Featured Articles

Oy Vey! 10+ Jewish Characters in Anime!

The Jewish population in Japan may be tiny (IT'S UNDER 9000!), but there's a long history of exchange between Jewish and Japanese culture. Here's some historical background and a list of stand-out Jewish characters in anime, manga, and light novels.

by hoyvinglavin64
Sep 4, 1:05 AM | 12,227 views

The History of Jews and Japan

Kobe Jewsimage source

Judaism and Japan are two words you don't normally think of together (if you're not coming up a list of proper nouns beginning with the letter J, anyway). Japan's Jewish population numbers around 2000, only .0016% of the Japanese population, with just two synagogues in the whole country. Yet there's actually quite a bit of history regarding the relationship between Japan and the Jewish people.

When Japan opened up its borders to the outside world in 1853, Jews were among the many foreign settlers. Jewish communities developed in Yokohama and Nagasaki in the late 19th century, but following the Russo-Japanese War and the 1923 Kanto earthquake, Japan's Jewish population had centered itself primarily in Kobe (today, one of two cities in Japan with an active synagogue, the other being Tokyo). The Jews of Kobe came from many places but mainly from Russia; many of the original Kobe Jews were freed Russian prisoners from the 1905 Revolution.

Chiune SugiharaSource

In the 1930s and '40s, Japan allied itself with the Nazis. For all the many horrific actions of Imperial Japan however, they were surprisingly not very anti-semitic considering their military alliances. The infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-semitic hoax document the Nazis used to promote conspiracy theories about Jews taking over the world, was published in Japan at this time, but the reaction was very different from in Europe: without the embedded traditional European Christian attitudes associating Jews with the Devil, the response of many Japanese leaders was more along the lines of "Hey, we wanna take over the world too! Let's get the Jews to help us!" Japan refused to enact policies of anti-semitic discrimination despite pressure from Germany, and the Japanese occupied quarter of Shanghai served as a refuge for some 15,000 Eastern European Jewish refugees. One Japanese man in particular, Chiune Sugihara, heroicly defied orders during World War II and rescued over 6,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

Today, the biggest influence of Jewish culture in Japan is in terms of music. In 1971, Fiddler on the Roof became extraordinarily popular in Japan. It would seem the play's themes of modernity clashing against TRA-DI-SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNN have a particular resonance in Japan. An underground klezmer music scene has also developed in Japan, while Jewish music shows up in far more common places than you might expect. The Yiddish folk song "Dona Dona" shows up in everything from Slam Dunk to Stand Alone Complex and, most memorably, in that weird-ass cow episode of Utena. The Israeli dance "Mayim Mayim", meanwhile, is inexplicably remixed with almost any anime you can think of as a popular meme on NicoNico.


Jewish Anime Characters

Benny (Black Lagoon)

Black Lagoon Benny
Almost no question that the Black Lagoon's resident hacker/mechanic is the best and and certainly the most significant canon Jewish character in anime. "F*ck the Nazis" is an excellent family motto.

Big Ear (Big O)

Big O Big Ear and Roger Smith
Spoiler alert: Roger Smith's yamulke-wearing informant is revealed in the final episode of Big O to be a robot, to which I say, I hope he had a wonderful Bot Mitzvah!

God Lee (Terra Formars: Bugs 2-hen)

Terraformars God Lee
So the Israeli guy is half-bug and is the first to get eaten by the giant bugs who uncomfortably resemble racist depictions of black people. Moving on...

Fritz Lang (Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conquerer of Shambala)

FMA Fritz Lang
Most of the Jewish characters in anime tend to be actual historical figures. The half-Jewish filmmaker Fritz Lang makes a memorable appearance in the Fullmetal Alchemist movie. Ironically, in the movie he's a parallel universe incarnation of the man whose homunculus turns into the Fuhrer in the Elrics' home universe.

Jesus (Saint Young Men)

Saint Young Men Jesus
Can't forget Jesus! There's a number of Biblical anime out there, but Saint Young Men's charmingly irreverent portrayal of Jesus and Buddha as roomies definitely sticks out.

Anne Frank (Anne no Nikki: Anne Frank Monogatari and Anne No Niki)

Anne Frank
Yes, there's actually two anime movies based on Anne Frank's diary. Anne Frank's story seems to hold particular fascination in Japan. She also appears briefly as a magical girl in the final episode of Madoka Magica (you read that right).

