JAPAN, Asian state. In early medieval times Jews from Europe and the Middle East may have been involved in trade with Japan through their connection with the silk route. Later, during Japan's so-called "Christian Century" (1542–1639), some Jews participated in the limited trade initiated by the Portuguese and the Dutch. But it was not until after 1853, when Commodore Perry of the United States Navy arrived in Japan and initiated the process which was to reopen Japan to outside influences, that Jews started to settle in the country. Alexander Marks, who arrived in Yokohama in 1861, was the first Jewish resident of modern Japan. Shortly thereafter he was joined by Raphael Schoyer, an American businessman, who served as president of the municipal council of the foreign settlement from 1865 to about 1867. He was also the publisher of the Japan Express, one of the first foreign-language newspapers to appear in Japan. By the end of the 1860s, the city had 50 Jewish families from Poland, the United States, and England. During the next few decades Jewish communities established themselves in Nagasaki, where they were primarily involved in the import-export trade, and subsequently in Kobe and Tokyo. The community in Nagasaki may well have decided to settle here because this city, in addition to being a flourishing entrepôt, was long used by the Russian Far Eastern fleet as a base for rest and recreation. Little is known about this community, which subsequently declined, but evidence that it maintained its own cemetery has been uncovered in the post-World War II era. Nagasaki's place as a center of Jewish life in Japan was gradually taken by the rising port of *Kobe.
Jewish emigration to Japan mounted during the decade before the close of World War I. The Russian Revolution of 1905 and particularly the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 compelled many Russian Jews to flee from Russia. Many made their way to *Manchuria and *China, while others continued on to Japan, where they were assisted by their coreligionists. Volunteer organizations, notably HIAS, played a major role in evacuating these refugees to Japan. Though some settled down permanently in *Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kobe, many others sooner or later found haven in the United States and Latin America.
For some years after World War I the Jewish community in Japan did not number more than several thousand. Despite the concentration of Jews in a few cities, they did not overly impinge upon the consciousness of the Japanese people, who for the most part remained unaware of the Jews as a distinct people and as the upholders of a distinct faith. (Even most educated Japanese long believed that the Jews were a Christian sect!) One of the first public encounters between Japan and a Jew came about during the Russo-Japanese War when the American financier *Jacob Schiff arranged a loan for Japan which in part enabled them to win the war. The role played by Schiff was well known in Japan and unprecedentedly he was invited to the Imperial Palace for lunch. A link had been established between Jews, money and power. During the 1920s signs of antisemitism began to emerge. Its purveyors were mainly soldiers who had taken part in Japan's Siberian Expedition (1918–22) and who had been infected by the tales of hatred peddled by antisemitic White Russians. These were the people who introduced the infamous Protocols of the Learned *Elders of Zion into Japan; in the following 35 years additional editions continued to be published. Still, Japanese antisemitism was not widespread. Largely "intellectual" in character and in part reflecting the growing fear of Bolshevism, with which Jews were identified, it caused Jewish residents of Japan neither embarrassment nor inconvenience. When Japan embarked upon a program of military expansion in Manchuria in 1931, the fortunes of thousands of Jews were directly and indirectly affected. Though for a while the Jewish communities in Manchuria, especially in *Harbin, were subjected to no special discriminatory actions, in time many of the erstwhile refugees from Russia, finding Japanese rule unpalatable, decided to emigrate elsewhere. Many transferred their homes and business to *Tientsin, *Shanghai, and *Hong Kong, while a few settled down in Japan. At the same time the development of closer relations with Nazi Germany resulted in a tremendous expansion of antisemitic literature in Japan. After 1937 many more antisemitic works were translated into Japanese from the German and additional works were written de novo in Japanese. But, by and large, the Japanese government and people remained indifferent to this inflammatory literature which circulated in limited circles. The most dramatic consequence of Japan's pre-war fascination with Jews and understanding of antisemitism was the so-called Fugu Plan which was a Japanese scheme elaborated by Japan's so-called Jewish experts to provide a national home for the Jewish people, in Manchuria, in exchange for the help of international and particularly American Jewry in the establishment of the Japanese Empire – the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The need for such a haven had become apparent to the Japanese. A stream of Jewish refugees from Nazism poured into the Far East during the early years of World War II. Many of them, coming by sea, found temporary homes in the International Settlement at Shanghai. Others, coming overland through Siberia from Eastern Europe, stayed a while in Japan. Perhaps the best known contingent of such refugees were the members of the *Mir yeshivah in Lithuania who arrived in Japan in 1941. Though they were not permitted to remain, the Japanese government did not press them to leave until arrangements had been made for their transit to Shanghai. When shortly thereafter the International Settlement was occupied by Japanese forces, about 50,000 Jews came under Japanese military rule. Many of the refugees were placed in an internment camp for the duration of the war. Strict as this military administration was, it was a far cry from the Nazi-occupied areas of Europe.
