The Vidal Sassoon Internatinal Center for the Study of Antisemitism

Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism, 1997
acta no. 11

On Ignorance, Respect and Suspicion: Current Japanese Attitudes toward Jews   Rotem Kowner


Japan represents a special case in the research on attitudes toward Jews in modern times, for Japanese-Jewish discourse was set forth only after Japan had been forced to open its ports in 1854. The first outburst of anti-Jewish race hatred in Japan occurred with the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941. In the latter half of the 1980s there was a resurrection of negative Jewish images as a new wave of antisemitic writings swept Japan.

The present research attempts to evaluate current Japanese attitudes toward Jews, as reflected in indicators such as stereotypes, social distance, and their general assessment of the Jews. In addition, it sought to investigate the relations between knowledge and exposure to information about Jews, and attitudes toward them. The study included three surveys and the research population consisted of 639 Japanese university students.

The first survey examined representative stereotypes of six national/ethnic groups, and the results indicated the existence of a rather positive image of Jews. This image contains solid perceptions of the Jews as industrious, competent, and strong-minded people, but also as somewhat unstable and insular people. Among the five outgroups examined, Jews were perceived as the group most similar to the Japanese. The second survey further investigated stereotypes of Jews, and revealed a more complex image which also contains definite negative aspects. Respondents who had greater knowledge and exposure to information about Jews expressed more positive stereotypes of them. The third survey examined attitudes toward Jews and indicated the existence of suspicion and fear of Jews as individuals as compared with Westerners and foreigners. These attitudes are particularly evident with regard to contact with Jews.

Based on these findings, this work attempts to analyze current reasons behind Japanese attitudes toward Jews and suggests ways of changing these attitudes.


Japan represents a special case in the research of modern antisemitism since there have been few Jews in Japan, and the Japanese are unable to distinguish Jews from other non-Japanese. This has not prevented several waves of antisemitism to arise during the last century.

The existence of recurrent negative attitudes toward Jews in Japan is a fascinating phenomenon because of the absence of most of the bases for it that characterize antisemitic attitudes in other nations. First, antisemitism in Japan has not been evolved from an encounter with Jews, for the Jewish community in Japan consists of about a thousand members, and the Japanese do not, and probably cannot, distinguish between them and other Western residents. Antisemitism does not have long roots in Japan; it started to flourish only in the twentieth century. Similarly, it does not have any religious roots: Judaism has never threatened or come into theological conflict with any of the leading religions practiced in Japan.

Furthermore, antisemitism in Japan never gained full governmental support nor did it become a national ideology. It did not develop out of any significant conflict between Israel and Japan, as is the case with Arab countries. In fact, antisemitism never penetrated the lower classes in Japan nor had it any popular support. Finally it has appeared almost solely in written form and never deteriorated to the point of material damage or physical attacks on Jews.


The Japanese-Jewish discourse began only after Japan was forced to open its ports in 1854. Among the Western visitors and merchants that flocked to Japan's shores there were a few Jews, and at the time of Meiji Restoration (1868) they numbered about fifty families at the main port of Yokohama. Apparently, the Jewish residents left little impression, if any, on the local population. Dressed as other Westerners, the Jews were perceived as part of the foreign community, and in Japanese eyes the religion of Judaism was initially regarded as a part of Christianity. 1

The first publication with an antisemitic implications encountered by the Japanese in their own language was probably the translation of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in the early part of the Meiji Era (1868–1912). The play was an instant success. Soon after its publication it was serialized in a newspaper and than adapted for the Kabuki stage. Lacking nuances and complexity, the Jewish protagonist was portrayed as a greedy villain, and for those who did not understand, the translator explained: "The Italian Jew Shylock is what we call in our country Eta-hinin [outcast group within the Japanese society]."2 It was not until the late 1960s, as noted by Goodman and Miyazawa, that Shylock was portrayed sympathetically in Japan.3

With the end of the long ban on Christianity in 1873, translations of the New Testament into Japanese also were instrumental in shaping early images of Jews. Although the number of Christian converts has never exceeded one percent of the Japanese population, Christianity has great prestige in modern Japan and its followers often filled important positions, especially in education. Curiously, the Christian influence did more good than harm to the Jewish image in Japan. Troubled with their identity vis-à-vis the West, early Japanese Christian theologians (e.g., Uchimura Kanzô, Nakada Jûji, and Saeki Yoshirô) regarded the Jews as saviors and even as sharing a common ancestry with the Japanese (Goodman & Miyazawa, 1995: 37–75).4

Only at the end of World War I did contemporary antisemitic materials begin to penetrate Japan, initially by way of the White Russian troops with whom the Japanese government cooperated in an attempt to halt the Bolshevik control of Siberia following the Russian Revolution. Between 1918–1922, Japanese forces of "intervention" controlled parts of Siberia and maintained close contacts with the White Armies; many Japanese accepted the notion that the Bolshevik Revolution was a Jewish plot and Jews were identified with the menace of communism. In 1919 the first translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—required reading among the White troops—appeared in Japanese. Still, antisemitism as reflected in the ideas and theories of extremists such as Higuchi Tsuyanosuke and Sakai Shôgun, drew the support of few people in the following decade.

With the end of the relatively liberal days of the Taisho Era (1912–1925) and the onset of a far-reaching economic crisis at the end of the 1920s, new winds were blowing. Various geopolitical interests and similar nationalistic moods during the 1930s catalyzed the warming of  relations with Germany. Although initially Japanese intellectuals and its media seemed united in their criticism and condemnation of the Jewish persecution in Germany, it was inevitable that Nazi propaganda would come to be accepted. Along with the translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf and Rosenberg's  Myth of the Twentieth Century, a growing number of original Japanese publications on the "Jewish threat" began to appear.

With the outbreak of the Pacific War (1941–1945), there was an outburst of anti-Jewish, along with anti-Christian, race hatred in Japan, which historian John Dower points out "has no explanation beyond mindless adherence to Nazi doctrine" (Dower, 1986: 258). During this period, a number of Japanese writers accepted Nazi theories of the Jews as an alien, sinister, and corrupt element in the Western civilization (Shillony, 1981: 156–71). Japan's mission, argued some antisemites, was not only to liberate Asia from white colonialism but to free all humankind from the Jews. So pervasive  did antisemitism become in that period that Japan's major dailies occasionally printed articles on the Jewish influence and peril. 5 Yet, while the government may have manipulated the image of Jews in invoking ultranationalism, antisemitism was never an official ideology in Japan. Moreover, Jews living in areas controlled by Japan remained unharmed, and thousands of Jewish refugees owe their lives to the actions of Japanese officials.6

During the first two decades after the war the Japanese were engaged in economic reconstruction and the "Jewish question,"—especially its negative aspects—disappeared from the public eye. Japanese intellectuals, however, involved in retrospection and painfully aware of the Holocaust,  approached Jewish themes from a serious and empathic standpoint. Older images of Jews were repressed and some antisemitic activists became supporters of the Jewish cause. Others identified with the Jewish experience to exculpate themselves by claiming to be the innocent victims, not the perpetrators, of the war (Goodman & Miyazawa, 1995: 182).

The herald of change in attitude toward Jews was Japan's bestseller of 1971, The Japanese and the Jews (Ben-Dasan, 1970, 1972). Hiding behind the pseudonym Isaiah Ben-Dasan, the book's author and publisher, Yamamoto Shichihei, insisted for years on the genuine "Jewish" identity of the author. The book was actually an example of a Nihonjinron publication rather than having much to do with antisemitism. 7 Its intent was to redefine the essence of being Japanese, and it compared the Japanese, isolated people living in a place with an abundance of water, to the nomadic Jews, who originated in the desert and lack security.

In the aftermath of its tremendous popularity (more than one million copies sold in its first year, as well as receiving a literary prize), many more Nihonjinron publications followed, and the Jewish issue gradually returned to the Japanese intellectual arena. 8 At first there were only a trickle of publications, but they brought out the old, sinister image of business skill exercised as part of a conspiracy to control the world (e.g., Fujita, 1972; Saito, 1984).


The resurrection of negative Jewish images culminated in a new wave of antisemitic writings during the latter half of the 1980s. Emerging during this literary "renaissance" was the Christian pastor, Uno Masami, as the most influential author of antisemitic material. In 1986 alone, two of Uno's books sold a combined total of 1.1 million copies (Uno, 1986a, 1986b). Uno — certainly the most successful promulgator of antisemitism in modern Japan — was, of course, not alone. By 1987 nearly a hundred books which carried the word "Jew" in their titles were in circulation and many large bookstores displayed them in a special  "Jewish corner."

