Little India in Kobe
Japanese kids love Hindi theatre
Punjabi has even accepted a Japanese name: he is now Myuku Hira.
This has enabled him to become a naturalized Japanese citizen
are these Japanese students rehearsing a Hindi play on the terrace
of a hotel with a panoramic view of Kobe, one of Japans most
exquisite cities? Well, they have been rehearsing Upendra Nath Ashks
Tawlia (towel) these past few weeks to be staged for a largely Indian
audience. An Indian audience in Kobe?
After the unprecedented earthquake in 1923, which destroyed so much
in Yokohama, the small Indian community, about a thousand businessmen,
were resettled in Kobe, the city adjacent to Osaka.
saga of Indian merchants and traders, not just in Japan, but globally,
always begins in the area stretching from Surat up to the other
end of Sind. In fact, it was commonly believed in pre-independence
India that every language in the world was spoken in Hyderabad Sind.
The point being that Sindhi traders travelled to every conceivable
part of the world.
the Second World War, Indian traders found Japan a useful center
for purchase and export of silk. Cotton and cotton textiles from
India generally balanced their trade.
the war the Indian presence in Japan, already small, dwindled further.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki will always disturb not just the Japanese,
but global conscience. But an equally horrible part of the war was
the battle of Okinawa in which three lakh lives were lost. Americans
occupied Okinawa. Some Indians left during the war, others found
American occupation of a part of Japan, an opportunity. Indian traders,
who had scattered themselves to other parts of South-East Asia,
began to reconsider Okinawa as a business outpost.
It was now an American base, one of the largest in the Pacific.
The US officers and the marines would need services. Tailoring for
instance. The troops would need uniforms and the officers, much
more in the formal mould in the 50s and 60s, would require custom-made
comes as a surprise to the westward looking Indians that custom
made tailoring flourished in British enclaves other than Saville
Row. In Hong Kong for instance. Some of these tailors moved to Okinawa.
The usual Indian network came into operation. Brothers, nephews,
cousins were invited. The Indian network does not stop with relatives.
Friends, neighbours all contribute towards the making of the diaspora.
far from the Kadena US airbase, entire streets like Uechi have a
row of Indian boutiques, interspersed with exclusive custom
tailors. Walk inside Venus Imports, and you have Gul Bani,
his wife Mala Bani wade their way through a jungle of ready-to-wear
clothes to greet three marines who have just walked in. Here
we find clothes we need declares one marine. There
he continues pointing to the Japanese store at the end of the street,
we find stuff that they (meaning Okinawans) like.
equation between the 20,000 US officers and marines and the Okinawans
is a complex one. The mayor of Okinawa city, Masakazu Nakasone,
runs his fingers through greying hair. Our major problem
is the occasional misbehavior of US soldiers with Okinawan girls.
How can occasional misbehavior be a major
problem, I ask. It is a tough question for the mayor to answer.
There is nothing anybody can do about young marines and Okinawans
interacting. A marriage between Americans and the Okinawans is also
an occasional happening which does not create
before the G-8 summit in July, a junior marine chased a young girl
to her house and did things which, in legal language, constituted
molestation. The newspapers went to town. President Clinton had
to face a little bit of the music during the summit.
the midst of all this complexity the Indians cheerfully survive.
Regular congregations at the temple, Sai Baba and Radhasoami Satsangs
are also attracting a handful of Okinawans. It must, however, be
recorded for posterity that the number of Indians is dwindling.
go for higher studies to America says Gul Bani. They
like to make their careers there. This is a pattern,
but generalizations will be premature. The 3,000 strong Indian diaspora
in Japan is a mixed bag.
the adventurers who came to Okinawa are all Sindhis, owning about
50 shops and businesses. Mayor Nakasone has set up a liaison cell
with them, with Gul Bani as the leader.
it is also true that the tiny Indian community came primarily for
the dollar economy when Okinawa was occupied by the Americans. Indian
fortunes changed when the US returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972.
Indians who had come for the dollar had to adjust to the ever-strengthening
Yen. The younger generation started moving towards the American
other Indians in Japan were mesmerized by the countrys attractions.
Ramesh Punjabi has even accepted a Japanese name: he is now Myuku
Hira. This has enabled him to become a naturalized Japanese citizen.
A change of name has not come in the way of his philanthropy, nor
his selfless investments in numerous Sai Baba temples.
Hira is among the richest men in Japan. He owns a chain of eleven
hotels, including the Rizzan Sea Park hotel in Okinawa where President
Jacques Chirac and the entire American press delegation stayed during
the G-8 summit, and manages another 140. He is eager to invest in
infrastructure in India. And, of course, in hotels and tourism.
of the most powerful Indian community resides in Kobe. What with
Raj Sethi, the Sikh from Punjab, controlling a large segment of
the used car market and Nemchand Khazanchi from Bikaner on the top
of the pearl business, it would be foolish to ignore the Indian
diaspora in Japan.
Japanese students of Hindi, rehearsing on the terrace of one of
Hiras hotel, clearly have no intention of ignoring the Indians.
In fact their message is: the great Buddha will remain a durable
link if only we can take mutual interest in our cultures.