After World War II
During the American occupation of Japan (1945–52) the number of Jews in the islands reached its highest figure, some officials of General MacArthur's regime and many GIs being Jewish. When many of these servicemen returned home after the
A keen general interest in Jews and Judaism began to be evident in Japan after World War II. At the time there was a growing proselytizing trend in Israel and the United States which led to "outreach" activity being initiated in Japan. Since the 1920s Jacques *Faitlovitch, the "Father" of the *Beta Israel of Ethiopia, had been interested in the possibilities presented for Jewish missionary endeavor in Japan. In 1954 Faitlovitch set off for Japan in order to set up a Jewish "outreach" center. Behind this move lurked the sense that the Japanese were thinking of converting to Judaism en masse. This came to nothing but speculation remained rife. The principal converts were Japanese women who married American-Jewish servicemen; ultimately many of them moved to the United States with their husbands. Among the few male converts to Judaism the best known was Setsuzo *Kotsuji, descended from a family of Shinto priests, whose quest for a faith had led him through Protestant Christianity to Judaism. With his conversion, consummated in Jerusalem in 1959, he took the name Abraham. The postwar disenchantment of the Japanese people with their traditional faiths had spurred a new interest in other religions and philosophies, including Judaism. The study of Jewish history and culture, which later drew the attention of Prince Mikasa of the imperial family, increased as never before. The Japanese Association of Jewish Studies, scholarly in orientation, undertook the publication of the journal Yudaya-Isuraeru Kenkyu (Studies on Jewish Life and Culture). A prime mover in the promotion of knowledge about Jewish matters was Masayuki Kobayashi, professor of history at Waseda University (Tokyo) and long a champion of Jewish studies in Japan.
The majority of Jews in Japan in the 1970s consisted of those who had come on contracts of 2 to 5 years, while the permanent Jewish population was less than 200. The Tokyo community maintained a synagogue and religious school, a Judaica and general library, a restaurant, a mikveh, and a ḥevra kaddisha. It also maintained a rich cultural, social, and recreational program. It was a member of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Southeast Asia and the Far East and had received an award from the Japanese Government for creating "mutual understanding and goodwill between the Japanese and Jewish peoples." The Jewish community served as the home of the Japan-Israel Women's Welfare Organization (JIWWO), the Japan-Israel Friendship Association (JIFA), and the Society for Old Testament Studies. The annual JIWWO Ḥanukkah bazaar, held at the community center and considered to be one of the most prestigious occasions in the Tokyo social calendar, was always attended by a member of the Japanese Imperial household. The only other active Jewish community in Japan was that of *Kobe (which consists of some 30 families), mostly of Sephardi origin. Its Ohel Shlomo synagogue was completed in 1969. The site of the synagogue built by the now defunct *Nagasaki Jewish community, confiscated as alien property during World War I and destroyed after World War II, was rediscovered, and some of the synagogue's furnishings were presented to the Tokyo synagogue in 1973. Jews and Jewish studies began to attract great interest after the publication of Nihonjin to Yudayajin ("The Japanese and the Jews"), which became a bestseller in Japan. Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, who was appointed rabbi of the Tokyo Jewish community in 1968, retired in 1976. In 1980 Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman became rabbi of the community. Rabbi Tokayer published three books in Japanese, including an introduction to the Talmud, a Jewish view of the Torah, and a study of Jewish humor. Books by Japanese scholars on Jewish history, mysticism, and Yiddish studies also appeared. One such scholar prepared a doctoral thesis on the Chabad Ḥasidim, and increasing interest was shown in the writings of Prof. R. Sugita, who published more than eight books on Jewish history. The Sophia Church, known as the "Christian Friends of Israel," continued to pray daily for the peace and welfare of the Jewish people. This sect built a "Beit Shalom" in both Kyoto and Tokyo where any Jew may stay and feel at home. The founder and leader of this sect is the Rev. T. Otsuke. The *Makuya sect, led by Prof. I. Teshima, believes in the possibility that the Japanese are one of the *Ten Lost Tribes. They continued to support and visit Israel. In April 1980 a statue of Anne Frank was unveiled in the compound of a church in Nichinomiya.
