Discover the beauty of Yokohama and the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery

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    Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, boasts the title of the largest luxury cruise port and remains a highly sought-after destination among foreigners. This vibrant metropolis is a hub of art and culture, constantly giving birth to fresh urban concepts and ideals. What sets Yokohama apart is its seamless fusion of diverse historical styles, evident not only in its world-class international museums and captivating sculptures artfully integrated into the harbor cityscape but also in its unwavering commitment to preserving Japan’s traditional popular arts.

    Nestled within the Yamate district, Yokohama proudly hosts Japan’s most extensive and most vivid Chinatown, adding yet another layer to the city’s rich tapestry of experiences.

    Yokohama- New York Jewish Travel Guide

    “NYK Hikawa Maru and the Jewish Refugees: A Living Piece of Japanese Maritime History”

    The Hikawa Maru, a genuine Japanese ocean liner dating back to the 1930s and once revered as the ‘Queen of the Pacific,’ now rests proudly as a museum ship at Yamashita Pier in Yokohama. This remarkable passenger vessel not only weathered the storm of World War II but also completed an astonishing 254 Pacific crossings over its three-decade-long service, ferrying approximately 25,000 passengers along the way. Its wartime duties included serving as a hospital transport, making it the sole large passenger liner in Japan to emerge unscathed from the ravages of World War II. Moreover, it played host to a constellation of celebrities, including the iconic Charlie Chaplin. Today, it stands as a cherished relic, encapsulating a vital chapter of Japanese maritime history.

    NYK Hikawa Maru – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Today, the Hikawa Maru stands as an iconic fixture along the Yokohama waterfront, serving a multifaceted role as a hotel, restaurant, and museum. In 2007, a meticulous year-long restoration effort returned the ship to its original 1930s configuration, allowing visitors to step back in time to the enchanting Art Deco era. Its interiors are adorned with intricate details, from elegantly designed fireplaces to opulent ceilings and lighting fixtures.

    Yet, the Hikawa Maru’s historical significance extends beyond its resplendent aesthetics. During the years 1940–1941, a pivotal moment unfolded aboard this vessel. As the world teetered on the brink of the Second World War, hundreds of Jewish refugees, seeking refuge from Nazi persecution, embarked on a journey of hope, bound for Canada and the United States via Japan on the Hikawa Maru. In August 1940, a group of 82 German and Lithuanian Jews who had traversed the perilous route through the USSR and Vladivostok finally reached the shores of Seattle. One touching account comes from Rabbi Zerach Warhaftig and his family, who had undertaken an arduous journey from Lithuania to Japan. Departing Yokohama on June 5, 1941, they arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on June 17. Rabbi Warhaftig described the voyage as “resembling a summer vacation, with the war seeming to be so far away.” However, he bore a heavy sense of responsibility, deeply committed to aiding his fellow Jewish refugees in overcoming the adversities they faced.

    NYK Hikawa Maru, Captain Norio Kanaya- New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Make sure not to overlook the captivating movie that narrates the extraordinary tale of this ship, offering an immersive glimpse into its rich history. The film takes you on a journey through the ship’s diverse sections, encompassing both the opulent first-class accommodations and the more modest third-class quarters. You’ll step into the luxurious first-class lounges and dining room, venture into the captain’s private cabin, ascend to the commanding vantage point of the bridge, explore the vast expanse of the weather deck, and descend into the heart of the ship itself, the engine room. This cinematic experience provides a truly comprehensive and illuminating perspective on the Hikawa Maru, ensuring that you gain a profound understanding of its remarkable story and remarkable features.

    First Class Cabin-NYK Hikawa Maru – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery, perched atop a bluff just above Motomachi, holds a unique place in history. It has served as the final resting place for numerous foreigners since the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853, marking the dawn of Japan’s opening to the world. In the 19th century, Yokohama emerged as a hub for the foreign community, attracting Jewish immigrants from America and Europe who sought refuge and opportunities far from the specter of anti-Semitism.

