Earlier today I joined a few members of our community to visit the local Jewish cemetery in Kobe, Japan. A long-time member of the community, Jack Yohai z”l, who passed away two years ago (on Rosh HaShana) has no family in Japan, so we went to say a memorial prayer and kaddish on his grave.
The Japanese do not bury their dead and the cremation rate here is more than 99%. When a Jew dies in Japan, it is always a bit of challenge to race to get the proper official documentation signed before the body is cremated.
The Jewish cemetery in Kobe is located on Futatabi mountain. In the 1950s, the Kobe City government relocated all foreign cemeteries within the city to this location, and designated it as the Kobe Municipal Foreign Cemetery. It is located in a beautiful woodland park, a hiking and camping site, and is maintained meticulously year round. There are designated plots for Jews, Christians, Muslims and other religions.
There are two Jewish plots in this cemetery. The older one probably filled up, so a new one was allocated further up the hill. The names on the tombstones clearly reflect the changing composition of the Jewish community of Kobe. While in the old plot most names are Ashkenazi (Russian or European), in the new plot most names are Mizrachi (from Arab countries). The people buried in the old plot came to Japan in the 19th century and, judging by the dates on the tombstones, most of them died in the early 20th century at a relatively young age (40s and 50s). The ones buried in the new plot arrived here in the early 1900s and most of them died at an old age.
There are three “major” Jewish cemeteries in Japan, in the three port cities where foreigners typically lived: Yokohama, Nagasaki and Kobe. In addition, there are Jews buried in various general foreign cemeteries, especially those set up after the wars to bury the dead foreign soldiers and POWs. An acquaintance of mine recently found a few Jewish graves at a POW cemetery near his home in Osaka, dating back to the Russo-Japanese war of 1905.
May the memories of these Jews buried in Japan be a blessing to us all. Amen.