JIN-431 -- Jews in Japan

J@pan Inc Newsletter

The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 431 Wednesday September 12, 2007 TOKYO

Intellectual Property-Jury System-Arbitration-ALB Awards
PLUS Failed Businesses in Japan & Women in the Workplace

Jews in Japan

In 1904 Japan and Russia were struggling to expand their
empires and influence in South China. Recognizing the need for
strong naval defences, Japan knew that it had to build more
battleships if it was to stand any chance. The Meiji government
turned to the US for funds. Although the US were generally
reluctant to lend the large amounts that were asked for, one
Jewish banker, Jacob H Schiff, aware of the way the Russians
were persecuting the Jews at the time, managed to get the States
to go ahead with the loan. This earned him great favor with the
Emperor and was perhaps the first significant encounter between
the Japanese and Judaism in the modern era. (For some more
unusual and earlier stories of Japanese-Jewish relations see

The story is one that is relevant to the state of Jewish-Japanese
relations today. Many Japanese believe that all Jews are rich,
have connections with banks, and are able to influence
governments. In an interview with us, Rabbi Henri Noach of the
Jewish Community Center in Tokyo (http://www.jccjapan.or.jp/ )
explained how he once went out for lunch with a Japanese woman
who was interested in Judaism. After about an hour she looked him
in the eyes and confessed that she was having trouble believing
that he was Jew. When asked why, she replied, in all sincerity,
'because we have been talking all this time and you haven't
mentioned money yet.' Rabbi Noach went on to say that he has also
had a Japanese businessman inquire about becoming a member of
the synagogue in Tokyo because he believed it would give him
access to 'Jewish business secrets.'

While Noach agrees that such naivety about Judaism and lack of
knowledge about the one in five Israelis who live below the
poverty line is misguided, it is also understandable and
essentially benign. If Japanese believe Jews to be rich, smart
and well-educated, then 'maybe it's a good thing.' It is
certainly a stark contrast to the very blatant anti-semitism that
Jews experience in Europe. While he had threats made against
his person when working in Brussels, Rabbi Noach has never felt
the need to go to the police in his five years in Japan, and this
is in part behind his reasons for moving here. In Europe,
associations between Jews, the finance industry and money have
fuelled hatred and persecution but in Japan, it is respected and
in no a way a focus for social anger or hatred.

There are roughly 2,000 Jews in Japan. They are scattered around
but the majority of them reside in Tokyo. There is also a
synagogue for the Kansai area in Kobe and there are a handful of
US Jews on the bases in Okinawa. Rabbi Strausberg who leads the
community in Kansai (http://www.jcckobe.org/ ) told us that there
are between 60 and 70 regular congregants at the synagogue in
Kobe. The majority of these are Israelis although there are also
expatriate Americans and Europeans as well as a few Japanese.

In their work 'Jews of Japan', (http://www.jcpa.org/jl/jl425.htm)
Daniel Ari Kapner and Steven Levine claim that the first Jewish
settler came to Yokohama in 1861 and '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.' After the war however, Tokyo
became the most active community and the synagogue in Hiroo
(http://www.jccjapan.or.jp/) was formally chartered in 1953.

Around 60% of the community in Tokyo are of North American
origin, another 20% are European and a further 20% are from
elsewhere including Japan. While the vast majority of conversions
that Rabbi Noach performs are in relation to Japanese women who
intend to marry foreign Jewish or Israeli men, there are also
some Japanese who have converted to Judaism for personal,
spiritual reasons. Rabbi Noach believes that there is no cultural
incompatibility between the Jews and Japanese and indeed sees
similarities in terms of the emphasis on community, the work
ethic and appreciation of the arts and education. He also
mentioned that Jews could learn much from the Japanese such
as the tendency towards understatement that could take the edge
off a Jewish, particularly Israeli, tendency to overstatement.

At a practical level, keeping kosher--adhering to Jewish laws
relating to diet, such as only eating meat killed in a special
way--is something of a challenge in Japan. However, both the
Kobe and Tokyo synagogues are fully kosher and have their own
lines of supply. Jews living in Japan are able to import food
from the US or there are actually some local options such as
that offered by Chabad Rabbi Binyamin in Tokyo who has set up
a kosher food business (see here)that supplies chicken and cows
slaughtered in the kosher manner from Hokkaido.