    Among these early settlers were notable figures such as Alexander Marks, an influential community leader, and Raphael Schroyer, affectionately known as the “mayor” due to his high regard within the community. These pioneering individuals, hailing from diverse corners of the world, established a close-knit community that congregated for religious services during holidays and worked together to create a dedicated Jewish cemetery. This cemetery, accessible from Motomachi, the fashionable shopping street of Yokohama, is set amidst lush greenery on a picturesque hillside, overlooking the vibrant city below. Alongside it stands a small house for Chevra Kadisha, a testament to the enduring connection between the Jewish community and this historic resting place.

    Ms. Akiko Hosono, Chief Coordinator of the Public Relations Division at the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau, graciously provided insights into the details of the Jewish section within this serene and culturally significant cemetery, where restored homes belonging to foreigners from around the world line the streets below.

    The Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery is not only a serene resting place but also a testament to careful preservation. Ms. Akiko highlighted that the cemetery encompasses around 3,000 plots in total. However, determining the exact number of Jewish plots within the cemetery can be challenging.

    Upon further clarification, it was revealed that the Jewish Section comprises approximately 80 plots. Acquiring a plot in this section involves a process that necessitates the provision of a death certificate and residence in Japan at the time of passing. The cost of securing one of these plots is approximately 3,000,000 JPY (equivalent to $26,485).

    Ms. Akiko further noted that many of the tombstones in the Jewish section were originally imported from Italy. However, in recent times, most families have opted to purchase tombstones domestically. With only 10 plots currently available in the Jewish section, there may come a point where new burial requests will have to be declined due to limited space. This underscores the significance of this historic burial ground and the need for thoughtful preservation and planning.

    Armand (Amram) Knafo- New York Jewish Travel Guide

     

    The Yokohama cemetery holds the memory of its last burial, a prominent businessman named Armand Knafo, who passed away in 2015. Rabbi Edery of Chabad Tokyo shared valuable background information about him.

    Armand, also known as Amram or Knafo, had a remarkable life journey. He grew up in Agadir, Morocco, where he survived a significant earthquake. Later, he emigrated to Israel, where he served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). His quest for knowledge took him to Germany for further studies, and eventually, he found his way to Japan. In the 1970s, he established a highly successful language school, which continues to thrive to this day.

    When Armand’s health declined, the importance of being buried according to Jewish traditions became a topic of discussion with Rabbi Edery. Rabbi Edery, along with Mr. Mikey Steinbock, an esteemed individual originally from London but now residing in Jerusalem (Jerusalem), who had dedicated over three decades of his life to serving in the Chevra Kadisha, performed the Taharah ritual, a sacred Jewish practice of preparing the deceased for burial.

    Following Mr. Steinbock’s passing, arrangements were made for his burial at the Yokohama cemetery. His brothers and sister traveled from Israel to pay their respects and say Kaddish, highlighting the enduring connections and the profound significance of this historic resting place for the Jewish community.

    For a delightful lunch experience, look no further than Il Giardino, an authentic Italian restaurant nestled right on the picturesque Yamashita Park within the historic Hotel New Grand. This iconic building, gracing the park’s edge along the street, stands as one of Yokohama’s oldest hotels, with its establishment dating back to 1927.

    The restaurant within this venerable hotel has been earning accolades for over a century. Its legacy can be traced back to the hotel’s first grand chef, Saly Weil, who had a remarkable culinary journey. Born in 1897 into a Jewish family in Bern, Switzerland, Weil honed his craft through training in various European cities. His talents eventually led him to Japan, where he assumed the role of the first master chef at the newly opened Hotel New Grand.

    Weil’s impact extended beyond his delectable dishes; he established an original and highly respected training system. Many aspiring chefs who had the privilege of working under his tutelage went on to achieve their own prominent positions in society. This rich culinary heritage continues to be celebrated at Il Giardino, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a taste of tradition and excellence in Yokohama.

    Hotel New Grand – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    Il Giardino is a charming restaurant known for its beautiful floral centerpiece, refined ambiance, and impeccable service. The restaurant offers delightful garden and patio views, complete with a stunning Italian mosaic, creating a truly special dining experience.

    For more information, visit:

    To plan a trip to Yokohama, Japan, contact the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau or log on to:

    http://www.yokohamajapan.com/

    Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide, and New York Jewish Guide.com

    The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the GIFU Prefecture and the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB).

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