Commentary Magazine


Tokyo's Nipponese-Jewish Friendship League:
The Emperor's Brother Testifies to Israel's Chosenness

Surely never was a stranger “interfaith” gathering held than the one here described by Arnold Jacob Wolf.

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Achanukah party in the Allied forces’ Tokyo Chapel Center is pretty . much like any other anywhere. The Jewish community invites the servicemen stationed in central Honshu and the evening follows the program ordained of old by the Jewish Welfare Board. Still there are regional distinctions. Although most of the GI’s come from Flatbush or Omaha, here and there is a uniform of the UN Forces on “R&R” leave from Korea (“Rest and Recreation” officially, though there are numerous more vulgar interpretations)—a Turkish Jew, an Ethiopian Falasha, a Londoner. And the Tokyo Jewish community itself smacks more of Kiev or Berlin or Tientsin than of Brooklyn. It is made up of Jews of disparate backgrounds united only, it seems, by past persecution and the English they speak now.

The last party was only fair. The latkes couldn’t be cooked because there was a gas shortage, which the Tokyo gas company always solves by turning the gas off during dinner hour when, it correctly assumes, most of it is used. There was lox (a Japanese delicacy) and cream cheese (which is hard to find), but the famous Tokyo bagel-baker was on strike. This was a great pity because the Japanese bagels, as well as hamantashen and challeh in their season, are among the best in the world. The band was jazzy and loud, like all Japanese bands, trying to give us the most for our money. The services were brief and impressive. But there was an undeniable shortage of women, the real point of the whole party. A couple of WAC’s, several under-age daughters of the community, and a Japanese “Jewess” in kimono and obi were not enough to satisfy hundreds of Jewish servicemen.

It was under these unlikely circumstances that I was invited, almost too casually, to a dinner to be given the next night for Prince Mikasa, brother of the Emperor, and a reputed friend of the Jews. I accepted out of curiosity and because the club where the reception was to be held serves the best steaks in Japan. I was pretty sure that would attract some of the more interesting of the poorly fed Japanese aristocracy.

The American Club is the second best in Tokyo. The best one doesn’t seem to admit Jews; most of the others are limited to correspondents, military officers, or nationals of a particular country. But it is a respectable place for thirty affluent Jews to invite as many important Japanese to dinner and a few speeches. The evening began at six and was over at nine, according to Japanese not Jewish minhag. The steaks were good, the speeches short, the mood cordial.

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The idea for the get-together had apparently been formulated first by Koreshige Inuzuka, president, according to its latest name, of the Nipponese-Jewish Friendship League, a fairly new organization with about four hundred members all over Japan. This organization is distinct from, and in some ways opposed to, the older and larger Japan-Israel Association, which had previously been the one more intimate with the Jewish community. Inuzuka’s motive, I was told, for calling the party was to insinuate his own group into the graces of the Jews and displace the Japan-Israel Association, whose motives he impugned and whose methods he disclaimed. The Jewish community in Tokyo, disparate in background and religious inclination, but united by business ties and other circumstances, is always glad to pay the bill for any parley which promises them a greater measure of security or prestige in a country where almost all Jews are aliens.

Inuzuka, a former captain of psychological warfare in the Imperial Japanese Navy, is a man of ability and charm. When saved from death in a clash with a German submarine during the First World War, he had vowed to devote his life to some noble and private cause. That cause became the Jews. He told a Nippon Times reporter that his sympathies for the Jews were first excited when he watched the Russian Revolution from a battleship off Vladivostok and discovered in it a triumph of Jewish might and Jewish righteousness. Later in the 1920’s, when he was a naval attaché in Paris, he identified himself with the French Jews and, in fact, kept a strictly kosher cuisine despite the incomparable blandishments of French cooking. What the French Jews thought of this Oriental is still a mystery, though they must have been generous enough, since during further assignments in Japan and China he showed numerous kindnesses to Jews.

