T O P I C
According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola’s “World Jewish Population, 2016,” Japan, is home to between 1,000 and 1,400 Jews. Almost entirely composed of Jewish foreigners and expatriates, the Japanese Jewish community is well-organized and vibrant. The Jewish Community in Japan is represented by the Jewish Community of Japan (JCJ) –
the Japanese affiliate of the World Jewish CongresS.
World Jewish Congress (1918)
Jews first arrived in Japan as merchants employed by the Dutch and British navies in the 16th and 17th centuries, before the implementation of Japan’s “closed door” foreign policy. After Japan closed its doors to the outside world, there was no permanent Jewish, or any foreign community in the country for centuries. It was not until Commodore Matthew Perry agreed to a treaty with Japanese officials to open the island to international trade in 1854, that foreigners were allowed back into Japan. Shortly after, small Jewish communities began to spring up in some port cities throughout the island.
The majority of these early Jewish immigrants settled in Yokohama, a city just south of modern-day Tokyo, and were largely involved in the booming trading and commerce industries that developed with industrialization in Japan. Jewish refugees from Russia, fleeing pogroms, arrived in Nagasaki and began establishing a community there towards the end of the 19th century. When the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, nearly 2,000 Russian Jewish soldiers were taken prisoner in Japan, and after their release at the war’s conclusion, they formed a Jewish community in Kobe. Further Jewish immigration to Japan followed the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the later Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.
After World War I, the Japanese Jewish population had grown to over a few thousand people, and most communities were situated in major cities throughout the island. However, the Jewish community in Nagasaki moved to Kobe in 1923 following the great Kanto earthquake. Around this time, anti-Semitism began to surface in Japan, as Japanese troops sent to Siberia to aid the White Army against the Red Army were introduced to Russian anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and propaganda.
Japan’s alignment with Nazi Germany in 1940 saw the absorption of further antisemitic ideologies and propaganda into Japanese society, particularly in some of Japan’s ruling circles. However, Japanese society was mostly apathetic to the Nazi’s fervent antisemitism, and did not view the “Jewish question” as particularly important. The Five Ministers Council, the highest decision-making council in Japan, did decide to prohibit the expulsion of Jews in Japan in 1938, despite Germany’s reminders about the “dangers” Jews in Japan posed, but Japanese policy towards Jews in the lead up to the war was still discriminatory.
In the aftermath of World War II, Japan was occupied by the United States and the Jewish community in Japan reached its peak, as many Jewish officials of General MacArthur’s regime and Jewish G.I.’s were stationed in Japan throughout occupation. This included Charles Louis Kades, who was instrumental in the passing of the GHQ’s draft of the Japanese constitution in 1946. When the occupation ended in 1952, the number of Jews in Japan fell considerably.
As Japan continued to rebound throughout the latter half of the 20th century, many foreign Jewish workers came to Japan due to increased economic opportunities. This was particularly the case in Tokyo, as the Jewish community in the capital city experienced increased growth throughout the 1970s and 1980s, while also establishing a number of Jewish institutions. Today, almost all Jews in Japan are expatriates representing foreign businesses, banks, or financial institutions, and the Jewish community in Japan exists peacefully with its non-Jewish neighbors.
THE YEARS OF THE HOLOCAUST
In the years leading up to the war and the Shoah, German officials had pressured Japan to do something with their Jewish population, but Japanese governmental and military officials never capitulated to Nazi recommendations of extermination programs. Before the outbreak of fighting, Asia was generally considered a place of refuge for Jews fleeing Nazism. Many Jewish populations that would eventually come under Japanese occupation swelled considerably. Chiune Sugihara, who was a Japan’s Consul in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, began issuing visas to Jews despite contrary orders from Tokyo. He issued between 2,100 and 3,500 transit visas by the time he was forced to leave the country after its annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940.
As the Japanese took over many territories throughout Eastern Asia and the Pacific, many Jewish communities found themselves administered by an Axis power. Yet, the Japanese were mostly towards Jewish citizens who fell under their administration, with Jews generally labelled with the same suspicion afforded other non-Japanese nationals under occupation. Though there were some isolated incidents of Jews interned in detention camps in Malaysia and the Netherlands East Indies, and semi-internment camps in the Hongkew district of Shanghai, Japan largely kept to a policy of neutrality towards Jews during the war.
