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The Jews of Japan
By Miriam Bodovitch - January 11, 2009


Tablet at Manai-jinja Shinto Shrine
There were confirmed contacts between the Japanese and the Jewish people as far back as the 16th century as European traders began to venture into that part of the world but it wasnít until the mid 1850ís after the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and the end of Japanís closed door foreign policy that Jews began to actually settle in Japan. The first arrivals are believed to be about 50 Jewish families who arrived from several different countries to establish a community in Yokohama in 1861. These early arrivals built the first synagogue in Japan and stayed in Yokohama until 1923 when the Kanto earthquake forced them to flee to Kobe. In the 1880ís there was another Jewish settlement in Nagasaki that consisted of about 100 families and in 1894 they built the Beth Israel Synagogue.

But the most active and largest of the early Jewish communities in Japan was established in 1905 in Kobe by a group of freed Russian Jewish war prisoners escaping the Russian revolution. They would later be joined by hundreds of other Russian Jews who had been living in Harbin China, Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern Jews as well as a large continent from Germany and Eastern Europe. At the same time Tokyoís Jewish small population was being swelled by immigrants from the United States and Western Europe.

One of the most intriguing stories of Jewish history in Japan became known as the Fugu Plan. The Fugu Plan was a scheme created by the Japanese officials in the 1930ís who believed that by attracting and settling threatened Jews from Nazi Europe in their controlled area of Manchuria that Japan could gain an economic advantage and also curry favour with the United States through the goodwill of American Jews.
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