Even in the late 1980s when I had the pleasure and privilege of working closely with eminent Japanese, such as the late Dr. Saburo Okita (see here and here and here), once a key intermediary between Japan's politicians, government and businesses with America and indeed the rest of the world, I came to recognize the depth of passion for Japan that existed in a generation that saw the nation reduced to embers following relentless bombing in an avoidable war. At one time, Dr. Okita headed some 80 committees and think tanks, including his own Institute for Domestic and International Policy Studies, after his term as Foreign Minister of Japan in the Masayashi Ohira cabinet. But that passion for Japan seems to have dissipated remarkably in a new generation that has grown accustomed to monthly paychecks and the notion of "corporate and government salarymen and salarywomen." Some of those salarymen bristle at the suggestion that Japan is in serious risk of slipping in specific sectors vis-a-vis multiple countries in Asia itself, including China, Korea, India and Vietnam. Yet outside observers continue the drumbeat of the grim reminder that all is not well with Japan.
In the midst of this national doom and gloom, occurred the horrendous twin-tragedies of the catastrophic tsunami, and the continuing nuclear calamity of Fukushima. The whole world stood horrified and, as expected, the Japanese wiped away their tears and got to work to rebuild.
But on the economy, amidst a rapidly declining population, one of the key factors in a nation's GDP, that is already discernible in rural areas where some places resemble ghost towns, beyond the obvious hand-wringing, what indeed can be done? How can individuals and companies be encouraged to take innovative steps? Everywhere one hears complaints of the inertia fed by the apparent certainty of the monthly pay-check that has lulled much of the bureaucracy and indeed corporations into the false belief that "business as usual" will go on forever.
For a start, Japanese embassies can become much more interactive with the Japanese community abroad. Unlike the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C., for instance, where the Indian community is invited to meet with the visiting Indian Prime Minister, the Japanese Embassy does little similar. Most Prime Ministers in India, even those who are ridiculed at urban coffee houses, are generally inspiring people who are trying their best. Prime Minister Noda of Japan won a keenly contested Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) election to become Prime Minister, and before that he was someone who in years past was a daily-morning speaker at the local railway station at his constituency, whether he won in a particular election or not. Mr. Noda is visiting India in December 2011 and a parallel development would have seen the Indian Embassy in Washington DC scrambling to relate to Indian-Americans and Indian community groups to ensure that those who are making effort on India-U.S. relations, in every walk of life, were able to be at the event in honor of the Indian Prime Minister. Where is the similar effort at the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi? Indeed, the Indian community in the U.S. was central in the efforts to get the U.S. to change its perceptions of India to the prevailing one where India is regarded as a rising economic power and much of the inroads into the U.S. information technology industry, perhaps the real first success story for India in the era of the global economy, occurred because of the efforts of Indians in the U.S., especially those who had previously worked in U.S. corporations in IT roles.
2012 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of India-Japan diplomatic relations, and it will give a fitting opportunity for joint learning on the best of each country, and there is much to learn from both countries, especially on the immediate post-War years in Japan, and the current vibrant India. For a start, we at the Global India Foundation are organizing a Seminar February 14-15, 2012 at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on Japan and Asia. We expect an advance on the building of those key bridges between India and Japan that will benefit both countries and their peoples in this "Century of Asia."