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Jewish settlement in the Japanese Empire

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Despite there being little evidence to suggest that the Japanese had ever contemplated a Jewish state or a Jewish autonomous region, [1] Rabbi Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz published a book called 'The Fugu Plan' in 1979. In this partly fictionalized book, Tokayer and Swartz gave the name the Fugu Plan or Fugu Plot (河豚計画 Fugu keikaku?) to memorandums written in the 1930s Imperial Japan proposing settling Jewish refugees escaping Nazi-occupied Europe in Japanese territories. Tokayer and Swartz claim that the plan, which was viewed by its proponents as risky but potentially rewarding for Japan, was named after the Japanese word for puffer-fish, a delicacy which can be fatally poisonous if incorrectly prepared. [2]

Tokayer and Swartz base their claim on statements made by Captain Koreshige Inuzuka. They alleged that such a plan was first discussed in 1934 and then solidified in 1938, supported by notables such as Inuzuka, Ishiguro Shiro and Norihiro Yasue[3]; however, the signing of the Tripartite Pact in 1941 and other events prevented its full implementation. The memorandums were not called The Fugu Plan.

Ben-Ami Shillony, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, confirms the statements upon which Tokayer and Swartz based their claim were taken out of context, and that the translation with which they worked was flawed. Shillony's view is further supported by Kiyoko Inuzuka [4]. In 'The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders', he questioned whether the Japanese ever contemplated establishing a Jewish state or a Jewish autonomous region. [5][6][7].

The memorandum

The memorandum as interpreted by Tokayer and Swartz suggested that large numbers of Jewish refugees should be encouraged to settle in Manchukuo or Japan-occupied Shanghai[8], thus gaining not only the benefit of the supposed economic prowess of the Jews but also convincing the United States, and specifically American Jewry, to grant political favor and economic investment into Japan. The idea was partly based on the acceptance of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as being as a genuine document by at least part of the Japanese leadership. [2]

The detailed scheme included how the settlement would be organized and how Jewish support, both in terms of investment and actual settlers, would be garnered. In June and July 1939, the memorandums "Concrete Measures to be Employed to Turn Friendly to Japan the Public Opinion Far East Diplomatic Policy Close Circle of President of USA by Manipulating Influential Jews in China," and "The Study and Analysis of Introducing Jewish Capital" came to be reviewed and approved by the top Japanese officials in China.

Methods of attracting both Jewish and American favor were to include the sending of a delegation to the United States, to introduce American rabbis to the similarities between Judaism and Shinto, and the bringing of rabbis back to Japan in order to introduce them and their religion to the Japanese. Methods were also suggested for gaining the favor of American journalism and Hollywood.

The majority of the documents were devoted to the settlements, allowing for the settlement populations to range in size from 18,000, up to 600,000. Details included the land size of the settlement, infrastructural arrangements, schools, hospitals etc for each level of population. Jews in these settlements were to be given complete freedom of religion, along with cultural and educational autonomy. While the authors were wary of affording too much political autonomy, it was felt that some freedom would be necessary to attract settlers, as well as economic investment.

The Japanese officials asked to approve the plan insisted that while the settlements could appear autonomous, controls needed to be placed to keep the Jews under surveillance. It was feared that the Jews might somehow penetrate into the mainstream Japanese government and economy, influencing or taking command of it in the same way that they, according to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, had done in many other countries. The world Jewish community was to fund the settlements and supply the settlers.


Before World War II

Originally the idea of a small group of Japanese government and military officials who saw a need for a population to be established in Manchukuo (otherwise known as Manchuria) and help build Japan's industry and infrastructure there, the primary members of this group included Captain Koreshige Inuzuka and Captain Norihiro Yasue, who became known as "Jewish experts", the industrialist Yoshisuke Aikawa and a number of officials in the Kwantung Army, known as the “Manchurian Faction”.

Their decision to attract Jews to Manchukuo came from a belief that the Jewish people were wealthy and had considerable political influence. Jacob Schiff, a Jewish-American banker who, thirty years earlier, offered such sizeable loans to the Japanese government which it helped it win the Russo-Japanese War was well-known. In addition, a Japanese translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion led some Japanese authorities to grossly overestimate the economic and political powers of the Jewish people, and their interconnectedness across the world due to the Jewish diaspora. It was assumed that by rescuing European Jews from the Nazis, Japan would gain unwavering and eternal favor from American Jewry.

