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Island country in the Far East consisting of four main islands and many smaller ones, lying off the northeast coast of Asia. By the 9th century C.E., Jewish merchants from the West were trading in Japan, but no permanent colony had been established. Legends that some Japanese clans are of Jewish origin may refer to the descendants of these early visitors. After Japan was opened to the West by Commodore Perry in 1854, Jews came from Europe, Turkey, Iraq, and India. The first synagogue was built in Nagasaki in the 1890’s. It belonged to Russian Jews. A Sephardic colony was soon settled in Kobe and is still there. Yokohama was settled next, then Tokyo. Jewish refugees from Germany arrived during the 1930’s. At first there was no antisemitism, but Japan’s signing of the Axis Pact with the Nazis brought familiar trouble. Many Polish and Lithuanian Jews, including the entire Mir yeshiva en route to the Americas were caught in Japan by World War II. They were sent to the Hongkow ghetto in Shanghai. Although some Jews left Japan at the end of the war, others entered when the Communist conquest of China imperiled Jewish life there. The arrival of American Jewish chaplains to serve the occupation forces stimulated Japanese interest in Judaism. Several Japan-Israel Friendship Societies were formed. In 2007, there were about 1,000 Jews in Japan.

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