The biggest problems facing most Jewish communities in Eastern Asia during World War II were financial ones, as the pre-war population increases strained Asian Jewish communities during the war years. Japan allowed Jewish relief organizations, notably the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to operate throughout the course of the war. After the war, many Jews who had been in Japanese-occupied territories during the war emigrated to countries such as the United States, Canada, and Israel.
Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that athere re between 1,000 and 1,400 Jews in Japan as of 2015. Most Jews in Japan live in the capital of Tokyo, though there are also smaller communities in Kobe and other cities.
Jewish life in Japan is centered around the Jewish Community of Japan (JCJ), which acts as the communal representative body for Japan’s Jewish community. It works to ensure that the Jews in the country, including expatriates on short-term residencies, are accounted for and able to practice Jewish cultural and religious life. In that regard, the Jewish Community of Japan is also affiliated with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) on a regional level, and the WJC on an international level, allowing the community in Japan to be connected to Jews throughout the world. There is a Jewish community center in Tokyo and Kobe.
A number of Jewish organizations operate in Japan, mostly out of Tokyo. This includes the Japan-Israel Women’s Welfare Organization, Japan Israel Friendship Association, and the Japanese Women’s Group, which all contribute to humanitarian and Jewish educational endeavors undertaken by the Jewish community in Japan.
RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL LIFE
Jewish religious life in Japan is largely centered around Tokyo, with two active synagogues, though there is also an active synagogue in Kobe. The Beth David Synagogue has a resident rabbi and is not aligned with any particular strain of Judaism, instead focusing on serving a plurality of multi-national attendants. There is also a mikveh and chevre kadisha. Additionally, Chabad runs two official centers in Tokyo and Kobe.
Kosher food is available in Tokyo and Kobe.
There are no Jewish day schools in Japan, but the JCJ maintains twice-weekly classes for adolescents and a Sunday school. Additionally, both the JCJ and Chabad offer Jewish adult educational courses, including Hebrew lessons.
In terms of Jewish secondary education, Judac Studies is available in some Japanese universities. The Institute of Social Sciences at Waseda University offers a Jewish Studies Program and there is an academic journal published by the Japan Society for Jewish Studies called “Studies on Jewish Life and Culture (Yudava-Isuraeru Kenkvu).
INFORMATION FOR VISITORS
There is a Holocaust memorial at Hiroshima and the Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum, which exhibits the efforts of the Japanese ambassador to save the lives of Lithuanian Jews during the Holocaust, also constitutes a notable Jewish site in Japan.
Israel and Japan maintain full diplomatic relations, with both nations engaging in increased research and economic ties; mainly through tech start-ups and defense.
Embassy of Israel in Tokyo,3 Nibancho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0084
Telephone: 81-3-3264-0911 Fax: 81-3-3264-0971 Email: email@example.com
THE FUGU PLAN
After his ordination as a rabbi, Marvin Tokayer served as United States Air Force Chaplain in Japan. Upon discharge he returned to Tokyo to serve for eight years as the rabbi for the Jewish Community of Japan. He wrote 20 books in Japanese, discovered literally the last of the Chinese Jews; located a long-lost Jewish cemetery in Nagasaki; contributed to the Encyclopedia Judaica; acted as a bridge for many travelers between East and West; served the needs of his congregation.
His investigations took him throughout Asia, to Israel and Washington D.C. as he searched for documents and tracked down the people who had taken part in the rescue of Jews from the Holocaust.
In 1979 Rabbi Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz authored a book called The Fugu Plan. 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. 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. Shortly prior to and during World War II, and coinciding with the Second Sino-Japanese War, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were resettled in the Japanese Empire.
The onset of the European war by Nazi Germany involved the lethal mass persecutions and genocide of Jews, later known as the Holocaust, resulting in thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing east. Many ended up in Japanese-occupied China.