In Shanghai particularly, which in 1939 was a refugee center, Captain Inuzuka found opportunity to help. Yet, as he states, his motives were far from purely disinterested. “I noted that the U.S. press was very much controlled by the Jews. Therefore, I expounded, if Japan remains friendly to the Jews in the Orient, it is possible to improve U. S. feelings toward Japan through the influence of mass media.” A naive and plaintive blend of both philo- and anti-Semitism!

When the war ended Inuzuka was nominal commander of the occupied Philippines. He was called to Manila for questioning as a war criminal and was saved only by a letter from the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America that described how he had saved hundreds of Yeshiva students from death. When Jews came in growing numbers to Japan after the war he resolved to renew old and mutually profitable connections.

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For their part, the Jews, mostly graduates of the China community, willingly acknowledge their debt to Inuzuka and other members of his League for decisive help, and are satisfied to share some of their new wealth with tested Japanese friends. Their position in a fluid Japanese economy and polity is insecure and their previous experiences of danger make them sensitive to the winds of favor. The Jews of Tokyo are, in a more exact way than the Communists could know, both “cosmopolitan” and “Zionist,” cosmopolitan in that they know many lands and many languages, but are native to none, Zionist in that the sentimental center of their patriotism is the land of Israel. Because they are wealthy and at least temporarily well settled they will never go there, except perhaps a few for the six months necessary to gain Israeli citizenship. The home city of their youth will remain Harbin or Singapore rather than Jerusalem.

In Tokyo they are a community apart, withdrawing from the native Oriental simplicity, barred from the company of the snobbish European colonials. They are showy, unlettered, clannish, and insecure. They are also kind to a stranger (a Jewish one, of course; any other would not be close enough even to be confronted as a stranger), loyal to what they conceive of as appropriate Judaism, and sophisticated beyond imagination. Their new community building, formerly an American general’s home, will be as much used for bridge and business as for the ministrations of their modest Orthodox rabbi. But it will be closer to the heart of these people than most American community centers or synagogues. It is already a kind of gilded shtibl housing the memories of their dead and the cheder of their fugitive offspring. All in all, the Jews of Tokyo incarnate the wanderings, the perils, and occasionally the dignity of the Jew in an alien world. They are exiles even from themselves.

What they do for a living is in some cases a mystery. My best friend in the community, a New York veteran married to a beautiful sabra, left the country hurriedly when he was indicted for smuggling an enormous quantity of sugar. Few, if any, of the others are so clearly on the wrong side of the law, yet the distinctions between legal and extralegal are far from clear-cut in post-occupation Japan. A fast buck can be made and Jews, among many others, are not averse to making it. This adds more than glamor to the Imperial approbation of the Prince.

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I Was flabbergasted at the high caliber of the Japanese guests. They included Foreign Office officials, the presidents of two of the largest banks (and banks to the Japanese, as to the Swiss, are supremely important), the directors of three of the great manufacturing companies, some professors from Tokyo’s leading universities, and—perhaps most significant of all for Jewish needs—the Director of the Immigration Bureau. I was seated— nebach- with the Prince and the president of the community on one side of me, and former Admiral Yoshio Yamamoto with an interpreter on the other.

What had led the committee to seat me next to the Admiral was surely the fact that I was a navy chaplain. The old man delicately ignored the slight implied by my very junior rank. One of Japan’s great naval minds and a figure of importance in Japanese politics, he is now reduced by purge and senescence to the position of an elder statesman lacking both power and the will to power. Between the coffee and his heart medicine, he turned to me and pointed to a small stone object which he had unwrapped from a handkerchief. Calling upon my modest Japanese, I asked, “Nan deska?”— What is it? He answered with a flow of explanation and then pointed to my Jewish chaplain’s insignia. The interpreter explained that the Admiral, an archaeologist by avocation, believed he had discovered an old tablet of the Ten Commandments in his Japanese garden. I examined the dig with care. So far as I can say, the stone was bare, but I did not disturb an old man’s illusion.

I have not mentioned the Prince, though he dominated the entire gathering as soon as he appeared. Small, intellectual-looking, with the Semitic look that the Japanese admire, modified by their brownish coloring, he made a dignified and magnetic presence. Every Japanese in the room was strained between the ancestral compulsion to do obeisance to his lofty station and the modern, postwar dictum that the Imperial family is like everyone else—only more so. He was cordial and generous and seemed at home.

