T O P I C
JEWS and JAPAN
Manchuria is a region in East Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria can either refer to a region falling entirely within China, or a larger region today divided between Northeast China and the Russian Far East. To differentiate between the two parts following the latter definition, the Russian part is also known as Outer Manchuria, while the Chinese part is known as Inner Manchuria. It is the homeland of the Manchu people, the designation introduced in 1636 for the Jurchen people, in origin a Tungusic people which took power in 17th century China, establishing the Qing dynasty that lasted until 1912. The population grew from about 1 million in 1750 to 5 million in 1850 and 14 million in 1900, largely because of the immigration of Chinese farmers.
Lying at the juncture of the Chinese, Japanese and Russian spheres of influence, Manchuria has been a cockpit of conflict since the late 19th century. The Russian Empire established control over the northern part of Manchuria in 1860 (Beijing Treaty); it built a railway to consolidate its hold. Disputes over Manchuria and Korea led to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905. The Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo which became a centerpiece of the fast-growing Japanese Empire. The Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945 led to the overnight collapse of Japanese rule. Manchuria was a base of operations for the Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War, leading to the formation of the People's Republic of China. In the Korean War, Chinese forces used Manchuria as a base to assist North Korea against the UN forces. During the Cold War era, Manchuria became a matter of contention, escalating to the Sino–Soviet border conflict in 1969. The Sino-Russian border dispute was resolved diplomatically only in 2004. In recent years there has been extensive scholarship on Manchuria in the 20th century, while the earlier period is less studied.
THE FUGU PLAN
Memorandums written in 1930s Imperial Japan proposed settling Jewish refugees escaping Nazi-occupied Europe in Japanese-controlled territory. As interpreted by Marvin Tokayer and Swartz (who used the term "Fugu Plan", "河豚計画", that was used by the Japanese to describe this plan), they proposed that large numbers of Jewish refugees should be encouraged to settle in Manchukuo or Japan-occupied Shanghai, thus gaining the benefit of the supposed economic prowess of the Jews and also convincing the United States, and specifically American Jewry, to grant political favor and economic investment into Japan. The idea was partly based on the acceptance of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as being as a genuine document by at least part of the Japanese leadership.
The detailed scheme included how the settlement would be organized and how Jewish support, both in terms of investment and actual settlers, would be garnered. In June and July 1939, the memorandums "Concrete Measures to be Employed to Turn Friendly to Japan the Public Opinion Far East Diplomatic Policy Close Circle of President of USA by Manipulating Influential Jews in China," and "The Study and Analysis of Introducing Jewish Capital" came to be reviewed and approved by the top Japanese officials in China.
Methods of attracting both Jewish and American favor were to include the sending of a delegation to the United States, to introduce American rabbis to the similarities between Judaism and Shinto, and the bringing of rabbis back to Japan in order to introduce them and their religion to the Japanese. Methods were also suggested for gaining the favor of American journalism and Hollywood.
The majority of the documents were devoted to the settlements, allowing for the settlement populations to range in size from 18,000, up to 600,000. Details included the land size of the settlement, infrastructural arrangements, schools, hospitals etc. for each level of population. Jews in these settlements were to be given complete freedom of religion, along with cultural and educational autonomy. While the authors were wary of affording too much political autonomy, it was felt that some freedom would be necessary to attract settlers, as well as economic investment.
The Japanese officials asked to approve the plan insisted that while the settlements could appear autonomous, controls needed to be placed to keep the Jews under surveillance. It was feared that the Jews might somehow penetrate into the mainstream Japanese government and economy, influencing or taking command of it in the same way that they, according to the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, had done in many other countries. The world Jewish community was to fund the settlements and supply the settlers.
(Note Wikipedia concludes by saying
There is little evidence to suggest that the Japanese had ever contemplated a Jewish state or a Jewish autonomous region. In 1979 Rabbi Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz authored a book called The Fugu Plan. In this partly fictionalized account, Tokayer & Swartz gave the name the 'Fugu Plan' to the 1930s memorandums. They claim that the plan, which was viewed by its proponents as risky but potentially rewarding for Japan, was named after the Japanese word for puffer-fish, a delicacy which can be fatally poisonous if incorrectly prepared. (The memorandums were not actually called The Fugu Plan in Japanese.) Tokayer and Swartz base their claims on statements made by Captain Koreshige Inuzuka and allege that such a plan was first discussed in 1934 and then solidified in 1938, supported by notables such as Inuzuka, Ishiguro Shiro and Norihiro Yasue; however, the signing of the Tripartite Pact in 1941 and other events prevented its full implementation.
Ben-Ami Shillony, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, confirmed the statements upon which Tokayer and Swartz based their claim were taken out of context, and that the translation with which they worked was flawed. Shillony's view is further supported by Kiyoko Inuzuka (wife of Koreshige Inuzuka). In 'The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders', he questioned whether the Japanese ever contemplated establishing a Jewish state or a Jewish autonomous region.
SIGNIFICANCE - THE HOLOCAUST
Approximately 24,000 Jews escaped the Holocaust either by immigrating through Japan or living under direct Japanese rule by the policies surrounding Japan's pro-Jewish attitude. While this was not the 50,000 expected, and those who arrived did not have the expected wealth to contribute to the Japanese economy, the achievement of the plan is looked back upon favorably. Chiune Sugihara was bestowed the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1985. In addition, the Mir Yeshiva, one of the largest centers of rabbinical study today, and the only European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust, survived as a result of these events.
