Like My Brother Between Two Thieves

Here in this distant corner of the East, the villagers of Shingo still call me Long Nose Goblin, even though I have lived among them these past seventy years and though I married Miyoko, settled down and grew garlic like the rest of them, raised three fine daughters who, despite the peculiarities of their father, found hard-working, decent husbands and now have families of their own. Despite all this, I am and always will be an outsider, a mere potted plant with no real roots in this land of ephemeral cherry blossoms.

Looking back at the first time I undertook the journey here, I can truly say that I was given a sign, that moment when I first glimpsed Mount Fuji from the deck of the ship;  as we entered the bay, I witnessed the perfect pyramid topped with snow, and I knew then and there in a moment of clarity, that I would master the curious language that sounded like chirping sparrows and that I would adapt, trade my coarse tunic for a yukata and apply myself to the secret teachings, the prayers to the eight million kami, and the ceremonies of the sun.  I diligently studied for twelve years, learning to strip away my ego until sensei said I was finally ready. It was time to be transplanted once again, so I set off with my best friend (many thought Ishikiri was my brother, we looked so much alike) leaving in the spring when a certain kind of yellow flower turns golden and from out in the bay, a ripple of hills hid Fuji-san as we sailed home to Judaea.

We arrived months later, landing in Tyre, and beginning the mission immediately. A rough time we had of it for three long years—the crowds dull and insolent, constantly complaining that they couldn’t understand the koan I spoke, the disciples bickering among themselves, the miracles that everybody wanted.  The crowds never left us alone, hounding us for another wonder and at last on that day when we entered Jerusalem in a parade of Hosannas, there was no stopping the Romans who assumed we meant rebellion; it was Ishikiri’s idea to change places with me (our black hair drawn into ponytails, both of us wearing grey robes, so we were easily confused).

When the soldiers stormed the garden with their lanterns lit and swords drawn, it was Ishikiri they arrested, not me, on that miserable Friday when all the disciples fled and I watched with the women, weeping under the crooked sky, as Ishikiri climbed the hill alone, the stave slung across his back, bent and bleeding, how the guards strung him up with the mob hurling insults, the stink of vinegar and blood, the desperation of his final words and the silence­ that hung in the sky­. When they took down his crippled body from the wooden bars, a soldier sliced off his ear and dropped it in the dust, yelling at me to pick it up.

That’s when I fled into the night, traveling overland for four years of penance, feeding the hungry and living with the poor, suffering innumerable privations, finally crashing into a land bridge between two islands, like my brother between two thieves. I docked at Hachinoheand then rode by oxcart into the village of Shingo, carrying Ishikiri’s ear and a lock of my mother’s hair.

***

Author’s Note: This story is based on a legend that began circulating in the early 1930’s, when documents claiming to be written in ancient Hebrew appeared in northern Honshu. The spurious work, which purported to describe the life and death of Jesus in Japan, was later believed to be confiscated by the authorities, brought to Tokyo before the War, and has not been seen since.

 

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