Israel Names Street After Japanese Diplomat Sugihara

A Step Towards Strenghtening Japan-Isreal Ties

June 14th, 2016

Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese Diplomat, saved around 6,000 Jewish people from Nazi persecution during World War II by issuing transit visas, later known as “visas for life”. A ceremony held last Tuesday in Netanya, Isreal, unveiled the new street sign named after Sugihara, in honour of his action during World War II. 

Born on January 1st 1900 in the small town of Yaotsucho, Japan, Sugihara became a Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1939. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1940, Lithuania was flooded with Jewish refugees seeking transit visas to Japan. Sugihara was confronted with this and requested permission from the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to issues visas for Jewish refugees, yet was told to follow the rules, meaning only issuing transit visas to people who could prove that they have the means to provide for themselves while in Japan. Nonetheless, Sugihara broke the rules and issued transit visas for up to 2,000 people and their families, saving around 6,000 people from the Nazis.

Why did Sugihara decide to do something considered very unjapanese and go against orders? Sugihara wrote in his 1983 memoir: “When I received the answer from Tokyo (to my request to issue visas), I spent and entire night plunged in thought. […] I could have refused to issue them, but would that, in the end, have truly been in Japan’s national interest? I came to the conclusion, after racking my brain, that the spirit of humane and charitable action takes precedence above all else.”

The reason why a street in Netanya has been named after Sugihara is because many Jewish people, who obtained visas from Sugihara, fled from the oppression arriving in Netanya. Also, in terms of Japan-Israel relations, the honouring of a “man of conscience”, related to both countries, can strenghten the ties between Israel and Japan.

Seeming like an unlikely partnership, what do Japan-Israel relations consist of? Japan and Israel have steadily developed their bilateral relationship since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1952. However, there has been a noticeable increase in exchanges the past few years between the two countries related to politics, trade, culture and academia, and cooperation in science and technology. In 2006, the then Japanese Prime Minister, Koizumi, visited Israel proposing the “Corrider for Peace and Prosperity” aiming to create a prosperous region in the Jordan Rift Valley. Also, an important step towards securing Japan-Isreal ties came with the May 2014 summit between the current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, promoting cooperation in several areas. This includes the spreading of Japanese culture in Israel and vice versa.

Funnily, Japanese popular culture consumed all over the world, is also very popular in Israel, helping the cultivation of public relations. In Japan, this is accompagnied by the opening of an Israeli restaurant in Tokyo serving kosher food items and the introducing of Israeli culture to the Japanese population. 


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Dominique Schmutzer, CD News