds, etc. Usually most of them are Kosher, or permitted foods in the Jewish dietary laws. But in modern Shinto, shellfish is sometimes offered (Abalone is offered at Ise grand shrine). This is non-Kosher and the Jews not only never eat it, but also never offer to God. How was it in the start of Japanese Shinto?
In the Holy Place of the Israeli tabernacle or temple, there were also lamps which were never extinguished (Exodus 27:20-21), since they were holy fire. There is also an eternal light burning in every synagogue to this very day. In the same way, in the Holy Place of Japanese shrine, there is holy fire as lamps lit by divine means. Placing fire as lamps and the table with offerings on it in the Holy Place of the Shinto shrine resemble the Holy Place of ancient Israeli tabernacle. Thus the functions of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies of the Japanese shrine are very similar to the ones of ancient Israel.
It is noteworthy that the liquor is indispensable for both Israeli and Japanese shrines. Like the liquor was offered in the Israeli temple, the liquor is offered in the Japanese shrine. The Bible says that the drink offering shall be of "wine, one-fourth of a hin" (Leviticus 23:13). "A hin" is about 6 liters, and I hear that its one-fourth is about the quantity of the liquor which is offered in grand shrines of Shinto.

Surprise of Chief Rabbi of Israel

Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, who used to live in Japan, tells a story about when the chief rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Goren, once visited Japan.
Chief rabbi Goren was very curious and fascinated with Japan and enjoyed his stay very much. He said that he wanted to learn the essence of Japanese Shinto religion, and he attended for a while a lecture at Kokugakuin University which is a Shinto university in Tokyo.
At the lecture, the chief rabbi asked the lecturer a question about how to guard Shinto grand shrine, that is, where the guards stand, how they patrol, in what turn they patrol the places, and how to shift the guards. Hearing the answer, Rabbi Goren was very surprised and said, "Unbelievable." Turning his face pale, he said to Rabbi Tokayer who was young in those days, "Do you understand the importance of what the Shinto lecturer said?" Then he added, "Read the Mishnah, and you will know why I was so surprised to hear it."
The Mishnah, the teachings of ancient Jewish scholars, has an explanation on how the ancient temple of Jerusalem had been guarded. As a matter of fact, Shinto's way of guarding, patrolling, and shifting guards at shrine is just the same as the one which had been done at the ancient temple of Jerusalem. The temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. and not yet rebuilt. How could the way of guarding at Japanese Shinto shrine be the same as the one at the temple of ancient Israel? Chief rabbi's word "Unbelievable" is a natural response.

Uncovered Dancing of David

In old Shinto shrines men often wear white robes to carry the Omikoshi ark, while in other shrines men wear short and colored garments with headbands and carry the Omikoshi very cheerfully shouting "Wasshoi, Wasshoi". Around them people in the same wear are dancing and sometimes we find half naked ones. This reminds us of the scene of the dancing of David.
David undressed the usual gorgeous robe for king, clothed in a simple white linen robe and danced before the ark of God. His wife Michal saw him and despised him in her heart. Later she said an irony to David, "How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants!" (2 Samuel 6:20)
David did not become totally naked but he who usually wore gorgeous robe danced wearing a simple white robe, which looked almost uncovered or half naked to the eyes of Michal. She would feel the same if she looked at the Japanese people dancing.