Inuzuka's help in rescuing Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe was acknowledged by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States which saved him from being tried as a war criminal. He went on to establish the Japan-Israel Association and was president until his death in 1965.
The German attack on Poland in September 1939 trapped nearly 3.5 million Jews in German- and Soviet-occupied territories.
In late 1940 and early 1941, just months before the Germans initiated the mass murder of Jews in the Soviet Union, some 2,100 Polish Jews found temporary safe haven in Lithuania. Few of these refugees could have reached permanent safety without the tireless efforts of many individuals. Several Jewish organizations and Jewish communities along the way provided funds and other help.
But the most critical assistance came from unexpected sources: representatives of the Dutch government-in-exile and of Nazi Germany's Axis ally, Japan. Their humanitarian activity in 1940 was the pivotal act of rescue for Polish Jewish refugees temporarily residing in Lithuania.
The pressure on Polish Jewish refugees to leave Lithuania intensified in late 1940, when—after the Soviet takeover—the government ordered all refugees to declare Soviet citizenship or face exile to Siberia as "unreliable elements." Encouraged by the reports of those who traveled safely on the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the eastern port of Vladivostok, hundreds of Jewish refugees applied for Soviet exit visas. It remains unknown why the Soviets allowed refugees with Polish travel papers, many of dubious validity, to leave.
Not all refugees helped by the Dutch acting consul (Jan Zwartendijk) and Japanese acting consul (Chiune Sugihara) in Kovno left Lithuania for Japan. Some lacked the American dollars the Soviets demanded for the expensive railroad ticket. In the end, the Soviets granted permission to leave in an arbitrary manner. The Soviets even allowed refugees with only a Japanese visa to exit from Soviet territory. But most Lithuanian nationals did not apply for emigration. Under Communist rule they were Soviet citizens and accordingly were denied such freedom.
Between July 1940 and June 1941 about 2,200 Jewish refugees left Lithuania for Moscow, where they boarded the Trans-Siberian train. Most refugees stayed at the Hotel Novo Moskovskaia (New Moscow) during the brief stopover in Moscow. The Trans-Siberian train left Moscow twice a week. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee had the onerous task of choosing a limited number of refugees whom they could help by underwriting all or part of the $200 cost of an Intourist ticket for the train passage to Vladivostok.
Despite their many anxieties, most refugees felt like tourists on the train. When the train stopped at a settlement in the thinly populated Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan, close to the Manchurian border, many refugees spoke briefly with local Jews selling goods at the station.
The Soviets confiscated currency and other valuables before the refugees boarded Japanese steamers in the port of Vladivostok. When the Jewish refugees reached Japan, most were destitute and lacked documents enabling them to proceed. With the consent of Japanese authorities, a representative of the Jewish community of Kobe met the refugees in Tsuruga and accompanied them on the train to Kobe. Using funds largely from the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish community—led by Anatole Ponevejsky—set up group homes, arranged for housing and food, and interceded on behalf of refugees in dealings with local officials.
Bogus visas to the Dutch colony of Curacao in the Caribbean that had enabled the refugees to leave the Soviet Union proved useless for proceeding beyond Japan. Needing valid destination visas, the refugees made the round of consulates in Kobe, Yokohama, and Tokyo. More than 500 Polish Jews succeeded in obtaining US visas before December 1941, but new war-related immigration restrictions barred hundreds of others sponsored for entry. The State Department, for example, barred the issuing of visas to refugees with relatives in Axis-occupied territories. Certificates for entering Palestine were even scarcer and arrangements for traveling more complicated and expensive.
A minority of the refugees proceeded quickly to the United States and other countries. For hundreds of others the stay in Japan stretched from weeks into months. Many refugees despaired of ever obtaining final destination visas at the US and other consulates they visited. Most Polish Jewish refugees stayed in Japan much longer than their transit visas allowed. Many dreaded the day when authorities would no longer issue permits legally extending the period of residency.
The refugees remained concerned about family members in Poland from whom they had been separated. Postcards from home provided some comfort, but most communication by mail or telegram ceased after June 22, 1941, when German forces invaded the Soviet Union. Between June 22, 1941, and the defeat of Germany in 1945, the Germans killed more than three million Polish Jews. The refugees in Japan, however, knew little of this beyond vague rumors.
The Japanese public was hospitable toward the Jewish refugees in Japan. The Japanese were also intrigued; yeshiva (religious academy) students appeared particularly foreign. In Kobe, the refugees caught the interest of the avant-garde Tanpei Photography Club, whose members took photographs of many of the refugees in late April 1941. After the war, most refugees remembered the curiosity of the Japanese and noted the absence of antisemitic attitudes and behavior that they had endured in prewar Poland.
By the fall of 1941, more than 1,000 of the Polish Jewish refugees had left Japan. Nearly 500 sailed for the United States. Small groups gained permission to enter Canada and other British dominions. Close to 1,000 people remained stranded, having failed to secure any destination visas.