Uno and other writers such as Ushiyama Kaichi and Ôta Ryû repeated some of the old allegations about Jews, especially focusing on a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world and to take over Japan, the last obstacle in their plan. 10 They associated various events in Japan's modern history (e.g., the Russo-Japanese War, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) with Jewish intrigues, and similarly, they put the blame on the Jews for Japan's contemporary economic difficulties, as well as the trade friction with the United States. Finally, influenced by foreign antisemitism, Uno and other writers of his ilk have denied the Holocaust and declared a number of worldwide maladies (e.g., AIDS) as a Jewish creation.

The publication of Holocaust denial books in the fringe inevitably led to the emergence of such claims in the mainstream Japanese media. In January 1995 on the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a stylish monthly, Marco Polo, carried an article denying the Holocaust (Nishioka, 1995). In the subsequent scandal which erupted, the publisher decided to close the journal and dismiss its editor (cf. Kawado, 1995a, 1995b).

Previously, in 1992 the Shûkan Post, a popular weekly, blamed the Jews for a recent drop in the Japanese stock market and pointed out that they could destroy the entire Japanese nation "whenever they desired."  In December the same year, a weekly of a similar character and circulation (more than a half million copies), Shûkan Gendai, based on "inside information," claimed that the Jewish-controlled mass media in the United States manipulated American public opinion in favor of President Clinton. 11

Another aspect of the expanding exposure of antisemitic writings was the conspicuous advertisements for them published without hesitation by the greatest and most respectable newspapers in Japan. One example was a prominent advertisement for an antisemitic trilogy appeared in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun in July 1993. 12 Even if one did not read the book, it would have been hard to ignore the advertisement's outline of a Jewish plan to destroy Japan, and the accusations that the Jews insult the Emperor and the Japanese people. In response to criticism, officials of the newspaper declared that the advertisement was not slanderous. 13

Finally, in January 1995, the Vajrayana Sacca, the publication of the occult sect Aum Shinrikyo, published an antisemitic tract titled "Manual of Fear: The Jewish Ambition — Total World Conquest." It claimed that the Jews had exploited the World War II defeat of Japan in their conspiracy to control the world. The Jews were presented as a universal enemy, which, with the aid of "internationalized" Japanese, were plotting to exterminate three billion people in the next five years. 14 Two months later, members of the sect came to world attention, when they attacked Tokyo's underground, killing 12 and injuring more than 5000 people. Later investigation revealed that children of the sect were taught in school that Hitler was a hero and was still alive. 15


Outlined below are several possible explanations for the upsurge of antisemitic writings in Japan in the last decade, as seen in three broad areas:

Jews as a Reflection of the image of the "Other": The image of the Jew may represent or displace that of other external groups with whom the Japanese are in conflict, but which are less "legitimate" for criticism.

II. Interpreting Japan: 
The image of the Jew is used to facilitate internal needs; Jews serve as a beacon of Japan's quest for self-definition, as an explanation for Japan's current problems, and as a warning for future developments.
III. Supply and demand:
Side by side with national needs and psychological motives, there may be additional factors in the recent upsurge of antisemitic writings unrelated to the "Jewish question" or Japan's current situation.

Although a lot has been written about Japanese attitudes toward Jews, only a few scholars have ventured to assess these attitudes through an empirical investigation. In 1962, in an era of relative latency toward the Jews in Japan, the social scientist Akita Kiyoshi conducted his first study of attitudes toward various ethnic groups among students of Dôshisha University. Asked about their sense of attraction toward 12 groups, the students unflatteringly ranked the Jews tenth. 24

A year later, Akita elaborated his investigation. This time he asked his students to characterized the 12 ethnic groups by selecting from 24 pairs of adjectives. Jews were almost unequivocally depicted in a negative light: They were selected as the most "dark" (versus "bright"); as the second most "unhappy," "stiff," and "complex" (versus "simple"); as the third most "asocial" and physically "small"; and as the fourth most "weak," "timid," "ugly," and "clever" among all the groups. In most of the remaining pairs of adjectives as well, Jews were placed in the negative side (Akita, 1968, cited in Goodman & Miyazawa, 1995: 5).25

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).

Following the new wave of antisemitic writings there has been only one survey that examined attitudes toward Jews and their image. In 1988 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith commissioned a large-scale survey of 1365 Japanese adults (Watts, 1988). Respondents were asked to choose among eight pairs of adjectives regarding Jews and several others groups (Buddhists, Christians, Asians, Blacks, Arabs, and Muslims). Jews tended to be seen as greedy and unfriendly, and to a lesser extent as unclean and deceitful. At the same time they were assessed more often than not as brave, hard-working, intelligent, and spiritual. Jews were consistently ranked below Christians and Buddhists, and often were clustered together with Muslims, Arabs, and Blacks.

Seven percent of the respondents had read one or more "antisemitic" book about Jews (the survey defined such books as those which "have been very popular recently and have caused a lot of discussion"), while another 8% had heard of them. In fact, 68% of those familiar with these books felt they were unfair, whereas 31% felt the opposite. Furthermore, only 6% of those exposed to that sort of literature said it had made their opinion about Jews worse, whereas 15% said it had made their opinion better.

Despite this costly attempt to sample the Japanese population, the survey suffered from several flaws: it used only a few items regarding Jews; the groups to which Jews were compared seem to be a hodgepodge lacking a clear ethnic identity within Japanese culture (were Christians supposed to represent only Westerners, or Filipinos as well? Were Buddhists Japanese, or other peoples as well?); and finally, the statistical analysis was only descriptive and did not provide much information about the identity of those who harbored positive or negative attitudes toward Jews.


The Sample and Field Work

The research population consisted of 639 Japanese university students eighteen years of age and over, enrolled at three universities: an elite national university with a student population from all over Japan (the University of Tsukuba), a prefectural national university with a local semi-rural student population (Ibaraki University), and a metropolitan private university with a student population mainly from urban area of Tokyo (Meikai University). The students were recruited through the request of their teachers, and the few who refused to participate were omitted from the sample. Field work took place between February 1995 and October 1996.


The present research aimed to examine several issues. First, it sought to determine current Japanese attitudes toward Jews, as reflected by various measures such as images, attraction, and general assessment. Second, it sought to compare the findings with  the images of several other ethnic groups in Japan as well as the attitudes towards them. Third, it sought to investigate the relation between knowledge about Jews and exposure to information about Jews, and attitudes toward them.

Having fulfilled these initial tasks, the present study may enables one to accept or reject several fundamental hypotheses regarding the sources of the Japanese attitudes toward Jews and may provide certain insights regarding the recent boom of antisemitic writings. Similarly, it may shed some light regarding the penetration of recent antisemitic ideas into the Japanese mainstream, as well as the extent of their influence.


This study sought to examine two sets of hypotheses:

A. Motives for current attitudes toward Jews.
Attitudes held by the general public toward Jews, or any other ethnic group, reflect, or at least illuminate, I believe, the motives for those attitudes. Consequently, several hypotheses can be advanced regarding attitudes toward Jews in Japan in relation to other groups.

B. Effect of knowledge of Jews and exposure to information about them.
The second premise of this study is that knowledge about Jews and exposure to information about them may affect attitudes toward them Consequently, several hypotheses can be advanced regarding that relationship. Knowledge and Exposure
In each of the three surveys we made use of a short questionnaire regarding the participants' knowledge about Jews and exposure to information about Jews. This questionnaire, which came at the end of each survey,  was composed for a pilot study but due to the limited knowledge and exposure revealed, it was retained in its rudimentary form in the surveys which followed. The section on knowledge consisted of six items; the part on exposure to information about Jews, of five items.

Knowledge of Jews varied according to the question. Only one out of eight participants knew that Nietzsche was the non-Jewish personality among the four personalities presented (the other choices, Marx, Freud, and Einstein, had been often mentioned in the past as an example of the "Jewish Genius"). In contrast, almost half of the participants knew that Moses was Jewish.

About 30% knew that Jews do not eat pork—a traditional Jewish taboo commonly known by Europeans. As for the Jewish day of rest, only 6% knew it was Saturday. About a quarter of the participants was accurate about the number of Jews, and more underestimated the number than overestimated it . Surprisingly, 45% knew that the Bible was written originally in Hebrew, probably because this question relates to general knowledge about Western civilization.

To examine the existence of sex and institutional differences in knowledge about Jews among the participants, a 2 (sex) x 3 (university) ANOVA on the total knowledge was conducted. The ANOVA revealed only institutional difference, F(2,566) = 19.5, p < .0001. The more "prestigious" the institution, the greater knowledge its students displayed. Students of the elite public university scored the highest average response rate (M=2.1 out of six possible correct answers), students of the prefectural university second (M=1.6), and the students of the private university score the lowest (M=1.3).