Hitler!?! (Adolf)

We're speaking strictly manga-canon as opposed to actual history. Tezuka's manga about Adolf Hitler proposes that Hitler was part Jewish and his anti-semitism was a form of self-loathing. Needless to say, this isn't historically accurate.

The Villains (Angel Cop)

Both the English and Japanese versions of Angel Cop are terrible in different ways. The English dub is just ridiculous. The Japanese version, meanwhile, is downright offensive, making its ultimate villains... the Jews (the official subtitles changed dialogue to avoid the plotpoint; see the video above for a comparison of "official" vs accurate subs). Weirdly enough, screenwriter Sho Aikawa later did FMA.

Caster of Black (Fate/Apocrypha)

Fate Caster of Black
The Type-Moon-iverse bases its cast on historical figures. Caster of Black happens to be based on Solomon Ibn Gabriol, the founder of Kabbalah. He hasn't appeared in any animated versions yet, but we'll see where the giant Fate/ franchise goes in the future.

Leo (Ghost Stories)

Ghost Stories Leo
A bit of a stretch if you're a purist, given that Leo's only Jewish in the ADV gag dub of Ghost Stories. But considering the ADV gag dub is the only reason anyone even remembers Ghost Stories, we'll consider this canon.

Honorable Mentions: Potential Jews

A number of anime characters aren't officially confirmed to be Jewish, but certain things about them ping off fans' Jew-dar.

Spike Speigel (Cowboy Bebop)

Cowboy Bebop Spike
Jewfro, Jewish-sounding last name, carries an Israeli gun, partially inspired by Bob Dylan, and in response to the popularity of the fan theory, Shinichiro Watanabe's gone "sure, why not?"

Ohgi (Code Geass)

Code Geass Ohgi
Given the fan nickname of "Jewgi" given his prominently displayed Star of David on his outfit (Stars of David do often appear in anime as a generic "magic" symbol, but this doesn't seem to be the case in Geass).

Professor Layton (Professor Layton)

Professor Layton
Herschel's not exactly a common name among Gentiles, especially in England. That hat could easily be a form of Orthodox modesty, and his studious intellectual pursuits would certainly make any Jewish mother proud.

Lots of Gundam characters

Gundam 00 Louise
Gundam series have a lot of ambiguously Jewish-sounding characters. Louise Halevy in Gundam 00 is presumed to be Jewish given her traditional Sephardic name. In Double Zeta, a character literally named Judau fights a character named Haman (Haman being the name of the villain who tried to kill the Jews in the Biblical Book of Esther). And at least one TV Tropes editor has said Amuro in Char's Counterattack looks a lot like a Jewish lesbian (can you see it?).

Kadabra (Pokemon)

Pokemon Kadabra
Kadabra is modeled after Jewish psychic Uri Geller (he actually sued Nintendo over the character). In addition, the legendary trio in Ruby/Saphire are modeled after creatures from Jewish mythology. And according to the nonsense ramblings of the Saudi Arabian government, ALL THE POKEMON ARE JEWISH PROPAGANDA!1!1!

Related Articles

Strange Creatures From Japanese Folklore

Strange Creatures From Japanese Folklore

Like any culture, Japan has an extensive collection of legendary and mythical monsters. Some are helpful, some are harmful, and others are downright strange. Let's talk about some monsters from that third category, as well as the mark they've made on Japanese entertainment.
Historically Armed: Historical Japanese Weapons in Anime

Historically Armed: Historical Japanese Weapons in Anime

Japan has a long history of interesting weapons. Not surprisingly, many of these weapons and styles have shown up in a number of anime over the years. Let's take a tour of some of those weapons and appearances.
Anime in Real Life: Harajuku

Anime in Real Life: Harajuku

Today's topic is the area inside Shibuya that made it big in the 90's with Gwen Stefani's hit song "Harajuku Girls". Harajuku has gained a reputation for being the center of alternative fashion such as decorer, gothic lolita, and punk. But in reality, it's much less strange than you'd think!
7 Japanese Novels Anime Fans Should Read

7 Japanese Novels Anime Fans Should Read

We are mostly all here to watch anime and read manga, but there is plenty more in Japanese fiction that we can take advantage of. Here is a primer on modern Japanese literature and novels translated to English that anime fans should consider reading.
Spooky Monsters From Anime

Spooky Monsters From Anime

Oni and yurei and yokai, oh my! It's time to learn about Japanese folktales and how they got started. Let's look into various creatures to see which go bump in the night!