In July 1941, the United States imposed an embargo on oil exports to Japan. Soon thereafter, Japan occupied French Indo-China. The refugees' nervousness mounted at the sight of military exercises in Kobe, a major naval base, as war in the Pacific loomed. As Japan prepared for war in the weeks before its attack on Pearl Harbor, police cleared the military port of Kobe. From mid-August to late October 1941, they deported the rest of the refugees to Shanghai in Japanese-occupied China.
CHIUNE (SEMPO) SUGIHARA
Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), Japanese consul general in Kovno, Lithuania. In July-August 1940 issued more than 2,000 transit visas for Jewish refugees. Helsinki, Finland, 1937–1938.
The first Japanese diplomat posted to Lithuania, he was born to a middle-class family from Yaotsu, in Japan's Gifu Prefecture on the main Japanese Island of Honshu, north of Nagoya. Sugihara is sometimes also referred to as "Chiune," an earlier rendition of the Japanese character for "Sempo," part of his formal name.
Sugihara graduated from the exclusive Harbin Gakuin, Japan's training center for experts on the Soviet Union. As the director of the foreign ministry in Manchukuo, a puppet state Japan had established in Manchuria under Japanese supervision, Sugihara negotiated the purchase of the North Manchurian railroad from the Soviet Union in 1932.
Because Sugihara was fluent in Russian, the Japanese sent him to the Lithuanian capital, Kovno, in November 1939. He had learned the language from Russian emigres during 16 years in Harbin, Manchuria and was ordered to provide Japan with intelligence on Soviet and German troop movements in the Baltic region.
Sugihara also exchanged information with members of the Polish underground in Lithuania and issued them visas for transit through Japan in 1940. He recognized the urgency of the situation in Lithuania following the occupation by Soviet forces in June 1940 and the accompanying wave of arrests by Soviet secret police. Sugihara may also have realized that, with western Europe engulfed in war, the most likely avenue for escape for refugees in Lithuania was an eastern route through the Soviet Union to Japan.
In the summer of 1940, when refugees came to him with bogus visas for Curacao and other Dutch possessions in America, Sugihara decided to facilitate their escape from war-torn Europe. In the absence of clear instructions from Tokyo, he granted 10-day visas for transit through Japan to hundreds of refugees who held Curacao destination visas. Before closing his consulate in the fall of 1940, Sugihara even gave visas to refugees who lacked all travel papers.
After Sugihara had issued some 1,800 visas, he received a cable from Tokyo reminding him: "You must make sure that they [refugees] have finished their procedure for their entry visas and also they must possess the travel money or the money that they need during their stay in Japan. Otherwise, you should not give them the transit visa."
In his response to the cable, Sugihara admitted issuing visas to people who had not completed all arrangements for destination visas. He explained the extenuating circumstances: Japan was the only transit country available for those going in the direction of the United States, and his visas were needed for departure from the Soviet Union. Sugihara suggested that travelers who arrived in the Soviet port of Vladivostok with incomplete paperwork should not be allowed to board ship for Japan. Tokyo wrote back that the Soviet Union insisted that Japan honor all visas already issued by its consulates.
By the time Sugihara left Lithuania he had issued visas to 2,140 persons. These visas also covered some 300 others, mostly children. Not everyone who held visas was able to leave Lithuania, however, before the Soviet Union stopped granting exit visas.
Sugihara left Lithuania in early September 1940. The Japanese transferred him to Prague in Bohemia and then to Bucharest, Romania, Germany's ally, where he remained until after the end of the war. During the victorious Soviet army's march though the Balkans in 1944, the Soviets arrested Sugihara together with other diplomats from enemy nations. Soviet authorities held him and his family, under fairly benign conditions, for the next three years. When Sugihara returned to Japan in 1947, the Foreign Ministry retired him with a small pension as part of a large staff reduction enacted under the American occupation.
Sugihara held a variety of jobs after the war including one for a Japanese trading company in Moscow from 1960 to 1975. A year before he died in 1986, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, honored Sugihara with the title "Righteous Among the Nations" for his aid to the refugees in Lithuania during World War II.
FLIGHT AND RESCUE
This is the extraordinary story of more than 2,000 Polish Jewish refugees. Enduring the hardships of travel and restrictive immigration laws, they escaped wartime Europe to safety in the Far East just months before the start of the Nazi genocide that claimed the lives of three million Polish Jews.
WAR AND OCCUPATION
…whatever it was, was no more
Susan Bluman, postwar testimony
Throngs are leaving their homes on a dangerous migration to an uncertain future.
Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak, September 6, 1939, Lodz, Poland.
It was a remarkable decision I realize at this time, for a woman to decide to take her less than four-year-old son and just essentially walk out of Warsaw with what she could carry. I mean she had me in one hand, by one hand, and in her other hand she had this small suitcase.
Norbert Swislocki, postwar testimony
And at that time we all of a sudden got the news that Poland will be divided between Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. And we didn't know what to expect.
Yonia Fain, postwar testimony
It was not a premeditated decision. It was all last minute and it was all based on the assumption that in two weeks I'll be back, or that the war will end very soon.