While the knowledge displayed by the respondents may be somewhat limited as compared with people with similar background in the West, it seems impressive when compared with the knowledge of Westerners, particularly Israelis, regarding Japanese personalities and customs.

As for exposure to information about Jews, 2.3% (13 students) reported having Jewish acquaintances. This percentage is slightly higher, although insignificantly different, than the 1% found in the ADL survey. About 30% of the participants have read a book about Jews and the percentage rose to 50% when articles were added.  Less than one in ten participants had read a book on the Jewish religion, and one in eight participants had read any book or article about a Jewish plot to control the world.

To examine the existence of sex and institutional differences in exposure to information on Jews among the participants, a 2 (sex) x 3 (university) ANOVA on the total exposure was conducted. The ANOVA revealed sex difference and a tendency for institutional difference, F(1,567 = 25.6, p < .0001; F(2,567) = 2.5, p < .09, respectively. Women had greater exposure to information than men, and, again, the more "prestigious" the institution, the greater exposure its students had. In particular, women had by far greater exposure than men to books about Jews (43% vs. 16.9%), to books and articles about Jews and Judaism (55.6% vs. 44.9%), and to books and articles about a Jewish plot for control of the world (15.2% vs. 10.1%).

Among the 571 participants who filled out this questionnaire, there was a positive but moderate correlation between exposure to information about Jews and knowledge about them
(r = .271, p < .0001). 


The goal of this survey was to examine the basic image of Jews and to compare it with the image of five additional groups: Westerners, foreigners, Israelis, Arabs, and Japanese. This survey followed the classic pattern of stereotype studies, in which subjects select a limited number of stereotypes. Their selection yields a list of typical stereotypes which can be arranged from the most popular to the least. 


Participants. One hundred ninety-nine (127 women and 72 men) undergraduates enrolled in Ibaraki University and the University of Tsukuba (mean age ± SD = 20.1 ± 0.8). All participants were Japanese nationals who took part at the request of their instructors.

Testing material. Two questionnaires were used. The first one, Stereotype List Questionnaire, consisted of a list of 114 trait adjectives based on a study of Dean Peabody (1987). Peabody sought to select variables from natural language to measure personality characteristics. Several factor analyses reduced his list to 57 bi-polar adjectives. There were four versions to this questionnaire, differing only in the group listed. Each version referred to three group: Japanese (self-image), Jews, and one of the following groups: Westerners, foreigners, Israelis, or Arabs. Respondents were requested to select the five most descriptive adjectives for each of the three groups. The second questionnaire was Knowledge-Exposure questionnaire mentioned above.
Procedure. The survey was presented as a "research on international perspectives." The participants were randomly handed one version of the Stereotype List Questionnaire, and after completing it they filled in the Knowledge-Exposure questionnaire which was attached to the first questionnaire. 


To assess the image of each group, we count the number of times each adjective was selected. Table 1 contains all the adjectives selected by more than 10% of the participants for each group. The image of Jews includes several positive adjectives, such as intelligent, capable, peaceful, and hardworking; and a few adjectives that may carry a negative nuance such as unstable, skeptical, and thrifty.

Group image. The self-image of the Japanese was similar to earlier self-descriptions of the Japanese, such as hardworking (selected by almost half of the participants), modest, serious, reserved, and polite.26  The image of Westerners contained positive and negative attributes related to the traditional Japanese perception of them as extrovert individualists, and it differs greatly from the self-image of the Japanese. The most frequently selected adjective regarding Westerners was self-confidence. Confidence went together with sociability, but sometimes bordered on selfishness, conceit, and even quarrelsomeness. From the social viewpoint, Westerners were perceived as friendly and cheerful; from the intellectual viewpoint as logical and witty, and from the behavioral viewpoint as active, bold, and spontaneous. Foreigners were perceived very similarly to Westerners. They were not perceived as having the same extent of self-confidence, but they had neither of the negative characteristics that accompany such confidence. Similarly, they were not perceived as endowed with much intellectual capacity.

Table 1: Frequency of the most common stereotypes (mentioned by  over 10% of the respondents) for each ethnic group 


Israelis were perceived in negative terms. Their main feature is being asocial: they are quarrelsome, harsh, unfriendly, distrustful and unstable. At the same time, they were also associated with a few traits that carry some positive nuance: they are organized, self-confident, self-controlled, and thorough. The image of Arabs is similar to the image of Israelis, with a few notable differences. Arabs were also perceived as quarrelsome, enthusiastic, self-confident, temperamental, and independent, but they did not have the asocial image Israelis did. Their image contained some positive aspects similar to that foreigners and Westerners, such as being bold, cheerful, and frank.

Correlation between group stereotypes. To examine statistically the similarity between the collective image of the six groups, we measured the correlation between the frequency of adjective selection of all the groups (Table 2). The correlation coefficients calculated indicate that the image of Jews is the only one to have some resemblance to the Japanese self-image. The image of Israelis was the most similar to the Jewish image. Westerns and foreigners were perceived as the most similar groups, and Arabs and Israelis were also perceived as highly similar to each other.

Table 2: Correlation between frequency of stereotypes (114 items) of the six groups .

The results suggest the existence of a rather positive image of Jews. This image contains solid perception of the Jews as industrious, competent, and strong-minded people on the one hand, and a perception of the Jews as a somewhat nervous and isolated people on the other. Among the five outgroups examined, Jews were perceived as the closest group to the Japanese. Their similarity is seen in being hardworking, organized, peaceful, and cautious. In certain aspects, however, the two people are perceived as the exact opposites. Jews are independent, Japanese are conforming; Jews are thrifty, Japanese are extravagant; Jews are natural (which translates in Japanese as unaffected), Japanese are easily affected. Still, this discrepancy is less acute than the differences revealed between the Japanese and other groups.

These findings indicate that the Jews are not perceived as the antithesis of the Japanese, but rather the opposite, they are the most similar group. Further, Jews are perceived neither as the "quintessential" foreigners nor as "quintessential" Westerners. Finally, the moderate correlation between the image of Jews and Israelis suggest some similarity but the two images are certainly not identical. In fact, the Israeli image is by far closer to the Arab, suggesting the perception of the Middle East conflict as a tribal rivalry.

The great similarity between the image of Westerners and foreigners suggests that our respondents made little distinction between the two terms. This raises some doubt regarding the clarity of the concepts. The problem probably lies with the definition of foreigners and who they include. The term used in this survey, gaikokujin (lit., people of foreign countries), is usually perceived in Japan as indicating foreigners in general, in contrast to gaijin (lit., foreign people) which refers only to Westerners.  To denote Westerners, we used the more accurate term ôbeijin (lit., people of Europe and the United States). Semantically, Japanese perceive the West and foreignness very differently and associate them with different level of prestige, but this has not been done in our survey for unclear reasons. 27  


The goal of this survey was to further investigate the image of Jews and to compare it with the image of the five groups examined previously. This survey was intended to offset the methodological shortcoming of Survey 1, that is, the focus on representative stereotypes while neglecting the whole picture which often contains more negative aspects of the image. An additional aim of this survey was to investigate the relation between the image of Jews and the extent of knowledge and information about them. 


Participants. Two hundred fourteen (85 women and 129 men) undergraduates enrolled in the University of Tsukuba (mean age ± SD = 19.6 ± 1.4). All participants were Japanese nationals who participated at the request of their instructors.

Testing material. Two questionnaires were used in this survey. The first one, Stereotype Rating Questionnaire, was a list of 57 scales of  9-point bi-polar trait adjectives based on Peabody's 1987 study. There were four versions to this questionnaire differing only in the group listed. Each version included ratings of Japanese (self-image), Jews, and one of the following groups: Westerners, foreigners, Israelis, or Arabs. Respondents were requested to rate simultaneously the three groups (using different symbols for each group) on each items. The second questionnaire was the Knowledge-Exposure questionnaire mentioned above.

Procedure. The survey was presented as a "research on international perspectives." The participants were randomly handed one version of the Stereotype Rating Questionnaire, and after completing it they filled in the Knowledge-Exposure questionnaire which was attached to the first questionnaire. 


Group stereotypes. We first measured the differences between the ratings of Jews and each of the other groups. Table 3 shows the differences as calculated by within-subjects unilateral ANOVAs for each item. The list of 57 scales is divided according to trait factors determined by Peabody (1987), and an unweighted mean was calculated for each group in each trait factor. In terms of assertiveness (independence, boldness, confidence, cooperation, caution, etc.), all outgroups were perceived as assertive and thus they differ substantially from the Japanese. Among the five outgroups, however, Jews were perceived as the most silent, uncooperative, cautious, and as the least assertive among outgroups and thus the most similar to Japanese.