Originally the idea of a small group of Japanese government and military officials who saw a need for a population to be established in Manchukuo (otherwise known as Manchuria) and help build Japan's industry and infrastructure there, the primary members of this group included Captain Koreshige Inuzuka and Captain Norihiro Yasue, who became known as "Jewish experts", the industrialist Yoshisuke Aikawa and a number of officials in the Kwantung Army, known as the "Manchurian Faction".Their decision to attract Jews to Manchukuo came from a belief that the Jewish people were wealthy and had considerable political influence. Jacob Schiff, a Jewish-American banker who, thirty years earlier, offered sizable loans to the Japanese government which helped it win the Russo-Japanese War, was well known. It was assumed that by rescuing European Jews from the Nazis, Japan would gain unwavering and eternal favor from American Jewry. A high-level Japanese government reports on plans for mass emigration to Manchuria in 1936 included references to ethnic conflict between Jews and Arabs as scenarios to avoid. These influential Japanese policy makers and institutions referred to Zionist forms of cooperative agricultural settlement as a model that Japanese should emulate. A colonial enterprise having parallels with Japan's own expansion into Asia.
By 1940, Japanese occupied Manchuria was host to 17,000 Jewish refugees, most coming from Eastern Europe.Yasue, Inuzuka and other sympathetic diplomats wished to utilize those Jewish refugees in Manchuria and Shanghai in return for the favorable treatments accorded to them. Japanese official quarters expected American Jewry influence American Far Eastern policy and make it neutral or pro-Japanese and attract badly needed Jewish capital for the industrial development of Manchuria.
Post-war, the 1952 recognition of full diplomatic relations with Israel by the Japanese government was a breakthrough amongst Asian nations.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. N° de ref. de la librería 72514
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.
See The Rescue of the Mir Yeshiva, Yad Vashem
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.
THE JEWS OF JAPAN
Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs,
Stephen Levine and Daniel Ari Kapner, March 1, 2000
Jews in Japan / Origins: Nagasaki and Yokohama / Kobe and Tokyo / Japan: A Haven for Refugees / Japan and the Holocaust / Jews in Japanese Thinking / Japanese Fascination with Judaism and Israel / The Future of Jewish Life in Japan
JEWS IN JAPAN
No one – apart perhaps from a few Japanese who see themselves as descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel – would think of Japan as in any sense a Jewish homeland. Yet among the many shrines and temples, Shinto and Buddhist, there stand occasional monuments to Jewish commitment and endeavor. As ever, this is part of a heritage in which hope and despair, longing and sacrifice, war and struggle, have all been mingled together.
Certainly this is true of Tokyo, whose Jewish community rose improbably out of the ashes of Allied victory. Probably there were more Jews in Japan during the postwar American Occupation than at any other time in the country’s long history. Although the Occupation ended in 1952, an American military presence persists, with armed forces based in Okinawa as well as at other facilities. As a result, American Jews, both men and women, remain in Japan, able to take part in Jewish life if they wish to do so. At Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo, for instance, there is a small “chapel,” complete with Torah scroll, which is used on the High Holy Days and on other occasions. It would not be surprising if on these days the number of Jews worshiping at American military facilities were comparable to the numbers taking part in services at Japan’s two synagogues, in the capital, Tokyo, and in western Japan (Kansai) in the port city of Kobe.
Although Japan may be regarded as quite removed from Jewish life, the country has had its own rich Jewish history. Here can be glimpsed distinctive Jewish values as well as significant and unique ties to the wider Japanese society. At present, the Tokyo and Kobe Jewish communities make it possible for Jews of many different backgrounds – teachers of English, visiting business people, itinerant students and travelers, Israeli jewelry dealers, American tourists – to observe festivals and holidays, to keep the Sabbath, and to preserve their ties to the community, their faith, and one another.
ORIGINS: NAGASAKI AND YOKOHAMA
Although Jewish travelers are known to have entered Japan with Portuguese and Dutch merchants as early as the sixteenth century, Jews did not permanently settle in Japan until after Commodore Perry’s arrival there in 1853. The first Jewish settler came to Yokohama – near Tokyo – in 1861. The earliest Jewish tombstone dates from only four years later. By 1895 this community, which developed to about 50 families, was able to dedicate Japan’s first synagogue. While the community was never large, the foreigners’ cemetery in Yokohama exhibits its diversity through tombstones etched in Hebrew, German, French, Russian, German, and Japanese.