Ruth Berkowicz Segal, postwar testimony
On September 1, 1939, German forces invaded Poland from the north, west, and south. Poorly equipped Polish troops were no match for the modernized German army and air force's surprise, rapid assault. After only eight days of fighting, German soldiers laid siege to the capital city of Warsaw.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews and other Polish citizens fled eastward. But any hopes of escaping the violence of war and terror of occupation were dashed. On September 17, stunning the world, Soviet troops marched into Poland from the east. Under a secret agreement, Adolf Hitler's Germany and Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union carved the country up to enlarge their own lands.
Most refugees now felt little choice but to return home. Others chose the Soviets as the lesser of two evils. A third small group, including members of targeted political or religious groups, feared both Nazi and Communist terror and continued their flight. Thousands of Jews streamed into the region of Vilna, an old center of Jewish culture near the Polish border with independent Lithuania.
SEARCH FOR NEW HAVENS
Our whole existence while we were in Vilna was trying to get out, trying to get somewhere.
Lucille Szepsenwol Camhi, postwar testimony
I didn't want to go by myself across the Soviet Union and leave my father behind. My mother was in Warsaw with the family. It was no good.
Ruth Berkowicz Segal, postwar testimony
It is a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times that for thousands and thousands of people a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death.
Dorothy Thompson, American journalist, 1938
And we were just going from one consulate to the other…
Susan Bluman, postwar testimony
We had memorized atlases and the globe and had become experts in outlining to ambassadors and consuls the most intricate travel routes. Where no route existed, it was for us to create one - if only on paper, for the time being.
Refugee leader Zorach Warhaftig, postwar memoir
Most of the 15,000 Polish Jewish refugees who reached Lithuania saw it as a temporary haven. Many hoped to continue their flight abroad, either to the United States or Palestine. In the meantime, the majority counted on others for support. Jewish organizations, including American ones, provided critical help. The refugees faced an uncertain future and worried endlessly about loved ones back home in German- or Soviet-occupied Poland.
Then events once more gravely threatened their security. On June 15, 1940, Soviet tanks rolled into Lithuania. Communist officials arrested persons deemed political enemies, and seized private businesses and properties. By early August, Lithuania was a satellite of Moscow.
The chances of fleeing now were slim. Germany had conquered most of western Europe and its ally Italy was invading France in the south. One of the few escape routes left was the long, eastward one, through the Soviet Union by train. Transportation was costly and official hurdles endless. Travelers needed passports or substitute papers stamped with several kinds of permissions: one for exiting the Soviet Union and others for countries of transit and of final destination. What country would accept Jewish refugees?
In the atmosphere of panic and fear and in the few weeks before the Soviets shut down all diplomatic operations in Lithuania, two men - “two angels” in some refugees' words - teamed up without ever meeting each other. Consular representatives Jan Zwartendijk from the Netherlands and Chiune Sugihara from Japan used their knowledge of rules and regulations to provide 2,100 Polish Jewish refugees an unlikely means of escape. They supplied the necessary destination and transit visas that enabled the refugees to leave Lithuania.
STRANDED IN JAPAN
Menaced by the increasing influx of refugees from Europe of all kinds - among others Jews from Germany, Austria, and the Baltic States - the various countries of America are shutting their doors more and more inexorably against them.
Polish ambassador Tadeusz Romer, Tokyo, January 15, 1941
I'm all right, but all my documents are false. The Japanese visa is false, the Curacao transit visa, everything is false. They'll find out and they'll send me back to Russia.
Leo Hanin, postwar testimony describing a refugee in Tsuruga
It was deliverance. Germans are behind us. The Russians are behind us. And now, of course, Japan was a big unknown. We didn't know. But the entrance was beautiful.
Ruth Berkowicz Segal, postwar testimony
It was like a fairy tale. The difference between the harsh cold winter and fear that hung like ice from the buildings left, and suddenly you were in paradise. Blue sky, not the gray-laden skies of Siberia.
Leo Melamed, postwar testimony
Five thousand refugees wander aimlessly today in Kobe, Japan, awaiting precious papers for entrance to America.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 1941
We have to go to Shanghai. Terrible letters come from there. One runs again to see if our names are on the list to leave. Before, when one saw his name on the list, one was happy. Today...one cries.
Rose Shoshana Kahan diary entry, 1941
Most Jewish refugees who obtained Dutch and Japanese stamps in the late summer of 1940 did not leave immediately. Not until early 1941 did the Soviets allow large numbers of refugees to travel. They immediately scrambled to book passage on the Trans-Siberian Express.
The Trans-Siberian journey took refugees 5,800 miles in ten days to the port of Vladivostok. Hindsight would show how narrow this window of opportunity had been. All Trans-Siberian travel for private citizens ended on June 21, 1941, when German forces invaded the Soviet Union.
When the refugees left Soviet territory on steamers headed for Japan, the refugees danced and sang, enjoying their freedom. But no one knew what lay ahead. After landing in the port of Tsuruga, the refugees traveled by train to Kobe, where a small community headed by Russian Jewish merchants assisted them. The Japanese people regarded the Jewish travelers with curiosity and kindness. Japanese authorities were not hostile toward Jews, but were concerned that persons supposed to be traveling through Japan did not end up staying there.
