Why Is Japan Obsessed With Anne Frank?

'Kinship of Victims' — Despite Wartime Role as Nazi Ally

Alain Lewkowicz

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published January 24, 2014.
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“The Germans fought the French and English and the Jews in Europe, and then America and Japan had a war later,” she said hesitantly through a translator.

For many Europeans, Anne Frank is a potent symbol of the Holocaust and the dangers of racism. But the Japanese people tend to connect to her story for fundamentally different reasons, according to Alain Lewkowicz, a French Jewish journalist who wrote an elaborate iPad application,”Anne Frank in the Land of Manga,” about his investigation of the Anne Frank phenomenon in Japan. In January, a version of the work was published by the Franco-German television channel Arte.

“She symbolizes the ultimate World War II victim,” said Lewkowicz. “And that’s how most Japanese consider their own country because of the atomic bombs – a victim, never a perpetrator.”

Currently, approximately 30,000 Japanese tourists visit the Anne Frank House every year, 5,000 more than the annual number of Israeli visitors. That figure places Japan 13th in a list whose top 10 slots are all occupied by European and North American nations.

Japan has seen the publication of at least four popular manga comic books about Anne Frank and three animated films. The first Japanese translation of Anne Frank’s diary appeared in 1952, one year before it was first published in Hebrew.

“Basically, every Japanese person has read something about Anne Frank, which is even more amazing considering the shocking ignorance on history of many young Japanese today,” Lewkowicz said. “The older generation has read the book, and they buy the manga adaptation for their children.”

One place where Japanese children encounter Anne Frank’s story is the Holocaust Education Center at Fukuyama City, the only such institution in the region. Run by a Japanese reverend, Makoto Otsuka, the center has welcomed 150,000 schoolchildren since its establishment in 1995.


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