Menu JTA Search

Number of Jews in Japan Dwindles; Small Groups Live in Three Cities

There are only three cities today in Japan where small groups of Jewish residents can be found, according to a report published by World Jewish Congress headquarters here. In Tokyo there are about 100 Jewish families, 30 Jewish families reside in Kobe, and in Yokohama there are 15 families. Before the outbreak of the last war there were 2, 000 Jews in Japan.

“The small communities in these three cities,” the report said, “are quite different from all other Jewish communities in the Far East and Southeast Asia in that practically the entire membership consists of business people of various national origins who are there on a temporary basis only. In spite of the smallness of these communities, they manifest a keen sense of belonging to the Jewish people. The very presence of an Israel Embassy in Tokyo stimulates, in the Jews of Japan, the will to identify themselves with things Jewish.”

In the 1930’s the only important Jewish community was in Kobe, which not only took care of its own religious and cultural requirements but also contributed much toward the needs of numerous refugees from Nazi oppression, particularly those from Poland and Lithuania, who arrived there via Vladivostok in the early months of 1940, thanks to the liberal attitude of the Japanese authorities, who granted them transit visas and prolonged their permits for temporary stay on Japanese soil. The wanderings of these escapees from the Nazi inferno took them from Kobe to Shanghai, India, Australia, the United States, Canada, Israel and Latin America. After the end of World War II and the destruction of the Kobe Jewish Center building, most of the Jews moved to Tokyo.

“The World Jewish Congress organization department,” says the WJC report, “sought persistently to arouse and maintain the interest of the Jews of Japan in the affairs of the Jewish people at large, and as a result of its efforts the Jewish Community of Japan, with headquarters in Tokyo, affiliated with the WJC on March 4, 1953. Two months later a new Jewish Community Center was opened in Tokyo in the presence of Prince Mikasa, brother of the Emperor of Japan, and of Princess Mikasa. Through this event, interest in the religion, culture, and history of the Jews received added impetus. Organized as a religious corporation under the Corporation Law of Japan, the Center, whose facilities include a synagogue, library, and social rooms, has a membership of about 100 families with a number of non-Jews as honorary and associate members,” the report concluded.

NEXT STORY