History of the Jews in Japan
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Status of Jews in Japan
Jewish history in Japan
It was not until 1853, with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry following the Convention of Kanagawa ending Japan's "closed-door" foreign policy that Jewish families began to settle in Japan. The first recorded Jewish settlers arrived at Yokohama in 1861. By 1895, this community, which by then consisted of about 50 families, established the first synagogue in Japan. Part of this community would later move to Kobe after the great Kanto earthquake of 1923.
Another early Jewish settlement was one established in the 1880s in Nagasaki, a large Japanese port city opened to foreign trade by the Portuguese. This community was larger than the one in Yokohama, consisting of more than 100 families. It was here that the Beth Israel Synagogue was created in 1894. The settlement would continually grow and remain active until it eventually declined by the Russo-Japanese War in the early 20th century. The community's Torah scroll would eventually be passed down to the Jews of Kobe, a group formed of freed Russian Jewish war prisoners that had participated in the Czar's army and the Russian Revolution of 1905.
From the mid 1920s until the 1950s, the Kobe Jewish community was the largest Jewish community in Japan, formed by hundreds of Jews arriving from Russia (originating from the Manchurian city of Harbin), the Middle East (mainly from Iraq and Syria), as well as from Central and Eastern European countries (primarily Germany). It had both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardic synagogue. During this time, Tokyo's Jewish community (now Japan's largest) was slowly growing with the arrival of Jews from the United States, Western Europe, and Russia.
Jewish settlement in Imperial Japan
Some Japanese leaders, such as Captain Inuzuka Koreshige (犬塚 惟重), Colonel Yasue Norihiro (安江 仙弘), and industrialist Aikawa Yoshisuke (鮎川 義介), came to believe that Jewish economic and political power could be harnessed by Japan through controlled immigration, and that such a policy would also ensure favor from the United States through the influence of American Jewry. Although efforts were made to attract Jewish investment and immigrants, the plan was limited by the government's desire not to interfere with its alliance with Nazi Germany. Ultimately, it was left up to the world Jewish community to fund the settlements and to supply settlers and the plan failed to attract a significant long-term population or create the strategic benefits for Japan that had been expected by its originators.
On December 6, 1938, Five ministers council (Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Army Minister Seishirō Itagaki, Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, Foreign Minister Hachirō Arita, and Finance Minister Shigeaki Ikeda), which was the highest decision making council, made a decision of prohibiting the expulsion of the Jews in Japan.
During World War II, Japan was regarded as a safe refuge from the Holocaust, despite being a part of the Axis and an ally of Germany. Jews trying to escape German-occupied Poland could not pass the blockades near the Soviet Union and the Mediterranean Sea and were forced to go through the neutral country of Lithuania (which was occupied by belligerents in June 1940, starting with the Soviet Union, then Germany, and then the Soviet Union again).
Of those who arrived, many (around 5,000) were sent to the Dutch West Indies with Japanese visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul to Lithuania. Sugihara ignored his orders and gave thousands of Jews entry visas to Japan, risking his career and saving more than 6,000 lives. Sugihara is said to have cooperated with Polish intelligence, as part of a bigger Japanese-Polish cooperative plan. They managed to flee across the vast territory of Russia by train to Vladivostok and then by boat to Kobe in Japan. The refugees – 2,185 in number – arrived in Japan from August 1940 to June 1941. Tadeusz Romer, the Polish ambassador in Tokyo, had managed to get transit visas in Japan; asylum visas to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Burma; immigration certificates to Palestine; and immigrant visas to the United States and some Latin American countries. Most Jews were permitted and encouraged to move on from Japan to the Shanghai Ghetto, China, under Japanese occupation for the duration of World War II. Finally, Tadeusz Romer arrived in Shanghai on November 1, 1941, to continue the action for Jewish refugees. Among those saved in the Shanghai Ghetto were leaders and students of Mir yeshiva, the only European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust. They – some 400 in number – fled from Mir to Vilna with the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and then to Keidan, Lithuania. In late 1940, they obtained visas from Chiune Sugihara, to travel from Keidan (then Lithuanian SSR) via Siberia and Vladivostok to Kobe, Japan. By November 1941, the Japanese moved this group and most of others on to the Shanghai Ghetto in order to consolidate the Jews under their control.