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Prince Mikasa is the youngest of four brothers, of whom the eldest is the Mikado. By custom, as well as by inclination, this makes Mikasa the scholar of the family. Imperial rule is reserved for Hirohito (who is almost never called by that name), sports for the late Prince Chichibu, diplomacy for Prince Takamatsu. Mikasa bears his role with grace, assuming horn-rimmed glasses and a scholarly manner to fit.

The facts of Prince Mikasa’s biography are almost as hard to ascertain as those of his Imperial oldest brother. In some ways they are even more difficult to collate since they describe a cloistered and extremely shy man. One reads of his annual haiku poem, frequently the best produced by his family, which joins the poets of the country in each January’s competition. One hears of his experiments in square dancing, which American officers have taught him to do well. One notes his appearances, modest and encouraging, at many intellectual gatherings.

Perhaps the most interesting of Prince Mikasa’s recent activities has been his investigation of the ceremonial mirror of the Imperial family. This ancient mirror, a traditional part of the coronation ceremonies, has recently been announced by some to be a vestige of Jewish influence. One hardy “authority” asserted that behind its quicksilver lay the Hebrew words “Eheyeh asher eheyeh,“ “I AM THAT I AM,” the text of the Mosaic theophany. After a promise to ascertain the truth of this, the Prince returned without announcing a result. Though as a scientist he had wanted to examine the evidence, as a member of the royal house he felt constrained to refuse politely to manipulate the mirror. So the “authorities” may continue to make their claims for the mirror, but at Crown Prince Akihito’s enthronement they will surely be silenced. Prince Mikasa’s own interest in Judaism is founded on other, more respectable grounds.

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I Was asked to open the proceedings with an invocation. Foregoing any English remarks informing the Deity why and wherefore we were gathered, which would have required extensive translation, I limited myself to two Hebrew benedictions: the motsi for bread and the broche recited upon seeing a member of a Gentile royal house. I am not sure anyone below a king rates it, but I had never been so close before and I was not going to take a chance. The Prince later asked me for copies of the broches, which I wrote out for him in cursive script. He read them back to me haltingly, explaining that he did better with printed Hebrew characters. If he had done any better than he had, I would have fainted.

The first address was given by Leon Greenberg, a lawyer who had come from the States to try Japanese war criminals and never gone home. An ex-president of the Jewish community, he was probably chosen, as I was from among the three rabbis present, for his ability to speak English without accent. No one could have predicted how the interpreter would have translated a more European-flavored diction. Mr. Greenberg was brief, but the conscientious translator took twice as long as he did with each of his three paragraphs. He paid tribute to the Prince, to Captain Inuzuka, and to Professor Kotsuji, a doctor in Semitics from the Pacific School of Religion who, like the Captain, had once been a great benefactor of the Jews in China. (He was now reduced to advisory work with the American navy.) Professor Kotsuji comes to all of our holiday services in the navy chapel but, despite a knowledge of Hebrew and Judaism equal to that of any of us, he has never pretended to be closer than a friend—in which he is unlike other and less learned Japanese nowadays, who declare themselves to be Jews, half-Jews, or would-be Jews, though only a handful of them have actually been converted. Mr. Greenberg reminded the Japanese of their fine record of opposition to bigotry and hoped they would continue to befriend the Jews. We had had evidence of this in their adamant refusal during the last war to hand over to the Nazis the one Jew remaining in the Tokyo area, a penurious shammes of the Yokohama synagogue. Mr. Greenberg also remarked vaguely on some of the similarities between the two peoples, but he did not elaborate. It was for good will rather than ethnography that he and the other Jews had come.

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Prince Mikasa then spoke—in Japanese, of course. He was precise and eloquent, correcting an occasional mistake by the interpreter, who formerly might have had to commit hara-kiri for it, but now satisfied himself with bows and blushes. The Prince spoke diffidently, almost haltingly, but with great sincerity and persuasiveness.

