Tuesday, June 24, 2008

japanese awakening to india's potential; and some cultural links

jun 24, 2008

a trend much to be encouraged. india needs to engage japan far far more. most japanese have a benign view of india as the Holy Land; indians are also not afflicted by any fear of japan.

brahma chellaney wrote a perceptive book last year about india, china and japan, it's worth reading: the asian juggernaut: the rise of india, china and japan.

and in person, i found that japanese are quite interested in the apparent minor connections with india, esp kerala:

-- bodhi dharma, from kodungalloor, kerala and kanchi, was the inventor and preceptor of zen buddhism; they revere him still as 'daruma'
-- there are strong similarities between kabuki and kathakali
-- japanese torii are quite similar to indian toranas
-- japanese shinto temples have similar rituals to hindu temples: you wash your feet with water from a trough using a long-handled wooden spoon before you step into the interior and meditate
-- ancient japanese temples such as the kamakura buddha temple have hindu deities complete with sanskrit names
-- the soft 'r' sound and the half-vowel 'u' are common in japanese and indian languages, especially malayalam, but not elsewhere, and especially not in chinese (think pa'ra'mesva'ra' and 'paalU' (milk in malayalam). this (and other reasons) makes spoken japanese sound euphonious to our ears, not cacophonous like chinese
-- when it rains and shines at the same time, they too say "it's the fox's wedding"
-- the samurai in japan were warrior/mercenaries similar to the chaver/kalari payat exponents of kerala

also in japan
-- there is a restaurant called nair-san's on the ginza. nair-san was an INA member who went to live there, and his restaurenat has his autobiography on the walls in malayalam, japanese and english. the food's not great, and he invented the rather atrocious kari-raisu
-- kari-raisu is rice with a brownish gravy on top and a few bits of meat in the gravy. this is what most japanese think is indian food. it's cheap fast food available everywhere
-- but there are excellent indian restaurants in tokyo. i like the 'moti' in the akasaka area. in kyoto i went to the 'kerala', complete with kathakali logo, but it had no kerala food, just standard north indian fare
-- an enormous amount of japanese literature was translated into malayalam -- for unknown reasons -- and i had read it, so i pontificate to japanese about mishima, kawabata, tanizaki, and they are most pleased
 India as an Emerging "Brain Power"
By Masanori Kondo Senior Associate Professor (Development Economics,
Indian Economy)International Christian University, Tokyo

A friend of mine who lives in Koto Ward, Tokyo, told me, "We have so
many Indians living in our condominium that our notices come with
English translations these days." The number of Indian residents in
Japan is now up to 17,500, and over sixty percent of them are IT
engineers and their families. Among the Japanese community, they enjoy a
favorable reputation as being polite and courteous neighbors.

The Japan-India economic relationship, which had stagnated for a while,
is finally infused with new energy. Companies such as Suzuki and Honda
that have done well in India are doubling their production capacities,
with several more Japanese companies following suit. The trade volume
between the two countries has doubled in the past few years, and
negotiations being held under the Japan-India Economic Partnership
Agreement (EPA) are expected to be completed by the end of this year.
From the global perspective, India is expected to play a significant
role in the prevention of global warming. In our overall relationship,
India is becoming more important for Japan.

In politics, up until a little while ago, there was a trend to attach a
strategic importance on India with a view to "contain China." But the
arrival of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda brought about a change in Japan's
China policy, resulting in a seemingly more moderate diplomatic approach
toward India.

Trying to forge closer ties with India in an effort to balance and
contain China was a relationship that was doomed to be short-lived in
the first place. Now that the hype has settled and we are actually
seeing stronger economic ties emerging between the two countries, this
is the right time to objectively reflect upon the relationship between
Japan and India. Most important is how to incorporate India's strength,
which is its "human resources," and make it part of Japan's future
plans, thus building a stronger "people-to-people contact".

There is a difference between Japan and other developed nations in terms
of attitude toward India. Being the largest bilateral donor in India,
Japan has always looked upon India as a country with future market
potential. On the other hand, the United States and European nations are
attracted more by the brains of the Indian people.

