Thursday, August 30, 2007

The “serious” problem in Indo-Japan relations

This is an interesting article by Karthik Tirupathi, President, Nihongo Bashi. Definitely a time to shake it up a bit!! Editor

This week I was fortunate enough to be in India to gauge, first hand, the reaction to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s visit. Several significant announcements were made: a currency swap agreement, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial corridor, FDI by Dai-ichi and Nissin Brakes, amongst others. PM Abe reiterated his beliefs that Indo-Japan relations are "blessed with the largest potential" of any bilateral relationship in the world.

Despite all this, marrying sushi with curry continues to be a challenge. Personally speaking, as a self confessed “Japanophile”, things have been getting better in India in this regard, albeit slowly. People no longer view me as a contrarian, but a broader acceptance still continues to elude people of my tribe!

Over the weekend, I was with my friend in an upmarket pub-cum-karaoke run by a Goan. What I saw there was nothing short of inspirational. This pub was frequented by youth in their mid to late 20’s who had a great time singing English songs, predominantly by American artistes, while at the same time enjoying Goan cuisine. One could see clearly the best of both worlds at play here. It seemed quite clear that being American is “fun”.

I was just a tad envious wishing it was “J” pop and sushi/sake/tempura mix, instead. Japan and all things Japanese still seem to be perceived as “serious” stuff-- whether it be the punctuality or doing things in a pre-ordained fashion…almost as if there should not even be an iota of fun! Possibly, this (incorrect) perception turns the common man’s interest away from the Japanese sector. Moreover, historically the economic partnership between the two Asian giants has progressed at a glacial pace, further exacerbating this lack of interest.

However, the recent Japan Habba in Bangalore had an overwhelming response in terms of public participation. I believe this is a sign of warming of people-people ties between the two nations.

Opportunities for social changes: simple things that can be done
At a deeper level, the fascination for all-things European and American starts for most Indians immediately upon watching Swiss alps or Eiffel tower in Bollywood songs. Seeing the sheer beauty of the landscape creates a certain desire for visiting Europe.

Perhaps we could have Bollywood producers shoot songs with Mt. Fuji in the background. Even today, Asha Parekh singing “Sayounara Sayounara” in the ever green Love in Tokyo in 1966, is quoted in many Indo-Japan cultural events. Tourism promotion boards of Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore use this strategy successfully to permeate the consciousness of a host country.

Given a chance I would include a J Pop section in MTV’s Indian broadcasts and have at least a few movies shot in Japan. Perhaps a song featuring Shah Rukh Khan during the Cherry Blossom season (Hanami season usually around March/April) would rekindle public interest.

Whatever it takes, let’s not saddle the Indo-Japan relationship with a “serious” tag. It’s time to show up the lighter side.

Karthik Tirupathi is President of Nihongo Bashi [www.nihongobashi.com],and an ardent Japanophile.

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