WASHINGTON (Nov. 4)
Japan’s ambassador to the United States sought to assure a Jewish audience last week that anti-Semitism is not prevalent among the Japanese people.
“I can say categorically anti-Semitism has no root in my country,” Ambassador Ryohei Murata said at an Oct. 29 luncheon sponsored by the Washington chapter of the American Jewish Committee.
Murata said any anti-Semitism that has manifested itself in Japan is due to the fact that “most Japanese are not acquainted with Jewish culture and history. They have no concept of what anti-Semitism means.”
The ambassador said he was “personally ashamed” by racist remarks about blacks and other U.S. minorities made by Japanese officials. He blamed any stereotyping of other ethnic groups on the homogeneity of the Japanese people.
Such stereotypes, he admitted, “die rather hard.”
David Harris, the AJCommittee’s new executive vice president, said his organization had become involved with Japan following news about the best-selling anti-Semitic books in Japan.
Since then, an AJCommittee delegation visited Japan, he said, and “we have quietly but persistently” met with Japanese government and private officials in the United States and Japan.
The anti-Semitic books are no longer best sellers, both Harris and Murata indicated. Harris said the AJCommittee met with Japanese publishers, not to suppress anti-Semitic books but to “make absolutely clear” that such books should not be published by mainstream publishers.
GROWING TRADE TIES
Despite all the publicity about anti-Semitic books, the book that most Japanese have read about Jews is the “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Murata said. And while Japanese are not familiar with Jewish history, they do know a great deal about the Holocaust, he said.
He noted that during the time Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany, the Japanese consul in Lithuania provided 5,000 visas to Jews, allowing them to escape to the Far East.
Another book that many Japanese have read is “The Japanese and the Jews,” by a Japanese author describing the similarities and differences between the Japanese and Jews. The book made “many Japanese feel much closer to Jewish people with whom they share many cultural traits,” Murata said.
“The Japanese and the Jewish people, regardless of whether they are in the United States, Israel or elsewhere, must deepen each other’s understanding of their similarities and differences, so they can cooperate more effectively, not only for their mutual benefit, but also contribute to the spiritual and material enrichment of the entire international community,” the ambassador said.
Murata also described growing trade ties between Israel and Japan. Japan exported some $100 million in goods to Israel in 1989 and imported $750 million from Israel, he said.
This makes Japan the third-largest source for exports for Israel after the United States and Britain, the ambassador said.