A few of the refugees proceeded quickly to the United States and other countries. The stay of hundreds of others stretched from weeks into months. Many despaired of ever obtaining final destination visas from American and other diplomats. Concern for loved ones left behind increased when Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
World tensions mounted after Japanese forces occupied French Indochina in July 1941. All passenger routes from Japan to North and South America, Australia, and India were terminated. In mid-August, nearly 1,000 refugees were still stranded in Japan. Japanese officials forced the remaining refugees to leave for the dreaded destination of Shanghai, China, then under Japanese control.
DESTINATION OF LAST RESORT
Everyone was in shock at what we saw. We'd never dreamt it would look like it did. We never had any idea what China was about, how poor it was.
Hanni Sondheimer Vogelweid, postwar interview
All of “Hongkew” presents itself as a terrible portrait. Dilapidated houses, ruins from bombs, skeletons of former factories, and bombed out shops.
Rose Shoshana Kahan diary entry, 1941
We didn't know what was going to happen. We didn't know how we were going to survive. We didn't know how the Japanese would treat us. Everything was very, very confusing.
Yonia Fain, postwar testimony
We felt that we lost everything ... we ever knew .... We tried not to struggle with the question: Why do I deserve to be alive, when my brothers died, when my family died
Yonia Fain, postwar testimony
The fields of Poland lament, the trees of Lithuania weep, and cursed Europe is crying - where are our Jews? Why did our earth become a grave for them?
While in Japan, the refugees heard that Shanghai was crowded, unsanitary, and crime-ridden. Still, they were shocked by what they saw when they landed. In the city's International Settlement, hundreds of thousands of destitute Chinese lived amid a foreign community led by wealthy British and American traders and financiers. An established community of 4,000 Russian Jews assisted the refugees from Poland who joined a much larger refugee community of more than 17,000 German and Austrian Jews who had fled Nazi persecution.
Trapped in Shanghai by the Pacific war, Jewish refugees suffered from shortages of food, clothing, and medicine. They endured unemployment and isolation, with no news from families still in Europe. The refugees were subjected to countless Japanese decrees. In 1943, Jews from Germany, Austria, and Poland were forced into a designated area for “stateless refugees” - soon known as “the ghetto” by residents.
The treatment of Jews by individual officials was sometimes unpredictable and cruel but Japanese policy in Shanghai was based on nationality, and did not involve persecution of Jews as a group, let alone their mass murder and genocide. Russian Jews in Shanghai continued to live and work freely through the war. Members of the Mir Yeshiva continued their studies, and became the only eastern European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust nearly intact. At war's end in August 1945, this distinction in treatment became fully apparent to the refugees as they learned about the Holocaust and mourned the tragic loss of family, friends, and entire Jewish communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, and distinguished guests. Thank you for inviting me all the way from Jerusalem, the City of God, to Los Angeles, the City of Angels, to open this first Jewish and Japanese-American conference. For many years, while working on various aspects of Japanese history, I have been interested in the relations between the Jews and the Japanese, and in the cultural comparison between these two peoples. I am therefore delighted to witness today this link being forged, in this city where more people of Jewish and Japanese descent live together than in any other place in the world.
It has often been said that American society is a melting pot, where different elements are transformed into a new substance. In rebuttal to that, it has been argued that rather than a melting pot, American society is a salad bowl, in which each element preserves its original nature. My own gastronomic suggestion is that it is a sukiyaki pan, where different ingredients simmer together in the same sauce, assuming a common flavor, but retaining much of their original shape, color, and taste. The pan and the sauce are important, but it is the ingredients that make the dish so tasty. Today I would like to speak about two of these ingredients, the tofu and the matzoh-ball, to stretch somewhat the sukiyaki example, which seem to me the most delicious.
The Jews and the Japanese arrived in the United States from opposite geographical directions. The Jews came from the East, that is Europe, and settled first on the Atlantic coast; whereas the Japanese arrived from the West, that is Asia, and settled on the Pacific coast. They also came from opposite religious backgrounds. The Jews came from a monotheistic creed, in which an almighty God expected them to obey his commandments and observe his rules. Religion was, therefore, for them the cardinal element in their collective self-identity. The Japanese arrived from a polytheistic, nature-oriented way of life, which emphasized spirituality but tolerated different faiths and made few demands. Shinto and Buddhism could be adapted to new circumstances, modified, or altogether discarded, without affecting the collective self-identity of the Japanese.
Let me give you two examples. Most Jews today live according to the Western, Gregorian calendar, but when celebrating their religious holidays all of them follow the traditional Jewish calendar. In Japan, when the government decided to adopt the Western calendar in 1873, all holidays moved back by about a month-and-a-half, without any significant public protest being registered. It was as if the government of Israel were to decide that Rosh Hashana should be observed on September 1st and Yom Kippur on September 10th, and everyone accepted it. At that time, the Meiji government in Japan also decided that in order to improve the health of the people, the Japanese should start eating meat and drinking milk, something that for more than a millennium they had abstained from doing. To convince the people to change their diet, the government asked Emperor Meiji to eat meat and drink milk in public, which he obediently did. Just imagine the government of Israel, or of any other country, asking the chief rabbi to eat pork in public, because this might improve the health of the people, and the rabbi doing it.