In terms of affiliation (selfishness, kindness, warmth, sociability, peacefulness, etc.), Jews were perceived as stingy, selfish, harsh, unfriendly, and irritable. Along with Israelis, they were lined up on the negative extreme of the affiliation and sociability continuum, whereas Westerners and foreigners were on the positive extreme, with the Japanese and Arabs in the middle. In terms of impulse expression, Jews were perceived as distrustful, grim, and gloomy, and overall they were similar to Japanese and Israelis. In terms of impulse control, both Jews and Japanese were perceived as thrifty, self-controlled, and serious. Jews were similar in their skepticism and thriftiness to Israelis, but differed substantially from the other outgroups, especially from Westerners.

In terms of conscientiousness, Jews were perceived as rather inactive, and yet as hardworking, persistent, thorough, and organized. In most of these traits, Jews were perceived as more conscientious than other outgroups but less than the Japanese. In terms of values, Jews were perceived as moral and honest, and as such as similar to  the Japanese. In terms of emotional stability, Jews were perceived as discontented, unstable, tense, and temperamental. Overall, they were perceived in this domain as the opposite of Japanese and as similar to Israelis. In terms of intelligence and ability, Jews were perceived as capable, perceptive, and intelligent. 

Table 3: Ratings for by-polar adjectives for each group (within-subject  analysis)

At the same time, as lacking the logic, imagination, and wittiness that Westerners and even foreigners are supposed to possess. Overall, Jews were clustered in this domain with Westerners and foreigners, while the Japanese were clustered not far behind with the Israelis and Arabs.

Correlation between group stereotypes. We measured the correlation between the ratings of the 57 bipolar adjectives of all the groups (Table 4). The correlation coefficients calculated indicate that image of Jews is unrelated to the self-image of the Japanese. Other outgroups, however, are highly negatively correlated to the Japanese. Among all group, Israelis traits appear again as highly similar to the Jewish image, while the image of Arabs is moderately correlated, and the image of Westerners and foreigners is totally unrelated. Westerns and foreigners are perceived as the most similar groups, whereas Japanese and foreigners are perceived as the most dissimilar groups.

Table 4: Correlations between adjective ratings (57 items) of the six groups


Knowledge, information, and exposure to antisemitic literature. We analyzed the relation between stereotypes of Jews and exposure to antisemitic literature, knowledge about Jews, and exposure to information about them (Table 5). Thirty two of the participants (16.5%) had read an article or a book on Jewish "conspiracy" or desire for "world domination." When compared with participants who had not read such material, the former perceived Jews as more forceful, frank, distrustful, spontaneous, grim, impulsive, and logical. In an another set of univariate analyses, we divided the participants into two groups of about equal numbers according to their knowledge on Jews: A low-knowledge group (those who answered one correct answer or none out of six questions), and a high-knowledge group (those who answered two correct answers or more).

Findings reveal that the high-knowledge participants perceived Jews as more self-confident, uncooperative, cautions, discreet, self-controlled, orderly, organized, honest, logical, and intelligent. In the final set of univariate analyses, we divided the participants into two groups of according to their exposure to information about Jews: A low-information group (those who were exposed to one item or less), and a high-information group (those who were exposed to two items or more). Findings reveal that the high-information participants perceived Jews as more discreet, flexible, serious, hardworking, persistent, thorough, orderly, organized, practical, honest, calm, capable, perceptive, logical, intelligent, and witty. 


The Jewish image revealed in this survey does not differ substantially from the rudimentary profile provided by Survey 1. As noted before, the Jewish image contains positive and negative aspects, and basically, Jews were perceived in both surveys as competent but asocial people. Nevertheless, the present survey presents a more accurate picture about the subtleties of this complex stereotype and its differences from stereotypes of other groups. The negative aspects of Jews are more evident in this survey. Jews are perceived as stingy, harsh, unfriendly, unsociable, distrustful, and unstable, and these characteristics are apparent either absolute or relative to other groups.

Jews differ from Japanese, it appears, in their greater assertiveness, lesser sociability, and emotional stability; and resemble them in various aspects of their attitudes to work. The Jewish image is definitely different from the image of Westerners and foreigners in its asocial bearing, its controlled expressions and impulses, limited emotional stability, and lesser assertiveness. There is much similarity between the image of Jews and Israelis, but Jews are perceived in more positive light, as more competent, sociable, hard working, moral, and intelligent than Israelis.
The correlation coefficient conducted between the groups indicate that the image of Israelis is by far the most similar to the image of Jews. The portrait of the Japanese, Westerners, and foreigners is unrelated to that of Jews. Interestingly, the Jewish image was not correlated to the Japanese self-image, whereas images of all the other outgroups emerged as antithesis of the Japanese image. 

Table 5: ANOVAs  on the effect of knowledge of conspiracy, general level of knowledge on Jews, and exposure to information on Jews on rating of  Jews.

These findings do not lend support to hypotheses that Jews function either as an antithesis of the Japanese, or as a "quintessential" Westerner or foreigner. The great resemblance to the image of Israelis, however, suggest some association between the image of the two groups and may indicate that the Middle East conflict affects the current image of Jews in general.

Analyses of images of participants who had relatively more knowledge about Jews demonstrate a clear relationship between knowledge and more positive stereotypes of Jews. Likewise, participants exposed to more information about Jews also expressed more positive opinions about Jews. Although encouraging, these findings do not identify the cause-and-effect relationship between stereotypes, and knowledge and information. It is highly possible that greater knowledge and more information increases the positive features of Jews, make them perceived as more human, and reduces the aspects of "otherness" of the Jewish image. It also possible, however, that having a more positive opinion on Jews initially stimulates people to be interested in the topic, and then leads them to gain greater knowledge and increase their exposure to information about Jews.

The most interesting finding is the relationship between exposure to antisemitic theories and stereotypes of Jews. Exposed and unexposed participants differed only in a few items, and the differences are equivocal. Exposure to antisemitic literature was related to strengthening of certain characteristics associated with the Jewish image. Thus, there was strengthening of negative features such as being distrustful, and grim, but also of being frank and logical. Both the negative and the positive traits, however, were perceived as the opposite of those traits associated with the Japanese self-image. Thus, although exposure was only slightly related to change in image it is related to an increase in the sense of the "otherness: of Jews. Again, it is impossible to determine cause and effect here, since it is plausible that participants who had negative images of Jews were more interested in obtaining antisemitic information or were fascinated to read such literature.


Various studies postulate a close relationship between stereotypes and attitudes toward outgroups. The distinction between opinions and attitudes parallels the distinction commonly made between stereotypes and prejudice. They are closely related although there is disagreement about the direction of causality. 28 The goal of this survey was to examine attitudes toward Jews, as reflected by disposition, perceptions of similarity, and affect of contact, and to compare it with attitudes toward other outgroups. 


Participants and design. Two hundred twenty-six (94 women and 132 men) undergraduates, the majority of whom enrolled at Meikai University, and the rest at the University of Tsukuba (mean age ± SD = 21.3 ± 3.3). All participants were Japanese nationals who participated at the request of their instructors.

Testing material. Four questionnaires were used in this survey. The first one, the Disposition Questionnaire, aimed to examine the general disposition about Jews and to compare it with the disposition about Westerners and Foreigners. It consisted of 23 statements adapted from the California E-Scale, and the Blatant and Subtle Prejudice Scales.29  We used three versions of this questionnaire, differing only in the name of the target group. That is, each version dealt with either Jews, Westerners, or foreigners. Respondents on the Disposition Questionnaire were requested to rate their agreement with a statement using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (absolutely do not think so), 2 (do not quite think so) 3 (cannot say), 4 (quite think so) to 5 (absolutely think so). The second, the Similarity Questionnaire, aimed to examine perceptions of dissimilarity between Japanese and Jews, and to compare them with perceptions of dissimilarities toward Westerners and foreigners. It consisted 10 items (e.g., values taught to children, living style), and had three versions differing, as the previous questionnaire, only in the name of the target group. Respondents were requested to rate the degree of dissimilarity of the outgroup using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (absolutely different), 2 (different) 3 (cannot say), 4 (similar) to 5 (the same). The third questionnaire, Affect of Contact Questionnaire, was intended to examine feelings regarding contact between Japanese and Jews, and to compare them with feelings for contact toward Westerners and foreigners. It consisted 5 items (e.g., having a Jew as a neighbor, having a Jew as a colleague), and had three versions differing, as the previous two questionnaires, only in the name of the target group. Respondents were requested to rate their feeling for contact using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (happy), 2 (somewhat happy) 3 (cannot say), 4 (somewhat upset) to 5 (upset). The fourth questionnaire was the Knowledge-Exposure Questionnaire mentioned above.

