I have been to Japan several times before, the first time was in 1991. I was a young manager in the steel industry meeting the likes of Sumitomo and Nippon Steel, buying steel for our South East Asian operations. Subsequent visits for KLM Cargo in the early 2000s drove home the fact that Japan was slowing down rapidly, no longer as surefooted as it had seemed in the '90s, when all of South East Asia orbited around it.
This trip with family is different though. A Japanese colleague from KLM urged us to try and 'feel' Japan, and that's what we have been trying to do, steering away from the bling bling of the large cities as much as possible. Our older eyes take in all the little small town politenesses, the punctuality of every single bus, the focus on personal safety, with guards blocking the exits of parking bays so that pedestrians can cross safely and the obsessive focus on the cleanliness of the individual, the streets, the cars, the edges of the elevators, well, of everything.
Kumud is reading Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk. At some point he tries to explain to his lady that in the US buses are sometimes late, and she stares at him in bewilderment, and asks "but why"? How could you not be on time?
Of course I have thought of the differences between India and Japan before, and many hilarious comparisons come to mind. The contained, dry, crumb-less meals served on Japanese trains (if they serve a meal) juxtaposed against the non stop barrage of food and drink being sold on Indian trains, from buckets, thalis and boxes. Daal sloshing over the edges of a thali and Chaai brimming over the rims of the tea glasses.
A little of the Japanese way could have a huge effect on a country such as India, imagine what a lot of Japan infused in our DNA could do. Imagine more punctuality, systems and processes that connect, thought that is given to roads and intersections before they are built, the effect on time tables. Imagine the effect on healthcare if we too went around wearing face masks on days that we were ill, rather than coughing and spitting with abandon. Imagine the impact on personal safety and the reduction in accidents if safety was built into our way of working, and not imposed from above. We would 'rock'.
Japan as an economy has been running on empty for some years now. The same system that could do so much for us and the rest of the world has also stifled growth in its own country, perfected it out of the system. Too much certainty, too much planning, too much insistence on predicting the future leads to a system that is in the words of Nicholas Taleb fragile.
Japan could do with an infusion of Indian entrepreneurship, of not knowing what tomorrow will bring but of being confident that you will be able to handle it. Indian auto manufacturers are today beating their Japanese counterparts in the African market by providing motorcycles that are high quality and very low cost.
India's Prime Minister and his counterpart Mr. Abe are due to meet in Japan in the next several months. We need many parts of them, but I think they could do with a slosh of us in the bargain. That would make for a very interesting cocktail, few parts Japan, one part India, sloshed, not stirred. Chai anyone?
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.