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Being interested in Israel, I have always wondered about the attitude toward the Jews and their country among the Japanese. Having observed the polarization, which any discussion of the history and politics of Israel brings, I just wanted to know how those things cause the same fiery arguments in Japan.
Although I visit Japan frequently, I have never had enough time to explore the issue. This time our schedule was much lighter than usual, so I could spare a few days to delve deeper into the complexities of that question. I say “complexities”, because it is not easy for an outsider to figure out the way the Japanese think about the world beyond their borders.
I dare to say that I already have a good knowledge about the nature of that thinking, but in the case of Japan and Israel, many aspects may remain hidden, if you don’t get help from people who are actively involved in the relations between the two countries.
In my search for a reliable source of information, I was lucky to get in touch with the Japan Israel Friendship Association. Its Chairman, Dr. Akira Jindo, agreed to see me for a talk. We met at a Starbucks in Tokyo. Very few people in Japan are as knowledgeable as him on the relations between Japan and Israel. He has been involved with the association since the 1960’s (it was established in 1966). Dr. Jindo travels to Israel about three times a year and even wears a watch with Hebrew numbers. He is a cheerful and optimistic person (he countered my doomsday prediction about the coming end of the EU with his belief that the countries in Europe will overcome their differences the way the USA ended the racial segregation).
His organization is very active, although the awareness about Israel is not that high in Japan. In 1973 they organized a demonstration in support of Israel during the Yom Kippur war and 3,000 people attended it. Now the association has on its board prominent scholars and some politicians.
He admits that the relations with Israel are not what they should be – due to its lack of natural resources Japan has been dependent on foreign oil imports. Since the 1970’s the Arabs have always used that dependency to force Japan to follow anti-Israeli policies, but have not always been successful. The mainstream media is also not supportive of Israel (with the exception of the Yomiuri newspaper), although they support China. The ruling Democratic Party, which emerged after the transformation of the defunct Socialist Party, is not very friendly with Israel either.
JIFA publishes a magazine called “Israel”, which covers the issues of mutual collaboration (you can see an issue in the picture at the top). The awareness about Israel rose tremendously when the Jewish state sent medical teams to the area affected by the March 11 earthquake and the tsunami that followed.
Those teams are still in Japan. This summer they are going to send 13 traumatized children from the devastated areas to Israel.
When I asked him about the anti-Israeli sentiments in Japan, he explained that although they are not widely held, they exist and breeding ground of those views are the Universities in Tokyo and Kyoto. The movement to boycott and demonize Israel is led by leftist groups, which are encouraged by leftist academics.
One of the leading scholars, who have a very strong position against Israel, is Yuzo Itagaki, who teaches international relations and Islamic studies at the University of Tokyo.
Since Dr. Jindo singled out Itagaki as a major influence, I decided to get more information about him. The next day I found an interview of his in English in which he explores the Islamic roots of modernization. Here are a few excerpts for your delight:
Itagaki: Issues concerning Islam–particularly the recent problems of Islamic fundamentalism–are usually viewed by non-Muslim people as anti-Western. Many Westerners consider Islam to be a form of new East-West confrontation or even as a conflict between civilizations. However, given a longer span of time, I believe that Islam was probably the starting point of “Western civilization” today. There was perhaps a tradition of monotheistic approaches going back before Islam to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, but Islam emerged following that tradition. It was then and there that modern principles such as individualism, rationalism and universalism were systematized. Since the seventh century, a vast wave of Islam-inspired modernization in human history began, and eventually influenced the modernization of the West. If we consider Islam as a non-European religion that emerged from West Asia and treat it as being fundamentally different from things Western, we may be seriously misjudging its historical development.
Hoshino: So you’re saying that modernization originated in the Islamic world, was disseminated into Europe, and eventually developed further into complex ideas on freedom, equality and humanity employed during, say, the French Revolution?
Itagaki: That is correct. The process of urbanization, commercialization, and politicization began to evolve full scale throughout the world in the seventh century. From there, the individualism and rationality that organize and process information based upon clear reason emerged.
You must be totally insane to claim that Islam systemized the modern principles of “individualism, rationalism and universalism”, but apparently the good professor is serious. Such blatant apologetics for the backward cult of Islam is hard to find even on a Palestinian terrorist discussion board.
People like Itagaki enable the lefty loons to stage protests against Japanese companies, willing to do business with Israel – in the case of Sanrio (the makers of the Hello Kitty stuff) the bullying failed, while other companies, like MUJI (a store chain) chickened out and decided not to open stores in Israel.
I also found out that along with the leftist hostility in Japan you can also find right-wing anti-Semitism. People like Ryu Ota and other writers regularly publish anti-Semitic books. Unlike the leftist, who can spread that poison in the university lecture halls, Ota and other like him don’t hold official positions and their influence is very limited. That doesn’t stop them from spreading the most bizarre Jewish conspiracy theories – from tracing the beginning of the “devastating” Jewish influence over Japan to the 7th century to the “discovery” that the Portuguese who came to Japan in the 1500’s were actually disguised Jews, to the obligatory Rothschild conspiracy to take over the Japanese economy… it’s all there…
My next source in Tokyo was also very knowledgeable about Israel and the Jewish issues in Japan. He provided me with a wealth of materials, but since he is not a public person, I will respect his privacy and won’t say much about him.