Procedure. The survey was presented as a "research on international perspectives." Participants were randomly handed one version of each of the three questionnaires, all dealing either with Jews, Westerners, or foreigners (altogether, more questionnaires regarding Jews were given out). After completing this part, the participants filled in the Knowledge-Exposure Questionnaire. 


Disposition. Univariate analyses of the total ratings of agreement to each of the 23 statements on Jews, Westerners, and foreigners revealed significant differences between the groups in more than half of the items. Jews were perceived as more homogeneous and strange than the two other outgroups. Compared with foreigners, but not Westerners, Jews were also perceived as more responsible for the prejudice against them, as more homogeneous, as more often taking advantage and causing trouble, and as causing the Japanese to relax less in their presence. In addition, respondents showed more opposition to marrying a Jew, having a Jewish lover, letting one's own children play with Jewish children, wished to have greater segregation from Jews, and felt manual labor rather than responsible work suits Jews more than members of the other two outgroups (Tables 6–7).

Interestingly, the respondents believed Jews have much less influence on Japanese politics than Westerners and foreigners. Half of them "agreed" with the statement regarding Westerners' influence on Japanese politics; 37% regarding foreign influence; and only about 6% regarding Jewish influence. There was no difference between perceptions of Jewish and Western aims to control the world (foreigners had a significantly lower rating), and only 5% of the respondents "agreed" to that statement for each of the outgroups. Finally, there was no difference between the total rating99s of each of the outgroups for the intention to conquer Japan. In fact, many more respondents "agreed" with the statement regarding a Western intention to conquer Japan (22%), than with a foreign intention (4%) or Jewish intention (2%).

Similarity. Univariate analyses of the total ratings of affect for each of the five items revealed several significant differences between the attitudes toward the three outgroups. Jews were perceived as more similar to Japanese than Westerners, but not foreigners, in values taught to children, in human relationships, and in family relationships (Table 8). Jews were also perceived as more dissimilar to Japanese than both groups in clothes and intelligence. Percentage wise, fewer respondents believed Jews were dissimilar to Japanese than Westerners and foreigners in values taught children (50% vs. 82% and 38%, respectively), relations between men and women (36% vs. 62% and 53%, respectively), family relationship (39% vs. 77% and 59%, respectively), and human relationship (17% vs. 62% and 37%, respectively) (Table 9).

Contact. Univariate analyses of the total ratings of dissimilarities of each of the 10 items revealed significant differences between the attitudes toward the three outgroups (Tables 10–11). In four of the items, respondents showed greater negative feelings for contact with Jews, as compared with their feelings toward Westerners and foreigners. The only item where no statistical differences were revealed was an impersonal one: The respondents were more upset by purchase of a Japanese company by Westerners (47%) than by Jews (35%).
In another item, having a Jewish colleague at the same company, the total rating was most negative for Jews, and yet less respondents were upset about it than for the other groups.

Relationship between the questionnaires. We measured the correlation between the scores of the  questionnaires for Jews (Table 12). Negative disposition about Jews were correlated with belief in dissimilarity of Jews,  negative affect for contact, and less exposure to information on Jews. Greater exposure to information was related with more positive affect for contact, and with greater knowledge. Knowledge per se had no significant relation with any of the scales used. 30

Table 6: Comparison of total rating of attitudes toward Jews, Foreigners and Westerners

Table 7: Ratings of attitudes toward Jews, Foreigners and Westerns (in percent)

Table 8: Comparison of total ratings of similarity to self: Jews, Foreigners and Westerners .
1 (Very different ) - 5 (the same) 

Table 9: Similarity to self: Jews vs. Foreigners and Westerners (in percent)

Table 10: Comparison of affect to contact: Total ratings for Jews, Foreigners and Westerners.
1 (happy) - 5 (sickened)

Table 11: Affect for contact: Jews, Foreigners and Westerners (in percent)

Table 12: Correlations between attitudes toward Jews, affect, similarity, knowledge and exposure to information on Jew.


The results of the three attitude questionnaires indicate a certain level of suspicion and fear of Jews as individuals compared with Westerners and foreigners. These attitudes are in particular evident in regard to contact with Jews. The respondents expressed greater opposition to personal contact with Jews, either intimately or just as neighbors or colleagues. It should be noted that the respondents showed often a low level of agreement with negative statements about Jews, similar to their response to Westerners and foreigners. Nevertheless, they were more ambivalent about Jews and tended less to reject negative statements about them, thus their total response toward Jews is often more negative than toward the other outgroups.

The fear or suspicion expressed toward Jews is especially noteworthy because of two findings. First, Jews were perceived as relatively more similar to the Japanese in several respects than members of the other groups. And second, Jews were not perceived as having more intention than others to control Japan and the world—as antisemitic publications argue. 


The Image of Jews

This study reveals a complex image of Jews. It contains a positive facet—esteem for Jews for their intelligence, competence, and morals—and at the same time, it contains a negative facet—perception of the Jews as an asocial and secluded people. The positive aspects of this image are conspicuous because of two factors. First, the Jewish image seems more positive than images of other groups examined. While considerably low in affiliation and impulse control, Jews are perceived more positively (in Japanese terms) than other groups in other domains. Second, the image of Jews is the least dissimilar to the image of the Japanese self-image.

These findings are important because they repudiate earlier notions that Jews serve as an antithesis to the Japanese. This role, according to our findings, is assumed by Westerners and foreigners who epitomized in most of their traits the opposite of what the Japanese perceive in themselves. No wonder, then, that the image of Jews is dissimilar to that of foreigners or Westerners. The great differences between the images of Jews on the one hand, and foreigners and Westerners on the other hand, especially in affiliation, stability, impulse expression, and impulse control, indicate that the Jews are not perceived as the "quintessential" Westerners or foreigners. In fact, in most of their traits they are characterized as standing between Japanese and these two groups. While there is similarity between the image of Jews and the image of Israelis, and to a lesser extent the image of Arabs, there is a clear distinction between the two. Israelis are more negatively depicted than Jews. The high correlation between the image of Jews and Israelis suggests a certain causal effect, yet this research cannot provide an answer to whether the image of Jews affects the Israeli image, the opposite, or if there is a mutual influence.

When we compare these findings with the few studies conducted in the past among Japanese students the most apparent conclusion is the perpetuity of the Jewish image. Jews were viewed in the 1960s as dark (emotionally), unhappy, and stiff on the one hand, and clever and industrious on the other. All these stereotypes have subsisted till this very day. Still, it seems that the Jewish image that appears in this study contained by far less emphasis on the negative facet of Jews. The representative stereotypes of Jews were by and large positive in contrast to the choice of stereotypes three decades earlier. While a certain improvement in the Jewish image is apparent, it is hard to assess the extent of the transformation. Not only did we use a different list of adjectives than earlier studies, but we did not ask the respondents to rank various outgroups. Thus it is impossible to tell whether Jews fare better in the international hierarchy of the Japanese.

Reconsidering Images of Jewish Power and Influence

Previous writings on the Japanese attitudes on Jews emphasized the notion that the Japanese perceive Jews as very powerful and influential. The historian David Kranzler, for example, suggested that the Japanese lack the Christian religious identification of the Jew with the Devil, and thus they "brought to their reading of the Protocols a totally different perspective. The Christian tried to solve the problem of the Jew by eliminating him; the Japanese tried to harness his alleged immense wealth and power to Japan's advantage" (Kranzler, 1976:  207–208). Neil Sandberg, director of the Pacific Rim Institute of the American Jewish Committee, noted after meeting with leaders of the Japanese Book Publishers Association regarding the recent wave of antisemitic publications, that they were "puzzled by the protests, wondering why Jews were not flattered to be thought so powerful. They told us, `You're a member of a superior race and you come from a successful group and we're surprised this material concerns you.'" (Sandberg, 1989, cited in Golub, 1992: 8).