Jews also settled in Nagasaki during the 1880s. As a significant Japanese port, the city was more accessible to Jews fleeing from Russian pogroms. Accordingly, the Nagasaki community, with about 100 families, was soon larger than the one in Yokohama. The Beth Israel Synagogue – which used to be depicted on Rosh Hashanah greeting cards sold at the Tokyo synagogue – was built in 1894. There is also a Hebrew section in its foreigners’ cemetery. Although the Nagasaki community was regarded as an active one, during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 the community disintegrated, passing its Torah scroll to the Jews of Kobe, a group of Jewish soldiers and recently freed prisoners of war who had participated in the Czar’s army and the Russian revolution of 1905. One of the most esteemed members of this group was Joseph Trumpeldor, who lost an arm during the Russo-Japanese War and was later to become one of the genuine heroes of the Zionist movement for his role in the formation of the Jewish defense forces in Palestine.
The great earthquake of 1923 that destroyed most of Tokyo had a major effect on Jewish life in Japan as well. Until that time the most active Jewish community in Japan was in Yokohama. Following the earthquake the community moved to Kobe, which then had about 50 families.
KOBE AND TOKYO
During the early to middle 1900s, the Kobe community was composed largely of Jews from Russia, the Middle East, and Germany. In most cases, the Russian Jews had arrived in Japan via the Manchurian city of Harbin, which had three synagogues, a Jewish school, and a population of about 30,000 Jews. The Middle Eastern Jews, known as “Baghdadi Jews,” originally came to Kobe from present-day Iraq and Syria, as well as from Yemen, Iran, and other areas in Central Asia and the Middle East. Perhaps the most prominent family among them was the Sassoons, known as the “Rothschilds of the East.” Other Jews came to Japan from Central and Eastern Europe, and particularly from Germany. While some emigrated for economic reasons, others responded to changing developments during the 1930s.
The Tokyo community – now Japan’s largest – was slower to develop. Indeed, the Japanese capital only became an important center of Jewish life with the arrival of the American Jewish servicemen. From the postwar period through to the present, small numbers of Jews regularly arrive from the United States and Western Europe for business, academic, or professional reasons. The Tokyo community has a higher profile than Kobe, and the presence of the Israeli Embassy in the capital also may give members some additional opportunities for cultural and social activities. The Jewish Community of Japan, Tokyo’s central representative body, is affiliated with the World Jewish Congress. In addition to the synagogue, the community center houses a Hebrew school, library, and recreational facilities. Friday night and Saturday services are followed by a kosher communal meal. The community premises, when launched, also included a Jewish Club, with a billiards room and other amenities.
Each community is organized along familiar constitutional lines. For instance, the Kobe community is organized as the Jewish Community of Kansai, with a General Committee consisting of a President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary, and House Committee Chairman. The Constitution requires at least one General Meeting every six months as a well as a monthly meeting of its Committee. As in other small communities, the importance of these constitutional principles and procedures to members has faded except at moments of communal controversy.
Communal membership is open to “all persons of the Jewish Faith 18 years of age and over, who are recognized permanent or semi-permanent residents.” Although there are procedures to recommend that members “resign” from the community, the Kobe Constitution also stipulates that “under no condition shall a member of the Jewish Faith be denied the right to worship at the Synagogue.” The Jews of Kobe are represented by the Jewish Community of Kansai, which is also affiliated with the World Jewish Congress. There was substantial damage to the Kobe synagogue during the 1995 earthquake, but the structure was completely repaired. One of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments over the Ark was damaged but has since been replaced.
The services in Kobe and Tokyo are a mixture of traditional and modern. The Kobe synagogue, Ohel Shelomoh, was built in 1970, not far from the Kobe Club, set up for foreign residents in the city’s attractive Kitano section. An earlier synagogue was destroyed in air raids during World War II. The community conducts its services largely according to Sephardic practice, reflecting the origins of its founders, although most of the Jews attending services are usually Ashkenazim. There is no full-time resident rabbi and the size of the community probably makes it unlikely that one will be recruited. Some services are conducted by visiting rabbis. In 1999, for example, a Chabad rabbi visited the Kobe community during Passover before returning with his family to his position in Hong Kong. Over the High Holy Day period the community was assisted in 1999 by a very popular Israeli, who led services which attracted many other Israelis from their work in Osaka and elsewhere.
