A yen for Japan
Japan is probably
the last word on progress and prosperity in the modern world. A.J.
Philip gives his impressions of the world’s second
largest economy, and its people, who are disciplined,
industrious and courteous
me in one sentence why Japan has achieved so much progress in so
short a time," asked an Indian journalist to a reporter of
a Japanese newspaper. He did not bat an eyelid before answering,
"We did not have to spend a farthing on defence".
He was referring
to the fact that after the defeat in World War II, Japan had to
forego its right to maintain military forces and the huge
savings it made on this account could be ploughed back into the
However true the
statement may be, there are other equally important factors for
the development of Japan as I could make out during my four-day
visit to Tokyo as part of the Press contingent that accompanied
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
If someone were to
ask me about the secret of the success of the Land of the Rising
Sun, I would put it one word, "discipline". And if I
could add one more expression, I would say "hard
work". Tokyo has a lot more cars than Delhi but during my
stay, I could never hear anyone honking the horn. It has cleaner
air than Delhi. Traffic jams are frequent but people seem to
factor them into their travel plans.
The imperial shrine, a major tourist attraction
Tokyo, a shopper’s paradise — Photos by the writer
Late one night
while returning from an exotic Japanese restaurant, which
provides a breathtaking view of the Rainbow Bridge, the car in
front of us suddenly stopped. It could have ended in a collision
if our driver had not applied the brakes on time. The time was 2
a.m. and the traffic was minimal.
Our driver could
have easily reversed and then overtaken the car in front. No, he
waited for at least a couple of minutes so that the driver in
the front car could restart the car and move forward. At the
designated place where we could overtake the car in front, our
driver gave him a stare, which the other one did not notice.
nowhere to be seen at that time but the driver followed
diligently every traffic signal on the way. All cars in Tokyo
are equipped with a computer-aided navigation system. Suppose
you want to go to ‘A’ in one part of the city from ‘B’
in another part of Tokyo. Just feed the destination details into
the system. The computer already knows where your car is
located. On the screen, it will show you the route to take. At
every intersection or crossing, an arrow will indicate which
direction to take to reach ‘A’.
The computer shows
the shortest route and if there is any jam or if any road is
closed, it will choose the most convenient alternative route.
There is no need to ask any passerby for routes and there is a
saving of fuel too. Even a total stranger to Japan can
comfortably drive in the city if he knows the navigation system.
It is amazing to
watch how the Japanese keep their roads and streets so clean. Of
course, the city is a concrete jungle with little open spaces
but there are areas where "manicured" trees with
yellow leaves are in plenty. Surprisingly, you won’t find a
single leaf on the road. "The Japanese have employed people
whose job is to catch the leaves as they fall. If the leaves
touch the ground, they are punished" commented a wag.
Back in New Otani
Hotel in downtown Tokyo where we stayed, the huge restaurant on
the ground floor was closed. But two workers were busy cleaning
the floor and tidying up things before the restaurant opened
early in the morning. They did not talk to each other, engrossed
as they were in work.
They seemed to
follow the instruction of Mitsui Takafusa (1684-1748), the third
generation of the great house of that name: "Never waste
your attention on matters that have nothing to do with your
work. Merchants who ape samurai or think that Shinto,
Confucianism or Buddhism will preserve their inner heart will
find that they will only ruin their houses if they become too
deeply engrossed in them. How much more true is this of other
arts and entertainments! Remember that it is the family business
that must not be neglected for a moment".
Japan did not have
Calvinism but its businessmen adopted a similar ethic. The key
lay in the commitment to work, rather than to wealth. The Zen
monk Suzuki Shosan saw greed as a spiritual poison; but work was
something else: "All occupations are Buddhist practice;
through work we are able to attain Buddhahood (salvation)."
In other words, one does not have to be a Weberian Protestant to
achieve success. He can be a Japanese too!
of the Japanese is the etiquette they follow in their daily
life. They are the most respectful to fellow human beings. Ashis
Chakravarti of The Telegraph, who knows a smattering of
Japanese, explained the four different ways in which "thank
you" is said. It depends on the status of the
At the national
Diet (Parliament), I saw a Japanese lady virtually touching the
floor with her forehead while welcoming Dr Manmohan Singh. The
poor Sardar could not respond in equal measure. If I had stayed
there a bit longer, I would have developed a backache responding
to the bows as I had to every time I said "thank you"
to a waiter or a doorman or a driver or a shopkeeper.