In 1922, Yasue and Inuzuka had returned from the Japanese Siberian Intervention, aiding the White Russians against the Red Army where they first learned of the Protocols and came to be fascinated by the alleged powers of the Jewish people. Over the course of the 1920s, they wrote many reports on the Jews, and traveled to the British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel) to research the subject and speak with Jewish leaders such as Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion. Yasue translated the Protocols into Japanese. The pair managed to get the Foreign Ministry of Japan interested in the project. Every Japanese embassy and consulate was requested to keep the ministry informed of the actions and movements of Jewish communities in their countries. Many reports were received but none proved the existence of a global conspiracy.

In 1931, the officers joined forces to an extent with the Manchurian faction and a number of Japanese military officials who pushed for Japanese expansion into Manchuria, led by Colonel Seishirō Itagaki and Lieutenant-Colonel Kanji Ishiwara just before the Mukden Incident.

Of Harbin's one million population, Jews represented only a tiny fraction. Their numbers, as high as 13,000 in the 1920s had halved by the mid-1930s in response to economic depression and after events relating to the kidnapping and murder of Simon Kaspé by a gang of Russian Fascists [9] and criminals under the influence of Konstantin Rodzaevsky. [10]

Although Russian Jews in Manchukuo were given legal status and protection the half hearted investigation into his death by the Japanese authorities, who were attempting to court the White Russian community as local enforcers and for their Anti-Communist sentiments, [11] led the Jews of Harbin to no longer trust the Japanese army. Many left to Shanghai, where the Jewish community had suffered no anti-semitism [12], or deeper into China. In 1937, after Yasue spoke with Jewish leaders in Harbin, the Far Eastern Jewish Council was established, and over the next several years, many meetings were held to discuss the idea of encouraging and establishing Jewish settlements in and around Harbin.

In 1938, Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Foreign Minister Hachirō Arita, Army Minister Seishirō Itagaki, Naval Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, and Shigeaki Ikeda, Minister of Finance, Commerce and Industry to discuss the dilemma at the "Five Ministers' Conference". On the one hand, Japan's alliance with Nazi Germany was growing stronger, and doing anything to help the Jews would endanger that relationship. On the other hand, the Jewish boycott of German goods following Kristallnacht showed the economic power and global unity of the Jews. As the Japanese cabinet, at the time, was run by consensus, not rule of majority, this meeting became one of the longest and most complicated meetings of this cabinet.

The next few years were filled with reports and meetings, not only between the proponents of the plan but also with members of the Jewish community, but was not adopted officially. In 1939, the Jews of Shanghai requested that no more Jewish refugees be allowed into Shanghai, as their community's ability to support them was being stretched thin. Stephen Wise, one of the most influential members of the American Jewish community at the time and Zionist activist, expressed a strong opinion against any Jewish-Japanese cooperation.

During World War II

In 1939 the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, making the transport of Jews from Europe to Japan far more difficult. The events of 1940 only solidified the impracticality of executing the Fugu Plan in any official, organized way. The USSR annexed the Baltic states, further cutting off the possibilities for Jews seeking to escape Europe. The Japanese government signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, completely eliminating the possibility of any official aid for the plan from Tokyo.

Despite this, the Japanese Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, began to issue transit visas to escaping Jews against orders from Tokyo. These allowed them to travel to Japan and stay for a limited time on their way to their final destination, the Dutch colony of Curaçao which required no entry visa. Thousands of Jews received transit visas from him, or through similar means. Some even copied, by hand, the visa that Sugihara had written. After the grueling process of requesting exit visas from the Soviet government, many Jews were allowed to cross Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, taking a boat from Vladivostok to Tsuruga and eventually settling in Kobe, Japan.

By the summer of 1941, the Japanese government was becoming anxious about having so many Jewish refugees in such a major city, and near major military and commercial ports. It was decided that the Jews of Kobe had to be relocated to Shanghai, occupied by Japan. Only those who had lived in Kobe before the arrival of the refugees were allowed to stay. Germany had violated the Non-aggression Pact, and declared war on the USSR, making Russia and Japan enemies, and therefore putting an end to the boats from Vladivostok to Tsuruga.

Several month later, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japan seized all of Shanghai. Monetary aid and all communications from American Jews ceased due to the Anglo-American Trading with the Enemy Act and wealthy Baghdadi Jews, many of whom were British subjects, were interned as enemy nationals. The US Department of Treasury was lax regarding communications and aid sent to the Jewish refugees in Shanghai[13], but the American Jewish organizations provided aid.

Despite there being little or no evidence to support the claim, in 1942 the Nazi Colonel and Gestapo chief Josef Meisinger was said to arrive in Shanghai to attempt to convince the local Japanese authorities to "exterminate" or enslave the 20,000 strong Jewish community. [14] The Japanese government would not accept this and never persecuted them [15].

