In Japan, a special relationship with Judaism

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In Japan, a special relationship with Judaism

LETTER FROM TOKYO

The Japanese government observes a certain neutrality in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. He condemns terrorism and pleads for humanitarian pauses. Among the population, opinions seem more decided, which recalls Japan’s special relationship with Judaism.

Friday, November 24, around thirty people, including representatives of the far-left teachers’ union Zenkyo, called, in front of the Israeli embassy, ​​to “save Gaza” and to “Stop the bombings”. Their banners also featured more controversial slogans like “Stop the genocide in Gaza” Or “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”the latter often being interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel.

The rallies organized since the Hamas attack on October 7 have mainly been in support of the Gaza Strip. Those who support Israel are rarer.

Usually calm, they do not exclude clashes like that of November 16, when a far-right activist, Shinobu Sekiguchi, member of Seidokai Gijuku – although traditionally hostile to the far left, and therefore to movements in support of Gaza – drove a car into a protective barrier in front of the Israeli embassy, ​​injuring a police officer. The Israeli ambassador said “shocked”.

Such incidents are rare in Japan. Within the local Jewish community, the recommendation is certainly to stay ” on alert ” explains one of its members, and anti-Semitic acts “have increased since October 7, but not dramatically”. This reminds us that the Archipelago is not immune to anti-Semitism, which may be surprising, given that the Jewish community has only recently been present and does not exceed a few hundred people.

A late “discovery” of anti-Semitism

The first contacts of the Japanese with Judaism date from the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in the Archipelago, in the 16th century.e century. The first Jews to come to Japan would have arrived after the opening, in 1854, of the country to foreign trade. It will be Alexander Marks and his brother, settled in Yokohama in 1861. Then came the American businessman Raphael Schover, who launched the JapanExpressthe country’s first foreign language newspaper.

The rapid development of the archipelago during the Meiji period (1868-1912) led European authors, such as the Scottish missionary Nicholas McLeod (1868-1889) or the German anthropologist Albrecht Wirth (1866-1936), to establish a connection between the ten lost tribes of Israel and the Japanese. This theory wanted to explain the rapid modernization of Japan, unlike other Asian countries. She was “the expression of a tendency to grant the Japanese the status of “honorary whites” and to separate them, at least in Western public representations, from the “mongoloid yellow masses””wrote, in 2000, Rotem Kowner, of the University of Haifa, in“Lighter than yellow, but not enough: Western discourse on the Japanese “race”, 1854 – 1904 » (“Lighter than yellow, but not enough: Western discourse on the Japanese “race”, 1854-1904”, The historical review,Cambridge University Press, 2000, untranslated).

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