Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where Would Jesus Go for the Holidays?

Season's Readings from Temple Valley

While it's common knowledge that comes December 26th Santa heads off for Vegas (see: Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Goes on Holiday), where would Jesus go to get away from it all? Why he would go to Tokyo of course and bring his good friend and fellow deity Buddha along for the descent to earth. That’s the premise of Saint Young Men, a Japanese comic book written and illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura that has captivated the imagination of people across the Land of the Rising Sun. The best selling comic book series and last year’s winner of Japan’s prestigious Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for Short Work Manga (or comic book) imagines what it would be like if Jesus and Buddha took a vacation in an old worn out section of Tokyo.
It’s the perfect escape from heaven for the two deities. No one in Tokyo knows who they are. Jesus is mistaken for Johnny Depp while standing in line at the local convenience store and the neighborhood kids make sport of “pushing Buddha's button,” the third eye in the center of his forehead. The comic takes a whimsical look at how the modern 21st century world would welcome this odd couple of divinities with Jesus playing Oscar to Buddha’s Felix. Jesus tends to act on impulse (remember the turning of the money lenders’ tables), wasting the limited funds in the pair’s vacation budget on silly souvenirs while the more contemplative Buddha takes the “middle path” via a moderate lifestyle.
Every panel is as enlightening as it is entertaining with some classic religious references mixed in with the modern day exploits of the divine duo. In one chapter their landlord accuses them of feeding invasive stray cats who have disrupted the peace and tranquility of the neighborhood. Even though they haven’t given the felines a single drop of milk, there is no way they can convince the landlord otherwise. Just as they deny the allegations a stray cat slinks up to the gaunt-looking figure of Jesus and offers himself up as a potential meal. All the animals love them. Despite these troubles, the pair have generally taken to life on earth today. Jesus has a hit website where he blogs on about TV dramas with omniscience. Buddha has fallen in love with comic books, particularly one by Tezuka Osama entitled, “Buddha.”
Those who are familiar with the 5 billion-dollar Japanese comic market will know that some comics aimed at the adult market can feature R- and even X-rated graphics. Saint Young Men avoids putting its protagonists in any compromising poses. While the comic takes liberties with the religious figures there is nothing really naughty about this tale of a couple of the nicest guys to ever walk the face of the earth and there has been virtually no vocal opposition to it from Buddhists or the small Christian community in Japan.
Traditionalists will be quick to note that the tale is long on fantasy and short on fact as presented by either Buddhist or Christian orthodoxies but at the root of this comic is an unspoken theme that may go right to the heart of both religions. If the inspirations behind two of the largest faiths can peacefully live together in cramped, dingy quarters on a shoe-string budget and after two weeks still have nothing but love for each other, there may be some hope for the rest of us. If you can believe God became man and then ascended to heaven to join God once again, this tale may not seem that far-fetched after all. What if God is among us, or all around us, and like the modern day Tokyoites of Saint Young Men we just don’t know it.

Somewhat related posts:
As It Is in Heaven                                         Xmas in Japan                        Comic Subculture

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