Using Water and Salt for Sanctification

In Japanese Shinto they have a custom to use water or salt for sanctification.
Most of the Japanese shrines are built near clean river, pond, lake, or the sea. This is to do sanctification there. In Shinto, water is to purify man. In ancient Israel they had this custom, for the Bible says that before priest serves at holy events or at the temple, he has to "wash his clothes" and "bathe in water" (Numbers 19:7).
So, it was also an ideal in ancient Israel that they have clean water near a worship place. Japanese Shinto priests also wash their clothes and bathe in water before they serve at the shrine. Buddhist priests generally do not have this custom.
In the Shinto religion they also use salt for purification. Japanese Sumo wrestlers sow the Sumo ring with salt several times before they fight. The Western people wonder why they sow salt, but the Jews get the meaning immediately that it is to purify the ring. In Japan, salt is used to purify the holy place of shrine, or to purify Omikoshi.
And when you go to a Japanese-style restaurant, you will sometimes find some salt put near the entrance. The Western people wonder why, but the Jews get the meaning immediately that this is for purification. Even today, the Jews have a tradition of welcoming a new neighbor or distinguished guest with salt. If a world leader were to visit Jerusalem, the chief rabbi would welcome him at the entrance to the city with Hallah (Jewish bread) and salt.
Jews start each meal by salting bread, this makes every meal table an altar. Meat is "Koshered" by putting salt on the meat to remove all the blood.
In Japan they offer salt every time they perform a religious offering. So is the offering at Japanese feasts. Salt is not offered in Buddhism. Offering salt is again the same custom used by the Israelites, for it is written in the Bible that one has to offer salt with all his offerings (Leviticus 2:13).
In Judaism, salt is very essential. Talmud (the wisdom of Judaism) confirms that all sacrifices must have salt. Salt is preservative. While, honey and leaven were prohibited with sacrifices since they symbolize fermentation, decay and decomposition, the opposite of salt. There is the words "the everlasting covenant of salt" in the Bible (Numbers 18:19). Salt has meaning of anti-decay and permanence, and symbolizes the everlasting holy covenant of God. The Temple of Jerusalem had a special salt chamber, and Joshephus, a Jewish historian in the first century C.E., records a Greek king making a donation of 375 baskets of salt to the temple.
According to Zen'ichiro Oyabe, Japanese people before Meiji-era had the custom to put some salt into baby's bath. The ancient people of Israel washed a new born baby with water after rubbing the baby softly with salt; there is a description about "rubbing baby with salt" in the Bible (Ezekiel 16:4). Salt has cleansing and hygienic power and newborn babies were rubbed with salt.
Thus, there was the common custom of sanctification in both ancient Israel and Japan, and for this sanctification water and salt were used in both countries.

Uncleanness of the Dead

In Japan, salt in a pouch is distributed to participants of a funeral. After the funeral, when the participants come back and enter their houses, they have to be sprinkled on themselves with the salt for purification. Ancient Israelites who touched a dead body or went to a funeral also had to be purified in a specific way; the Bible says that a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the persons who were at funeral , or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave (Numbers 19:18). Thus in Israel the person who touched the dead had to be purified himself.
Even today, you find water outside a Jewish cemetery and outside the home, so people who are returning from a cemetery or funeral can wash their hands before entering the house. Before one goes to a funeral, one prepares water outside the home, so you can wash before reentering your home. Also in Japanese mythology, it is written that deity Izanagi went to the world of the dead (called Yomi in Japanese) to take his dead wife back, and when he came back from Yomi, he bathed in water of a river and purified himself from the impurity of the dead. In addition this Yomi, Japanese Shinto's world of the dead, is very much like Sheol which is the world of the dead mentioned in the Bible.
The very important feature of Japanese Shinto is that it has the concept of uncleanness or impurity of the dead. A house which has the dead, or a person who went to a funeral is said to have touched the uncleanness. The Western people do not have this concept. This uncleanness is not material but religious or ritual. This Shinto concept is the same as was in ancient Israel, for the Bible says that the one who touches the dead body of anyone shall be "unclean seven days" (Numbers 19:11).
In Shinto religion, a person with his/her family dead or relative dead is regarded unclean for a certain period. In the period, the person cannot come to a shrine, which was also a custom of ancient Israel.
Buddhist funeral is held inside temple, but Shinto funeral is held always outside shrine not to bring impurity into it. And the Shinto priest who participated in the funeral does not bring things he used at the funeral into the shrine. Even when he has to bring in, he purifies them and then brings. He has to purify himself, too. Also in ancient Israel, funeral is never held at the temple.
The Bible records that the Israelites wept and mourned for "30 days" at the death of Moses and at the death of Aaron (Deuteronomy 34:8, Numbers 20:29). While a Japanese ancient Shinto book called Engishiki, which was written in 10th century C.E., set a period of 30 days for the uncleanness that a person cannot participate in holy events, and set a period of 7 days for uncleanness of death of a fetus of within three months and death of a person lacking a part of the body. Thus, the Shinto concept of uncleanness of the dead resembles the custom of ancient Israel.

