Let’s explore Aichi and its connection to the Jewish people!
– It’s not always easy for Jewish travelers, especially for those who keep strictly kosher and those who routinely celebrate Sabbath. However, as everyone knows, if there is a will, there will always be a way. And so, if traveling to Japan is on your horizons, a trip to Aichi Prefecture in Japan might just be the thing to explore your religion from a new perspective.
For the Jewish traveler who wants to dive deep into Japan and learn more about the world and themselves, in this article, we have several travel tips to help you discover and connect with the wonders of Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture in your own personal way and to see Japan through a new lens.
In the Footsteps of Chiune Sugihara
Japan and Judaism share a deep historical connection. The most famous Japanese person connected to the Jewish faith is, without a doubt, Chiune Sugihara, who is attributed to singlehandedly saving as many as an estimated 6000 Jews from almost certain death during the Holocaust.
Despite it being illegal at the time and at great risk to himself, he did this by writing transfer visas for local Jews in Kaunas, Lithuania, where he was stationed as vice-consul. For this selfless act in 1985, the State of Israel honored Sugihara as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
While Sugihara’s life story is fascinating and tied to many other countries, including Korea, China, Lithuania, and later other countries in Europe, travelers can learn a lot about Sugihara in Japan.
He was born in Gifu Prefecture, not far from Nagoya, and spent about 10 years of his youth in Aichi Prefecture (from 1907 to 1917), and studied at Aichi Prefectural Fifth Junior High School (now Aichi Prefectural Zuiryo High School). There, to honor Sugihara, the Aichi Prefecture ‘Sempo,’ Sugihara Memorial was constructed to remind people that every individual has it in his power to make a difference in the world. The square tells not only the story of Sugihara, and especially his early life in Aichi Prefecture, but also the story of many Jews saved by Sugihara who traveled through Japan, fleeing Europe.
While he lived in Nagoya, he first attended Furuwatari Municipal Elementary School, which is now the Nagoya Shiritsu Heiwa Elementary School, north of Kanayama Station. He lived very close to that school near Heiwacho 1-chome in the central Naka Ward of Nagoya and later near Gonyoshi 1-chome in Nakagawa Ward.
Kosher Food and Fruit Picking
Keeping kosher while traveling is rarely easy, and in Japan, due to the very small Jewish population, most people are actually quite unfamiliar with what keeping kosher actually entails.
Although there may not be many kosher Kosher restaurants in Japan, there are still several options that are considered kosher. A popular tourism activity/pastime in Japan is fruit picking, where you can go directly to an orchard and pick as much fresh fruit as you want and eat it on the spot! Something delicious is always in season, and in Aichi, especially strawberries, melons, persimmons, figs, mandarins, and grapes are popular.
Some other potential options to fill hungry bellies are local vegetables, rice, sushi, and sashimi!
Sabbath at an Onsen Resort
When it comes to a visit to Japan longer is usually better, and so if you do find yourself with a few weeks to spend in the land of the rising sun, you will have at least a couple of Sabbats while you are here. Not to worry, one of the best places to be during Sabbath is an Onsen Ryokan, where you can relax, soak in the hot spring bath, and direct your energy to appreciate the world around you.
If you bring your own set of travel Shabbat candles, grape juice, and wine are quite easy to come by. However, challah bread is a bit more of a challenge. In recent years, though, there has been an uptick of bakeries and stores selling braided loaves as “Warsaw Bread” so keep your eyes peeled.
Some of the best areas to stay for the Sabbath in Aichi are the Onsen resorts around Gamagori, such as Miya Onsen, Nishiura Onsen, and Katahara Onsen. Also highly recommended are Yuya Onsen, Kira Onsen, and Minamichita Onsen. This time, we will introduce Gamagori Onsen from three perspectives.
- Relax at the Japanese seaside
The quaint resort town Gamagori Onsen overlooks the Mikawa Bay with a beach loved by the locals – a great place to cool down if visiting in the summertime and enjoy seasonal activities such as clam digging in the sand. Connected to the mainland beach by a 387-meter bridge is the symbol of Gamagori, Takeshima Island which is a designated Natural National Monument. There are five small shrines on the island hidden amongst the greenery, the most well-known being Yaotomi Shrine said to enshrine the god of marriage.
- Fall in love with onsen
Gamagori is known for its natural hot springs overlooking Mikawa Bay and Takeshima Island, including Hotel Takeshima and the historic Gamagori Classic Hotel which opened in 1912. The waters of these natural hot springs have a local reputation for various beneficial effects such as healing muscle pain and aiding fatigue recovery. If you are staying at one of the ryokan or hotels of Gamagori, you will also have the option to enjoy locally sourced caught seafood at dinner time.
- See Flowers and Fireflies
After dinner, change into your ryokan’s yukata and wander around Katahara Onsen, nestled on the top of a mountain with a backdrop of thick forest and overlooking the ocean only a 10-minute ride by taxi from Gamagori Onsen. Katahara’s Hodagaike Pond is known as the ‘Home Place of the Hydrangeas’ because of its somewhat 50,000 bushes that surround like ponds waters. Thanks to the pristine water and lush nature around Katahara Onsen, there is a spot nearby the pond where visitors can see the fireflies that come out in June – a rare chance for travelers to catch a glimpse of the short-lived but spectacular creatures in their natural habitat.
Central Japan Travel Route
Aichi Prefecture has a lot to offer the casual Jewish traveler, but if you want to further dive into the history of Jews in Japan and their connection to Chiune Sugihara, we recommend charting a course around Central Japan.
Starting from Nagoya, head to Yaotsu in Gifu Prefecture to the Chiune Sugihara Memorial Hall. This memorial hall exhibits the humanitarian achievements and life of Sugihara, a diplomat who was assigned to the Japanese Consulate in the Republic of Lithuania during World War II.
Then travel onward to Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture, where most of the Jews who got transfer visas for Japan from Sugihara arrived by ship at the Tsuruga port in Tsuruga City. Their history is recorded in the Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum.
It might also be nice to make a stop at Takayama on the way. Not only for its beautiful town that exemplifies traditional Japanese culture but also because you will find a couple of kosher-friendly restaurants there.
New York Jewish Travel Guide