The community is very warm and welcoming. After Friday night services all those who wish to do so can stay for dinner, with a kosher meal prepared by a Japanese cook. Meals are also provided after morning services and there is a “third meal” just before the evening service. Usually most of those attending services will remain throughout the day, only leaving after havdalah.
The Tokyo community has a full-time American rabbi. In 1999 Rabbi Carnie Rose, a Canadian, left for a position in Long Island; he was replaced by Rabbi Elliot Marmon, an American who had previously held a position in North Carolina. The Tokyo congregation has had some communal strife over its services. At present, the rabbi presides over an “egalitarian” service in the main sanctuary while an Orthodox service may be held (numbers permitting) elsewhere in the Center. Seating in the sanctuary is also somewhat innovative, with shared seating (men and women sitting together) in the middle. Sections reserved exclusively for men or for women are found on either side. Although inevitably there are some tensions as a result of the synagogue offering two distinctively different services simultaneously – they never finish at the same time – this is perhaps an improvement over the Kobe situation, where those unhappy with the Orthodox arrangements (women sit in a separate area behind a partition) simply do not attend or take part in Jewish activities.
It is always hazardous to attempt to estimate the numbers of Jews in a particular community. Japan’s Jewish population (excluding American armed forces personnel and diplomatic staff) is probably about 600, mostly in Tokyo, although the number who are active in synagogue or community affairs is considerably less. In such small communities a Bar or Bat Mitzvah – or a Jewish wedding – is a rare event indeed.
JAPAN: A HAVEN FOR REFUGEES
Japan has always been one of the most homogeneous of countries. There is no commitment to a “plural” society and the only statues of liberty are replicas which for some reason crop up in all sorts of places around the country. Japanese attitudes towards foreigners have in fact oscillated wildly throughout Japan’s history, from outright hostility to the most extravagant admiration. Visitors today will often find Japanese people to be as genuinely kind and compassionate as any, and there have been occasions in the past when these qualities have served to save Jewish lives. For instance, during 1917-20, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Jews of Yokohama and Kobe were able to offer significant help to several thousand Jewish refugees with the cooperation of the Japanese government. Many of these refugees had been unable to land in Japan because they lacked the necessary funds. This problem was resolved through the help of Jacob Schiff, the leader of the New York banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb, and Company, and the then president of the American Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). Since Schiff had given Japan important financial assistance during the Russo-Japanese War, his request to make Yokohama and Kobe transit centers for the refugees was quickly accepted.
JAPAN AND THE HOLOCAUST
More recently, and more remarkably, Japan became one of the world’s only countries where Jews could find refuge from the Holocaust. This occurred despite Japan’s alliance with Nazi Germany. Following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Jewish refugees were unable to board Italian or Japanese ships en route from Italy to Shanghai or Japan. With passage from the Mediterranean effectively blocked, the only escape route east was through the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway bound for Vladivostok. This route remained open until the German invasion of Russia in June 1941. More than 10,000 Jews, fleeing for their lives, were able to enter neutral Lithuania from Poland between October 1939 and May 1940. Among them were nearly 5,000 who successfully made their way to Japan.
These refugees were granted passage through the help of the Dutch Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Consul offered the refugees misleading landing permits and transit visas to Curacao in the Dutch West Indies. They were also assisted by Chiune Sugihara, the first representative of the Japanese consulate in Lithuania, who had arrived to take up his position in August 1939. Although the Japanese have generally not had a reputation for individuality – to say nothing of conspicuous disobedience to direct orders – Sugihara ignored instructions from his own government, going on to issue several thousand passports with a Japanese 8-12 day transit visa. Hillel Levine’s 1996 book, In Search of Sugihara, suggests this remarkable figure, motivated, it seems, solely by kindness and humanity, may have saved as many as 10,000 lives. In any case, the documents he granted were sufficient to allow those Jews fortunate enough to have them to secure exit visas from the Russian authorities.
