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  • Conference

India and Japan: Unearthing lesser-known 16th to early 20th century linkages

15 - 17 November 2018

India-Japan historical links go far back to the 8th century A.D. when Bodhisena (704-60), an Indian monk, was invited in the year 736CE by Emperor Shomu (r.724-48) to perform the eye- opening ceremony of the world’s largest bronze statue of the Great Buddha at Tōdai-ji in Nara. Bodhisena remained in Japan until his death in 760CE teaching Buddhism, Sanskrit, Prakrit and related Indian philosophical thoughts. Exchanges through visits of Buddhist monks and scholars from Japan continued. There are documented evidences of visits by Japanese scholars and pupils to Nalanda University. A merchant-adventurer Tokubei (1612–1692) was so obsessive about visiting ‘Tenjiku’ (Heavenly Land) – an ancient Japanese name for India, that he took the name of Tenjiku Tokubei out of pride and reverence for India.

These deep spiritual links are very significant and have certainly been effective in generating awareness and appreciation of Indian civilization in Japan.  These links and their manifestation in images of Japanese gods and goddesses and in Japanese script and folklore have been studied by scholars, and are often referred to in India-Japan dialogues. In addition to these early linkages, Tagore-Okakura artistic and cultural collaborations, and Japanese connections during India’s independence movement through Subhash Chandra Bose, Rash Behari Bose and through the role of Jurist Binod Behari Pal in the war trials of Japan are known worldwide. By the 16th century, with the expansion of Indian Ocean routes to Southeast and East Asia, the scope of links between India and Japan began to diversify.

Discovery of sea-route to India, leading to an exodus of Jesuits and Portuguese on India’s Malabar Coast, made Goa an important port in the Indian Ocean route linking India with Europe and Asia. The transmission of a new culture (namban bunka) brought about a radical shift in the focus of India-Japan relations – from Buddhist-centered Tenjiku to a trade-oriented Indo. New information between India and Japan flowed through Jesuits who went to Japan from Goa, through Portuguese travelling to Japanese coasts accompanied by Indian workers, and through Japanese brought to Goa by the Portuguese.

The emergence of new industrial travel infrastructures in the late-19th century, Nippon Yusen Kaisha and Osaka Shosen Kaisha and the starting of regular services linking Yokohama and Kobe with Calcutta and Bombay, facilitated direct contacts and exchanges. These brought Japan within easier reach of Indian travellers and vice versa thereby facilitating not only direct observations and documentation through travel-writing, but also trade, technological and industrial collaborations; rise of Indian diaspora in Japan and vice versa.

Roots of some technological, economic and social relations can also be traced to links that emerged during this period.  For example, the British Government of India invited experts like Dr Fusakichi Omori, Professor T. Nakamura and Dr T. Koyama of Tokyo Imperial University to advise on post-earthquake reconstruction in Assam. Reports of these experts on the great Indian earthquakes in Assam-Shillong (1897) and Kangra (1905) not only provided inputs to the Earthquake Investigation Committee (Shinsai Yobo Chosakwai), established by the Japanese government in 1882, but also created awareness of India amongst engineers, architects and builders in Japan. Similarly, the Japanese engineers are said to have visited India to study the railway system set-up by the British. India-Japan collaborations in cotton industry, handicrafts and textile dyeing techniques also need to be highlighted.

The inauguration of India-Japan Association by Meiji government in 1903 laid the foundation of social and economic relations between India and Japan. In the context of new emerging Asia, the Association was established to promote strong ties with India ‘forged by spiritual sharing and understanding’ by Shigenobu Okuma, who was also the founder of Waseda University. Later, during Taisho (1912-1925) and early-Showa Era (1925-1940), the Association’s endeavours centred on economic activities. The Japan Commodity House was opened in Calcutta and a train bazaar visited big cities in India to exhibit Japanese commodities. This greatly contributed not only to increasing trade, but also to a gradual increase of Japanese communities in Calcutta and other Indian cities, and similarly Indian communities in Yokohama, Kobe etc., resulting in people to people contacts.

