Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, has the largest port as a luxury cruise destination and is a popular one with foreigners. This is a city of art and culture where new urban values and ideas continue to be generated. Yokohama’s uniqueness is not just in collaborating with styles over various historical periods — as demonstrated not only in its international museums or unique sculptures found in the parks that are naturally incorporated into the harbor cityscape — but also in its efforts to respect and reserve Japanese traditional popular arts. Yokohama has Japan’s largest and most colorful Chinatown, in the Yamate district, and is a city of dreams not only for its residents but for all Japanese citizens proud of this tourist mecca and central urban spot for business and culture. A must visit!
NYK Hikawa Maru and the Jewish Refugees- “A piece of Japanese maritime history.” Hikawa Maru, is a genuine Japanese ocean liner from the 1930s that ran the north Pacific route to Seattle and was once called the ‘Queen of the Pacific” is now berthed at Yamashita Pier in Yokohama as museum ship. This passenger vessel to survive WW II and in her 30 years of service, crossed the Pacific 254 times, carrying around 25,000 passengers. It was also used as hospital transport during the war and was the only large passenger liner in Japan not to be sunk in WWII and also hosted many celebrities, such as Charlie Chaplin who was known as a fan of a Japanese traditional cuisine, “Tempura”, especially, “Prawn-Tempra”, and Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo).
Today it has become a fixture on the Yokohama waterfront as a hotel, restaurant, and museum. In 2007, she underwent an extensive one-year restoration that returned her to her original 1930 configuration. The ship provides a fascinating look back in time to the Art Deco period with ornate features from the fireplace to ceilings and lights.
During 1940–41, before Japan’s entry to the Second World War, hundreds of Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution fled to Canada and the USA via Japan, on Hikawa Maru. In August 1940 a party of 82 German and Lithuanian Jews who had travelled via the USSR and Vladivostok reached Seattle on Hikawa Maru. A testimonial from Rabbi Zerach Warhaftig and his family who had travelled east from Lithuania to Japan and left Yokohama on Hikawa Maru on 5 June 1941 and landed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on 17 June. He described the trip as “a summer vacation and with the war seeming to be so far away” although, he said “I didn’t have a peaceful mind because of the strong responsibility I had to help the Jewish refugees with the troubles they faced.” I had the privilege of getting a private tour of this magnificent ship with Captain Norio Kanaya ,who gave me a complete history and a visit of public areas, cabins of different categories, the Bridge, engine room and artifacts.
I really encourage you not to miss watching the available movie explaining the story of this ship with a 30 minute video which gives a good overview of its history. You will see the first and third class accommodations, the first class lounges and dining room, the captain’s cabin, the bridge, the weather deck, and engine room providing a very comprehensive view of the ship. This attraction is for those that are into sailing vessels or for those that are interested in history. So well preserved and so much history. A must see in Yokohama.
Yokokama Foreign General Cemetery. The Jewish community maintains a Jewish section in the Yokohama cemetery. The history behind this cemetery is amazing. It is located just above Motomachi on the Bluff. It is the final resting places of many foreigners since the days of Commodore Perry who first landed in Japan in 1853. With the opening of Japan to the outside world in the 19th century, Jews from American and Europe settled in Yokohama which became the center of the Foreign Community. Some were diplomats from all over the world and others were seeking a haven and opportunities free of anti-Semitism. Among them were, Alexander Marks who was the first leader in the community and Raphael Schoyer, as the “mayor” and were highly respected. The community gathered for religious services on the holidays and developed a Jewish cemetery with an entrance adjacent to the Motomachi, the fashionable shopping street of Yokohama.
This beautiful, wooded, hilly cemetery is overlooking Yokohama and where many now restored homes belonging to foreigners from all over the world, lined the street below. I had the privilege to be accompanied by Ms. Akiko Hosono, the Chief Coordinator and Public Relations Division of the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau, who showed and explained details about the Jewish section, and a small house for chevra kadisha.
The paths were well preserved and the cemetery is very green. As Ms. Akiko explained that “there are about 3,000 plots in total in the cemetery. We do not know the exact number of Jewish plots in the Cemetery because it is difficult to determine if the plot was Jewish or not”. It was later clairified that the plots within the Jewish Section (the designated space which is separated for Jewish people) total about 80 and the cost for a plot is about is about 3,000,000 JPY ($26,485). She further explained that the process of purchasing a plot in the Jewish section requires a death certificate which must be provided and that the individual must be a resident of Japan at the time of death. This screening process is carried out right away but it could take more than four days depending on the work by the company in charge of digging the grave. She added that ” regarding the tombstones, many were imported from Italy but now most of the families buy them domestically”. She also added there are only 10 plots available in the Jewish section. I asked what will happen when there will be no more plots available. She responded that “at some point, they will have to turn down the new burials”.
The last burial was of a prominent businessman, Armand Knafo, from Tokyo who passed in 2015. Rabbi Edery of the Chabad Tokyo was able to provide me with background information about him. Armand (Amram) Knafo grew up in Agadir, Morrocco. He survived the big earthquake and had emigrated to Israel. He served in the IDF and left to study in Germany. After Germany, he came to Japan and opened a very successful language school in the 1970’s which is still thriving today. When he became ill, I discussed with him and his family the importance of being buried as a Jew. In Japan almost everyone is cremated lo aleinu. I performed The Tahara with Mr. Mikey Steinbock, a very special man now living in Yerushalayim but originally from London. He served in the Chevra Kadisha for over 30 years. This was indeed a miracle to have someone with so much experience. After he passed away, we arranged a burial place in the Yokohama cemetery. His brothers and sister came from Israel to say Kaddish and it was very moving. I pray at his Kever and for other Jews in Japan, even at the cemetery in Nagasaki which is a very old one, as no one goes to pray and visit there.
A huge thank you and much respect to The Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery Foundation for the upkeep, maintenance, and daily operations for preserving this beautiful cemetery.
We had the pleasure to have lunch at Il Giardino, an authentic Italian restaurant, located right on Yamashita Park in the Hotel New Grand. The building facing the park along the street is one of the oldest hotels in Yokohama, the Hotel New Grand. The New Grand was established in 1927. The restaurant in this hotel has earned an excellent reputation for over a century. The first grand chef, Saly Weil, was born in 1897 into a Jewish family in Bern, Switzerland. After training in a few different European cities, he was invited to Japan as the first master chef of the newly opened Hotel where he established an original and highly-respected training system that so many cooks who worked under him later went on to take their own prominent place in society. I recommend that you try his legendary dishes when you come to Yokohama at the Hotel New Grand.
Il Giardino has a huge floral arrangement in the middle of the cozy restaurant which always invites favorable reviews. The ambience is highly refined and fresh. The food is excellent. The moment you walk in, you feel like you have arrived is a special place! The service was of the highest quality, from the waiters to the management. You can enjoy views overlooking the garden and patio where a stunning Italian mosaic adds to the delightful experience. Delicious, atmospheric, friendly and highly recommended.
For more information, visit:
To plan a trip to Yokohama, Japan, contact the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau or log on to:
By Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Travel Guide & New York Jewish Guide
The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the GIFU Prefecture and by the Japan Travel Bureau ( JTB).