These days many American companies have substantial research and
development (R&D) activities in India. They are aggressively recruiting
the best Indians as part of their global human resource strategy. This
trend is backed by the emergence of India-born CEOs in major
multinational corporations, including McKinsey, Citigroup, Vodafone and

How are things in Japan, then? The total value of IT software exported
by India to Japan was an insignificant three percent of its total IT
exports. Though some Japanese companies hire Chinese employees, there
are almost none that hire Indians to work at their company headquarters.

Besides, the number of Indian students in Japan is only five hundred.
This is no match for the seventy thousand Chinese students that are in
Japan, and it is even less than half the number of students from far
smaller countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka. Interchange with Indians
living in Japan is also limited.

Traditionally, Indians have always held a good image of Japan. Most of
the Indian students who come to study in Japan develop a strong affinity
to the country by the time they return home. However, as there are not
many successful career patterns for "Japan experts," Japan has become a
less attractive destination for Indians to study. It leads to the
vicious cycle of Japanese companies finding it difficult to enter the
Indian market with little knowledge of India, and fewer Indians getting
hired by Japanese companies. This was what the present Indian Prime
Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, told me seven years ago, and not much has
changed much since then.

Many Japanese companies tend to look upon India much in the same way as
they viewed Southeast Asia that brought much success two decades ago. In
other words, Japanese companies see India as a source of "labor" rather
than "brains." A former high-ranking Indian official, who is a
Japanophile, pointed out: "Whereas Japanese people tend to measure the
intellectual level of the people of a nation by per-capita income,
Indian elites assess the abilities of their opponents based on their
English prowess. And that is what causes a psychological gap between the
Japanese and the Indians."

Since only Japanese people are involved, accumulated information on
India tends to become one-sided in Japan. There are plenty of cases
where failures and setbacks in business and ODA all get blamed on the
catch-all, "It's the fault of the Indians." That is quite different from
what I heard from a South Korean business organization that has proved
successful in India. An official claimed, "In dealing with India, we
have nothing to complain about. We simply stick to doing what the Romans

According to Prof. K. Momaya, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)
in Delhi welcomes some fifty delegations from Japan every year. But
alas, there are precious few cases where these visits actually lead to
some concrete project getting implemented. Delegations from the United
States, Europe and South Korea are much less in number, but they
constantly leave their mark and bear fruit in such forms as new labs,
joint research and recruitment.

Unfortunately Japan has a reputation across India as a country that
keeps on dispatching large delegations with no follow-ups. It has to be
reminded that there are two hundred IIT graduates working in Japan. Most
of them work for non-Japanese companies, Including the top official of
Citibank in Japan. It makes more sense to meet these graduates here in
Japan for information exchange before sending fruitless delegations to

Japan has had its share of "India booms" in the past, including the time
ten years ago when Indian films created a stir in Japan. But all these
booms tended to be short-lived. Though fueled by curiosity for the
"unknown," the booms never had the backup of human interchange.

Recently, we have been hearing about projects springing up to promote
nascent two-way people-to-people exchanges. When then-Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe of Japan visited India last August, there was a meeting for
university collaboration, held with vice chancellors/presidents of
prominent universities of India and Japan. In September, Namaste
India, a festival program to promote Japan-India friendship, was held in
Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, followed by a successful IIT Alumni Conference in
Tokyo in November. Fukuoka and Okayama have joined Yokohama in
establishing sister city relationships with Indian municipalities. In
the corporate sector, a new program to promote internships between
Japanese and Indian companies has started. It is most imperative that
these movements be brought together so as to create a huge wave that can
surge ahead.

Promoting people-to-people exchanges is far healthier than
over-strategic approaches toward India to contain China. And the effort
is more sustainable. Already India is a nation that wields great power
in the world's IT industry. By 2030, India's total population is
expected to be the world's largest. Japan must not lead itself down the
wrong course.

(Carried by The Asahi Shimbun on March 10, 2008)

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