In Conversation with Kenji Hiramatsu Ambassador of Japan to India
On India-Japan Japan and India share 'special strategic and global partnership'. How do you think the partnership has evolved over time?
It is my firm conviction that JapanIndia relationship has an element of certainty in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world. In this world, we need a real and trusted friend. That is India for us.
As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, a robust Japan-India relationship is a global common good that underpins the regional order. Japan and India share values including our commitment to democracy, openness, and the rule of law. The Japanese and Indian economies complement each other. We have deep historic and spiritual ties, which brings our people closer. Indian religion and culture have been rooted strongly in Japanese cultural and social structure over the centuries.
As you witnessed in the historic visit of Prime Minister Abe to Gujarat last September, Japan-India relationship has entered a new era. It was during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first state visit to Japan in 2014 that we elevated our relationship to the Special Strategic and Global Partnership. Only three-and-half years have passed since then, but, I feel, we have made a dramatic progress in strengthening our partnership. The significant achievements we have made in recent years include 1) the convergence of strategies; 2) the launch of High Speed Railway project; 3) Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy; 4) the fundamental upgrading of our economic relations, and 5) the significant deepening of people-to-people exchanges.
Although these developments were unprecedented, we have yet to achieve the great potential of JapanIndia relationship, which was described by Prime Minister Abe as “the most promising bilateral relationship in the world”. We are now working day and night to fulfil the potential and further deepen and strengthen our partnership in various areas.
You have mentioned in a message
that it is important for Indians and Japanese to become more aware of the 'proximity' between our two nations. What special initiatives according to you are important to build this proximity and cultivation of mutual understanding between the people of Japan and India? There are a number of areas where we can build on our 'proximity' and enhance cooperation to achieve better mutual understanding. One such example is Japanese language education.
Not many Indians are aware but the creation and development of Japanese alphabet, Kana, owed a lot to the Sanskrit language, which was brought into Japan with Buddhism in the eighth century. Japanese monks had to study Sanskrit out of the necessity to master Buddhism from the Indian original sutras and textbooks. It is said that Japanese people created its own alphabet by borrowing Sanskrit structure and sounds. Accordingly, you can see that the structure and sounds of vowels are almost the same between the two languages. This is the secret as to why Indian people can so quickly master the Japanese language and vice-versa. The promotion of Japanese Language Education in India is one of our top priorities. It can fundamentally enhance people-to-people connections and understanding. Fluency in Japanese language greatly benefit the Indian people, not only in terms of better mutual understanding, but also for augmenting businesses and job opportunities. An increased number of Japanese language speakers will also benefit Japanese entities in India which endeavour to enhance their scope of operation in India.
We saw great progress in this area during Prime Minister Abe's visit last year, where the two leaders agreed to promote Japanese language education, and I signed the Memorandum of Cooperation with former Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, to further materialize such efforts. To implement this MoC, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and I co-chaired the first meeting of the Steering Committee in March and discussed the preparations for the establishment and management of the Teachers Training Centre, as well as the importance to identify 100 institutions to establish Japanese Language certificate courses. I am pleased to inform you that Japanese Language Teachers Training Centre is about to open and we have just started to accept applications from those who are willing to be a Japanese language teacher. One of its training courses will start on 23 July.
Through these undertakings, I look forward to seeing a lot more Japanese language speakers in India.
What other aspects of the sociocultural fabric need to be promoted for deepening cooperation and understanding between the two countries?
Environmental cooperation based on our common cultural reverence towards nature is an area which can bring about positive changes in Indian society.
Japan is actively assisting India in carrying forward its 'Clean India' campaign. Japanese people strive to live harmoniously with the environment, as they have a sense of reverence towards nature and they themselves once experienced severe environmental pollution in the past. Indeed, it is often forgotten that Japan too suffered from grave environmental pollution in the late 1950s and 1960s.
