In Japan Cleaning is Meditation

The morning sky is still pale when people begin to gather in central Tokyo’s Komyoji temple. It’s a motley crew of about a dozen, including salarymen, in full suit-and-tie regalia, a fashionista sporting a silver tote and an elderly gentleman in scuffed leather shoes. As the clock strikes 7.30, they shake off jackets, put down…
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Mr Wu

A middle-aged woman in teddy bear-spangled pajamas came hurtling down on a flatbed tricycle. The smell – a mix of sewage and fried rice – coated the tiles of the homes that lined the alleyway. Two men stood at the back entrance to a restaurant slick with fish scales, sizing me up as they smoked.…
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The Indian Who Docked in Osaka

The Indian diaspora in Japan has historically been small, but has encompassed a colourful cast, from revolutionaries to textile traders. The oldest documented Indian resident in Japan, and arguably the most influential, was Bodhisena, a monk from Madurai whose outsized impact on Japanese culture persists even some 1,300 years after he docked on the archipelago’s…
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Japan’s Vending Marvels

Japan may be synonymous with sushi and cherry blossoms, but vending machines could as well contend for the title of national symbol. There is hardly a square metre of the archipelago that is unadorned by these boxy machines. Even the remotest roads on desolate mountain slopes inevitably feature one, often half-buried under snow, but always…
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Short of the Potential

n theory, it’s hard to find two nations that make a better economic fit than fast-growing, populous India and rich, demographically challenged Japan. India needs technical expertise and investments to develop its infrastructure, while Japan has capital to spare and know-how to share. They have a common strategic objective in countering Chinese hegemony in Asia,…
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Bose of Nakamuraya

Ask the average person to guess Japan’s national dish and they’ll likely hazard sushi or soba. But an equally fair contender for the title is curry. The Japanese Navy even has a “Curry Friday” tradition where all navy canteens offer curry and rice as a Friday staple. Curry in Japan bears only a superficial resemblance…
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Elevating the manhole to art

The traditional way to discover Japan is to take in its shrines, gardens and museums. A less conventional method, but one with a growing number of followers, is to keep the eyes trained on the ground, and go manhole-cover spotting. In Japan, the lowly manhole is its own art form, with covers displaying intricate, occasionally…
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The boisterous coming of age in Japan

Public holidays around the world usually have national heroes, seasonal occurrences or God to thank. They are also as good a primer to a country as any expensively produced travel guide. For example, in Indonesia, they include five Islamic holidays, three Christian ones, a Buddhist break and a Hindu day of rest. Ergo: Indonesia is…
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Scripting another Asian narrative

Japan is filling the vacuum created by the U.S.’s withdrawal from the region Japan has long been an anomaly: an economic powerhouse within a geostrategic pygmy. But China’s muscular ascent combined with the capriciousness of a Trump-led U.S. is causing Tokyo to slough off its diplomatic slumber and rethink its role in Asia. From proposing…
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Clean air: This is what Indian cities can learn from China. But will they?

I lived in Beijing for seven years between 2002 and 2009. During that time, visits to India invariably included conversations with aunties who while not usually environmental in their outlook, delightedly commiserated about China’s toxic air. “Oh ho! Such terrible pollution. Tch! Tch!” Having spent years being dumbfounded by our northern neighbour’s miraculous economic growth…
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