Nevertheless, the findings of this study do not confirm this oft-suggested notion about Jewish power. More respondents underestimated the number of Jews in the world than respondents who overestimated the number. Likewise, only about 6% of the respondents believed Japanese politicians to be influenced by Jews, while 37% and 50% believed foreigners and Westerners, respectively, do exert influence on Japanese politics. A greater percentage of the respondents believed it is advantageous for Japanese to marry Westerners and foreigners than Jews. Similarly, only a few of the respondents (about 2%) believed that Jews intend to conquer Japan, while 22% believed Westerners intend to do so. Finally, the respondents did not believe Jews aim to control the world more than other groups, thus demonstrating their disbelief for theories of a Jewish conspiracy. While in general there was low support for conspiracy theories, Westerners were certainly perceived as more threatening than Jews. These differences suggest, perhaps, that the "Jewish conspiracy" against Japan and the world is more a reflection of fears toward the West than genuine fears of a factual enemy.

What is the source of these conflicting notions regarding Jewish power? We may speculate that while certain antisemitic writers have dealt extensively with "Jewish power" and its effect on Japan, their ideas have hardly reached ordinary Japanese. Such ideas are accepted, perhaps, by those who deal with Jews or those who believe themselves to be affected by them, such as businessmen, politicians (and publishers who profit from antisemitic publications), but they do not appear to have great currency in mainstream Japan.

Interpreting the Fear of Contact with Jews

The most alarming findings in this study are the attitudes expressed toward Jews. Although Jews are not perceived as an evil power conspiring to demolish Japan, our respondents expressed apprehension over contact with Jews. Such fear cannot be measured in absolute terms, yet compared with other outgroups, a certain level of repulsion is indisputable.

The discrepancy between the relatively positive image of Jews and the attitudes expressed toward them is somewhat baffling. It is possible to attribute these findings to the "asocial" and "unstable" facet of the Jewish image. Jews may be capable and intelligent, but one thinks twice if he or she wants contact with people who are harsh, cold, unsociable, gloomy, skeptical, thrifty, unstable, and tense. Westerners and foreigners, by contrast, are perceived as more immoral, conceited, impulsive, and occasionally quarrelsome, but they also are perceived to possess numerous traits which make it easy to associate with them. They are perceived—more than Jews and the Japanese themselves—as warm, frank, unselfish, talkative, friendly, and very sociable.

Another direction in explaining the repulsion of Jews is related to the continuation of historical images. Jews were introduced to Japan as the pariah of the West. Even the Holocaust, which many Japanese are only vaguely aware of, can be attributed as an additional proof of the Jews' abnormality. People who know little about the background of the Holocaust and are isolated from the European setting, may believe that there must have been some justified reason for the persecution of Jews, especially if it was done by a prestigious and "rational" nation such as Germany. The irrational fear of the deviant is a human trait, and the Jews, in the context of a long tradition of antisemitic literature and lack of real contact, can be considered as deviant.

While they may be considered as deviant or talented pariah, this study suggests that Jews are not perceived—as had been suggested earlier—as demons. Jews are certainly neither "an icon for the bad and the evil of the world," nor "associated with whatever is regarded as bad, evil, and immoral." (Befu, 1995: 9). Demons, in contrast to Jews, are conceptualized by aberrant behavior and appearance. Indeed, there has been in the Japanese past demonic representation of Jews, but they were only an offshoot of demonic representation of the Allies.31 Neither Westerners nor Jews are currently perceived as demonic powers.

The rejection of the demonic notion of Jews stem partly from my contention that Japan maintains a very subtle and rational assessment of power, which includes its assessment of "Jewish power." After 1973, when fears of an oil embargo were rampant, Japanese corporations and even the government avoided close contacts with Israel, and "Jewish power" could do very little about it. With the decline of the Soviet empire at the end of the 1980s, the interdependence between the United States and Japan has been shaken. Now, when Japan does not rely heavily on Arab oil and its dependence on the American market is critical, the voice of the Jewish lobby, it is reasonably assessed, can affect, if not determine, resolutions, legislation, and sanctions concerning Japan. Even a highly rational nation would be imprudent to ignore such influence.32

The Impact of Antisemitic Publications on the Japanese Public

The students who took part in this study are not a representative sample of the whole Japanese population, and thus the findings of this research are restricted to this segment of the population. Nonetheless, the size of the sample and the quality of the respondents, members of the educated young generation, do provide a certain indication about the present diffusion of antisemitism in Japan as well as future attitudes toward Jews.

The impact of antisemitic writings on the respondents appears to be very limited. Only about 13% of the respondents were exposed to negative literature on Jews, and the impact on them was hardly noticeable.33  Consequently, I tend to agree with Yamamoto Shichihei's comment that the Japanese antisemitic books in their current state "are more annoying than dangerous" (cited in Goodman, 1987b). Nonetheless, negative literature has an accumulated impact and if continued unchecked, more people would be exposed to its precepts and more people might believe in them.

When dealing with Japan we need to distinguish between antisemitism and insensitivity or even ignorance.34  David Goodman regarded the granting of the most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, in 1986 to Kometani Fumiko for her book Passover as an indication of antisemitism within the Japanese intelligentsia. Goodman further concluded that "anti-Semitism has greater intellectual currency and respectability in Japan than in perhaps any other industrialized society" (Goodman, 1987b).35  While this may be the case, this event may reflect insensitivity rather antisemitism—members of the intellectual elite in Japan are neither sensitive enough, as their European and American counterparts are, to Jewish suffering, nor courageous enough to repudiate or even challenge antisemitic contentions and publications. This regretful reality stems partly from the insignificant role that Jews play in Japanese history and current affairs, from the conformity that characterizes current intellectual life in Japan, as well as from lack of understanding of the harsh consequences of such attitudes for what is virtually an imaginary group.36

Motives for Current Antisemitism in Japan

The current perceptions of Jews, as revealed in this study, offer some clues regarding the motives for antisemitic writings in Japan, at least from the perspective of their consumers. The fact that Jews are not perceived as the antithesis of Japanese, and at the same time are not perceived as too similar to them, cast some doubts on the hypotheses that Jews are used to facilitate internal needs such as self-definition, as an explanation for Japan's current problems, and as a warning for a future developments. The great differences between Jews and foreigners and Westerners, and the fact that Jews are perceived as more similar to Japanese than these two outgroups, suggests that Jews do not serve as an outlet to replace frustration toward the West or xenophobic feelings toward foreigners.

My reading of the success of antisemitic literature suggests it is associated with the traditionally sinister image of the Jews. The Japanese perceive them as a small group—often smaller than it is in reality—of a detached and asocial people. Even young Japanese possess a deep-seated image of the Jews, even though it may be unconscious, as a group which conspires to harm others. This notion is encouraged by the attraction to occult writings and an old belief in the threat on Japan posed by foreign powers.

Whereas Westerners and foreigners denote a real entity and contacts with them are a matter of everyday life, Jews, in their virtual non-existence, fit into a slot as demonic conspirators. This does not mean that rationally the majority of Japanese reject such notion. But the antisemitic publications are not intended for the majority. They are intended exactly for those who are concerned about Japan's "misfortune" at present and its path in the future. Thus, antisemitic literature in Japan has a special appeal, if somewhat irrational, for businessmen, politicians, and for the more educated echelons.37  It requires only a limited success to sustain it. Still, the recently growing demand for antisemitic writings is another motivating factor for a few productive authors to continue to satisfy their consumers' craving. Once this demand declines, the current wave of antisemitic writings will dwindle again, until the next awakening.
Japanese Attitudes toward Jews in International Perspective

The Japanese attitudes toward Jews, both positive and negative, are somewhat unique when compared with manifestations of antisemitism and philosemitism in other countries. Having only a few Jews residing in Japan, and lacking the ability to tell them apart from other Westerners, the Japanese prejudice toward Jews is subtle.38  This cool, distant, and indirect prejudice characterizes the Japanese approach toward other outgroups as well. In other nations, this form of prejudice is considered as a modern form of racism, in contrast to traditional overt violence and hatred. In Japan, however, attitudes toward Jews have been always characterized by subtle prejudice. The first reason for it was the minimal contact with Jews, which made any perception of threat allegorical more than real. Jews were also perceived as an integral, though rejected, part of a prestigious group, the people of the West, and thus prejudice against them never reached a full racist form, such as a belief in their genetic inferiority.

