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Herod's Gate, Jerusalem.
The Kosher Table

Unleavened Bread in Japan-Mochi or Matzoth
-- Carol Greenberg

Is it a coincidence that the crest at Herod’s Gate in Jerusalem is just like the crest in the shape of a flower with 16 petals - like a chrysanthemum or sunflower - used for the Imperial House of Japan? Or that the Star of David is also a symbol used at Ise-Jingu, the Shinto Shrine for the Imperial House of Japan?

History has it that when the lost tribes of Israel dispersed, some ventured along the Silk Road traveling eastward while trading their wares. These traders left a definite imprint upon the Japanese society. There are many similarities, or coincidences, in the cultural and religious celebrations and traditions of Jews and Japanese. For example, today the Japanese use the solar calendar, but historically they used the lunar calendar as did the ancient Israelites. Japan’s New Year was celebrated with the “Feast of Mochi” on the 15th day of the first month because on that day the first full moon appeared. Mochi is very similar to matzoh except that it is made with rice flour instead of wheat flour. The ancient Israelites celebrated the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Leviticus 23:6) beginning with the 15th day of the first month and continuing for an additional seven days. During that week they ate Matzoh, the unleavened bread still eaten by Jews at Passover each year. On the next day of the feast the Israelites offered the first fruits and prayed for a good harvest for the year (Leviticus 23:11). The Japanese do the same.

In modern times, the Japanese have a magnificent celebration of the New Year on January 1. Japanese families begin to clean their houses thoroughly before the coming of New Year’s Day. As in Jewish homes the Japanese remove all leaven from their houses. On New Year’s Day many Japanese people begin to gather together at shrines even before dawn. They join with family members and eat Mochi (Japanese Matzoth) for seven days and on the seventh day they eat porridge with seven kinds of bitter herbs. How similar to Passover it is!

Japanese Mochi.

The matzoth eaten by Jews is very thin bread prepared by kneading and baking without using yeast or other leavening. Japanese Mochi is prepared in a very similar manner except that rice flour is used instead of wheat flour. Israeli matzoth and Japanese Mochi are similar to each other in pronunciation as well as in meaning, recipe and purpose. When the Jews look at it, they think, “This is the same custom as ours!”

There are other Japanese practices that are just as amazing. The ritual of circumcision is practiced by the Japanese Royal Family. Also, Japanese religious priests, called “Yamabushi”, wear basic white clothing, but put a small box called a “tokin” on their heads tied on with a black cord. It really resembles a Jew putting on a phylactery (black box) except the shape of the “tokin” is round and looks like a flower. The Japanese also have a festival equivalent to Succoth and one commemorating Noah. The resemblance of the Judaic and Japanese religious customs is astonishing!

Today there are many Jewish families living in Japan, and there is a large synagogue in the city of Kobe. I have not been able to visit it yet, but I look forward to doing so soon.

[Just a note: I am sure that the Jews invented sushi. Just think of pickled herring!]

To view previous editions of The Kosher Table, please click here.

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