The secretary of the Manchurian Legation in Berlin Wang Tifu (王, 替夫. 1911-) also issued visas to 12,000 refugees, including Jews, from June 1939 to May 1940.
Throughout the war, the Japanese government continually rejected requests from the German government to establish anti-Semitic policies. Towards the end, Nazi representatives pressured the Japanese army to devise a plan to exterminate Shanghai's Jewish population and this pressure eventually became known to the Jewish community's leadership. However, the Japanese had no intention of further provoking the anger of the Allies and thus delayed the German request for a time, eventually rejecting it entirely. One Orthodox Jewish institution saved in this manner was the Lithuanian Haredi Mir yeshiva. The Japanese government and people offered the Jews temporary shelter, medical services, food, transportation, and gifts, but preferred that they move on to reside in Japanese-occupied Shanghai.
At war's end, about half of the Jews who had been in Japanese-controlled territories later moved on to the Western hemisphere (such as the United States and Canada) and the remainder moved to other parts of the world, mainly to Israel.
Jews and Judaism in modern Japan
After World War II, a large portion of the few Jews that were in Japan left, many going to what would become Israel. Some of those who remained married locals and were assimilated into Japanese society.
Presently, there are several hundred Jewish families living in Tokyo, and a small number of Jewish families in and around Kobe. A small number of Jewish expatriates of other countries live throughout Japan, temporarily, for business, research, a gap year, or a variety of other purposes. There are always Jewish members of the United States Armed Forces serving on Okinawa and in the other American military bases throughout Japan.
There are community centers serving Jewish communities in Tokyo and Kobe. The Chabad-Lubavitch organization has two official centers in Tokyo and in Kobe and there is an additional Chabad house run by Rabbi Yehezkel Binyomin Edery.
In the cultural domain, each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews visit the Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum located in Yaotsu, Gifu Prefecture, in central Japan. Sugihara's actions of issuing valid transit visas are thought to have saved the lives of around 6,000 Jews, who fled across Russia to Vladivostok and then Japan to escape the concentration camps. In the same prefecture, many Jews also visit Takayama city.
Tokyo Jewish Community
- Rabbi Herman Dicker, 1960–1963, Orthodox
- Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, 1968–1976, Conservative
- Rabbi Jonathan Z. Maltzman, 1980–1983, Conservative
- Rabbi Michael Schudrich, 1983–1989, Conservative
- Rabbi Moshe Silberschein, 1989–1992, Conservative
- Rabbi Jim Lebeau, 1993–1997, Conservative
- Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, 1998–1999, Conservative
- Rabbi Elliot Marmon, 1999–2002, Conservative
- Rabbi Henri Noach, 2002–2008, Conservative
- Rabbi Rachel Smookler, Reform, interim-rabbi
- Rabbi Antonio Di Gesù, 2009–Present, Conservative
- Rabbi Mendi Sudakevich
- Rabbi Yehezkel Binyomin Edery
Jewish Community of Kobe
- Rabbi Gaoni Maatuf, 1998-2002
- Rabbi Asaf Tobi, 2002-2006
- Rabbi Yerachmiel Strausberg, 2006-2008
- Hagay Blumenthal, 2008-2009, lay leader
- Daniel Moskovich, 2009-2010, lay leader
- Rabbi David Gingold, 2010-2013
- Rabbi Shmuel Vishedsky, 2014–Present
List of notable Jews in Japan
- Alfred Birnbaum
- Dan Calichman
- Julie Dreyfus
- Rachel Elior
- Ofer Feldman, University Professor
- Péter Frankl, Hungarian mathematician
- Gregg L. Friedman MD, Physician
- Martin "Marty" Adam Friedman, rock guitarist
- Ayako Fujitani, writer and actress, convert
- Szymon Goldberg
- David G. Goodman, Japanologist
