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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 termination of the occupation and the Korean War (1950–53), the number of Jews in Japan dwindled. Organized Jewish life in Japan during these years revolved mainly about the activities sponsored by the Jewish chaplains of the American armed forces. By 1970 the size of the Jewish community in Japan had stabilized at about 1,000, most of whom lived in Tokyo and Yokohama. Some of these local Jews had found homes for themselves in the cities of Japan before World War II; many others, however, were migrants from the United States and Europe who had settled in the islands in the postwar era. Engaging in the export-import trade, operating businesses, holding professional positions, and serving as consultants, most seemed prepared to live out their lives in Japan.

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 in Kobe, which consists of about 35 Jewish families in Kobe itself and about 35 families in other parts of the Kansai region (Kyoto and Osaka). Jews in the American military stationed in Japan are usually serviced by two Jewish chaplains. One is stationed in Yokosuka Naval Base outside Tokyo and the other in Okinawa. There are about 100–200 Jews stationed in Japan. The Jewish Community Center continues to serve as the home for the Japan-Israel Women's Welfare Organization (JIWWO) and the Japan-Israel Friendship Association (JIFA). Especially since 1986, numerous books about Jews and Judaism have been published in Japan. Several of them have been antisemitic but have not led to any significant acts of antisemitism. The Japanese government's response has been vague and noncommittal. Jewish subjects are taught from time to time in Japanese universities. There is a Jewish Studies Section of the Institute of Social Sciences at the prestigious Waseda University. It was founded in 1976, has 16 academic members, and meets several times a year. The journal published by the Japan Society for Jewish Studies noted above, Studies on Jewish Life and Culture, has published several issues since 1961.

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.


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).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.