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Japanese Jews


    Commodore Matthew Perry's opening of Japan in 1853 paved the way for a permanent Jewish community. Alexander Marks, who arrived in Yokohama in 1861, was the first Jewish resident of modern Japan; by the end of the 1860's, the city had 50 Jewish families from Poland, the United States and England. Toward the close of the nineteenth century, two more communities emerged: a predominantly Sefardic one in Kobe and a mainly Russian one in Nagasaki.

    The first Jewish-Japanese encounter to have a lasting impact on Japan came in 1904. Japan was at war with Russia and the governor of the Bank of Japan was sent to London to arrange for loans to finance the war effort. He got nowhere with the British banking elite, but while in London he had a chance meeting with the American investment banker Jacob Schiff, whose hatred for the Russians was fanned by the pogroms of the time. Schiff arranged for more than $200 million in loans, Japan won the war, and an American Jewish financier became a hero in Tokyo and was invited to lunch by Emperor Meiji. But his help also set the stage for a stereotype that would resurface periodically in Japan with both positive and negative facets the belief in the world-wide influence of Jewish wealth.

    In 1942, Mitsugi Shibata, the Japanese consul in Shanghai, became privy to a plan by the local Gestapo representative to kill the 18,000 Jews who lived there. He warned the Jewish community, whose leaders used contacts in the foreign ministry to have the plan quashed. There are areas in which Jews have left their marks on Japan, although not always in ways that are visible to the Japanese. Raphael Schoyer was mayor of Yokohama's foreign colony in the 1860's. He was also the founder of one of Japan's first foreign language newspapers; Jews subsequently played a prominent role in English language journalism. The Japan Times, largest of the country's four English-language dailies, traces its roots to the prewar Japan Advertiser, which was owned by the Fletcher family.


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