When the Jews and the Japanese adopted modern Western culture in the nineteenth century, they did it without adopting Christianity. But they rejected the Western religion for different reasons. The Jews rejected it because religion was very important to them; therefore, becoming a Christian meant abandoning the Jewish people and betraying their families and friends. The Japanese rejected Christianity because religion was less important to them, and they saw no reason why they should adopt an exclusive foreign faith that would prevent them from worshipping their gods and ancestors. So the Jews who arrived in America stuck to Judaism, and only a very few converted to Christianity. On the other hand, many Japanese immigrants saw it as logical and proper to adopt the religion of their host country, in the same way that they would worship a local deity in Japan. After all, Jesus was the local deity of the U.S. Some Japanese remained Buddhist, preferring the tolerant spirituality that they had been accustomed to. Very few remained Shintoists, a religion that is rooted in the landscapes and seasons of Japan, although some of the new Shinto sects, like Tenrikyo, have gained believers.
There was another difference between the Jews and the Japanese. The Jews had a long tradition of living in foreign countries and of moving from one place to another. Since the destruction of their Second Temple, almost two thousand years ago, they have been wandering in the world, maintaining their ethnic and religious identity without a state or a permanent territorial base of their own, surviving as a minority in often hostile societies. Unlike the Japanese, the Jews did not arrive in the United States from their own country, but from other countries, which they had regarded as exile, and where conditions were worse. Immigrating to the United States did not disrupt Jewish culture. On the contrary, after a period of adjustment, it flourished as never before in modern times.
The Japanese historical experience was different. From the time they became a nation around the third century, until the end of World War II, the Japanese had continuously lived in an independent and sovereign state, and they felt no need to leave it. The self-imposed national seclusion of the Edo period, from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, strengthened this identification of the people with their land. When Japanese laborers started emigrating to Hawaii and California in the late nineteenth century, most of them were historically and culturally 'ready' to shed their ties with the homeland. The first generation, the Issei, spoke Japanese and observed Japanese customs; but their children, the Nissei, hardly spoke Japanese and tried to become full Americans.
It is significant that the Jewish immigrants called themselves American Jews, whereas the Japanese insisted on calling themselves Japanese Americans. The Jews maintained connections with other Jewish communities in the world, and when the State of Israel was established, many of them became its staunch supporters. The Japanese Americans showed less interest in other Japanese communities, and when their former country attacked their adopted one, they gave their full support to the United States, and they continue to support it in its present trade dispute with Japan. It is inconceivable for Japanese Americans to establish a pro-Japan lobby in Washington on the model of the Israel lobby there. Yet Japanese Americans are no longer ashamed of their country of origin. Hideo Nomo, pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, may be providing them today with the same sense of pride that Israel used to provide for American Jews.
Despite the differences of history and culture, there are interesting similarities between the Japanese Americans and the American Jews, a fact which makes this conference all the more exciting. One similarity is that both communities have been victims of racism and discrimination for a long time. In the first half of this century, religious and racial antisemitism was rampant in various parts of the United States, and Jews were discriminated against in universities, public offices, housing, and jobs. Although antisemitism is less explicit today than it was in the past, it is not dead, and antisemitic outbursts occur from time to time.
The fate of the Japanese Americans was even worse. At the beginning of the century, Japanese immigrants in California were harassed, they could not be naturalized or own land, and their children were excluded from public schools. Then the Immigration Law of 1924 banned all Oriental immigration into the United States. The discriminatory nature of this law was manifested in the fact that with regard to Occidentals immigration policy was based on the country of origin, whereas with regard to Orientals it was based on race. Therefore a Japanese citizen of Canada, say, could not immigrate to the United States because of the color of his skin. Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the entire Japanese population of the West Coast, numbering about 112,000 persons, most of them American citizens born in the United States, was incarcerated for more than three years in relocation camps in desolate parts of the country. This was done to them despite the fact that none of them had engaged in any illegal activity, and no similar measures were taken against Americans of German origin. Nevertheless, the Japanese Americans manifested their loyalty to the U.S. during World War II by volunteering for the armed forces. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed solely of Nissei, which saw action in Europe, became the most highly decorated American unit in World War II. Japanese American soldiers of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion liberated the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, where many Jews had been imprisoned.
Despite all the discrimination they encountered, the Jews and the Japanese demonstrated great optimism and dynamism. Putting their faith in American democracy and freedom, they harnessed their energies, organized themselves to help each other, and became model ethnic minorities with the highest levels of education and the lowest rates of criminal behavior. They were able to achieve all that because they had brought with them similar core values that had long been embedded in their respective cultures.
Perhaps the most important of these core values was the high regard for education. Throughout their history, the Jews have venerated learning. To an orthodox Jew, the most meritorious activity is neither prayer nor performing rituals, but the intensive study of scriptures, like the Torah, the Talmud, and their many commentaries. Pious Jews spend most of their time in religious schools, called yeshiva, in front of books, reading, chanting, reciting, analyzing, discussing, disputing, and memorizing their texts. The Jewish rabbi is not a priest, but a teacher, selected for that post because he has excelled in learning. When in the nineteenth century the Jews entered the secular, modern society of Europe, they directed their thirst for knowledge and enthusiasm for learning toward all the fields of modern science, and within one generation became leading scholars in them.