In 1992 approximately 1,000 Jews resided in Japan, most of them in the greater Tokyo area. The permanent Jewish population, however, was less than 200, the level at which it remained into the 21st century. About 60% came from the U.S., 25% from Israel, and the rest from all over the Jewish world. Within the community there were only a handful of Japanese converts. Most Jews residing in Japan are expatriates representing major businesses, banks, and financial institutions. There are also journalists and students. The Jewish Community Center of Japan, located in Tokyo, houses the city's only synagogue, a religious school, a Judaica and general library, a mikveh, ḥevra kaddisha, social area, and administrative offices. Religious services are held every Sabbath and on holidays. Kosher food products are imported from abroad and other religious needs and requirements are met. There are also youth programs, adult education courses, and cultural and social activities. The community is a member of the World Jewish Congress, the Asia Pacific Jewish Association, and the B'nai B'rith, and also contributes to the United Israel Appeal. The only other organized Jewish community is located
Relations with Israel
Relations between Israel and Japan have been consistently friendly. At the beginning of 1952, the governments of Japan and Israel opened negotiations on the establishment of diplomatic relations, and as the year progressed the exchange of legations was announced and the Israel legation, headed by a government minister, opened in Tokyo in December. In 1955 the Japanese minister in Ankara presented his credentials as a nonresident minister to Israel, and later the Japanese legation was headed by a resident minister. In 1963 the legations were raised to the level of embassies. In 1970 an agreement on mutual aid and the formulation of legal documents was signed.
In 1961 a delegation of Japanese anthropologists and geographers dug on the slopes of Mt. Carmel near Haifa. At the University of Tokyo, a number of Japanese students have studied biblical Hebrew and the archaeology of the Land of Israel; others have studied Hebrew in approximately a dozen other university-level institutions. Since 1965 Japanese studies have been part of the regular program of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv University. Under the program of annual educational grants, a number of Japanese research students have studied Bible, Jewish musicology, and Jewish history in Israel and a number of Israeli students have studied in Japan. A Japanese art pavilion was opened in Haifa. The Kibbutz Society, founded in 1963 by Tezuka Nobuyoshi, numbers about 30,000 members and publishes the Kibbutz Monthly in Japanese. The moral and social values of the kibbutz serve as a source of inspiration for the members of the society, and every year three groups of Japanese youngsters (with 50–70 in each group) have spent time on kibbutzim in Israel (about 550 people participated in these visits in 1965–70). The society has even established a kibbutz in Akan, Eastern Hokkaido. The Japan-Israel Women's Welfare Society, which has a parallel organization in Israel, finances the sending of students to Israel, among other activities.
The main relationship between Japan and Israel is a commercial one. Traditionally Japan has exported steel, automobiles, processing machinery and home electronics while Israel exported diamonds, phosphates, citrus, and fashion goods. Even before the Yom Kippur War a number of leading Japanese firms boycotted Israel, but immense Arab pressure and a threat to cut off the supply of oil to Japan (which obtains over 40% of its supply from the Arab states) forced Japan in November 1973 to depart from her previous neutrality and adopt a definite pro-Arab stand. For some years Israel was one of the very few nations in the world to run a trade surplus with Japan, primarily because of booming diamond imports by the Japanese. In 1987 an economic mission from Israel, led by representatives of the Israeli Manufacturers Association, visited Japan. A return delegation of businessmen from Japan, led by representatives of the Federation of Economic Organizations of Japan (Keidanren), followed to Israel. In 1988, a conference on the Japanese economy was held in Israel and an Israeli Economy Seminar was held in Tokyo. Throughout the 1990s there were some tentative movements toward increasing trade relations with Israel by small- and medium-sized Japanese firms, but most major Japanese companies continued to adhere to the Arab economic boycott of Israel. In 1992, however, the Japanese Foreign Ministry advised Japanese companies to cease cooperating with the boycott and Japan called on Arab countries to stop the boycott. Following this declaration bilateral trade continued to grow. Since the late 1990s Japan has played an active role in such areas as the environment, economic development, and water resource management.
Michael J. Schudrich,
Shaul Tuval, and
Marvin Tokayer /
Tudor Parfitt (2nd ed.)]