Sugihara’s heroism, recognized years later by the State of Israel (and Yad Vashem), cost him dearly with his own government. He sacrificed his career while enabling thousands of Jews to survive. In Japan itself, notwithstanding the government’s equivocal attitude, compassion for Jewish refugees soon overcame any political reservations. The Japanese government assisted Jews and Jewish organizations, such as the National Council of Jews in Asia, providing food, shelter, and transportation. Individual Japanese offered Jewish people free medical service, gifts and food, treating them with decency and generosity.
About 500 of the Jewish refugees were students, rabbis, and families from the Yeshiva of Mir, the only European institute of Talmudic learning to remain intact throughout the Holocaust. While efforts were made to move the Yeshiva to the West, it established its study hall (Beit Midrash) in a Kobe neighborhood. Since the Japanese had never seen a yeshiva before, especially one whose daily 18 hours of study consisted of fervent singing and praying, an official was sent to examine the school. The yeshiva not only received “clearance” from the government, its members were regarded as “Holy idealists.”
The refugees lived peacefully in Japan for some three to eight months, beginning in the winter of 1940-41. Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor half of them were able to move to the United States, Canada, and other areas in the Western Hemisphere. With no other place to turn, the remainder, including the entire Yeshiva of Mir, relocated to Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Here, too, the Japanese record proved exemplary, as the government resisted determined and repeated requests from Nazi German officials for assistance in the relocation and extermination of the Jews in the Shanghai ghetto.
Explicit anti-Jewish activity in Japan has been minimal. There are some accounts of Jews losing jobs during World War II. Music schools where Jewish performers taught were closed. On the whole, however, German advice and encouragement for the Japanese to establish anti-Jewish policies met with resistance from Japanese officials. Some of this reluctance may have been influenced by hopes of access to Jewish capital. Nevertheless, on December 31, 1940, Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke told a group of Jewish businessmen, “I am the man responsible for the alliance with Hitler, but nowhere have I promised that we would carry out his anti-Semitic policies in Japan. This is not simply my personal opinion, it is the opinion of Japan, and I have no compunction about announcing it to the world.”
There have also been many cases where Japanese, seeing themselves as victims of wartime raids and nuclear attack, have sympathized strongly with Jewish suffering. Some Japanese see parallels between their own personal and family wartime tragedies and those experienced by the Jews of Europe. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl has been required reading for Japanese students for many years, and copies of the book can be seen in many Japanese homes. The book first appeared in Japan in 1952 and has since sold millions of copies. There have been numerous student essay contests about the work and there is even a company named after her, Anne Co., Ltd.
Films about the Holocaust are frequently shown in Japan, both on television and in the movies. The most recent to gain wide exposure is the award-winning Italian movie “Life is Beautiful.” Other incidents and events (such as the trials of Nazi war criminals) have also brought the Holocaust to Japanese public awareness. There is a Holocaust Museum in Hiroshima and a Holocaust Resource Center in Tokyo, as well as some Japanese poetry comparing Hiroshima with Auschwitz.
JEWS IN JAPANESE THINKING
The Japanese attitude towards Jews, Judaism, and Israel seems somewhat complex. Only rarely is it accompanied by much first-hand information or detailed knowledge. Most Japanese people lack any awareness of Jews, which in some cases seems in many ways quite remarkable. For instance, few Japanese residents of Tokyo or Kobe would have any idea that there were Jewish communities or synagogues located in their cities. A visitor asking for directions to the synagogue might as well be inquiring after the most direct route to the pyramids. The nature of Jewish life, too, lies outside of Japanese experience. As for what takes place inside a synagogue, this is almost a complete mystery. Yet Japanese people are singularly thoughtful and sensitive. One hint of dietary requirements is all that is necessary for Japanese to go to great lengths, over a long and sustained period, to ensure that a visitor’s needs will be fully met.
Such anti-Jewish attitudes as may exist stem more from a heritage of anti-foreign perspectives, one which goes back a long way in Japanese history and culture. As an isolated island nation which had minimal contact with foreign nations for much of its history, this has at times left Japanese people ill-equipped to deal with provocative points of view. Some anti-Jewish attitudes have at times found their way into widely read publications, yet in the long run they seem to have had little impact on individual Japanese perceptions about Jews and Judaism. Postwar Japan has developed a pacifist political culture which makes it a largely uninviting environment for organized hostility towards other peoples.
