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Celebrating the 110 Anniversary of Japan-India Association

*Following text is published at namaste India's 2013 prior flier.

Namaste India 2013 is celebrating the 110th Anniversary of Japan-India Association. As a part of celebration, we organize a special exhibition at Namaste India 2013 to follow the footage of the association from its establishment to today with historical photos and panels.

When we thought about India, we used to immediately think of Buddhism, curry and elephant. Today, we may also associate India with its IT software industry, which is highly regarded throughout the world.

Speaking of Buddhism, it reminds me of calmness shown by Japanese who were placed under great stress by the massive earthquake that struck Japan two years ago. Japanese surprised the world by behaving so calmly in the midst of the unprecedented calamity. The people of the world praised them for the level of calmness they displayed as it will never be observed in any other countries in the time of disaster. I realized that Japanese people were able to act so calmly because they are, in no small part, influenced by Buddhism deep inside.

The Great Buddha of Nara is known as the third most popular tourist destination. When the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple was completed in 752 AD, the eye opening ceremony was held. The ceremony was attended by the Emperor, many government officials, more than 10,000 Japanese monks, musicians, dancers and many others. Bodhisena, an Indian monk, whose name appears in the recorded history of Japan as the first Indian monk to visit Japan, was there at the ceremony. It is not well known fact, however, it was Bodhisena who conducted the eye opening ceremony on behalf of Joko Shomu, the retired emperor, who was ill at the time.

Last year, as it celebrated the 60th anniversary of Japan-India diplomatic relations, Indian Government recognized Bodhisena’s historical accomplishment 1276 years after his arrival to Dazaifu, western part of present day Fukuoka Prefecture, and celebrated him by organizing Indian classic music concert at Todaiji Temple. On 10th August this year, Indian Government offered another commemorative cultural event at Todaiji Temple, celebrating again, Bodhisena.

Bodhisena came to Japan upon the request of Emperor Shomu. He lived in Daianji Temple in Nara and spread advanced Buddhist teachings in Japan, including kegon or avatamsa, meaning “flower adornment”, a metaphor for becoming Buddha. By doing so, Bodhisena created a foundation which later fostered prominent Japanese monks, such as Saicho and Kukai. In that sense, Bodhisena was the great pioneer who introduced Indian philosophy and culture to Japan.

As for the economic relations between Japan and India, I believe Mr. Eiichi Shibusawa was the pioneer. Mr. Shibusawa is regarded as the father of Japan’s capitalism. He was said to have helped establishment and nurturing of about 500 companies and 600 social businesses. He was an entrepreneur who believed the harmony between business profits and public welfare to be promoted. He is also known for not having formed zaibatsu or conglomerate. Together with Mr. Shigenobu Okuma, who was the founder of prominent Waseda University and served as Japan’s Prime Minister twice and Minister of Foreign Affairs for multiple times, Mr. Shibusawa worked very hard to promote Japan-India relations.

 Japan-Association was established in 1903 by Mr. Shibusawa and Mr. Okuma, together with Mr. Moriyoshi Nagaoka, the first Chairman of JIA. Association’s first journal came out six years later in 1909, due to the influence of Japan-Russo War that started one year after the establishment of the association. In the first page of the journal, Mr. Okuma wrote; “Japan greatly benefitted from civilized culture of China and India. They bestowed more significant benefits both materially and spiritually than what we are currently receiving from American and European civilizations. India, in particular, has given tremendous impact on our way of thinking through spheres of religion, culture and literature. As the impact was so much, Japanese in the past automatically interpreted Tenjiku or India to gokuraku or heaven”.

Japanese market at the time was dominated by cotton products made with cheap raw cotton from overseas. Japanese were spending money on products made by foreign manufactures, letting their wealth flow out of the country. Japan recognized its survival depended on the industrialization of the country and securing foreign currency necessary to promote trade with foreign nations. It was also well understood that, in order to lift the country, Japan needed to build spinning factories in Japan and to secure stable supply of raw cotton. However, the cotton import from China was under the control of America and European nations and cotton supply from India was dominated by British companies, including shipping control. In such time, Mr. J. N. Tata promised Mr. Shibusawa a stable supply of raw cotton from India to Japan. Mr. Shibusawa wrote in an article he contributed to the first edition of Journal of Japan-India Association published in 1909, recalling his encounter and conversation with Mr. Tata 36 years ago. Mr. Tata said to Mr. Shibusawa “indeed, India is a competitor to Japan in spinning industry, however, it is also true that we cannot consume the amount of cotton produced in India only in our market. If you are determined to promote spinning industry in Japan, I will supply ample amount of raw cotton to you. We may become business rivals, but I am not narrow-minded person who may wage starvation tactics to overcome competitor. India and Japan could grow together by supporting each other. Japan-India cotton cooperation will not only be beneficial to the spinning industry, but also to the other spheres of the bilateral relation”. Soon, a union of spinning industry was organized in Japan and NYK Line opened a sailing route from Bombay. Mr. Tata acted as a contact person in India. From cooperation in cotton trade between Japan and India, the bilateral economic exchange started to expand dramatically. Mr. Shigenobu Okuma extended substantial support to promote economic relations from the field of politics. Later, Mr. Okuma became the 2nd Chairman of JIA. Mr. Eiichi Shibusawa became JIA Chairman after Mr. Okuma. The tradition of JIA has been passed down to Mr. Yoshiro Mori, the 7th Chairman of JIA.

Tata is well-known a conglomerate representing India. It developed the world’s lowest-priced vehicle called Nano (about 200,000 yen). Tata became known in Japan especially after it acquired Jaguar, a global maker of luxury vehicles. When Mr. R. D. Tata visited Japan for the 11th times in 1918, accompanied by his family, he addressed attendees at the welcome reception. He said “Mr. Okuma and Mr. Shibusawa were the ones who initiated India-Japan trade. They sent three persons to India 28 years ago. We sent 32 bags of raw cottons to Japan as an experiment. I am deeply moved that the amount of raw cotton export from India to Japan today has grown to be 2 million bags per a year”. At the welcome reception, Mr. Tata made a suggestion to set up a center to exhibit products made in Japan to deepen public understanding about Japan. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan entrusted JIA to realize Mr. Tata’s suggestion. Japan Products Center was opened in Calcutta, then the center of industry and commerce. Later, cotton spinning industry and related industry developed into Japan’s major industry. It can be said that the foundation for Japan’s spinning industry was laid by the exchange between Japan and India initiated in the ancient time.

Tokio Hasegawa, Chairman, Namaste India Executive Committee



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