The Japanese, too, had been a people of the book, although in a more secular sense. For many centuries they have been writing, compiling, reading, and studying books in both Chinese and Japanese. Despite their difficult writing system, they have had, since the seventeenth century, the highest rate of literacy in Asia, and one of the highest rates in the world. Despite its rigid class system, premodern Japan possessed a wide and sophisticated network of schools, in which children of aristocrats, samurai, and commoners received their education. By the beginning of this century, almost all Japanese children attended elementary school. The learned person, or sensei, has always been highly esteemed in Japan. When the Japanese decided to adopt Western techniques in the nineteenth century, they displayed the same enthusiasm for learning as did the Jews. This was not a new phenomenon in Japan, for they learned Western culture as thoroughly as they had learned Chinese culture in the past. Like the Jews, the Japanese quickly mastered the fields of science and excelled in them. In 1889, a Japanese biologist, Kitazato Shibasaburo, discovered the bacteria that cause tetanus; in 1901, a Japanese chemist Takamine Jokichi, was the first to isolate adrenalin; and in 1910, another Japanese chemist, Suzuki Umetaro, was the first to extract Vitamin B.
The Jewish and Japanese immigrants to the U.S. were poor, but almost all of them were literate, and their great ambition was that their children should attend college. They achieved that goal by working hard and saving. This shows two other core values common to these communities: esteem of family and diligence. The family was always a central institution among the Jews and the Japanese. In the Ten Commandments, "honor thy father and thy mother" appears before "thou shalt not kill" and "thou shalt not steal." In Confucianism, the social philosophy of East Asia, filial piety was the highest moral precept. When they moved to the United States, the Jews and the Japanese continued to maintain strong family connections. It was the family that prodded the young to learn and advance, and it was the family that kept them from straying into crime and violence. Making a career and acquiring fame was the best way to repay the family for what it had done for the individual. The Jewish mother and the Japanese mother also knew how to implant a sense of moral indebtedness in their children, so that they should work hard to requite it. In some ways, the Japanese showed a stronger family cohesion, for unlike many Jews, who changed their family names into English-sounding ones, the Japanese kept their surnames and none of them became a Mr. Smith or a Ms. Taylor.
It took the Japanese and the Jews a long time to discover each other. The first significant encounter occurred during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, when tens of thousands of Jewish soldiers, in Russian uniforms, fought against Japan. Although many of them distinguished themselves in battle, their sympathies were with Japan, which they regarded as a messenger of God, punishing Czarist Russia for its mistreatment of the Jews. An American Jewish banker, Jacob Schiff, helped Japan raise the loans that were needed to win the war. An American Jewish poet, Naphtali Herz Imber, the author of the Israeli anthem Hatikva, wrote poems, in Hebrew and English, praising the Japanese and their emperor.
When Albert Einstein visited Japan in 1922, he was enthusiastically received wherever he went. In the 1930s many Jewish musicians, fleeing from Nazi persecution, were welcomed in Japan, where they performed and taught music throughout the war. Yet most Japanese knew very little about the Jews, and when they became allies of Hitler, many espoused his antisemitic theories. Nevertheless, about 30,000 Jewish refugees found shelter in Japan and in Japanese-occupied territories, mainly Shanghai, during World War II. Japan lacked the religious and social roots of Western antisemitism and therefore could not understand why the Jews, who were considered to be super-rich, super-smart, and in control of the world, should be harassed instead of befriended. An outstanding example of good will toward the Jews was Sugihara Chiune, the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania. In 1940, he issued thousands of transit visas to Jewish refugees who were fleeing from the Nazi horrors, despite the objections of his superiors. His visas enabled the refugees, among them all 300 teachers and students of the Mir yeshiva, to pass through the Soviet Union and Japan, and to find shelter in Japanese-held Shanghai.
When the Allied occupation of Japan ended in 1952, Japan and Israel established diplomatic relations. Japan was the first country in Asia to establish relations with the Jewish state, and Israel was the first country in the Middle East to establish relations with Japan after World War II. So long as the two countries were poor and preoccupied with their own affairs, there was little substance to these relations. However, some young Japanese became enthusiastic about the Israeli kibbutz; and some Japanese Chistian sects, like the Makuya, developed a strong attachment to Israel, which they regard as a harbinger of the Messiah.
When the Japanese economy started prospering, Japan fell victim to the Arab boycott. Heavily dependent on Middle East oil for its surging industries, Japan refrained from expanding its economic and diplomatic relations with Israel. But it never abrogated them. Thus for many years, Israelis could buy just one brand of Japanese car, the Subaru, and so many bought them that the nickname for an Israeli nouveau riche became a subaroid. This situation started changing in the mid-1980s, with the declining leverage of the OPEC countries, and it came to an end with the Gulf War and the Middle East peace process. Today, Japan is the second largest trading partner of Israel, after the United States, and Israeli roads are jammed with Toyotas and Hondas as well as Subarus.