Publications identifying the Jews as the reason for Japan’s problems have had their run, but seem in the end to have had only a shallow influence on policies or events. Nevertheless, ignorance does leave scope for considerable embarrassment. In October 1999, a Japanese publication, The Weekly Post, which has 852,000 subscribers and describes itself as the best-selling news magazine in the country, focusing on politics and the economy, published a story on the proposed acquisition of a Japanese bank, and soon generated strong complaints by Jewish groups, particularly outside of Japan. The Weekly Post quickly retracted the article and carried an apology on its home page. The publication explained its error by noting that “the problem stemmed from the stereotyped image of the Jewish people that many Japanese people have.”
On occasion, Japanese images of Jews – to the extent that they have any – display a certain ambivalence. If some Japanese view Jews as powerful or affluent, others admire Jewish intellect and prosperity. Some have argued that Japan should learn from what is imagined to be Jewish business tactics and strategies. More typically, Japanese rarely meet Jews or, more accurately, realize that they are doing so. In this sense, Jewish people are seldom if ever distinguished from other foreigners unless they take some action themselves (such as observing dietary laws, the Sabbath, or holidays).
As elsewhere, anti-Zionism has had an influence over Japanese policy-makers. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, left-wing Japanese began to sympathize with the Arabs who, defeated, were now perceived as the underdog. In addition, conservative circles in government, business, and the bureaucracy were concerned about the country’s access to oil, a dependency to which resource-poor Japan has been acutely sensitive. Japanese businesses were largely willing to comply with the Arab boycott and it was not until the 1990s peace process gained momentum that Japanese companies began to take a more active role in the Israeli economy. In addition, there are some Japanese university staff who conduct research into the Hebrew language and Jewish affairs. In 1995, the Japanese-Jewish Friendship and Study Society was established, and the fourth volume of the group’s journal, Namal, was published in 1999.
JAPANESE FASCINATION WITH JUDAISM AND ISRAEL
As in other countries, some Japanese have been fascinated with kibbutz ideology, going to work for a time as volunteers at kibbutzim. It is likely that – apart from idealism and a sense of adventure – the collective approach of kibbutz life resonates well with Japanese values, which traditionally give primacy to the group over the individual. In 1963, Tezuka Nobuyoshi set up the Japan Kibbutz Association (Nihon Kibutsu Kyokai) which grew to 30,000 members within a few years. This group produced a number of publications and sent Japanese to volunteer on kibbutzim in Israel. One Japanese person who volunteered in Israel with the association wrote the 1965 best-seller, Shalom Israel, describing the warmth of kibbutz life.
Another group which sends Japanese to volunteer on kibbutzim is the Makuya, a pro-Israel Christian group which claims to have 60,000 members. The group was founded by Teshima Ikuro, who believed that the Japanese originate from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Some of the Makuya’s pro-Israel activity included a rally in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York in 1971. After Japanese terrorists opened fire in the Tel Aviv airport in 1972, Teshima went to Israel to apologize to the families and offer bereavement. As well, 3,000 members led the first demonstration in Japan, held in Tokyo after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, to promote peace in Israel.
Another pro-Israel group is the Japanese Christian Friends of Israel, with perhaps 10,000 members. Its headquarters, Beit Shalom (House of Peace), is located in Kyoto. The group is also well known for its choir, the Shinome (Dawn) Chorus, which sings Israeli and Japanese songs and has traveled to Israel, Europe, and the United States. The group’s main ideology centers on support for Israel and includes prayers for the coming of the Messiah. Rather than encourage conversion to Christianity, the group emphasizes peace between peoples. The Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, visited Beit Shalom in 1999. Jews and Israelis are specifically welcome to stay at Beit Shalom for up to three nights free of charge.
Kampo Harada, one of Japan’s most famous calligraphers, also believed that the Japanese were descended from the lost tribes. Kampo went all over the world to do calligraphy, even traveling to Israel to paint for Yitzhak Rabin. Kampo was an earnest collector of Judaica. Hidden in the back of his Kyoto museum is a small room filled with Jewish books, three Torah scrolls, and various Jewish objects for use with prayer. Kampo’s impressive collection includes hundreds of books about Israel, Jewish thought, prayer books, and books in Hebrew. There are rare works such as the Babylonian Talmud, the complete Zohar, and a Torah scroll which was saved at the end of World War II by an American soldier in Germany. Kampo collected Jewish books for forty years, and has another 4,600 books being held at a museum in Shiga-ken.