Salt to Offensive Person

In old days, the Japanese had a custom to sow offensive person with salt. When watching Japanese TV drama of Samurai times, we sometimes see the scene of sowing offensive person with salt.
This can be understood by Jews, since the Bible has an article that an Israelite, Abimelech, captured and destroyed an enemy city and "sowed it with salt" (Judges 9:45). Salt is also a symbol of barren, death, and curse.
In Israel, there is a lake named Dead Sea, which is called in Hebrew Salt Sea (Yam Ha-melech) since it has very high density of salt (5 times as the ocean). No fish. The surroundings are also covered with salt or rock salt. This place is also the ruin of ancient cities called Sodom and Gomorah.

Bathing

The Westerns use soap inside bathtub and enter the tub with their bodies still unclean. But Jews never do this. They wash their bodies and make themselves clean and then enter ritual bath. Every Jewish community has a Mikveh, ritual bath. Jews follow ritual of washing before entering the Mikveh. Everyone from the Western is surprised to see the washing before bath.
But this is the same as the Japanese custom of bathing.
When you get to a public bath in Japan, there you will see that Japanese people wash their bodies and make themselves clean before they enter the bathtub. This is the same in their homes. European and American people do not have this custom except for Jews.
The Japanese like cleanness very much. Many of them have a bath everyday, make their clothes clean, and wash their hands very often. This is a tradition from ancient times
In the 14th century of Europe, there was a big fatality of plaque called Black Death and many people died, although only a few Jews died. So, the people of Europe doubted the Jews and spread the groundless rumor that the fatality was due to that the Jews sowed with poison. But the fact was that the Jews liked cleanness very much, made their cloths and houses always clean, have a bath, and washed their hands very often. While most of the people except for Jews in Europe had never experienced bathing even once in their whole lives. The reason why perfume was developed in Europe was the smell of their bodies.
But the Jews washed hands after going to restroom, after going outside, and before every meal. That was why they rarely became sick. The Japanese have had this same custom since ancient times.

Pillars of Stone

It is also interesting to note that as the Japanese say "one man, two men, three men..." when counting the number of men, ancient Japanese people said when counting the number of gods "one pillar of god, two pillars of gods, three pillars of gods..." This way of counting gods is understandable to the Jews, because the ancient Israelites set up pillars of stone for their worshipping, and the pillars were associated with gods.
In many places of Japan even today, there are religious pillars of stone. For instance, in Kazuno city, Akita prefecture, there is a big long natural stone standing at the center of the surrounding stones. The pillar-like natural stone which is placed in the back of Kashima shrine, Ibaraki prefecture, is also regarded as a holy stone.


Pillar of stone in Kazuno city, Japan (left), and pillars of stone in the land of Israel (right)