Colonel Norihiro Yasue calmed the violent antisemitism of White Russians, who were known to attack, kidnap or murder Russian Jews. Jews entering and residing in Japan, China, and Manchukuo were treated the same as other foreigners and, in one instance, Japanese officials in Harbin ignored a formal complaint by the German consulate which was deeply insulted by one of the Russian-Jewish newspapers' attack on Hitler. In his book, "Japanese, Nazis and Jews", Dr. David Kranzler states Japan's position was ultimately Pro-Jewish. Meisinger's plans were reduced to the creation of what came to be known as the Shanghai ghetto.

During the six months following the Five Minister's Conference, lax restrictions for entering the International Settlement, such as the requirement for no visa or papers of any kind, allowed 15,000 Jewish refugees to be admitted to the Japanese sector in Shanghai. Japanese policy declared that Jews entering and residing in Japan, China, and Manchukuo would be treated the same as other foreigners. From 1943, Jews in Shanghai shared a "Designated Area for Stateless Refugees" of 40 blocks along with 100,000 Chinese residents. Most Jews fared as well. Often better than other Shanghai residents. The ghetto remained open, free of barbed wire. Jewish refugees could acquire passes to leave the zone. It was bombed just months before the end of the war by Allied planes seeking to destroy a radio transmitter within the city.

Japan's support of Zionism

From the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and WWII, Japan's government endorsed the Zionist project and demonstrated a keen interest in Zionist forms of settler colonialism for Japan's own colonial projects in Korea and Manchuria. Not unrelated to Japan's alliance with the British, its authorities sanctioned the idea of establishing a Jewish state in the Palestine seeking endorsement for its claims to former German colonies in East Asia

Japanese approval came as early as December 1918, when the Shanghai Zionist Association received a message endorsing the government's "pleasure of having learned of the advent desire of the Zionists to establish in Palestine a National Jewish Homeland". It indicated that, "Japan will accord its sympathy to the realization of your [Zionist] aspirations." [16]

This was further explicit endorsement in January 1919 when Chinda Sutemi wrote to Chaim Weizmann in the name of the Japanese Emperor stating that, "the Japanese government gladly takes note of the Zionist aspiration to extend in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people and they look forward with a sympathetic interest to the realization of such desire upon the basis proposed."[17] Japan recognized British policies in Palestine in return for British approval of Japanese control over the Shandong Peninsula in China.

Influential Japanese intellectuals including Uchimura Kanzo (1861-1930), Nitobe Inazo (1862-1933), Kenjirō Tokutomi (1868-1927) and professor in colonial policy at Tokyo University Tadao Yanaihara (1893-1961) were also in support. "The Zionist movement," claimed Yanaihara, "is nothing more than an attempt to secure the right for Jews to migrate and colonize in order to establish a center for Jewish national culture", defending the special protection given to the Jews in their quest for a national home based on his conviction that, "the Zionist case constituted a national problem deserving of a nation-state".[18] The Zionist project, including the cooperative modes of agricultural settlements, he saw as a model Japan might emulate.[19][20]

A high-level Japanese government reports on plans for mass emigration to Manchuria in 1936 included references to ethnic conflict between Jews and Arabs as scenarios to avoid. [21] These influential Japanese policy makers and institutions referred to Zionist forms of cooperative agricultural settlement as a model that Japanese should emulate is significant. A colonial enterprise having parallels with Japan's own expansion into Asia. By 1940, Japanese occupied Manchuria was host to 17,000 Jewish refugees, most coming from Eastern Europe.

Yasue, Inuzuka and other sympathetic diplomats wished to utilize those Jewish refugees in Manchuria and Shanghai in return for the favorable treatments accorded to them. Japanese official quarters expected American Jewry influence American Far Eastern policy and make it neutral or pro-Japanese and attract badly needed Jewish capital to develop the industrial development of Manchuria.

Post-war, the 1952 recognition of full diplomatic relations with Israel by the Japanese government was a breakthrough amongst Asian nations.


The idea, as envisioned by Yasue, Inuzuka, and others, failed. Those Jews who did find their way to Japan, and to Japanese-controlled China, did not arrive in especially large numbers. Far fewer made the trip than had applied for visas. The Jews were not helped in any large-scale, official or organized way by the national government in Tokyo. Neither did those that settled in Kobe or Shanghai do much to bolster the Japanese economy. Most were refugees who had come to Japan with nothing, nor did they have the ability to elicit favor or aid for Japan from powerful Jews in the US, British Empire, or elsewhere in the West.

Approximately 24,000 Jews escaped the Holocaust either by immigrating through Japan or living under direct Japanese rule by the policies surrounding Japan's pro-Jewish attitude. [22] Chiune Sugihara was bestowed the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1985. In addition, the Mir Yeshiva, one of the largest centers of rabbinical study today, and the only European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust, survived as a result of these events.