THE FUTURE OF JEWISH LIFE IN JAPAN
When the Tokyo synagogue, Beth David, with its beautiful sanctuary, was dedicated in November 1968, the motives for maintaining Jewish life in Japan were articulated in a dedication speech at that time:
“Here, in a strange land on the edge of the diaspora, far from the world centers of Judaism, with no external, visible reminders of our heritage, a whole generation, our children, are in constant danger of being lost to our people.
This is why we have a Jewish Community,
why we determinedly, stubbornly, even fiercely
insist on a center of Jewish life in Tokyo,
where we can raise our children as Jews.”
Japan’s Jewish population seems destined never to be very large, however, and there remains, in Japan as elsewhere, the reality of intermarriage. The attractions of Japanese to Western visitors having long been celebrated in literature and the arts. Jews living in Japan have not been exempt from these sentiments. In most cases the children of Japanese-Jewish marriages are not raised as Jews. However, a visit to the Kobe and Tokyo synagogues also finds a handful of Japanese Jews present at services. Some of them have Jewish spouses; others have converted to Judaism for various reasons. Converts to Judaism in Japan are not numerous, but they can and do have an impact on a community’s life. In Kobe, for instance, a Japanese woman became an important member of the small community after her interest in Judaism (sparked by friendships with Kobe Jews) led to a program of study in the United States and participation in a formal conversion program. Her interest in Judaism reflected dissatisfaction with the secular attitudes of the younger generation of Japanese. Her subsequent marriage to an Israeli (formerly resident in Kobe), in Israel, was attended by other members of the Kobe congregation.
Of course Japan has a way of inspiring visitors with its own distinctive atmosphere. Some of its attractiveness is spiritual; even the seasons can seem intoxicating in Japan, with each providing its own special beauty, its own particular charm. The Japanese and the Jews – the subject of more than one book – do share much in common, as complex peoples who are among the world’s most enduring and most modern, at once traditional and innovative, respectful of the past yet zealous for the future. If any bridge is needed between them, it is surely in the example of a Japanese diplomat – long neglected both by Japanese and by Jews – a man who, nearly 60 years ago, held life in his fingertips, in the form of pieces of paper, and gave them to all that he could reach – Sugihara, a righteous Japanese who helps make it possible for Jews to visit and live in Japan in warmth and with pride.
Daniel Ari Kapner is a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst specializing in Japanese and Judaic studies. During 1999 he was studying at the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies in a consortium program administered by Stanford University.
Stephen Levine is Associate Professor of Politics and Head of the School of Political Science and International Relations of Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand). During 1999 he was a visiting professor at universities in both Kobe and Tokyo in Japan. He is the author of The New Zealand Jewish Community (Lexington Books and JCPA, 1999).
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 Japanese and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel" Joseph Eidelberg, his second, links he suspects point to the Japanese as one of the Ten Lost Tribes.
History of the Jews in Japan Wikipedia
Japanese-Jewish common ancestry theory Wikipedia
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
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)
Use LINKS to go to sites linking Japan to The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel
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.
Earl Alexander Carr 2017 (1.26.25)
CHABAD OF TOKYO JAPAN
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
THE MYSTERY OF JEWS IN JAPAN -1
World Turtle Productions, LLC
There are many theories about the origins of the Japanese people. One of them is that at least part of Japanese population comes from Israelite origin. Clues to this potential connection may be embedded in modern Japanese daily customs and in Japanese mythology. If we follow these clues we can find a potential trail to the last known time and place of the group of people known as the “10 Lost Tribes of Israel”.
There are numerous clues and the story of Susanoo-No-Mikoto is a good one to examine.
THE MYSTERY OF JEWS IN JAPAN -2
World Turtle Productions, LLC
JEWS and JAPAN
HOLOCAUST RESCUE STORY
BY JAPANESE DIPLOMAT
Gianfranco Tosto 2016 (1.44.07)