The way of setting up these pillars of stone is almost the same as the pillars of stone discovered in Israel. This was a custom which the ancient Israelites had. Jacob, the ancestor of the Israelites, set up "a pillar of stone" to worship God and "poured a drink offering on it" (Genesis 35:14).
As Jacob poured a drink offering on the pillar of stone, Shinto priest pours a drink offering (Sake) on the pillar of stone. Moses also set up "12 pillars of stone" near the altar according to the 12 tribes of Israel (Exodus 24:4). Thus, the pillars of stone were an element of worshiping God Yahweh.
But in the latter days when idol worship came into Israel, people inclined to use the pillars of stone as an element of their idol worship. So, later, prophets of Israel blamed the pillars of stone and rejected them. The Bible says concerning when the people of the southern kingdom of Judah degraded to idol worship that they built for themselves "high places" and "sacred pillars" (pillars of stone, 1 Kings 14:23). The pillars of stone were used as pagan sacred pillars. Many of these are discovered in Israel and look similar to the Japanese pillars of stone.
In Japan, not only the pillars of stone, there are many shrines with big holy natural stones or rocks. These stones are thought to be objects where the spirit of god comes down and sits. They are connected to worship.
This kind of stone was also seen in ancient Israel. The Bible records that the first Israeli king Saul rolled a great stone and made it an altar (1 Samuel 14:33-35). He brought a big natural stone and made it a worship place. He used natural stone because it was forbidden to use hewn stone for an altar. The Bible says that when one makes an altar of stone for God, he "shall not build it of hewn stones." (Exodus 20:25)
Also in Japanese Shinto, the stone for worshiping is always natural stone.

Altar of Earth

While, instead of stone, earth is sometimes used for religious worship. Nihon-shoki records that the first Japanese emperor Jinmu took earth from Mt. Ameno-kagu-yama, made many bricks from it and made an altar for worshiping gods. It seems that ancient Israelites also made altar from earth, for the Bible says, "An altar of earth you shall make for me (God)" (Exodus 20:24)
Altar could also be made of earth. In case of the altar made of earth, it meant that it was made of bricks. The history of brick is very old; in the Near East many bricks were already used even in the time of the Tower of Babel, about 4000 and several hundred years ago (Genesis 11:3).
It seems that the Israelites sometimes made bricks from earth and made altar of bricks. But compared with stone, brick is weak and easily decomposed by time, so archaeologists have not yet found altar of bricks in Israel, but found in other Near East countries.

Bronze Serpent

When the Israelites were wandering the desert after their exodus from Egypt, they met a flock of fiery serpents and many people were bit and died. The poison was very strong like a fire. To save the people, Moses made "a bronze statue of serpent" according to the commandment of God and set it on a pole so that the people could look at it, and when one who had been bitten by serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived (Numbers 21:9).
After this incident ended, this bronze serpent had been in the safekeeping among the Israelites. The existence of this statue was never bad as long as the faith of the Israelites were sound. But when the Israelites degraded later, they began to worship the bronze serpent as their idol rather than to worship true God. As a result Hezekiah, a king of the southern kingdom of Judah in the 8th century B.C.E., broke the stature to stop the idol worship. The Bible records that he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the Israelites "burned incense to it" (2 Kings 18:4).
It was before this when the Ten Tribes of Israel were exiled to Assyria (722 B.C.E.). So it seems that the Ten Tribes had the custom of worshiping the bronze serpent when exiled.
At a Shinto shrine on Mt. Inomure, Ooita prefecture, until about 40 years ago, there had been a unique feast for begging rainfall, in which they firstly make a foundation by constructing 6 trunks of tree into the shape of the Shield of David, then on it they pile up a lot of branches and make it a tower, and on top of it they put a vertical pole with a slough of snake twining round it. People burn the branches and the tower and pray for rainfall. They burn incense to the snake expecting a supernatural power from it.


Pole with a slough of snake in fire on Mt. Inomure

I saw the scene on a video and this reminds us of the custom of ancient Israel to worship the bronze serpent. Besides, gods which are worshiped in Japanese Shinto shrines are sometimes snakes. This might have some connection to ancient Israel.

Remnant of Celebration of Circumcision?