The Japanese government also began to take a more active political role in the Middle East, consistent with a more engaged and wide-ranging foreign policy. Japan has strongly supported the post-Oslo "peace process" and has sought to use its influence to move the process forward. In 2005 Japan pledged $100 million to the Palestinian Authority, with Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro announcing the gift in May during a visit to Japan by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Japan has become one of the PA's most important sources of support, committing $860 million since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Japan also extended an invitation to Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon to visit Japan during 2005.
Moves towards closer relations between Israel and Japan can be traced to high-level ministerial visits during the 1980s. Israel's then foreign minister, Yitzhak Shamir, visited Japan in September 1985, with the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister occurring two years later. The first visit to Japan by an Israeli head of state was made by President Chaim Herzog in February 1989 on the occasion of the funeral of Emperor Hirohito. During the post-Oslo period, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Japan in December 1994 and Japan's Prime Minister
Although knowledge in Japan about Jews and Judaism remains slight, links to the experience of the Jewish people have been strengthened through exposure to the Shoah, with the Diary of Anne Frank a part of the school curriculum and with films about the topic, such as Life is Beautiful, being shown on television and in cinemas. Affinities between Japan and the Jewish people have also been strengthened by the increased attention being given to the Japanese diplomat *Sugihara, who used his position in 1940 as Japan's vice consul in Lithuania to issue travel documents to Jews and thus saved many thousands of lives. The year 2000 marked the 100th anniversary of Sugihara's birth, at which time a plaque was unveiled at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a ceremony hosted by the minister of foreign affairs in the presence of Sugihara's widow. A Sugihara Fellowship was established under the Japan Foundation for the purpose of supporting young Israeli researchers in Japanese studies. Sugihara's heroism and humanity have been further highlighted in Japan with the issue of a stamp in his honor and through his being given official recognition as one of the country's greatest figures of the 20th century.
In 1985 Sugihara became the first Japanese person to be honored by Yad Vashem as one of the *Righteous Among the Nations. Sugihara's birthplace, Yaotsu, a town in Gifu prefecture, has established memorials to him, including a museum whose exhibits and displays, including a video of his life, recreate for Japanese his courage and humanitarianism. Israel's Bar-Ilan University opened a Sugihara Center in 1994. In 2000-01 a centennial celebration in his honor, called Visas for Life, was held, with exhibits honoring Sugihara's contribution being displayed in Japan and internationally. An emissary from Israel has been based in Yaotsu to assist with the museum's educational program.
[Stephen Levine (2nd ed.)]
Jewish Discourse in Japan and the Common Origin Theory
Among the foreigners to be found in Japan in the 1870s was Norman McLeod, a Scot who started his career in the herring industry before he ended up in Japan as a missionary. In the preface to his Epitome of the Ancient History of Japan, which was first published in 1875, he noted that he had arrived in Japan in 1867 – the last year of the Tokugawa regime – and that he had intended to write a multi-volume work on Japan which among other things would furnish the reader with "a more detailed account of the origins of the Japanese with a description of their Jewish belongings." His "researches in Japan have satisfied him," a local newspaper reported in 1875, "that the people of this country are of Jewish family…." His notion that the Japanese people were descendants of the "Ten Lost Tribes of Israel" was set forth in several books; this contention has been repeated regularly until the present day. McLeod's ideas reached a wide international audience, including a Jewish one, and no doubt had an impact on Japanese thinking. Within a couple of decades of their publication they formed part of a half-serious discourse which circulated throughout the Western Jewish press and elsewhere.
