Shinzo Abe’s high-risk gamble

With North Korean missiles flying overhead, and an economy that remains sluggish, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to call a snap election on October 20, a full year ahead of schedule, is a high-risk gamble. His hurry to corral the country to the polls with less than a month’s notice stems from a concatenation…
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The Smoke Signals From China

For China watchers, the popular TV series, ‘Game of Thrones’, is but an anaemic trifle when compared to the backroom intrigue and power play expected at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The Congress will begin on October 18, accompanied by platoons of analysts in paroxysms of tea leaf-reading, attempting…
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Shinkansen: India and Japan’s Silver Bullet for a Rising China

The inauguration this week of India’s first high-speed rail corridor between Mumbai and Ahmadabad, using Japanese technology and financing, has a geostrategic significance that transcends its economic worth. It amplifies the growing closeness between India and Japan at a time when both nations are struggling to find their footing in an Asia being re-fashioned by…
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An alliance on track: on the bullet train project

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad this week, the bilateral agenda will range from issues of maritime security to nuclear energy and trade. But at the centrepiece of their summitry will be the inauguration of India’s first high-speed rail corridor from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, to be developed using…
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The Makings of Japan’s First Woman PM

Heralded as the new face of brand Tokyo and touted as a future Prime Minister, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is currently the brightest star in Japan’s political firmament. Her party’s thumping win over the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections in July has only burnished the 65-year-old politician’s already shiny…
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Spot the similarities: unity in diversity in India and Indonesia

Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Indonesia, has often felt like a moderate oasis in an angry, global desert of religious extremism. Until only a few months ago two of the Muslim-majority nation’s most important, if unlikely, leaders, President Joko Widodo and Jakarta Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, embodied this optimism. They were unlikely because neither came from…
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Rajinikanth: The Tamil star who has a cult following in…Japan.

Hiroyoshi takeda is not a typical Japanese man. Instead of a suit and tie, the 39-year-old Tokyoite wears T-shirts with technicolour caricatures of a moustachioed south Indian movie star. Rather than bowing, he dances. He doesn’t ride the metro, but travels the streets in a gaudily adorned auto rickshaw imported from Tamil Nadu. Not for…
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Olympic Toilets: Japan sets Gold Standard, China a distant Number 2?

The Japanese toilet is a thing of wonder. An array of buttons along the side of a typical commode allows you to spray and dry your rear, or front. Others activate oscillation or pulsation, and raise or lower the intensity of the gush. Some models feature a little deodorising puff of air freshener. The function that automatically puts the lids or seat covers down is referred to as the ‘marriage saver’. And then there is the heated toilet seat, which rivals Kyoto in full cherry blossom bloom as a highlight of a trip to Japan.
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A song for the sakura

Kyoto in full sakura-bloom is a sight to make the most confirmed teetotaller drunk, and I’m partial to a cup of sake at the best of times. There, under the cover of the floral parasol of a cherry blossom, rested a heron, its grey-and-white silhouette easily mistaken for an ink wash painting.
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Racism and the reality in Japan

In central Tokyo’s bustling neighbourhoods, it’s common to find signs outside establishments, from barber shops to taverns, stating: “Foreigners Welcome”. That these are necessary only highlights how there are places in Japan — guest houses, massage parlours, restaurants — where foreigners are unwelcome.
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