A similar distinction that may illuminate Japanese attitudes toward outgroups, including Jews, is a dominative racism versus an aversive racism. The latter form of racism, which characterized Japanese attitudes, expresses itself in a reluctance on the part of the Japanese to engage in any kind of intimacy with outgroup members, and the rejection of contact with them. Aversive racism does not expresses itself in direct violence against members of outgroups, and when threatened aversive racists wall themselves off and turn away.39

Close to 14% of our respondents expressed opposition to having Jewish neighbors. When we compare this figure with the findings of surveys in other countries, we may observe a certain pattern. This figure is similar to findings of recent surveys in the United States (14% of the total sample [and 15.5% among the respondents of the same age group as our respondents]); in 1991, Hungary (17% [9%]) in 1991; and Azerbaijan (16%) in 1994. The Japanese figure is higher than that found in Moldova (5%) in 1994, Argentina (8%) in 1992, and Britain (12% [8%]) in 1993. Still, it is much lower than the opposition in Poland (40% [35%]) in 1991, Lithuania (40%) in 1994, Uzbekistan (39%) in 1994, Slovakia (27% [26%]) in 1995, Austria (31% [23%]) and (26% [22%]) in 1991 and 1995, respectively, Latvia (28%) in 1994, Russia (24% and 20%) in 1992 and 1994, respectively, Ukraine (23%) in 1994, Czechoslovakia (23% [22%]) in 1991, Estonia  (22%) in 1994, Kazakhstan (21%) in 1994, Germany (22% [19%]) in 1994, and Belarus (20%) in 1994.40

Despite the relatively low opposition of our respondents to having Jewish neighbors, our findings are alarming. First, none of our respondents or their families probably has ever experienced  residence near Jewish neighbors. Second, only one and four percent of the respondents expressed opposition to having foreigners or Westerners, respectively, as neighbors. In contrast, in most of the nations mentioned above, Jews have been ranked as one of the least disliked groups, when compared with other minorities.41

The rise of antisemitism in Japan can be viewed as an echo of a global upsurge in antisemitism. Simon Epstein shows in his study of cyclical patterns in antisemitism that a resurgence of Jew-hatred began in 1987. Moreover, he points out that it occurred after three years of a considerable drop in the number of incidents (Epstein, 1993). The fact that this period matches the beginning of a wave of antisemitic publications in Japan should not be a surprise. Since modern times the Japanese have constantly followed Western trends and fashions, and antisemitism has been only one of them. Antisemitic publications in Japan have been from the start an imitation of what was considered a cultural and intellectual tradition to be emulated in order to join the first line of civilized nations.

What may be common to Japan and other nations where antisemitism is on the rise is the moral weakness of the media. The rise in antisemitism in the United States, Tom Smith contends, is also related to attitudes expressed in the media, a point certainly relevant to Japan. "[G]eneral standards of public discourse have deteriorated in recent years," he argues, and "hate-filled rantings of extremists are not only given wide play by the media, but are actively solicited by sensation-seeking talk-show hosts and tabloid TV newscasters." (Smith, 1994: 29)42

Changing Attitudes toward Jews

This study offers some insight into the prospect of attitude change regarding Jews. First it indicates that greater exposure to information about Jews and greater knowledge about them improves their image and attitudes toward them. These findings suggest that the diffusion of more unbiased information, whether in books or other media, may lead to a more balanced and positive view of Jews, as has happened in other countries and probably in Japan as well.43  More information also may reduce unconscious or mystical fears of Jews.

Although exposure to antisemitic literature does not lead to a substantial shift in perceptions of the Jewish image, it tends to slightly underscore its positive and negative facets. Negatively, Jews are perceived as more distrustful, harsh, and grim. This finding suggests the need for efforts to restrict antisemitic literature, and further, a bold and unwavering critique of such literature may force its readers to take a more balanced and critical view of it themselves.

Research on  attitude change offers several directions that are virtually impractical in the case of Japan. The most apparent one is the "contact hypothesis" (Tsukashima & Montero, 1976), since there is very little contact between Japanese and Jews, and initiatives for greater contact (youth exchange, lectures, etc.) would be merely a drop in the ocean. Changing attitudes within the ruling elite seems a more fruitful approach. Nevertheless, pressure on the Japanese government has hitherto made very little impact on the local market of antisemitic writings. Even when Foreign Minister Kuranari Tadashi condemned antisemitism before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Diet (the Japanese parliament) in 1987 it produced only a small echo in the media. This is not to say that pressure—particularly foreign pressure—has no effect. In fact, the boom of foreign criticism against Japanese antisemitism led in part to several gestures of friendship toward Israel a few months later.44

Certainly, the most efficient way to deal with antisemitism is to put forth fully orchestrated operations which combine the use of the Japanese and foreign media, criticism of well-known foreign personalities, political intervention, and even economic sanctions. The best case study of such an effort is recent, involving the most blatant Holocaust denial to appear in the Japanese media—the 1995 publication of an article in the monthly Marco Polo (circulation: 250,000 copies) which denied the existence of gas chambers during World War II (Nishioka, 1995).

Following the appearance of this article, its publisher, Bungei Shunjû Co., attracted fire from several directions. The Israeli Embassy sent its press attaché to Marco Polo headquarters to protest the publication, and similarly, the Simon Wiesenthal Center dispatched a protest, and sent its experienced Rabbi Abraham Cooper to Japan. Initially, the publisher offered an apology to the Wiesenthal Center and later proposed to publish a counter article—an offer that was rejected as it could make the article appear to be open to legitimate debate.45

The most effective pressure on the publisher, however, was probably the decision of two large Japanese corporations, Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Electric, to withdraw their advertisements from the magazine. Earlier, two foreign corporations, Volkswagen and Cartier took a similar step at the request of the Wiesenthal Center. Under this pressure the publisher decided to dismiss the magazine editor and to permanently close publication of the magazine. Ultimately, the chairman of Bungei Shunjû himself decided to step down, naming the affair as one of his motives (Kawado, 1995b).

Besides the dramatic and arguably successful consequences of this campaign,   numerous articles on Jewish suffering during the war, and more importantly, on the "Jewish problem" in the Japanese mind (cf. Funabashi, 1995). The outcome was fully exploited in favor of the Jewish image. Not only did Jews gain a massive positive exposure in the Japanese media but for the first time a dire warning was issued to producers of antisemitic material that their activities are monitored and would not be tolerated. 

