Toiling over decades following a life devotion, Japanese linguist Kazuo Ueda can finally get a good nights rest after compiling the world’s first Yiddish-Japanese dictionary. University of Tokyo graduate, Kazuo Ueda stumbled upon the Jewish language through Franz Kafka, a Japanese expert on German-Jewish intellectual history. “Yiddish was full of puzzles for me,” says Ueda. “That’s what I love about it. Reading sentences in those strange letters — it’s like deciphering a code.”
Originally a specialist in German, Ueda quickly became Japan’s leading scholar of Yiddish. “To understand the rich heritage of Ashkenazic Jewry,” Ueda writes, “the study of this language is vital not only for Jews, but also for non-Jews.” In Japan where only a few dozen are estimated devotees to Yiddish, Ueda was isolated from actual speakers of the language. Through the help of Yiddish newspapers and literature and even living for a while in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem’s Yiddish-speaking Haredi neighborhood, Ueda taught himself the language.
Ueda published a series of books on the Jewish language, including a book about Yiddish grammar, a bilingual glossary, a cultural introduction to the language and a chrestomathy (a set of model texts). However, Kazuo Ueda’s crowning achievement was the a 1,300-page, 28,000-entry Yiddish-Japanese dictionary or Idishugo Jiten. Costing $700 and leaving many Yiddish-speaking residents of Japan baffled, Ueda says “I wrote it for the pursuit of learning. I don’t expect a wave of people to start learning Yiddish.” Link, Link