Japan and the Jews: Israeli exhibit explores Jewish history from Japanese perspective

Museum general director Yotam Yakir, whose parents survived the Holocaust, said the exhibit holds deep personal meaning for him.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The only art museum in the Middle East dedicated to Japanese art recently launched an exhibit focusing on Jewish history, including the Holocaust, from a Japanese perspective.

The Haifa-based Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art’s “Japan and the Jews” exhibition features five prominent Japanese artists who use a rich array of mediums to explore and convey their understanding of the Jewish experience.

World-renowned artist Tatsuo Miyajima created the exhibit’s central piece, titled Sea of Time. The genre-bending display is spread over 50 meters (164 feet) and features 300 pinpoints of light against a dark canvas, which represent the personal testimonies of Holocaust survivors and diaspora Jews.

“This is not just another exhibition, this is much more,” Yotam Yakir, the general director of Haifa Museums, the umbrella organization for Tikotin and other museums based in the coastal city, told World Israel News.

“This is a very significant, never-before done project that’s very special, and we are extremely proud of it.”

For Yakir, a second-generation Holocaust survivor, the exhibit holds deep personal meaning. “My parents, Lala and Meir Kostiner, were refugees from the Transnistria deportation during World War II,” he told WIN.

Yakir participated in Miyajima’s Sea of Time piece, giving testimony which correlated with a specific numbered point of light.

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“The number I chose was 12, which represents the sum of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that my parents lived to see,” he said.

Although his parents are no longer alive, he said he was sure they would have greatly appreciated the exhibit’s educational value.

The exhibit “will attract youth not only from Haifa, but from the entire country, to see and explore this rare angle of Japanese artists creating art related to the Holocaust.”

Yakir noted that creating an exhibit of this caliber would not have been possible “with Haifa Museums’ limited budget, and I’m extremely grateful for the donors who supported us.”

Dr. Etty Glass Gissis, curator of the Tikotin Museum, said in a statement that the exhibit conveys “a universal message of humanity, tolerance and an understanding” that transcends language and cultural barriers.

“Through art, contemporary Japanese artists are able to demonstrate an attachment and even passion for the Jewish narrative,” she added.

Chuine Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by issuing them transit visas while he was posted in Lithuania, is a major source of inspiration for the exhibit, the museum said in a statement.

The exhibit will run through April 2023.