Inuzuka's help in rescuing Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe was acknowledged by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States which saved him from being tried as a war criminal. He went on to establish the Japan-Israel Association and was president until his death in 1965.


  • Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan by Shillony, Ben-Ami . Oxford University Press, 1991
  • Szpilman, Christopher W.A., “Fascist and Quasi-Fascist Ideas in Interwar Japan, 1918-1941,” in Japan in the Fascist Era
  • Sakamoto, Pamela Rotner. Japanese Diplomats and Jewish Refugees: A World War II Dilemma. Praeger Publishers (1998) ISBN 0275961990
  • Kase Hideaki, "Nihon no naka no Yudayajin"
  • Sugita Rokuichi, Higashi Ajia e kita Yudayajin".
  • Inuzuka Kiyoko, "Kaigun Inuzuka kikan no kiroku: Yudaya mondai to Nippon no kōsaku" (Tokyo: Nihon kōgyō shimbunsha, 1982).
  • Shillony, Ben-Ami. Defending Japan's Pacific War: The Kyoto School Philosophers. The Journal of Japanese Studies - Volume 32, 2006.
  • Shillony, Ben-Ami. "Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan". Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.
  • Goodman, Prof David. "Jews in the Japanese Mind". Free Press (1994) ISBN 0029124824
  • In search of Sugihara: the elusive Japanese diplomat who risked his life to rescue 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust by Levine, Hillel. University of Michigan, ISBN 0684832518.
  • Pallister, Casey J. "Japan's Jewish "Other": Antisemitism in Prewar and Wartime Japan". University of Oregon.


  1. Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan by Ben-Ami Shillony. p 209
  2. 2.0 2.1 Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe. A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West. Page 196-197.
  3. Shillony Ben-Ami. 'The Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan' page 170
  4. Inuzuka Kiyoko, Kaigun Inuzuka kikan no kiroku: Yudaya mondai to Nippon no kōsaku (Tokyo: Nihon kōgyō shimbunsha, 1982)
  5. Ben Ami-Shillony, The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1991)
  6. Origins of the Pacific War and the importance of 'Magic' by Keiichiro Komatsu, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. ISBN 0312173857
  7. Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan by Ben-Ami Shillony. Edition: reprint, illustrated Published by Oxford University Press, 1991
  8. Tokayer. p58.
  9. Strangers always: a Jewish family in wartime Shanghai' by Rena Krasno. Published by Pacific View Press, 1992. ISBN 1881896021,
  10. My China: Jewish Life in the Orient 1900-1950 by Yaacov Liberman. Gefen Publishing House, Ltd.
  11. Dubois, Thomas David, Rule of Law in a Brave New Empire: Legal Rhetoric and Practice in Manchukuo. Law and History Review 26.2 (2008): 48 pars. 1 May 2009
  12. Japanese, Nazis and Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-45 by David Kranzler, Abrahm G Duker revised Published by Yeshiva Univ. Pr., Sifria, 1976 ISBN 0893620009
  13. Tokayer, p220.
  14. Wasserstein, Bernard, "Secret War in Shanghai: An Untold Story of Espionage, Intrigue, and Treason in World War II". 1999
  15. Kranzler David, Duker, Abrahm G. "Japanese, Nazis and Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-45". Yeshiva Univ. Pr., Sifria, 1976 ISBN 0893620009
  16. Maruyama, Naoki. "Japan's Response to the Zionist Movement in the 1920s," Bulletin of the Graduate School of International Relations, No. 2 (December 1984), 29.
  17. World Zionist Organization, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, Copy Z4/2039.
  18. Tadao, Yanaihara. "Yanaihara Tadao Zenshu", Vol. 4, 184, edited by Shigeru, Nambara (1965).
  19. Boer, John de. "In Promotion of Colonialism: Yanaihara Tadao's Rendering of Zionist Colonial Settlements," Western Conference of the Association of Asian Studies, 1 October 2004.
  20. Tadao, Yanaihara. "Yudaya Mondai" in Yanaihara Tadao, Nihon Heiwaron Taikei. (1993) page 269-77
  21. Nihon Gakujutsu Shinko-Kai Gakujutsu-bu Dai-2 Tokubetsu Iinkai, Manshu Imin Mondai to Jisseki Chosa, (December 1936), page 41.
  22. Kranzler, "Japanese, Nazis, and Jews", page 563
  • Tokayer, Rabbi Marvin; Mary Swartz (1979). The Fugu Plan: The Untold Story of the Japanese and the Jews During World War II. Paddington Press. ASIN: B000KA6NWO. 
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Jewish settlement in the Japanese Empire. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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