On Tuesday, 16-year-old Sae Miyakawa of Japan performed her floor routine to a klezmer arrangement of the song “Kol HaOlam Kulo,” which was written by founder of the Hasidic Breslov movement Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
Though the song’s Hebrew text has an upbeat message (“The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is to not be afraid.”) it wasn’t enough to earn Japan a medal. The Japanese team finished fourth, after the United States, Russia and China.
Watch the video here:
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In honor of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s April 27th visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arthur Berger Senior Advisor at the Washington D.C. Museum, invited me to join fellow Sugihara survivor Leo Melamed Chairman Emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to participate in the visit.
Melamed, a childhood friend, appears as a seven year old in my March 30, 1940 birthday party photograph — taken in then Vilnius, Lithuania during World War II. Of the 26 children around the table, to my knowledge, Leo and I plus two more are the only survivors — thanks to Sugihara visas. The photo is featured in the Museum’s “Flight and Rescue” (2000-2001) Exhibition book.
In 1940, Chiune Sugihara, Japan’s then consul general in Kaunas, Lithuania, issued 2,139 visas for 6,000 Jews (including my mother and me) in defiance of his government’s directive. Nevertheless, Japan accepted these refugees and offered us haven as Europe’s Jewish community was on the brink of the Nazis’ Final Solution.
Walking alongside Mr. Abe, his beautiful wife Akie Abe and entourage through the museum’s wrenching exhibits — displays of personal effects of victims who perished in ovens, through an actual railroad car that took victims to their death and the Yaffa Eliach’s awesome Tower of hundreds of Photographs, I wondered what the prime minister thought as Mr. Berger, with the help of the instantaneous English-Japanese translator at the minister’s side, explained the essence and purpose of the museum’s content. The tour ended with a moving ceremony at the museum’s Eternal Flame.
During my [translated] brief conversation with Mr. Abe, I noted that, despite Japan’s wartime history, Sugihara has given historic honor to Japan. That it is now estimated that there are some 120,000 multi generational descendants of those Sugihara visa recipients and that Jews do not build monuments — we remember good deeds done to us forever. That Sugihara’s “mitzvah” which was “good for the Jews — is also good for Japan’s history.”
In his comments P.M. Abe said: “As a Japanese citizen, I feel extremely proud of Mr. Sugihara’s achievement. I like to share with you my strong determination to make a more pro-active contribution for global peace and stability, by not allowing the tragedies and the courage out of good will to fade away but rather keeping them in our memory.”
As teenagers in 1946 in Chicago, Leo and I both worked after school at the Forward’s then offices on So. Kedzie Street, taking ads in Yiddish. Over the decades we maintained contact — even running into one another in 1994 in Tokyo when Melamed, chairman of the CME, was en route to Beijing to receive an award while I was en route for a special ceremony with Yukiko Sugihara to pay honor to her husband at the memorial built in his memory at Yaotsu, Gifu Prefecture.
Recently asked by a Japanese film crew “what would have happened if you had not received a Sugihara visa?” my reply was:” My mother and I would have been one of the six million — whether — as happened to my extended family — dead of starvation in the Warsaw ghetto, executed by the German death squads (as were over 100 members of my family in what is now Belarus], killed as partisans in the Belarus forests or as corpses in the Ponary death pits outside of Vilno.”
Always asked by Japanese reporters my reaction to arriving in 1941 at the port of Tsuruga (now dubbed “The Port of Humanity” whose museum sells Sugihara Rugalach!) — the final destination of the Sugihara visa recipients’ Vladivostok -Sea of Japan stormy crossing — I echo what others have said or written: “It was like arriving in Paradise.”
Marty Friedman was known throughout the 90s as the guitarist for the chart-topping heavy metal band Megadeth. His mop of curly hair and virtuosic playing gained him a following, and he has been called one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
However, as a new Rolling Stone story details, Friedman has found unlikely fame in Japan, where he moved in the early 2000s. He quit Megadeth, took up playing for Japanese rock and J-Pop groups, and soon became featured on a variety of Japanese television shows. He has hosted programs called “Mr. Heavy Metal” and “Rock Fujiyama,” and has logged an estimated 600 TV appearances.
Clay Marshall, the manager of Friedman’s record label in the U.S., tells people that Friedman is the “Ryan Seacrest of Japan.”
“He’s a cultural celebrity over there,” Marshall says.
Why the sudden, unexpected move and second life as Japanese cultural icon? Friedman told Rolling Stone that he prefers Japanese music for its complexity.
“It all comes down to the music,” he says. “That’s why I’m here. As much as I love Japan, I would not be living 7,000 miles away from my family and friends in America if it weren’t for the great music. If you look at the Top 10 on the charts here, I can pick any day of the week and nine of those songs, I would definitely say ‘I dig that a lot.’ In America, I would be very lucky if there was one song in that Top 10 that I would enjoy.”
Read more at Rolling Stone.
The new single and music video titled “The Japan Song,” released March 29 and featuring prominent Hasidic singers Avraham Fried and Shloimy Daskal, is not what you might expect. Although its purpose is fundraising for relief efforts, and the video includes some footage of the tsunami, it is not a fundraiser for Japan at all. Rather, it is the latest in a new trend of Haredi musical activism on behalf of Jewish prisoners.
In the spring of 2008, Yoel Zev Goldstein (then 22), Yaakov Yosef Greenwald (then 19), and Yosef Banda (then 17), three young Hasidim from Bnei Brak, Israel, were arrested at Japan’s Narita International Airport after customs officials found $3.6 million worth of Ecstasy pills hidden inside their suitcases.
According to the young men, they believed they were delivering legal antiques from Amsterdam to Tokyo for an acquaintance, and were unaware that the suitcases had drugs inside them. In February 2009, Israeli police arrested two Hasidic men for allegedly scamming the trio into smuggling the drugs.
Geishas, the Japan Guide web site explains, “are professional entertainers who attend guests during meals, banquets and other occasions…. Their role is to make guests feel at ease with conversation, drinking games and dance performances.” And, according to a front-page story in this week’s Village Voice, they can also be Jewish.
In her first-person account of a month-long stint as a hostess at a Midtown bar called Kaoru, writer Victoria Bekiempis muses that her Hebraic features proved a unique selling proposition in an establishment run by, and catering to, Asians. “In the first two weeks, the customers were curious, but kind of cold,” she writes. A colleague “had said that they’d be intrigued by the fact that I’m Jewish, and apparently look it. Sometimes they’d straight-up ask: ‘You’re Jewish, aren’t you?’ and would add that they ‘could just tell.’”
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