If the ancient Israelites came to Japan, do the Japanese have the custom of circumcision? Although I have heard a rumor that circumcision is performed among the Imperial family of Japan, I have not been able to confirm yet whether or not there was the custom of circumcision in Japan.
Today we cannot see the custom of circumcision among Japanese citizens, but they have a traditional Japanese custom called O-shichi-ya which means 7th night. On the 7th night from the day a baby was born, the Japanese parents have a celebration to introduce the baby to relatives and friends and let them know the name of the baby.
The 7th night is, according to the Jewish way of counting days, 8th day from the day the baby was born, for from the sunset the next day starts in the Jewish calendar. Is this a remnant of the Jewish custom of circumcision on the 8th day? The Israelites gathered together on the 8th day from the day a (male) baby was born, and the parents introduced the baby to relatives and friends, circumcised him, introduced his name and rejoiced his birth together (In case of a female, it was done on the first Sabbath). This is the same in modern Judaism. For the seven days, the baby has no name. This is the same custom as the Japanese.

Customs of the First Month

The Japanese traditionally celebrate a new year magnificently. They also do Obon feast on July 15 or August 15 every year as a national event. They have a saying, "It is as if Obon and a new year came together" which means very very busy. These two events are the most magnificent ones throughout a year in Japan.
Looking at the new year first, on January 1 many Japanese people begin to gather together at shrines even before dawn. And on January 1 they sit a happy circle with family and eat Mochi (Japanese Matzah). They eat Mochi for 7 days and on the 7th day they eat porridge with 7 kinds of bitter herbs.
Today, the Japanese use the solar calendar; the New Year's Day is January 1 and the day of eating porridge with 7 herbs is January 7. But historically the Japanese used the lunar calendar, when the New Year's day was the 15th of the first month because on that day was the first full moon. It is a remnant of this that today January 15 is called Small New Year's Day (Koshougatsu in Japanese). This day was also called "New Year's Day of Mochi". New Year's celebration was a feast of Mochi. And the night of January 14 is called New Year's Eve of the 14th Day. In the time of the lunar calendar, the 15th day of the first month was a national holiday.
According to Zen'ichiro Oyabe, the Japanese before the 12th century C.E. had eaten porridge with 7 bitter herbs on the 15th day of the first month, and on the following days they performed events to pray for good harvest of the new year. This is similar to the custom in ancient Israel. They celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread throughout the "7 days" "from the 15th day of the first month", when they ate the unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:6).
The unleavened bread, which is "matzah" in Hebrew, is a very thin bread prepared by kneading and baking without using yeast or leaven. The way of preparing Japanese Mochi is similar to this except for using rice instead of flour. Israeli "matzah" and Japanese Mochi are very similar each other in pronunciation as well as in meaning, recipe and purpose.
And the Israelites ate with "bitter herbs" on the 15th day of the first month (Exodus 12:8). Thus, just as the ancient Japanese ate with 7 bitter herbs on the 15th of the first month, the Israelites ate with bitter herbs on the 15th of the first month.
In the Jewish calendar, the 15th day of the first month, that is the first day of the feast, is full moon and the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:7). On the next day of this Sabbath, the Israelites offered first fruits and prayed for a good harvest of the year (Leviticus 23:11).
The Japanese clean their houses thoroughly before the coming of New Year's Day. When the Jews look at it, they think, "This is the same custom as ours!" for they also had to clean their houses thoroughly before the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for the Bible says, "you shall remove leaven from your houses" (Exodus 12:15). So they had to purge all the houses and remove leaven from them. Passover among the Jews in India is called Holiday of Cleaning the House and they remove all leaven and clean the house.