- Karl Taro Greenfeld, journalist and author
- Manfred Gurlitt
- Jack Halpern, Israeli linguist, Kanji-scholar
- Suiren Higashino, female photographer, model (Israeli mother)
- Shifra Horn
- Chaim Janowski
- Max Janowski
- Charles Louis Kades
- Hoshitango Imachi
- Kanji (Yitzhak) Ishizumi (Japanese: 石角完爾), convert
- Rena "Rusty" Kanokogi, née Glickman
- Abraham Kaufman
- Michael Kogan, founder of Taito Corporation
- Fumiko Kometani, author and artist, convert
- Setsuzo (Avraham) Kotsuji, Hebrew professor, convert
- Leonid Kreutzer, pianist
- Yaacov Liberman
- Henryk Lipszyc
- Leza Lowitz, American Japanologist
- Alan Merrill
- Sulamith Messerer
- Emmanuel Metter
- Albert Mosse
- John Nathan
- Emil Orlík
- Klaus Pringsheim
- Roger Pulvers
- Ludwig Riess
- Joseph Rosenstock, conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra
- Jay Rubin
- Arie Selinger
- Ben-Ami Shillony, Israeli Japanologist
- Kurt Singer
- Beate Sirota Gordon, former Performing Arts Director of Japan Society and Asia Society
- Leo Sirota
- Zerach Warhaftig
- Sally Weil
- Luís de Almeida (Hebrew Catholic)
- Vladimir Ashkenazy, Patrilineal Jew
- Peter Barakan, Patrilineal Jew
- Bernard Jean Bettelheim (Jewish Christian)
- Hideo Levy, Patrilineal Jew
- Steven Seagal, Patrilineal Jew
- Yakov Zinberg, Prof., Kokushikan University
- Peter Berton, renown Japanologist
- Refugees, short expatriates
- Moshe Atzmon
- Robert Alan Feldman
- George W. F. Hallgarten
- Albert Kahn (banker)
- Mirra Alfassa
- Karl Gustav Kindermann, interpreter and informant for the Gestapo
- Emil Lederer
- Karl Löwith
- Norman Mailer
- Leo Melamed
- Franz Oppenheimer
- A. M. Pollak, Ritter von Rudin
- Hayyim Selig Slonimski
- Other related people to Judaism and Jews in Japan
- Jewish Soul Music: The Art of Giora Feidman (1980). Directed by Uri Barbash.
- Religion in Japan
- Ethnic issues in Japan
- Japanese-Jewish common ancestry theory
- Timeline of Jewish history
- Jewish settlement in the Japanese Empire
- Fugu Plan (1934, 1938)
- Israel–Japan relations (since 1952)
- Racial Equality Proposal (1919)
- Antisemitism in Japan
- Golub, Jennifer, JAPANESE ATTITUDES TOWARD JEWS. PACIFIC RIM INSTITUTE OF THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE
- Daniel Ari Kapner and Stephen Levine, "The Jews of Japan," Jerusalem Letter, No. 425 24 Adar I 5760 / 1 March 2000, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
- History of Jews in Kobe
- "Question 戦前の日本における対ユダヤ人政策の基本をなしたと言われる「ユダヤ人対策要綱」に関する史料はありますか。また、同要綱に関する説明文はありますか。". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
- "猶太人対策要綱". Five ministers council. Japan Center for Asian Historical Record. 1938-12-06. p. 36/42. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
- Palasz-Rutkowska, Ewa. 1995 lecture at Asiatic Society of Japan, Tokyo; "Polish-Japanese Secret Cooperation During World War II: Sugihara Chiune and Polish Intelligence," The Asiatic Society of Japan Bulletin, March–April 1995.
- Andrzej Guryn, "Tadeusza Romera Pomoc Żydom Polskim na Dalekim Wschodzie," Biuletyn Polskiego Instytutu Naukowego w Kanadzie, vol X,1993 (in Polish)
- Shanghai Jewish History
- Pamela Shatzkes. Kobe: A Japanese haven for Jewish refugees, 1940–1941. Japan Forum, 1469-932X, Volume 3, Issue 2, 1991, pp. 257–273
- 歷史與空間：中國的「舒特拉」. Wen Wei Po. 2005-11-23. Retrieved 2014-12-12.
- Abe, Yoshio (July 2002), 戦前の日本における対ユダヤ人政策の転回点 (PDF), Studies in Languages and Cultures, No. 16, Kyushu University, p. 9
- Jacob Kovalio, The Russian Protocols of Zion in Japan: Yudayaka/Jewish Peril Propaganda and Debates in the 1920s, Vol. 64 of Asian Thought and Culture, Peter Lang, 2009 ISBN 1433106094
- "Jewish Community of Japan".
- "Jewish Community of Kansai".
- Chabad Lubavitch of Japan, Tokyo
- Chabad House of Japan
- Robert Whymant, Stalin's Spy: Richard Sorge and the Tokyo Espionage Ring, I.B.Tauris, 1996 ISBN 1860640443