There is great interest in Israel in Japanese culture and in the Japanese economy. The Department of East Asian Studies at the Hebrew University, where I teach, is the largest department in the school of humanities, with about 250 students majoring in Japanese. Our university plans, if it can find the financial support, to set up a Japan Center that could serve the whole country as well as other countries in the Middle East. There is also a growing interest among Japanese in Israel and the Jews. This interest is sometimes perverted by the appearance of antisemitic books and articles based on ignorance and conspiracy theories. But there are also serious Japanese books about the Jews and Israel. A Japanese scholar, specializing in Yiddish literature, recently taught Yiddish to Israeli students at my university. And a Japanese architect, Isamu Noguchi, designed the garden of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Japanese businessmen, scholars, and diplomats often tell me that when they stayed in the United States, their best friends were Jews. It seems that there is something in these two peoples which attracts them to each other. The cooperation between Japan and Israel, and between Japanese Americans and American Jews, will invigorate them, invigorate America, and invigorate the world. It should also spur cooperation with other Asian countries, and other Asian groups in the United States, like the Chinese and the Koreans, who also come from great Asian civilizations that share many values with the Jews. Los Angeles, the probable capital of the Pacific Rim in the next century, is the proper place for such ties to be initiated and fostered.
A PRINCE AMONG THE JEWS
An expanded version can be seen on the Tablet site.
Japan’s Imperial Prince Takahito Mikasa—scholar, patron, pacifist, Hebrew-speaker —turns 100 today (Dec 2, 2015) By Menachem Butler
Prince Mikasa’s interest in devotion never waned. His Imperial Highness, the honorific commonly used to refer to Prince Mikasa, became a frequent visitor to Jewish communal events around Tokyo over the past half-century. In a 1953 essay, prominent American Reform Rabbi Arnold J. Wolf remembers how Prince Mikasa delivered remarks at a Hanukkah reception at the Allied Forces’ Tokyo Chapel Center, attacking those who believe the “superstitious belief of many Japanese in the audience that their people was descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel. He deplored the theories,” Wolf continues, “common here, that the Japanese and the Jews have some mystical affinity or spiritual identity apparent only to the initiated. The real relationship of the two peoples, more contrapuntal than identical, he considered to be more profound.” Prince Mikasa continued and “spoke of himself, also unexpected and frankly for one upon whose words millions hang. He said that after the Western powers defeated Japan (he spoke of this more openly than I had ever heard any Japanese do), he had had the on, the obligation, to Westernize himself. He had gone on to learn Western culture. And, he said, in the six years of his study, he discovered one supreme fact; that the Jews were the key to Western civilization. The truth incarnated in Judaism, a truth of being rather than of theory, is the central meaning of history. … History had brought him—Prince Mikasa—to the Jew, he said, and Judaism had brought him back to himself. For the Jew is not only the father of the West, he is the scion of the Orient. He is the holy bridge (a traditional and poignant Japanese symbol) between East and West. Through understanding Judaism, the Prince regained a sense of his dignity as a member of his people; he was again proud to be Japanese.”
The Fugu Plan Wikia
The Fugu Plan: Marvin Tokayer, Mary Swartz, Gefen Publishing House Ltd, 2004 - 287 pages
The Jews of Kobe by Tamar Engel Summer 1995
The Jews of Japan by Daniel Ari Kapner and Stephen Levine, 1 March 2000
Jewish Japan Haruth Communications
Jewish settlement in the Japanese Empire Wikipedia
Jewish settlement in Imperial Japan Wikipedia
Jews and Japanese Imperialism Occidental Observer, April 2 2011
The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders', 1 Jun 1992 by Ben-Ami Shillony
The Roots of Japan Were Ancient Israel!? - Part 1of7, Nocturnal Kawanua
Nocturnal Kawanua 2011 (13.77)
The Mystery of Jews in Japan
World Turtle Productions, LLC
CLICK BUTTON TO GO TO SECTION
Use LINKS to go to sites linking Japan to The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel
JEWS and JAPAN
Claims have been made over the past few hundred years that some of the Lost Tribes of Israel settled in Japan.
In 1905 the Russo-Japanese war for Manchuria in what is now north east China was deadlocked. Russia knew Japan could not endure an expensive land war with them while other countries were unwilling to support Japan.
The Japanese obtained finance from Jacob Schiff, a Jewish banker in New York, who hated the Russians for their treatment of Jews. These helped the Japanese rearm, defeat the Russian navy and give them a boost of self-confidence and blocked Russian expansion in the Far East.
In 1931 the Japanese provoked the Mukden Incident and occupied Manchuria from China creating the puppet state of Manchukuo. Attempts by the Japanese army to attract Japanese colonists to Manchuria met with little success. Memorandums written in 1930s proposed the Fugu Plan under which refugees would be encouraged to settle there for the benefit of their supposed economic prowess and help convince the United States, and American Jewry, to grant political favor and invest in Japan. This idea was partly based on the acceptance of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as being a genuine document by part of the Japanese leadership.
Approximately 24,000 Jews escaped the Holocaust by immigrating through Japan or living under Japanese rule. This is looked back favourably though it did not meet the 50,000 expected, or have the expected wealth to contribute to the Japanese economy,
Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986), the first Japanese consul general in Kovno, Lithuania. issued more than 2,000 transit visas for Jewish refugees. He was bestowed with the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1985. His action saved the Mir Yeshiva, one of the largest centers of rabbinical study today and the only European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust.
Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness
Professor Diehl Loyola
Chabad of Tokyo Japan
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE