Yoko Hayashi from Japan is savouring the real taste of India. In the city as an intern of the Japanese ministry of economy, trade and industry, she tells SHILPA NAIR ANAND that her stay has helped her understand the idea of Indianness .

The setting is one of the Kerala tourism clichés - a Japanese national at an Ayurveda facility extolling the goodness of njavara kizhi. Only that Yoko Hayashi from Kyoto is not a tourist.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) of Japan sends young executives to developing countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Peru, Serbia and other countries besides India. The primary reason for this move is that the Japanese government sees these countries as prospective markets.

Learning a new culture

Rather than continue depending on its traditional markets in developed countries, the Japanese government wants to explore emerging markets and also encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to export to these markets. And this is where young executives like Yoko come into the picture. She is an intern at the Nippon Kerala Centre in Kalamasserry. These executives, armed with the knowledge gained, will return to work with the SMEs. Yoko has worked for NHK, Japan’s national TV, a radio station and is pursuing a Master’s in International Co-operation at Kobe University.

“I have been sent to understand the Indian way,” says the petite young woman demurely adjusting her dupatta. She is attired in a salwar kurta with matching enamel painted earrings. ‘Understanding’ the Indian also entails familiarising Malayalis, children especially, with the Japanese culture. Teaching rudiments of Japanese language, Ikebana (flower arrangement), calligraphy and Origami (paper folding) in schools and colleges are all part of the attempt. Learning Ikebana in Japan, according to Yoko, is preparation for marriage.

Yoko has been in Kochi since September and she says she is getting a hang of the Indian way. It is confusing, she says, but she is figuring it out. “We Japanese are very punctual, but here….” She pauses looking for the right, inoffensive term. Before one can say ‘we are like this only’ she clarifies, “it is alright. It is the Indian way.” It is less stressful, she agrees.

It comes as a surprise when she says that she chose Kerala for her internship. Her compatriots who came to India opted for more happening places such as Bangalore. Extensive research into India and Kerala particularly brought her here. Our political model was something that the political science student in her couldn’t resist - “the Communist party and other parties work together.”

In retrospect, with two more months to go, she is glad to have chosen to come to Kerala, in fact, to be the only one here on the internship. “If I had gone to Bangalore, for example, where there were other Japanese, I wouldn’t have interacted so much with locals and gathered so many experiences,” Yoko says.

Kerala’s natural beauty, its people, our cuisine “Karimeen in particular”…all appeal to her and she has learnt ‘ente per Yoko.’ She has been out experiencing Fort Kochi on her own, by bus. Getting a bus is easy, although people stare, “they are helpful. I just ask which bus and they tell me.”

That’s not all. She has sampled Japanese food at a speciality city restaurant and says the food there is close to the original, ‘only a bit Indianised.’ Kanyakumari? Check. Kovalam? Check. Munnar? Check. She visits tourist destinations when she gets the time on her days off. She has got the njvara kizhi done and reveals that this treatment along with some other Ayurveda massages are available in spas in Japan and have takers there.

Her experience of introducing Japanese culture, she diplomatically says, has been good. Origami was the one that youngsters took an instant liking to, while Ikebana and calligraphy weren’t too easy. Then there were the introductory sessions to Japanese.

These sessions with Yoko were held at Central Board of Secondary Examination (CBSE) schools because the Board has approved Japanese as an optional language. Ironically, according to Edgar Norris, chairman Nippon Kerala Centre, it is not taught in any school in Kerala. And this “despite the fact that we have eight qualified Japanese language specialists trained in Japan.”

The highpoint of her stay here so far is the three-day stay at the Village International School in Thodupuzha. She went shopping, was dressed up in traditional Keralan outfit and “spent a lot of time interacting with teachers and students. I couldn’t do that in the other places where the visit would be brief.”

Ask her about the low points and she says, “We, Japanese, don’t like to complain.” Prodding yields results. Close to Rs. 20,000 ‘vanished’ from her room. The money was stolen? “No. I don’t know for sure. So I mustn’t say that. Maybe a fairy came and took away the money…”

Some fairy indeed!