posted 27 Mar 2017, 05:21 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 31 Mar 2017, 11:12 ]

Oy. You should have come to Japan with me.

Who will show you the best teahouse in Gian, introduce you to the fine arts of Japanese calligraphy, ikebana, and kabuki theatre? Who will teach you how to properly wear a kimono, choose and eat your sashimi or sit through a tea ceremony?

Let us hope you’ll join me next time, and make up for what you are missing. Besides, the sakura is ready to blossom in Kyoto…

Is your rabbi the first Jew in Japan? Hardly!
The first Jews that we know of came here in 1861, settling in Yokohama, just north of Tokyo. 10 years later, there were about 50 Jewish families, most of them American businessmen. In 1895, the first Schule was established.

By the early 20th century, a few thousand Jews lived in Japan. Most of the Japanese were unaware of their existence, thinking Jews to be a Christian sect of sorts. However, antisemitism was introduced here after WWI with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, during what’s known as Taishō period. Certain differences between Western and Japanese mindset had a peculiar effect here; for instance, when the Japanese encountered the Church’s accusation of Jews killing Christ, their reaction was more of admiration than spite. Rather than concluding that Jews were deeply immoral, they figured that if these people were so powerful that they could even kill a god, it would be wise to somehow befriend them and harness their abilities to the greater good of Japan.

Cossack White Army general Grigory Semyonov, a vehement anti-Semite in charge of getting the Protocols translated and published in Japan, wrote in exasperation about his conversation with a Japanese counterpart who told him: ‘So they killed your god, essentially won the battle and were victorious. Is that war still going on or are you just being sore losers?’…

Anti-semites are estimated to make about 0.001% of Japanese population today.

The prominent friends of the Jews included the late Prince Mikasa (Emperor Hirohito’s youngest brother, died less than half a year ago) who spoke fluent Hebrew and was for many years patron to both the Tokyo JCC and the Japan-Israel Friendship Association; Setsuzō Kotsuji, an influential hereditary Shinto priest who converted to Judaism in the late 1950’s; and the members of the Christian sect Makuya who act as passionate advocates of Israel, send their youth on pilgrimage there, and volunteer for the kibbutz – without ever trying to proselytize among Jews. The founder of Makuya (the official name is Ohel Mo’ed, reference to the biblical “Tent of the Meeting”, but ‘Oheru Moeydu’ is the closest sound reproduction that Japanese phonetics will allow) mixed protestant beliefs with the teachings of Rabbi Avaraham Kook, Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel… Yep. It’s an eclectic approach.

All in all, those who like Jews and Israel are maybe 2-3 times the number of the anti-Semites in this country. The rest could care less one way or the other.

Yet it was Japan that provided unlikely and unexpected refuge to thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. We’ll get back to that part next week, see you in Shanghai.
Meanwhile, here are a few pictures.

The person dropping a coin in the charity box at a Buddhist temple will sound a gong to summon a spirit to accept the "essence" of the donation. It sure seems to be a satisfying practice, giving a certain closure to the deed.
Do you think we might need new equipment to sustain the pushke at the Lodzer?

The Golden Pavilion is one of the symbols of national harmony. Part of a late 14th c. villa belonging to the Shogun, it was burned to the ground in 1950 by a monk (initially imprisoned, then released on grounds of being legally insane). The current version was rebuilt in 1955, arguably an exact replica, although the original usage of such copious amounts of gold leaf is debatable.

Those unexploded shells are in fact tuna fish. The daily tuna auction in Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is by far the biggest of its kind in the world. Starting at 5 am, it attracts hundreds of fish brokers and big buyers, with an average fish going for tens of thousands of dollars.

The JCC in Tokyo (it was pouring rain, and I couldn't take a decent picture, so this one is borrowed, with your kind indulgence).

See you next week.
Shabbat Shalom,