Japanese Fiddler on the Roof

By Bernie on 15 Mar 2010

fiddler on the roof - Japanese Version
Photo Credit: Kenspeckle

There were more Jews seated at the 2010 Oscars (1) than reside in all of Japan. Not counting military personnel, Jews living in that country number less than 600. Despite that tiny presence, there is some antisemitism left over from Japan's alliance with Nazi Germany although physical attacks against Jews are practically unheard of.

Some of the antisemitism manifests itself in positive views; for example, here are some adjectives Japanese students used to describe Jews: money-seekers, cunning, tenacious, clever, industrious, and of strong will (2). Wish I could describe two of my nephews [who are not Jewish] as such.

My own view is that any negative attitudes toward Jews are due more to ancient Japanese distrust of foreigners in general than on direct experience with Jews since 99% of Japanese have never even met a Jew (3).

So if negative attitudes about Jews can be attributed to xenophobia, what explains the positive attitude about Jews? Half of it is due to anti-Semitic literature which depicts Jews as controlling the levers of world power and the other half is due to the fact that Jews indeed control many of the levers of world power. During World War II, despite her alliance with Germany, Japan permitted Jewish refugees to find sanctuary there because the Japanese believed Jewish influence could help their war effort (4).

In this regard, the Japanese were a lot smarter than the Nazis. They especially sought refugees from Germany who possessed scientific knowledge to help develop some of their far flung occupied territories. Not unlike Sultan Beyezid II of the Ottoman Empire who especially invited Jews expelled from Queen Isabella's Spain. The Jews helped the Sultan to consolidate his power with their technological and merchant skills [see my article Be Thankful For your Jews] and made the Ottoman Empire more powerful than any European nation.

Notwithstanding the general Japanese lack of knowledge of Jewish traditions, those who do become acquainted with Jewish culture find that they share many common values, especially regarding honor and family. This helps explain the popularity of Fiddler on the Roof in Japan.

In the following video we see Japanese actor Hisaya Morishige [Wiki] playing Tevye in Yane No Ue No Baiorin-hiki (Fiddler on the Roof) which he performed 900 times (5) until his death in November 2009 at the age of 96:

In my comment section one will often come across remarks from Muslims who question the contributions that Jews have made and are making to modern civilization. To mix metaphors, this is an example of the kettle not having a pot to piss in. Muslims, who have not contributed anything to civilization in a thousand years, have the nerve to question Jewish contributions.

It is impossible to imagine the Japanese ever adapting a Muslim musical. First of all, Muslims would have to create a musical to adapt. And unless a Jewish songwriter writes such a musical, none will ever exist because Islam makes it impossible to create beauty about human life and family. Sure a couple of Muslims created a few pretty geometric murals but compelling music and dance depicting human beings and a happy life? It'll never happen.

A life filled with Islam is like a dusty, dirty tent in the desert: desolate, dreary, and so depressing that it is no wonder young Muslim men look forward to early release into Paradise.

This article available in Danish here.



Youtube, Steve Martin's Jews Joke Oscar 2010


The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, ATTITUDES TOWARD JEWS: REVIEW OF EMPIRICAL STUDIES

In 1965, the Spanish social psychologist Ferdinando Basabe conducted a survey of ethnic attitudes and stereotypes at Sophia University, a leading Christian university located in Tokyo. Asked to characterize the Jews using a list of adjectives, the students' profile was negative but contained some positive traits as well. The Jews were depicted as "religious" (49.5% of the 200 respondents chose this adjective!), "money-seekers" (43%), "cunning" (26%), "tenacious" (24%), "clever" (21.5%), "industrious" (16.5%), and "of strong will" (14%) (Basabe, 1966: 89).


The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jews in Japanese Thinking

The Japanese attitude towards Jews, Judaism, and Israel seems somewhat complex. Only rarely is it accompanied by much first-hand information or detailed knowledge. Most Japanese people lack any awareness of Jews, which in some cases seems in many ways quite remarkable. For instance, few Japanese residents of Tokyo or Kobe would have any idea that there were Jewish communities or synagogues located in their cities. A visitor asking for directions to the synagogue might as well be inquiring after the most direct route to the pyramids. The nature of Jewish life, too, lies outside of Japanese experience. As for what takes place inside a synagogue, this is almost a complete mystery.


Standford Univ - Computer Science, The Jews of Kobe

The Japanese accepted a large influx of Jews into Kobe during World War II. Even though Japan was allied with Nazi Germany, the community of Kobe helped save Holocaust refugees from 1940 to 1941. Japan's policy toward the Jews was much different than that of their allies. Japanese in charge of Jewish refugees knew little about Jewish customs and practices; they took action based on the belief that Jews are very influential in the world. In particular, they modeled their view of Jews after Jacob Schiff, a Jewish financier who raised huge funds for Japan during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Schiff helped the Japanese tremendously and demonstrated to them that Jews are good in business and possess strong worldwide contacts. Yasue Norihiro (a.k.a. Yasue Senkoo) and Inuzuka Koreshige, leaders of the military and civilian political clique known as the Manchurian faction, hoped to attract Jews to assist in their efforts to control Manchuria. The group's goal was to develop Manchuria and its vast resources. They believed that if they treated well the Russian and Sephardic Jews, and the German refugees who came under Japanese rule, that the Jews in East Asia in turn would convince their rich and influential fellow Jews in the United States to help with war loans. Also, they hoped that Americans would look at their good treatment of the Jews and thus change its negative policy towards Japan. Finally, these Japanese also looked specifically towards the refugees from Germany as possessing crucial scientific knowledge to help Manchurian development.

(5): For comparison: Theodore Bikel played the role of Tevya more than 2,000 times.

Paul Lipson played Tevya more than 2,000 times.

Topol, who first played the part of Tevye the Milkman in Tel Aviv in 1966, has played the role for more than 2,700 performances.

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