A snapshot of blossoming relations

Special Correspondent

Photo expo on Japan-India ties begins

The event marks 50th anniversary of cultural treaty

A joint effort of Consulate-General of Japan and ABK-AOTS Dosokai

CHENNAI: Layers of geo-politics, religion and economics set the back-story of Indo-Japan goodwill.

The protagonists include businessmen who influenced the opening of new sea routes, dignitaries who presented Lotus seeds in exchange for Cherry Blossom (Sakura) saplings and a former Prime Minister who once gifted an elephant for the children of Japan.

A photo exhibition on Japan-India relations, which got off on Tuesday at the Contemporary Art Gallery of the Government Museum, traces the evolution of the ties between the nations occupying the south-west and north-east rims of Asia.

The event, which will go on till January 14, barring January 11, is a joint effort of the Consulate-General of Japan in Chennai and the ABK-AOTS Dosokai to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Indo-Japan Cultural Treaty and celebration of the Indo-Japan Friendship Year.

Japanese fascination for India or “Tenjiku,” as the birthplace of Buddhism, dates back to the Meiji era. India studies began as far back as in 1870 with the writings of Shimaji Mokurai and Bunyu Nanjo.

Cotton exports

An early snapshot of Japanese sailors on Hiroshima-maru sea ship reflects the evolution of bilateral trade that began with cotton exports along the marine Silk Route and subsequently the Bombay and Calcutta sea routes. And, for the record, the one-way passenger fare from Yokohama to Bombay was 36 pounds by first class and 23 pounds by second class.

It was all uphill, or rather against the tide, for the first-generation Japanese businessmen who struggled to access the Indian market. Their challenges, according to the footnote to a photograph of the Indo-Japan Commercial Museum in Calcutta, included issues of quality, packaging, branding and payment methods.

Bilateral trade that started with cotton, wheat and jute trading led by Mitsui Bussan (now Mitsui and Co) now spans a range of goods and services. It was again an Indo-Japan partnership—Maruti Udyog’s collaboration with Suzuki—that produced the small car that fulfilled a million middle-class dreams.

Culture was another experience that brought the two peoples closer through personalities as diverse as Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Padma Subramaniam, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Alla Rakha and Rajinikanth.

Though outbound tourism has not picked up to the expected levels, it is hardly rare these days for an Indian visitor to savour the rice-curry staple at an upmarket eatery in Tokyo or to bump into an Indian software engineer in the Kasai area of the city.

Defining political moments

Some of the defining political moments have also been captured for posterity. Almost all Prime Ministers from either side have undertaken visits to improve the bilateral relations.

The set of 105 panels captures several moments that are as important as they are rare, Consul-General of Japan Kazuo Minagawa said.

However, the most memorable of exhibits is, perhaps, the letter Jawaharlal Nehru wrote while gifting an elephant to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo.

“Indira is a fine elephant, very well-behaved,” Nehru wrote while appealing that the gesture be seen as a gift, “not from me but from the children of India to the children of Japan.” He even promised to consider sending a companion for Indira.

Nehru also wrote: “Children all over the world are in many ways like each other. It is when they grow up that they begin to differ, and unfortunately, they sometimes quarrel…”