It seems that slowly, as Japan becomes more international,
Jews along with other faiths and ethnic groups will be able to
build on the foundations of community that they have already
established. In Tokyo the community is able to do this quite
literally having recently become the beneficiary of a 600 million
yen windfall that will enable them totally rebuild the synagogue.
While this won't do much to counter the Japanese perception of
Jews as wired into the wealth of the world, it will certainly be
a source of stability and excitement for the Jews of Tokyo.

J@pan Inc wishes its Jewish readers Shana Tova: Happy New Year!

By Peter Harris
Chief Editor

Want to comment? It is now even easier to voice your opinion
than ever before! Simply visit www.japaninc.com/jin431 and
post a comment below the article. Alternatively, you can email
it directly to the author at peter.harris@japaninc.com

"As I look into the clear blue sky,
across the crystal blue waters of Okinawa
I had not known anywhere could be so peaceful and pure."

Work getting you down? Need a break from the everyday ordinary?
Have a taste of the good life, Yaeyama style.
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Last week's JIN on Disney in Japan ( www.japaninc.com/jin430)
quoted a marketing expert who set up the site
www.japanmarketingnews.com -- we referred
to him as Mike Fiorelli but his surname is actually Fiorella. We
apologize for this mistake ad thank Mike for speaking to us.


Japan's First Family Social Network is here! www.piqniq.jp

Are you raising a family in Japan? Do you speak English?
Would you like to meet other English speaking families in
your area? Piqniq is a Social Network Service tailored
specifically for you!
Our concept is "Families helping Families" and we invite
anyone that wants to meet other families, help other families,
or discuss family-related issues pertinent to life in Japan
to come and join the Piqniq today!

For more information: www.piqniq.jp



------------------- ICA Event-Sept 20 -------------------


Speaker: Tim Williams, Founder and Director of Value Commerce
Topic: Japan Success Stories - Value Commerce

Details: Complete event details at http://www.icajapan.jp/
(RSVP Required)
Date: Thursday, September 20, 2007
Time: 6:30 Doors open
(Light buffet, beer, wine, soft drinks included)
Cost: 3,500 yen (members), 5,500 yen (non-members)

Open to all-location is Australian Embassy B2


YMCA Foreign Community Support Committee (FCSC) Charity Ball
on September 28th at Hilton Shinjuku. Donation of 25,000yen
person. Table of 10 = 10% discount.

Champagne, wine, dinner, live band and dancing, raffle draw,
and auction featuring authentic signed items:
Guitars by Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, David Beckham's
jersey, Michael Schumacher's F1 Glove, baseball bat by Ichiro,
photo Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Valentino Rossi, and much more!

Bid on these rare items from Aug 23rd at
All proceeds to benefit YMCA's Challenged Children Project.
Please contact: 03-5367-6640 fcsc@ymcajapan.org

Start a Company in Japan

Entrepreneur's Handbook Seminar 6th of October, 2007

If you have been considering setting up your own company,
find out what it takes to make it successful.
Terrie Lloyd, founder of over 13 start-up companies in Japan,
will be giving an English-language seminar and Q and A on
starting up a company in Japan.
This is an ideal opportunity to find out what is involved,
and to ask specific questions that are not normally answered
in business books.
All materials are in English and are Japan-focused.

For more details: http://japaninc.com/terrie_lloyd/

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- J@pan Inc Magazine IT Feature-November/December 2007 issue -

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Hi Peter-san,

My name is Sachiko Toda Iwao and I used to work for J@pan Inc.
I always enjoy your articles.

I think first part of your latest article has incorrect description.

In 1904 Japan and Russia were struggling to expand their
empires and influence in South China.

The two countries were struggling over Korean Peninsula and Manchuria, north east part of China.
Russia badly wanted a harbor free from ice and aimed at Dalian for their benefit, while Japan
were filled with ambition of controling north east China.

Sachiko Toda Iwao

Hi Sachiko-san,

Thank you for your comment, it was indeed an inaccurate desription, my apologies. For readers interested in the details of the Russo-Japanese War the following site is very informative: http://www.russojapanesewar.com/index.html

best wishes,