Jewish Geography and the Japanese

Truth may be stranger than fiction here.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier

OpEds Dr. Harold Goldmeier
Dr. Harold Goldmeier

Many Jews have an ardor to identify other Jews. We turned into a game: “Jewish geography,” played whenever two Jews unknown to one another meet in a restaurant, on a cruise ship, and the synagogue.  This passion to learn how we are all linked has made its way into literature, science, and academia.  Are the tribes in black Africa with rituals similar to Judaism genetically linked to European and North Africa Jews? What about the black Jews of India, or Far East communities, we wonder.

A new book by Joseph Eidelberg, his second, examines in great detail the links he suspects point to the Japanese as one of the Ten Lost Tribes. He died in 1985 at age 69.  His family and friends are responsible for preparing The Japanese and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel (Gefen Publishing House, 2014), and ensuring publication of this important work.

Eidelberg is the kind of man with whom I would have liked to share a lengthy dinner. His careers as an engineer, soldier, and manager of large development projects in the Mid-East and Africa, do not define him. Eidelberg was a serial seeker of knowledge and memory keeper. He was inquisitive about the human condition, fluent in seven languages, an explorer of cultures, customs, symbols, words, prosody, accidence, mythology, linguistics, handwriting, and songs.

Eidelberg was an enthusiastic student of the Old Testament and Hebrew texts in pursuit of finding the resting places of the Ten Tribes. He learned to speak Japanese, became a scholar in a Shinto Shrine, and devoted investigator to the Biblical origins of the Japanese people, their roots, culture, rites, and ties to the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

In his 1972 book, Bambara, the author writes about the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt and their forty-year trek to Israel. He believes they went West circling through the Sahara, and down through African coasts. The Hebrews influenced the cultures, religious practices, and languages of black Africans before turning east to The Promised Land.

In the current book, Eidelberg traces the forced exile of some members of the Ten Tribes of Israel by the Assyrians. He theorizes some Jews or tribes made their way into Mongolia and the Far-East islands.  He links Hebrew language and religious rites to Japanese language and culture in great detail and depth. He traces the meaning of many unknown sources for Japanese words, numbers, songs, cultural, and religious rites to Hebrew origins. For instance, “According to Hebrew tradition it is forbidden to pronounce the name of God. He is often referred to as ‘The Most High’; and the Japanese term of ‘Kami,” which is applied to every deity and every divine object, also means ‘Most High,’ and can be construed as ‘Heavenly’.”

He complemented his research with extensive travels first to Iran searching for hard evidence or any links about the tribes transported to Assyria. He located the Muslim Yusufzai people living in remote isolated villages claiming they are remains of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Another claim he investigated had the Ten Tribes making their way to China.  Ancient Bokharan Jewish traditions had the Ten Tribes reaching a country “beyond China.”  Eidelberg found idiomatic Hebrew expressions and religious similarities in the Shinto religion that he made his way to Japan for deeper insights.

Eidelberg’s extensive knowledge of Hebrew texts and the Old Testament complemented what he learned during years of study in Japan. Mistakenly, though not critical to his thesis, the author attributes two calamities to acts of King David: three years of famine followed by deadly pestilence for counting the people.  Pestilence was punishment for this sin. Famine was unleashed (Samuel 2, 21:1) for King Saul slaughtering the Gibeonites.

His writing is simple and clear, enhanced with diagrams and the occasional map. It is packed full of suppositions and tenuous links between Hebrews and Japanese societies.  For example, the official title of all Japanese emperors is Sumera Mikito.  “This title, which cannot be satisfactorily explained in Japanese, can be construed as ‘His Majesty of Samaria’ in one of the dialects spoken by ancient Hebrews.”  The Old Testament says, “The king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away.”  Historical chronicler Josephus wrote, “the Ten Tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now,” at the end of the first century C.E. Eidelberg makes these links throughout the book, and the reader must determine for himself their strength and validity.

Eidelberg is not the first to suggest Jews and Japanese share common ancestry. The talk extends back to the 17th century. DNA evidence has not proven any links. In 2009, World Turtle Productions posted a video, The Mystery of Jews in Japan on You Tube, garnering over 171,000 views.  The video demonstrates more than a few Jewish rituals and customs similar in ancient Japanese rituals and customs. It’s worth watching.

An Israeli friend lived a decade in Japan for business. He is engrossed in their culture and customs, and he claims “it is commonly known” the male newborn children in the Emperor’s immediately family are circumcised in secret. This is not a custom of the Japanese, nor is burying bodies and body parts.  They are cremated, but the foreskins of the babies are buried in the earth.

Eidelberg presents much of his work in the context of Japanese historical periods.  He offers a very extensive examination of Japanese words and phrases. Nihon in Japanese is “Land of the Rising Sun.”  “Nihon is the Chinese ideographic rendering of the name of Japan. In early works, Nihon is pronounced “Yamato” in Japanese.  “But if the name ‘Nihon’ does not mean ‘Land of the Rising Sun,’ could it perhaps be an expression composed of two words ‘Nhi-Hon,’ meaning ‘Followers of the Book’ – another epithet of the ancient Hebrews?”

Joseph Eidelberg discovered amazing similarities between the cultures. He was a seriously intelligent student not given to apocryphal stories and fables. This book is for the investigator who wants to intensely pursue the links and perhaps open our eyes and minds to what really happened to the Ten Tribes from their exodus to their resettlement on other continents.

One final note, what impact did the Hebrews and their religion and culture have on the Japanese if any? We cannot simply look at songs and language.  Did the Japanese develop a sense of tikun olam (repair the world) so basic to Jewish belief?  I personally can offer little evidence that the Japanese are a guilt-ridden people for their sins certainly not in their war years against the Russians and Chinese civilian populations or for their treatment of POWs. The Japanese adamantly refuse to apologize to this day.

Yet, Jews retell stories about their treatment under the Japanese in Shanghai during World War II with gratitud (hakorat hatov), respect and good feeling, for their reasonably good treatment as refugees under the Japanese, and for not turning Jewish refugees over to the Nazis as they demanded of the Japanese.

Then there is the legendary vice-counsel Chiune Sugihara who issued thousands of visas and travel documents to European Jews wanting to escape the Germans.  Sugihara even managed to sign visas, and throw them out the train windows. He was leaving the country under orders to return to Japan where he was punished but not severely. Do they have an affinity for Jews for some ancient ties worth further examination?

To paraphrase another believer in the links between Jews and Japanese, Christian Zionist Elizabeth A. Gordon, Eidelberg offers us a “fantastic chain of reasoning” to believe there is more to the story of the lost Ten Tribes worth further examination.

 (For Arutz Sheva's series of articles on Japanese Culture Week in Israel, click here)