Literary Review

An amour for Japan

Half a Century: My Connections with Japan — A Memoir; Aftab Seth, Northern Book Center, price not mentioned.  

That ambassadors come and go is a truism. Yet, precious few make a permanent mark on the country and people where they are accredited. Aftab Seth is one such scholar-diplomat. He achieved prestige by dint of both diplomacy and an amour for Japan, which has not climaxed. An ambassador to Japan from 2000-2003, he continues to assiduously ferment and forge formidable ties between India and Japan.

On November 5, the Emperor of Japan conferred on Seth the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun at the Imperial Palace. The citation reads: “Contributed to promoting friendly relations and mutual understanding between Indian and Japan.” A high honour and truly merited.

As serendipity would have it, this honour coincided with the Tokyo launch of Seth’s Half a Century: My Connections with Japan — A Memoir (Northern Book Center, 2015).



Vivek Pinto


Three main strands run through the narrative: learning Japanese , creating a camaraderie with Keio University students where he studied and who in time climbed to pinnacles of leadership, power, and industry in Japan, and acquiring extropy, a capacity to reverse positively and move beyond recall of diplomatic laurels.

The power to speak another language fluently is a tool that enables us to truly enter into the minds and lives of other people. This cannot be overstated. Seth started this journey in 1962, even before joining the Foreign Service in 1968, by enrolling in Keio University as an exchange language student. It was a prescient decision, though for just a year, which gave Seth “valuable insights into the refinements of Japanese culture and instilled in [him] a love of Japan which has abided for half a century.”

Acquiring this invaluable skill, Seth slowly but certainly moved after his year at Keio, from being a “Junior Diplomat in Tokyo” to having intimate knowledge of the country, its people, its many wonders, and most specially its entrepreneurs, scholars, poets, artists, and politicians. Fascinating accounts of Keio friendships cultivated from 1970 and beyond form readable chapters, ‘My Connections with Japan: Ambassador’ and ‘Out Reach’. In Seth’s words: “These frequent interactions with the political leadership helped, to some extent, to blunt the obstructive attitudes of the bureaucracy”.

‘Terminal journey’ afflicts all ambassadors. This is a premise which Seth challenges with ample context and content, along with evidence of warm relations formed over 50 years. Seth, unlike former ambassadors, still works as head of the Global Indian International School in Tokyo, and toils at the BBT (Business Break Through University). He “continues to organise events in Tokyo, through the Japan India Partnership Forum, an NGO formed in 2007”. Think tanks in New Delhi and TV shows brim with retired diplomats prognosticating, but imagine the value of persisting in public endeavours to fulfil the needs of international children in Tokyo, facilitating business deals for India, arranging valuable contacts with politicians and industrialists, and doing it all with panache. An otherwise dreary memoir, which at times reads like a Who’s Who, Who I Met, and Whom I Know, this book is to be read between the lines by perspicacious and exigent scholars, entrepreneurs, and diplomats. Seth is setting a remarkable and challenging legacy for India and Japan.

Prof. Vivek Pinto is a Collaborative Fellow at Sophia University, Tokyo, and a diplomatic correspondent.

Half a Century: My Connections with Japan — A Memoir; Aftab Seth, Northern Book Center, price not mentioned.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 9:43:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/vivek-pinto-reviews-half-a-century-my-connections-with-japan/article8008329.ece

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