More than two million Russian refugees resulted from the Russian Revolution in 1917. These refugees were termed "White Russians" ("Hakkei-Roshiajin" in Japanese) and did not accept the Soviet regime. For this reason, they escaped from their motherland and spread to many countries similar to a diaspora.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the way of life and the functions of White Russian society who chose Kobe, a former central city of White Russians living in Japan, as their domicile. This study is based on documents from the Diplomatic Record Office of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and oral data gained through fact-finding visits and interviews in the area.
Most White Russians in Japan lived in Tokyo and Yokohama before the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. However, a large number of them migrated from the Tokyo area to Kobe, which provided shelter from the disaster. Thereafter, Kobe became one of the central settlements of White Russians in Japan, along with the Tokyo metropolitan area. In those days, many White Russians, more than 400 people at its highest point, settled in Kobe, particularly in the former Fukiai and Ikuta wards.
The term "White Russians" refers to all people from the territory of the Russian Empire, including Christians, Jews, and Muslim Tatars. Therefore, White Russians are a group that is diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity and religion. Consequently, their organizations were based on their religious affiliations in Kobe.
In the period after 1925, White Russians were categorized as stateless in Japan. They had the right to obtain a "Nansen Passport", issued by the League of Nations as identification cards, but their status was very uncertain. Moreover, many White Russians were peddlers and frequently travelled around. As a result, the Japanese authorities watched them closely as they were suspicious that White Russians were spies sent from foreign countries, especially from the Soviet Union. In fact, some White Russians were expelled from Japan in the 1920s. However, in the 1930s, chauvinistic nationalism arose among White Russians themselves, and some of them even provided donations to the Japanese government and army. This indicates that the White Russian society was subsumed within Japanese society in those days. In addition, there was some conflict over the attitude toward the Soviet Union in White Russian society.
After W. W. II, the number of White Russians in Japan suddenly decreased. This is because many people went abroad in order to avoid chaos after the war. In Kobe, there was also a rapid decrease in the population of White Russians, and their organizations gradually declined and eventually dissolved. Today, only "The Kobe Eastern Orthodox Church Assumption of the Blessed Virgin", "The Kobe Muslim Mosque", and "The Kobe Foreign Cemetery" remain in Kobe as remnants of former White Russian society.
These cases illustrate the disappearance of the ethnicity of White Russians in Kobe. There is a tendency for refugees to remigrate or for their families to disperse. Many White Russians were no exception, and this tendency is one of the reasons why White Russians disappeared from Kobe. In addition, the negative attitude of the Japanese state towards the inflow and settlement of foreigners is one of the major factors explaining their disappearance.