Cool Japan and Japanese Culture in India

Last week, I traveled to India to make a show about Japanese culture there. India is a developing country with one of the world’s biggest populations, but it’s also cultural powerhouse in its region like Japan is for East Asia.
Bollywood movies have as big a following as Hollywood pictures these days. That’s India. It has so much of its own culture within its borders. Is there room for COOL JAPAN?
To get a closer look at how “Cool Japan” is impacting India in 2014, I hit up folks on the street as well as the Mumbai Anime Club with some questions.

What I learned is that most people in India know very little about Japan! Cool Japan is in its infancy in India. As I traveled around Mumbai and its surronding regions, I got a lot of feedback.
When I asked Indians outside major cities what they know about Japan, the word “SONY” was the most popular thought.
“They make the best TVs!” is what one man in the small city of Nipani told me.

To many, the idea of sushi — non-boiled raw fish — was really disgusting!
If anything, Japan seems to have been more influenced by India! Curry is extremely popular in Japan, even though the taste has been changed for Japanese palettes.

But when it came to Indian’s urban youth, especially in Mumbai and Bangalore, Cool Japan was sinking in a lot better.
I visited the MUMBAI ANIME CLUB (MAC) one evening and filmed their thoughts on Japanese culture in India. Reetam, organizer of MAC had so much passion for anime, manga and cosplaying!
It no surprise that enthusiasm translates into a growing following for the club in Mumbai — and beyond!
There are anime clubs in Bangalore, Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai.

Snapshot after my location shoot and interview with Mumbai Anime Club at Leaping Windows Cafe in Mumbai.

Snapshot after my location shoot and interview with Mumbai Anime Club at Leaping Windows Cafe in Mumbai.

Mumbai Anime Club interview
Mumbai Anime Club interview

 



In Goa, a European influenced beach resort near Mumbai and Bangalore, I met the wonderful Japanese business owner of SAKANA. She opened the restaurant in 2007 with her husband.
Originally from Hiroshima, Mari-san makes excellent Japanese food from fresh ingredients found in India. “The flour for udon is actually better in India than in Japan,” she told me. The taste was also very good!
Much of the sushi on the menu was geared towards western eaters. Most Indians are still unfamiliar with Japanese food, but for westerners, it’s the choice for a super delicious healthy meal.

I had a hard time finding Japanese culture in India apart from a few expensive restaurants in the cities.
Why waste an opportunity to introduce Japanese culture myself!
I came to India with a case of instant ramen to try in a small regional city. Many foreigners are buying instant ramen to take home because of the wide variety of flavours and the weight. It’s extremely light to carry.
Nipani, 25-30km from Kohlapur was a friendly and open-minded city to get an idea of how far Cool Japan has come and how far it needs to go. My cousin’s husband Vinod, a local politician, knew a nice street vendor who allowed me to use his stand for boiling water. With that, we were set to test out Japanese instant noodles.

Sesame Tuna with miso soup, rice, gyoza, udon with wakame
Sesame Tuna with miso soup, rice, gyoza, udon with wakame
Sakana Japanese Restaurant in Goa
Sakana Japanese Restaurant in Goa

I learned that people are open to the idea of instant noodles, mostly because it’s easy to transport and keeps for a long time.

The taste — well, it was something new. I didn’t know if people were enjoying it or were just hungry and having a camera on location attracted a large crowd after a few minutes. My test became more of a party!
In Nipani, everyone eats with their hands on a plate. Using chopsticks was a challenge. Like with all things we do for the first time, there are a lot of hits and misses — more misses than hits.
Many people gave up and when the broth cooled, they used their hands. When I told them that slurping the noodles was important because it not only cooled the noodles down, it told the chef that it was good, most people laughed.
I think most people thought I was telling a joke!

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You need real strength to conquer instant ramen!
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You also need some luck.
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A few people could get the hang of it after a little practice and tutoring. The secret is to bring the bowl to your mouth. Long distant eating can be dangerous.
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On my last day, I learned that a distant cousin of mine was interested in drawing manga characters.
He doesn’t own a computer and has limited access to things abroad, but he’s become a huge fan of anime and manga!
I started getting it — the youth are deeply impressed with the style. It’s different. It resonates with them, especially the poses, on an emotional level.
It’s … cool!

Ganesh dreams of being a manga and anime artist
Ganesh dreams of being a manga and anime artist
Ganesh showed me his drawings. They're heavily influenced by Japanese manga and anime.
Ganesh showed me his drawings. They’re heavily influenced by Japanese manga and anime.

 

I interviewed him with the last 30 minutes I had before heading to the brand new Mumbai Terminal 2 for the flight home to Tokyo.

All in all, India is a huge market for Japan. It’s an opportunity.
But for Cool Japan to sink it, it’s going to take more time and more exposure.
And more instant ramen!
With growing appreciation for Japan with youths, I see Cool Japan only getting cooler in India.

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Creator and Producer 「ONLY in JAPAN」
President of Weblish Media Ltd.
Reporter for NHK World "Tokyo Eye"
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