In Japan the ideas of McLeod fell on fertile ground perhaps because of some uncertainty as to where the Japanese originated and where they belonged in the world. No doubt the multitude of theories generated in Japan linking the Jews and Japan – the so-called common origin theories – were at least in part products of the western Christian tradition of speculation on the fate of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. However, alongside the speculation of early western visitors, and particularly McLeod, the local reading of the Christian Bible also played an important if perhaps secondary role in the spread of the fantasy of Israelite origin. In Japan one of the first Japanese to propose a common ancestry for the Jews and the Japanese was Saeki Yoshiro (1871–1965) who published his theory as an appendix to an academic work on Nestorian Christianity in 1908. Saeki was a serious scholar of Christianity in China. He arrived at the belief that the Hata clan – a continental group which is supposed to have arrived in Japan in the fifth century and which was to be found to the west of Kyoto in a village called Uzumasa – was Jewish. He adduced in favor of this proposition a range of philological arguments: "Uzu," he reasoned, is a corrupt form of "Ishu" or Jesus and "masa" was the Hebrew form of Messiah. There are many other "proofs" of a similar sort. Notwithstanding the less than compelling nature of this evidence the "Uzumasa" connection was not only the linchpin of Saeki's argument but has become the basis of a great deal of subsequent common origin theorizing. In 1929 Oyabe Zen'ichiro (1867–1941), a Yale-educated Christian minister who had worked as a missionary in Hawaii, published his Origin of Japan and the Japanese People where he continued the arguments of Saeki. He elaborated on the contention that the Japanese emperors too were of Israelite descent. He observed: "It is well-known to Biblical scholars in the West and the world over that approximately three hundred years before the enthronement of the Emperor Jimmu (in 660 B.C.E.), two tribes of the Hebrews – Gad the most valiant and Menasseh, who were descended from the eldest son of the patriarch – fled eastward carrying the Hebrews' sacred treasures and to this day their whereabouts remain unknown. A close study of the ancient Hebrews as they are described in the Jewish scriptures reveals an extraordinary number of similarities between our two peoples. The Japanese and the Hebrews are virtually identical. These exact correspondences convince me that we are in fact one race." Underlying Oyabe's thesis was his belief that Christianity and Shinto were much the same thing and that for Shinto better to serve the Japanese nation it would do well to adapt more explicitly Christian features, including the idea of a direct line of descent from Jewish thought. Another common origin theorist was Kawamorita Eiji (1891–1960). Kawamorita, a Presbyterian minister, spent most of his life in the United States
In contemporary Japan perhaps the most striking legacy of the strange ideas of McLeod is to be found in the Makuya and Beit Shalom sects. Although both of them are essentially Christian sects accepting the divinity of Christ, their "Jewishness" is very visible. The Makuya are intensely nationalistic and, in some ways, are looking to the redemption of the Japanese nation, which will be modeled upon the redemption of Israel. Makuya was founded at about the same time as the State of Israel. The founder of Makuya, Avraham Ikuro Teshima (1910–1973), is said to have met and to have been influenced by Martin *Buber on a number of occasions. Over the years thousands of Makuya and Beit Shalom disciples have gone to Israel where many of them have learned Hebrew. The importance of a good knowledge of Hebrew for the Makuya can be judged by the fact that they have brought out a beautifully produced Japanese-Hebrew dictionary. Whenever the Makuya get together they sing secular and religious Hebrew songs, many of them the songs of modern Israel. They adopt Hebrew names, observe the Sabbath, and keep a form of kashrut: they light candles on Friday evening, break hallah, and read from the Jewish prayer book. Their view of the world is informed by a profound admiration for Israel and the Jewish people. Their love for Israel often finds practical expression: a Makuya volunteer was wounded in the 1967 Six-Day War and in the wake of the Israeli victory a Makuya "pilgrimage" marched through Jerusalem carrying a banner proclaiming "Congratulations on the Greater Jerusalem." To some extent their admiration for Jews derives from the Christian part of their ideology. But, in addition, it springs from the national nature of Judaism – the idea that Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people – and from Zionism.
[Tudor Parfitt (2nd ed.)]
C. Adler, Jacob H. Schiff: His Life and Letters, 2 vols. (1928); I. Cohen, Journal of a Jewish Traveller (1925); H. Dicker, Wanderers and Settlers in the Far East (1962); A. Setsuzo, From Tokyo to Jerusalem (1964); J. Kreppel, Juden und Judentum (1925); H. Kublin, in: Congress Weekly, 23 (Oct. 22, 1956), 9–11; idem, in: Jewish Frontier, 25 (April 1958), 15–22; idem, in: Congress Bi-Weekly, 28 (Dec. 25, 1961), 13–15; A.J. Wolf, in: Commentary, 15 (April 1953), 352–6. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D.G. Goodman and M. Miyazawa, Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype (1995); T. Parfitt, The Thirteenth Gate (1987); idem, The Lost Tribes of Israel: The History of a Myth (2002); T. Parfitt and E. Trevisan Semi, Judaising Movements: Studies in the Margins of Judaism (2002); M. Tokayer and M. Swartz, The Fugu Plan: the Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews during World War II (1979).
[Haggai ben-Shammai (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.