Obon Feast

Next, let us look at the Obon feast. In Japan they have an event called Obon on July 15 or August 15. In the time they used the lunar calendar it was held on the 15th day of the 7th month.
Today Obon is regarded as one of the events of Buddhism, but since the time long before Buddhism was imported to Japan, there had been a feast called Tama-matsuri which was the original of Obon. When Buddhism was imported to Japan, this Tama-matsuri was taken in the events of Buddhism and became Obon. In ancient Israel on the 15th day of the 7th month was a big feast called the Feast of Booths (harvest feast, Leviticus 23:39).
Today the Japanese use the solar calendar and in many cases they now hold the Obon feast on the 15th day of the 8th month. Strangely this was the day when the harvest feast was held in the northern kingdom of Israel of the Ten Tribes. The Bible records that Jeroboam, the king of the northern kingdom, ordained a feast "on the 15th day of the 8th month" like the feast which was in the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12:32).
It was an Israeli tradition since ancient times to have the harvest feast on the 15th day of the 7th month, but King Jeroboam rejected this tradition and ordained a new day for the harvest feast on the 15th day of the 8th month.
In Israel, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (New Year) and the Feast of Booths (harvest feast) on the 15th day of the 7th month (or 8th month) were the most magnificent events throughout a year. Similar to this, the Japanese have been performing magnificent feasts at the same times as these. In Japan today, the 15th day of the 8th month is also the memorial day of the end of the last war.

Dancing at Obon

There is an interesting point in the Obon feast. The Japanese dance at the feast and this is not a dance of Buddhism but a traditional dance called Utagaki which has existed since ancient times.
The Utagaki dance has been held since the time before the 5th century C.E. and became very popular in the 8th century. Men and women gathered for dance and they sang, danced, met with a view to marriage and promised to marry. Their way to dance was that men and women joined alternately to a circle of dancing, danced in the rhythm of song by a singer, and when the number of people increased, they made the dancing circle double or threefold.
The ancient Israelites also had this kind of custom. They had a time of dancing during the harvest feast from the 15th day of the 7th month (8th month in the northern kingdom), and single men and women looked forward the time of dancing and meeting to come.
I heard that in Japan there used to be a custom of plunder marriage during the Obon feast. In Oita, Kyusyu Japan, there was a custom that during many people are fanatical in dancing, men took women they like and brought to forest. The same custom was among the ancient Israelites.
The Bible records that there was an incident that all of the women of Benjamin tribe of Israel were killed, when the elders of Israel talked each other how they can let Benjamin tribe continue to exist. "There is a yearly feast in Shiloh (a city in the northern kingdom of Israel)", the elders said, and instructed the men of Benjamin, "Go, lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh". The men did so. They "took enough wives for their number from those who danced, whom they caught" (Judges 21:16-23). Israel in those days was in such a period of confusion.

Full Moon On the 15th Day

In Japan there is also a custom called Juugo-ya, which means 15th night, on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Japanese old lunar calendar. This is during September-October in today's solar calendar. This corresponds to the 15th day of the 7th month (Tishri) in the Jewish calendar, which is the day of the Feast of Booths. When the Japanese are celebrating Juugo-ya, the Jews are celebrating the Feast of Booths.
On this day, the Japanese often build a booth, gather together there with family, put Japanese pampas grass to a vase, offer harvest of the season like dumpling, taro, pear, etc., and enjoy the beauty of the full moon in Autumn. In Israel, on the 15th day of the 8th month in the northern kingdom of Israel, or on the 15th day of the 7th month in the southern kingdom of Judah, they built a booth, gathered together there with family, offered harvest of the season, rejoiced the harvest looking the beauty of the full moon in Autumn (Leviticus 23:39-42).