  1. The  best single accounts regarding the development of the Japanese attitudes toward Jews are Shillony (1992) and Goodman and Miyazawa (1995).
  2. Inoue Tsutomu, introduction to the Merchant of Venice, which was entitled in Japanese Jinniku Shichi Iri Saiban [lit. The trial of the human flesh pledge] (Shakespeare, 1883: 1–2).
  3. Among the 1365 respondents of the ADL survey conducted in 1988, 37% said they had read the play, and 30% of those who read said the play gave them a bad feeling about Jews (Watts, 1988: 15). Goodman and Miyazawa (1995,  34–35) argue that the popularity of the Merchant of Venice during the hectic days of mid-Meiji Era was not due to any interest in Jews, but stemmed from an obsession with money-lending and trials.
  4. Japanese names in the text and notes appear in the Japanese order, surname first.
  5. Whereas in the first decade of the Showa Era (1926–1935) about 60 books and 80 articles regarding Jews appeared in the Japan, in the following decade the number soared to 170 and 472, respectively (Shillony, 1992: 170).
  6.   For the official policy toward the Jews adopted in 1938 and basically remained unchanged until Japan’s defeat, see Kranzler (1976: 232–233; 1977: 493–527) and Tokayer and Schwartz (1979).
  7. < Nihonjinron (lit. the "theory of the Japanese people") refers to the current vast discourse that seeks to account for the particular characteristics of Japanese society, culture, and national character. Nihonjinron also serves as a broadly -based ideological stance for Japan’s nationalism through its emphasis on the nation as the preeminent collective identity of the people, and over all it has become a societal force which shapes the way Japanese regard themselves. For discussion on Nihonjinron and its followers see Yoshino (1992), Befu (1993), and Kowner, Befu, and Manabe (1997).
  8.  The anthropologist Harumi Befu and the sociologist Manabe Kazufumi conducted in 1987 an extensive survey among the adult population of the city of Nishinomiya concerning Japanese nationalism. One of their inquiries dealt with exposure to nihonjinron-related books. The most frequently read book among the twenty-one titles listed was The Japanese and the Jews of which 40% of the respondents claimed to have read (Befu & Manabe, 1987).
  9.  For a comprehensive list of the principal assertions against the Jews found in recent Japanese writings, see Porat (1995: 232–33).
  10.   "Kinkyû keikoku: `kabuka ichiman-en' de `Yudaya shihon' ni nerawareru Nihon kigyô" [Urgent alert: Japanese industry threatened by "Jewish capital" when stock prices hit ¥10,000]. Shûkan Post, 10 July 1992, 31–35.
  11.   See, for example, "Senritsu! Kurinton o ayatsuru Yudaya shihon no tainichi senryaku" [Shocking! The strategy toward Japan of the Jewish capital that controls Clinton]. Shûkan Gendai, 24–28.
  12.   This advertisement was published on 27 July 1993,  promoting a trilogy written by Oshinô Shotarô, under the pseudonym Jacob Morgan (Oshinô, 1993).
  13.   See, for example, "Anti-Semitic book ad assailed."  Japan Times, 31 July 1993.
  14.  Based on "Japan," in Porat (1996: 261–66).
  15.   A few days after the arrest of Murai Hideo, one of the leaders of the sect, he was stabbed to death. Dying, Murai whispered the identity of the assassin. Some bystanders heard him saying "Yuda" [Judas Iscariot, namely, a traitor within the sect], others were certain it was "Yudaya" [the Jews] ("Hanin wa `Yuda' to Murai shi" [The criminal is "Judas" said Mr. Murai]. Asahi Shimbun, 13 May 1995). As for the education of the sect’s children, see "Hitura kyôiku o kodomo ni" [Educating children about Hitler]. Asahi Shimbun, 14 May 1995.
  16.  David Goodman as well contends that Uno’s aim in attacking the Jews is to discredit the U.S.-Japanese relationship. Uno insists that Japan’s postwar constitution, which was promulgated during the Occupation and which mandates Japan’s democratic institutions, is a "Jewish plot to destroy Japan as an independent culture," in Goodman (1987a: 406–407).
  17.   See for example, "Gaikokujin haiseki bira demawaru" (Posters calling for expulsion of foreigners appear). Asahi Shimbun (evening edition), 7 April 1993, 27. See also Schodt (1994: 155).
  18.   For such a view, see Porat (1995: 234). For a recent account of Japan’s attitudes toward Israel and the Middle East, see Sugihara and Allan (1993).
  19.   On the long manipulation of the Chinese image in the Japanese tradition, see Polack (1986).
  20.   For the concept of "other" in Japanese society, see Raz (1992: 19–33).
  21.   A recent popular book discussing haragei, a "unique" Japanese form of communication, used the image of the Wandering Jew as an antithesis of the Japanese ability to communicate laconically and in a way that "defies Western logic": "The only way fish can define themselves as animals living in the water is for them to get out of the water. By the same token, the shortest route to giving haragei clarity is to shed light on a culture whose self-understanding and representation seems to be so different from the Japanese. The Jewish people's struggle with the definition of identity, still such an ambiguous notion, is untranslatable into Japanese. The Jewish people, devoid of the historical parallel of the divine wind (kamikaze) keeping a people from wandering, being scattered, has never had the mutual indulgence (Amae) the idealistic Japanese race has enjoyed. The awareness that brings the Jews together seems to be based on some reality principle, in Freudian terms, by no means the sort of pleasure principle that `laughs at' debates about survival," in Matsumoto (1988: 9–10).
  22.   Interest in occult and supernatural phenomena can be observed in the rituals of many "new religion" groups, the widely accepted belief in blood groups, superstitions concerning numbers, the content of comics, etc. Cf. Davis (1980) and Hayashida (1976).
  23.  "It's simply supply and demand," explains Takahiro Shimizu, one of the most prolific publishers of antisemitic books in Japan in the early 1990s, "I understand that there is a market for these books. They offer a different perspective on history." Shimizu's company is an example of a publishing house that "specialized" in Jews: Five of the six books published in 1994 by Shimizu's company dealt with Jews in one way or another (Lazarus, 1994: 14).
  24.  The order was: Japanese-Americans-English-French-Germans-Italians-Indians-Russians-Chinese-Jews-Africans-Koreans (Akita, 1964, cited in Goodman & Miyazawa, 1995: 4)
  25.   For the semantic differential method see Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum (1957).
  26.   These characteristics have been repetitively selected by Japanese respondents as representing the Japanese character. See Tôkei Sûri Kenkyûjo (1961, 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992).
  27.  The linguist Harald Haarmann further distinguishes between the symbolic value of words from various Western countries, indicating that even the West is not perceived so monolithically in Japan (Haarmann, 1989).
  28.   Information processing approaches and consistency theories assume that the attitude toward an object is related to the attributes perceived as associated with that object. For discussion on relationship between stereotypes and prejudice, see Stroebe and Insko (1989).
  29.   The California E-Scale was composed by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950), and the Blatant and Subtle Prejudice Scales were composed by Pettigrew and Meertens (1995).
  30.   We also examined the relation between estimation of the number of Jews in the world and attitudes toward them. Overestimation of the number of Jews was found to be related in European countries with antisemitism (for a recent example, see Salpeter 1996). Our sample, however, did not confirm this prediction. In fact, overestimating respondents (13 respondents who selected the figure hundred million as the number of Jews in the world) held slightly but significantly more positive attitudes toward Jews than those who were accurate about the number of Jews (24 respondents who selected the figure ten million as the number of Jews in the world) or those who underestimated there number (18 respondents who selected the figure one million or hundred thousand as the number of Jews in the world). Their attitudes did not differ, however, from the 48 respondents who did not know the number (the average attitude response for each group was 2.17, 2.52, 2.60, and 2.43, respectively). As for perceptions of similarity and affect for contact, the differences between accurate, overestimating, underestimating, and unknowing respondents were insignificant.
  31.   See Dower (1986) and Shillony (1981).
  32.  The recent wave of Japanese books on American Jews, of which the majority are careful studies, may serve as indication of the growing concern for Jewish-American influence. A short list may include Maruyama (1990) and Doi (1991). Not surprisingly, Uno Masami also has offered his own insight of America through its Jews (Uno and Crowley, 1989).
  33.  The figure 13% can also be interpreted as high, however. Antisemitic publications (dealing with an alleged Jewish plot against Japan and the world) have been published in a few million copies during the last decade. This figure suggests that students are much more likely to read such publications than other segments of the population.
  34.  An almost classic anecdote recounted by the Israeli Japanologist Ben Ami Shillony, reveals much about Japanese insensitivity to the Jews' tormented past. A group of Japanese businessmen who came to Israel in 1978 was full of admiration for the Zionist achievement. In a visit to the Hebrew University, one of them presented their Jewish host with a book they had read on the flight over. That book, which they said explained Israel best, was a translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Shillony, 1993: 23).
  35.   On Passover, see Adler (1987).
  36.   For a rather dim portrait of the Japanese intellectual life in the 1980s, see Wolferen (1989: 237–41).
  37.   See John Ray's (1972) study of the irrational character of the Australian Neo-Nazi worldview and the role of the Jews therein.
  38. On the distinction between subtle and blatant prejudice, see Pettigrew and Meertens (1995).
  39.   For this distinction, see Kovel (1970), and Kleinpenning and Hagendoorn (1993).
  40.  Sources: Smith (1991); Golub (1993); Cohen and Golub (1991); Gudkov and Levinson (1994); Bútorová and Bútora (1995), Karmasin, (1992); Golub and Cohen (1995); and Golub (1994).
  41.   It should be noted, however, that we did not investigate attitudes toward additional, more realistic minorities and outgroups in Japan, such as Koreans and Chinese residing in Japan, Burakumin [historically an outcast group in Japan], Ainus, Okinawans, and illegal workers. Comparison with such groups might have put Jews in a "better" position.
  42.   For a critique of the Japanese press in this respect, see Wolferen (1989: 93–100) and Kim (1981).
  43.   On the longitudinal change of stereotypes of Jews in the U.S.A., see Karlins, Coffman, and Walters (1969).
  44.  These included the resumption of the exchange of trade missions between the two states after ten years' suspension, a large donation to the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa, and the first visit of a Japanese minister to Israel.
  45.   See, for example "Publisher closes 'Marco Polo' for anti-Jewish article." Daily Yomiuri, 31 January 1995, 1.

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    The author:

    Rotem Kowner was born in Israel and holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Tsukuba, Japan. After majoring in psychology and East Asian Studies at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, he received the Japanese Government's Monbusho scholarship and studied six years in Japan. His field of research is Japanese personality and behavior and his present research concerns Japanese national behavior, reactions to Western Orientalism, and attitudes toward foreigners.


    The author would like to thank Prof. Ben Ami Shillony for his persistent support for this project since its early conception. Profound gratitude is also expressed to Omura Kaoru of the Tokyo University of Foreign Languages, Prof. Shobo Haruhiko of Meikai University, Watanabe Reijiro of Ibaraki University, and Prof. Tagami Fujio, Prof. Ichitani Yukio, Prof. Hatano Sumio and Prof. Matsui of the University of Tsukuba for their help in preparing and conducting the surveys. The author also thanks Prof. Eyal Ben Ari, Prof. Yoram Bilu, Dr. Leon Volovici, and several unnamed critics for their thoughtful comments on earlier drafts and presentations of this article.