Came To Ancient Japan
Did the Lost Tribes of Israel Come To
(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
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
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
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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 Kazukiin 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.
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.