Offering Harvest

In Japan they have an elegant custom to offer first fruits of harvest to god. They offer the first fruits of cereals and fruits or a part of what they first get from their production.
Kanname-sai is a feast in October at Ise grand shrine to offer first fruits to god. The ancient Israelites also had the custom of offering first fruits, for the Bible says that the first of the first fruits of the land shall be brought to the temple (Exodus 34:26).
It is interesting to note that in Ise grand shrine in the time of Kanname-sai feast, the clothes, tables, and tools which are used in the service are all renewed. They do this in the sense of coming into a new year. In Judaism also, the month of the harvest feast (Tishri, September-October) is the time of a new year.
About a month after the Kanname-sai feast of Ise grand shrine, a feast called Niiname-sai is held at the Imperial House of Japan. Although the name is different, this is also the feast of offering a part of harvest.
Niiname-sai feast is held as follows; the feast begins at 6 p.m. and ends at around 1 a.m.. It is held at night. The emperor offers the harvest to god and after that, he eats them in front of god. By this ceremony the emperor is given from god the role as the leader of the nation. In ancient Israel, the leaders of Israel - Moses, Aaron, 70 elders, etc. - also ate in front of God (Exodus 24:11).
And the Niiname-sai feast which the emperor performs for the first time after he ascended to the throne is especially called Daijou-sai feast which is a larger Niiname-sai feast, when special booths are built for offering harvest. In the Daijou-sai feast of today's emperor Akihito, there were also simple but large booths built, and after the ceremony they broke the booths and burned them.


Booth built for Daijou-sai feast in 1687

Daijou-sai feast is also held at night. Akihito's Daijou-sai was held from 6:30 p.m. to the next morning. The emperor offered the harvest and ate in front of god. In ancient Israel and also today, the Jewish Feast of Booths begins at sunset. The Israelites came into the booths, decorated with harvest products, ate in front of God and rejoiced together.

Wedding

I find several similarities between the Japanese Shinto way of wedding and the Jewish way of wedding.
In Shinto wedding, the bridegroom and bride drink from the same cup of liquor (Japanese Sake). In the same way in the Jewish wedding the bridegroom and bride drink from the same cup of wine, although this is not Biblical but Talmudic (the 3-6th century C.E.). Christian wedding does not have this custom.
In the Jewish wedding today, after drinking wine, the bridegroom breaks a wine glass. This is to remember that the Temple of Jerusalem is destroyed. This custom started after the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E., and the Israelites before that did not have this custom of breaking the glass.
In Shinto wedding the bride has a shawl on her head and hides half of her face. The shawl is to the height of her eyes today, but in old days, this was to hide all of her face (called Kazuki in Japanese). In old days, this shawl was also put when a Japanese woman attended a shrine. This custom of shawl was also seen among the ancient Israelites. In the Bible, Jacob, the ancestor of the Israelites, thought that he had married Rachel though, the bride was in fact not Rachel, but her sister Lear. It was due to darkness and the shawl on her face that he could not distinguish her. Even today, Jewish bride puts a veil on her face in wedding . Ancient Israeli woman had the custom to put a shawl and hide her face when she comes out. Every time she comes to a synagogue, she had to put a shawl on her head.
It is also an important feature of Shinto that every Shinto priest is married. There is no rule in Shinto to make priest single. In modern Japan, most of Buddhist monks are married but this is a custom since Meiji-era. Before then, it was the custom of Buddhist monks to be single. Every Buddhist monk outside Japan is single. Catholic father is single. But Shinto priest is married. This is a tradition from the time immemorial. So was the ancient priest of Israel. So is rabbi of modern Judaism.
Concerning Japanese marriage, a Japanese woman told her memory. One day, her mother told her about the marriage of her aunt. After the aunt's husband was killed in a war, the aunt, who did not have any children then, married her husband's brother who had been at that time unmarried. About this marriage, the mother told her, "This is a traditional custom of Japan," but then she thought that today is the age of free love and it is consequential to marry whom one loves, and she could not understand what the mother said. However she told that later she was surprised knowing that this is the same as a Jewish custom.
It is true that that this is the same as a Jewish custom, for the Bible says that if brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her (Deuteronomy 25:5)
In Japan today, we cannot see this custom anymore usually, but it seems that this custom had been performed widely in Japan until recent time.

To be continued to the last chapter:
Chapter 4 - Various Other Similarities between Ancient Israel and Ancient Japan

 

Arimasa Kubo

Remnant Publishing
E-mail: remnant@mte.biglobe.ne.jp (Your thoughts and opinions are welcome.)

Home-page is here.

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