The knowledge that
Japan has the second largest economy in the world was brought
home when we waited outside the lobby of Four Seasons Hotel
where the Prime Minister stayed. Japanese businessmen and their
wives were arriving for a lunch hosted by Union Minister Kamal
Nath. They came in Rolls Royces, BMWs, Audis and the latest
Mercs. Few of us had ever seen so many luxury cars converging at
Of course, the
richness did not come all of a sudden. Let me quote from Hane’s
Peasants, Rebels and Outcasts, "From morning, while it was
still dark, we worked in the lamp-lit factory till ten at night.
After work we hardly had the strength to stand on our feet. When
we worked late into the night, they occasionally gave us a yam
(to eat). We then had to do our washing, fix our hair, and so
on. By then it would be 11 o’clock. There was no heat even in
the winter, and so we had to sleep huddled together. Several of
the girls ran back to Hida. I was told that girls who went to
work before my time had a harder time. We were not paid the
first year. In the second year I got 35 yen, and the following
year, 50 yen`85 The life of a woman is really awful".
tells much of the story: low pay, poor living conditions, the
commitment to personal cleanliness, the gradual improvement. In
the hotel, it required a little bit of effort to understand how
the hi-tech toilet worked. To the left of the western-style
commode is a panel of switches. As soon as you sit, a green
light on the panel blinks and the flushing system starts.
With a knob, the
pressure of water can be adjusted. There is a switch, which
directs hot water to the area where washing is required, and
another, which ejects cold water. Such technology does not come
cheap. A dinner in the hotel costs something like $100. I had to
banish the thought of buying a woollen long coat I liked when I
checked the price: $1000. There are some markets where goods are
cheaper. Electronic goods like cameras, videos, I-pods are
cheaper, though many of them may be Japanese but are "Made
How do the
Japanese live? I have no clue except a conversation we had with
our guide Fujika. "An average Japanese family consists of
husband and wife and two children. Both parents work. Real
estate prices are, perhaps, the highest in the world. They pay
30 per cent of their income as tax. Their children start
learning English from Standard V".
The guide made it
a point to mention that the Emperor does not pay any tax.
"At one time, as many as 6,500 people worked to keep the
Emperor in style at the Imperial Palace. Today, there are only
1,500 employees working for the Emperor". Despite his
criticism, Fujika considers the institution of royalty sacred.
compound spreads over an area equivalent to Sukhna Lake in
Chandigarh. A favourite haunt of morning walkers, "you make
one circle of the palace and you would have walked 6 km".
Obesity, in any case, has never been a problem for the Japanese.
Statue of Hachika, the much- remembered dog
journalist friend wanted a companion to go to Shibuya
railway station in Tokyo. He also wanted a photographer to
click him with the statue of a dog, called Hachiko. I
agreed to be both for him.
He did not
know much about the statue. His daughter, who studies in
Class III, had "ordered" him to bring a
photograph of the statue. That is how we reached Shibuya,
a fashionable shopping area with hordes of harried
commuters, departmental stores and a giant television
screen that covers half a skyscraper.
diminutive size of the statue in comparison to the massive
neon flash of the city, it was not difficult to find it.
More than 70 years have passed since Hachiko died but it
is still alive in the collective memory of the Tokyoites.
born at Akita in 1923. Eisaburo Uyeno, a professor at the
Imperial University, brought him to Tokyo the year after.
The dog would accompany the professor to the station, from
where he would catch a train. In the evening, Hachiko
would wait for its master with the tail wagging.
just two years old when one day the professor failed to
return, as he died of a massive heart attack. But the dog
did not leave the station. His waiting continued till
March 8, 1935, when Hachiko died on the spot where he last
saw his master.
grief-stricken Tokyoites decided to put up a statue in
Hachiko’s memory. Famous sculptor Ando Teru, who knew
the dog, was commissioned for the job. During the War when
metal shortage hit Japan, Hachiko’s statue too was
war, the citizens came together to put up a new statue for
which Teru’s son, Ando Tekeshi, who as a child had seen
Hachiko, agreed to do the sculpting.
statue is a favourite haunt of nature lovers. Hundreds of
people visit it every day to take photographs with the
dog. The Railways have placed a full-sized rail
compartment in front of the statue as a permanent exhibit.
is also known as Hachiko station. A colossal mosaic of
Hachiko in playful moods is depicted on the wall of the
railway station as a tribute to Chu-ken Hachiko (the
faithful dog Hachiko).