Unexpectedly, he began without the polite irrelevancies of the other speakers. He launched into an attack on the superstitious belief of many Japanese in the audience that their people was descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel. He deplored the theories, common here, that the Japanese and the Jews have some mystical affinity or spiritual identity apparent only to the initiated. The real relationship of the two peoples, more contrapuntal than identical, he considered to be more profound.

Then he spoke of himself, also unexpectedly and frankly for one upon whose words millions hang. He said that after the Western powers defeated Japan (he spoke of this more openly than I had ever heard any other Japanese do), he had had the on, the obligation, to Westernize himself. He had gone to school to Western culture. And, he said, in the six years of his study, he discovered one supreme fact; that the Jews were the key to Western civilization. The truth incarnated in Judaism, a truth of being rather than of theory, is the central meaning of history. I listened in amazement as he gave almost point for point the argument of Halevi’s Kuzari, which culminates in the conversion to Judaism of the Khan of the Khazars. History had brought him—Prince Mikasa—to the Jew, he said, and Judaism had brought him back to himself. For the Jew is not only the father of the West, he is the scion of the Orient. He is the holy bridge (a traditional and poignant Japanese symbol) between East and West. Through understanding Judaism the Prince regained a sense of his dignity as a member of his people; he was again proud to be Japanese.

Prince Mikasa then became practical. He pleaded for an Imperial Institute of Jewish Studies in Tokyo, presumably financed by Jewish money. He said that only an understanding of Judaism rooted in scholarly research would be of value. He offered himself as a student in that Institute.

Then he spoke of suffering. He said that Japan had only begun to suffer, that her pride and her might had been humbled for the first time in Imperial history. But the Jews had often suffered and been degraded. The only hope for the Japanese was to learn from the Jews how to draw meaning out of their trials.

I flatter myself that I was one of the few appropriately touched by the words of Prince Mikasa. My fellow Jews seemed reluctant to follow his sensitive and modest reflections with sympathy. What they wanted was not praise, but terms, from Caesar. The other Japanese were either cool novices or ecstatic philo-Semites, therefore less deserving to be taken seriously than the Prince in his middle way. For me, it was an unforgettable moment, a challenge, a vindication.

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Then Captain Inuzuka spoke. He told of a mystic vision that had come to him in the night. As in some passages in Genesis, it was hard to tell whether God himself or his angels had visited him, but in any event he had received a message from on high telling him that the hope of the world lay in an alliance between India, Israel, and Japan. I am not certain whether he meant the nation or people of Israel, or how literally he meant to bind us all. I am inclined to think his ecstatic pictures were merely part of an accepted Japanese way of expressing ideas on world politics. No one got very excited. He said the atom bomb had been invented by Jews, that (though few knew the secret) the Japanese had invented a similar weapon. Like the Jew, the Japanese was both doer and thinker, an incomparable entrepreneur and a creative mystic. These two fabulous peoples—the only such—could if they would drink also from the wells of Indian tradition—remake Asia and the world. His talk, much longer than the others, though it continued in this vein, was interspersed with subtle remarks about the containment and defeat of Communism.

After the close of the banquet I was borne under by expressions of Japanese politesse. Admiral Yamamoto, as he took his lonely farewell, heaped blessings on my head. The civil officials insisted I meet with them at greater length so that they could pursue their inclinations towards things Jewish. The shopkeepers and the businessmen invited me to buy wholesale. Mr. Greenberg felt sure that even Inuzuka’s long speech had not dissipated the splendid good will generated by the evening.

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It Is the custom in Japan to offer one’s host a gift. So I turned to the Prince and offered to procure for him any Jewish books he might wish to read. He thanked me and asked me to answer a question that other Jewish representatives had been unable to do for him satisfactorily. “This is your year 5713,” he said. “But 5713 years since what? The Christians count from the birth of their founder, we from our kings—and you?” I told him we began with the creation of the world. “Ah,” he said, “it is the right way.”

I went out into the foggy Tokyo night in confusion and pride. I wondered whether it was their recent defeat or the very truth of Judaism that had brought these strange people so close to us. And how their fate could be the mirror of our own. And for what a man might still be brought to royal estate.

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