During the period of high economic growth and industrialization, people were oblivious to the by-products of industrialization – pollution. The level of pollution was unprecedented, leaving no references for quick solutions, and it took toll of people's health and living environment. However, with concerted efforts of the government, companies, civil society groups, and individuals, Japan eventually overcame the hardship and reclaimed its blue sky and clean water.
Bearing in mind their own gloomy past, Japanese people are eager to cooperate with other nations in finding solutions for similar kinds of suffering. At the beginning of this year, the Embassy of Japan in India launched the 'Blue Sky Initiatives' with an aim to mitigating air pollution by ensuring that the best and latest technologies are made available to India. For instance, exhaustion from coal thermal power plants is one of the primary causes of air pollution in India, therefore Japanese companies have developed equipment that can filter out particulate matters.
In the future, we expect even more advanced applications of Japanese technology to help improve the environment for the people of India. By combining Indian resolve with the technological expertise of Japan, the two nations can win the fight against pollution and regain cleaner and greener environment.
On FICCI-Embassy Partnership
What made you choose Bihar as the first destination of Dialogue with States – the joint initiative
between FICCI Forum of Parliamentarians and Embassy of Japan?
It is a great pleasure to convene a forum 'Japan meets Bihar' coorganized by FICCI's Forum of Parliamentarians and the Embassy of Japan on 11 June. This special event is the first of a series entitled 'Dialogue with States', in which we hold events in regional cities to highlight various aspects of cooperation between Indian states and Japan, thereby demonstrating that our bilateral relationship has reached to a stage to have such strategic engagements at the state level.
Bihar is the state best suited to inaugurate this new initiative. This state is not only the 'Heart of India', but also represents the spiritual and religious ties which ushered in the long, deep and wide-ranging relationship between Japan and India. Going back the history, our two civilizations were first connected through Buddhism, which was virtually born in Bihar.
On Bihar Indian states are increasingly engaging in sister city agreements with states/cities of other countries. How do you think that the agreement between Nara prefecture and Bihar will pave way for closer ties in the future?
Historic documents record that, as early as in the 8th century, an Indian monk reached Japan after a long and difficult journey crossing the Himalayan mountains, deserts and the sea. This Brahman Buddhist high priest, whose name is Bodhisena, assumed the role of Master of Ceremony for the Consecrating Ceremony of the Great Buddha at the Todaiji Temple in Nara Prefecture in 752.
It is remarkable that more than twelve centuries after this historic event, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited Nara Prefecture including Todaiji Temple in February, and discussed with Nara Governor, Shogo Arai, about pursuing a friendship arrangement between the State of Bihar and Nara Prefecture. I strongly hope that future-oriented cooperation between the two provinces with common Buddhist heritage will be materialized.
What are your views on the proposed 'Peace Corridor' in Bihar aimed at connecting all the historical Buddhist sites through high speed rail link and road network. Given the great cultural and historical affinity between India and Japan, strengthening people to people connect through tourism has tremendous potential. Japan has been one of the most significant supporting partner in developing the fourlane road corridor to Gaya, Rajgir and Nalanda. There is opportunity Japan for increased cooperation in infrastructure development. How do you envisage Japan's deepening partnership with Bihar in this context?
Bihar is attractive for Japan, not only for its historical and spiritual ties with us, but also for its strategic location in connectivity, human resources and its unique art and culture.
During the February visit to Japan, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Kono, among others, and had substantive discussions on ways to further enhance economic partnerships and people-to-people connections between Japan and Bihar. I have received a personal instruction from Prime Minister Abe to make sure that the outcome of the visit is duly followed up on. For this purpose, I am meeting the Chief Minister.
Japan has provided official assistant to Bihar's tourism sector and forest management sector and committed over 44 billion yen for projects to widen National Highway 82 and 83, as well as the construction of bypasses. On top of these projects, I would like to see more cooperation and collaboration materialized between Japan and the State of Bihar.
I will also be talking more about the great potential of Japan-Bihar cooperation. I am looking forward to meeting the Chief Minister and people of Bihar to exchange views and ideas.
Kenji Hiramatsu, Ambassador of Japan to India.