January 21, 2022
When Israel and Japan established diplomatic relations on May 15, 1952, the gesture was a mutual milestone for both nations. Israel was the first Middle Eastern country to recognize Japan, and Japan was the first Asian country to recognize Israel. Since then, the relationship has steadily evolved throughout the decades through increased research, economic, cultural, and defense ties.
As the two nations prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship, the AJC Asia Pacific Institute spoke with Israeli Ambassador to Japan Gilad Cohen about the evolution of the Israel-Japan relationship. Here are five things you need to know.
- Israel-Japan business and economic relations are at an all-time high.
In 2021, Japanese investments in the Israeli high-tech sphere totaled a record high of $2.9 billion. Japanese investments accounted for 16% of overall foreign investments in the Israeli high-tech market, a stunning jump from just 1.8% in 2016. Over the past 6 years, the number of Japanese companies that have opened offices in Israel has grown from 15 to more than 90.
- Israeli disaster response teams were among the first on the scene following Japan’s 2011 Triple Disaster.
After Japan was hit by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster of 2011, Israel was the first country in the world to dispatch a medical team. The resulting special connection between Israel and Japan’s Tohoku (northeast) region has continued over the past decade. Israel today maintains several projects in the area, such as a mentoring program for local startups and a collaboration between Israeli and Tohoku artists.
- Israel and Japan are expanding defense cooperation.
In 2018, Israel and Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation in research and development, information exchange, and training programs in the field of cybersecurity. In 2019, the defense ministries of both nations signed a MOU to strengthen and deepen defense cooperation. Israel recently appointed a Defense Attaché to its Embassy in Japan, and Japan added an additional Defense Attaché to its Embassy in Israel.
- Tourism between Israel and Japan was rapidly growing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, more than 44,000 Israelis visited Japan – more than four times the 10,000 in 2011, and more than 26,000 Japanese visited Israel in 2019 – a considerable jump from 10,000 in 2015. The growing demand for tourism led to the establishment of a new direct flight between Tel Aviv, Israel and Tokyo, Japan on the Israeli airline El Al. While the intended launch in March 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions for a new launch date are ongoing.
- The story of Japanese diplomat Sugihara Chiune, who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, is an important link between the Jewish and Japanese people to this day.
While serving as a diplomat in Lithuania, Sugihara – who has been recognized by the Israeli government as Righteous Among the Nations – issued thousands of life-saving visas to Jews fleeing Europe. After arriving at Japan’s port of Tsuruga, the Jewish refugees were warmly welcomed by the people of Japan. Today, Sugihara's story is used in educational activities in both countries to demonstrate the values of humanity and acceptance.
The Japanese government credited AJC for its patient diplomacy in the 1990s that encouraged Japan to reverse its position and cease complying with the Arab boycott against Israel. Since then, API has continued to advance relations with Japan and the Japanese people, partnering with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Kakehashi program, implementing dialogues on U.S.-Japan-Israel trilateral engagement with organizations such as the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, bringing delegations of Japanese diplomats to Israel through AJC’s Project Interchange, and more.
In 2019, AJC honored former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo with its Light Unto the Nations Award, bestowed on world leaders who exhibit leadership in the defense of democratic values and friendship with the Jewish people. In 2021, former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide addressed AJC Global Forum, highlighting API’s valuable work building friendship between Japan and the Jewish people. To learn more about our work in Japan, give us a follow on Twitter at @AJC_Asia.
(Photo of Israeli Ambassador to Japan Gilad Cohen presenting diplomatic credentials to Japan’s Emperor Naruhito/Japan Imperial Household Agency)