He confirmed my suspicion that there is no anti-Semitism in Japan in the usual sense of the word (as a dominant attitude). Very little is known about Israel and the majority of the people are basically ignorant about it. The events in the country are covered by the Japanese media, but never on the front page. Few stories about Israel make it to the media. However, there is general curiosity about Israel. The lack of actual knowledge about Israel and the Jews doesn’t prevent Pakistan from being a viciously anti-Semitic country due to the domination of the murderous Islam.
He then added that if you push the media aside, it is nice for the Jews to work in Japan. There is a very small Jewish community, probably about 300 people, but the number is not permanent. It changes because many of those people are in the country temporarily. Those who live there permanently are first generation Jews (mostly American).
Although there is no anti-Semitism, Japan is a xenophobic country, but there is no hostility toward Jews.
I would like to add here a remark to explain what “xenophobic” means in Japanese context. Usually that term is linked to raging crowds with torches and knives, which burn and kill everybody who is different. Although the Japanese do not accept fully foreigners, they tolerate and respect them to the extent to which they follow and accept the Japanese values and traditions.
Those values include self-reliance – it is still shameful to be dependent on the government and get welfare payments. Many people, who are destitute, would do everything to get help first from their families before approaching the social service. Japanese resent everybody who doesn’t make an effort to be self-reliant, especially if he or she is a foreigner. That’s why Japan takes in so few refugees. The type of immigrant common in England – the lazy illiterate Pakistani Muslim who gets free food, free house and free healthcare – would be unthinkable in Japan. And if your values include taking breaks five times a day to lift your ass in the office or in the street, you’ll quickly find out that Japan is not the ideal country for you.
Since the Jews and most of the other Westerners have practically a zero chance to become freeloaders in Japan, they are respected and accepted.
However, in some popular books you may find some stereotypes about the Jews – like an analysis of the Jewish mind and its way of controlling business; tips on running a business in a Jewish way, etc. All of this could be seen as anti-Semitic (to a certain degree) in the West, but from the local point of view it may be interpreted as an appreciation of some special abilities, which are more appreciated than envied.
At the same time, in rare cases you can see some odd displays of anti-Semitism in the everyday life. My source had observed them and shared with me some of his archival pictures. In the pictures at the top and below you see a demonstration in Shibuya (Tokyo) against the government providing financial subsidies to foreigners. I don’t know why, but they displayed the Nazi flag.
A year ago a scandal was caused by the appearance of the Japanese rock band Kishidan. The band members chose to wear uniforms of SS officers when performing.
Before that, in December 2010, the discount store chain Don Quijote (which somewhat resembles Honest Ed’s in Toronto), was selling Nazi costumes, with swastikas and a drawing of Hitler. The Simon Wiesenthal Center objected to it and the costume was removed.
Kishidan reminded me something I saw last year in Seoul, South Korea. One night I was walking the downtown streets looking for a place to eat. That is a difficult task, because there are dozens of restaurants and it’s hard to make a choice.
Finally I picked a fried chicken restaurant. Looking closely at the waiters’ uniforms, I realized that all of them included the Waffen SS sign (with an eagle and swastika). It turned out my source had the same experience at the same restaurant (he spent a few years in Seoul). Despite the requests of Christians and Jewish people the management refused to change the uniforms.
I asked the waiters, some of whom spoke English, if they knew what that sign means. None of them did. With their permission I took pictures of the uniform. Below you see the front and the back:
I included the Korean pictures, because they clearly show the odd character of such displays in the Far East. Take a look at the uniform, next to the sign of the murderous Nazi units we see a Union Jack badge with “England” written at the top. On the sleeve we have a small South Korean flag (you can‘t see it). And on the back is a happy chicken marching with a pint of beer.
Doesn’t that strike you as something strange and even carnival-like? Such an odd combination of symbols simply makes even the Nazi eagle look ridiculous. The same applies to the unusual presence of the Nazi flag at the demonstration. The Hitler drawing at Don Quijote looks more like Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, and I am not sure if any Nazi group would approve a bunch of punks leaping on stage in SS uniforms.
Of course, that doesn’t make those displays less offensive, but my point is that here we are dealing mostly with ignorance and insensitivity rather than some sinister Nazi worship. Yes, our world is more weird and complicated than one may expect.
Still, it looks like the things are progressing (although slowly) and the real story of Israel is spreading in Japan. I learned that recently the book of Alan Dershowitz “The Case for Israel” has been translated into Japanese and distributed to many libraries.
The saying “patience is a virtue” applies here even more – even in Western Europe and North America it’s so difficult to cut through all misinformation and lies about Israel and the Jews. In Japan, where many people are not even aware of problem, the revelation of the truth may take even longer.
The Jews have waited for nearly 2,000 years to restore their state – from the position of that really epic patience, waiting a few extra years until the others understand the truth about them wouldn’t seem that long…
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