In the field of education, the establishment of Nippon Bhavana at Rabindranath Tagore’s Visva Bharati in Santiniketan is a living testimony to the legacy of Tagore-Okakura dialogue. The Kala Bhavana of Visva Bharati has been a platform for exchanges in arts. In addition, disillusioned with the inadequacies in colonial policies and educational planning, several educated Indians, particularly from Princely India, such as M. Visvesvaraya and Syed Ross Masood turned to Japan in search of a non-Western educational model and sought to replicate the Japanese model in the Princely States of Mysore and Hyderabad respectively. Their reports and travelogues provide valuable insights into Japan’s education system. In addition, travelogues of Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay, Manmathanath Ghosh and Hariprova Takeda (nèe Mullick) from Bengal, who had visited Japan even before Tagore, are also good sources of information exchanges during the early 20thcentury. During the same period, it is reported that several trainees from Bengal were sent to Japan to acquire technical skills. While Japan was an inspiration for vocational education, Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy brought a Japanese-American architect and woodworker George Katsutoshi Nakashima to Pondicherry. Who not only designed ‘Golconde’ at the Ashram, but became so immersed in its way of life that he became a devotee, taking a Sanskrit name Sundarananda – ‘one who delights in beauty.’

The Seminar Objective

The seminar recognises that the canvas of historical linkages is much richer than what has hitherto been studied and highlighted. The roots of India-Japan historical, socio-economic and cultural relations are very deep and diversified, which need to be unearthed through multidisciplinary tools and resources at various levels.

The seminar proposes to bring together scholars and specialists who have traced some of the above lesser-known historical linkages between India and Japan with multiple perspectives. Presentations and deliberations at the seminar are expected to provide a cogent and comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the historical foundations of intellectual and creative exchanges between India and Japan; a foundation on which mutual relations are built, and flourish in changing geo-political and economic environment.


DAY 1: Inauguration & Keynote Address.

3 Sessions – 3 Papers Each (20 Minutes each)

DAY 2: 4 Sessions – 3 Papers Each

DAY 3: Looking Ahead & Valedictory session

STRUCTURE: Keynote, Invited Addresses, Contributed Papers, Reports on research in progress, Exhibition, Poster displays, Films, Performance.

FIRST list of Speakers and topics (More names would be added)

Session: India and Japonisme I & II (Carpets, Textiles, Arts)

  • Yuzuruha OYAMA, Curator, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo : The textile exchange between Japan and India in 16th-19th century.
  • Timothy SCREECH, SOAS, University of London Transmission of Namban bunka via India.
  • Takako ARAI (INOUE), Daito Bunka University, Tokyo. Indian impacts on Japanese performing arts: Indigenization, Extinction, and Reconstruction of Buddhist Music –with emphasis on Gagaku and Shomyo and their changing trends from 16th to 19thcenturies.
  • Masumi IGARASHI, Art History, Okayama University, Tokyo. Katsuta Shokin: A Japanese Painter at the Government School of Art, Calcutta, 1906-1907.
  • Rishav Gandhar NARZARY, Art History, Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan : Revivalistic interpretations in pictorial language of Bengal School under the light of Pan-Asian concept of Okakura Tenshin.
  • Aarti KAWLRA, Chennai, Fellow at Minpaku, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Sari-Kimono: Metaphors, Affinities and Aesthetics.
  • (retd.) Janak Jhankar NARZARY, Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan – Modern Indian sculptors looking to the East.

Session: Diaspora Communities, Social interactions & Community knowledge

  • Claude MARKOVITS, Centre of Indian and South Asian Studies, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris : Indian merchants in Kobe.
  • Daniel BOTSMAN, Yale University, New Haven : Portugal-Goa-Japan linkages.
  • Dr Makiko KIMURA, International and Cultural Studies, Tsuda College, Tokyo: Remembering a Tangkul-Japan Relationship: Folklores about a Local Female Interpreter in the Tangkul Areas of Manipur, Northeast India.

Sub-session: Place and Local Knowledge :  Community Mapping as method of engagement

  • Takayoshi KUSAGO, Kansai University, Osaka : Co-learning between Japan and South Asia through Jimotogaku community mapping method.
  • Surajit SARKAR, Ambedkar University, New Delhi : Reclaiming knowledge and memory at the margins – co-learning experiences from Nagasaki peace memorial to justice in Bhopal. 

Session: Education, Travelogues &Related areas

  • Aya IKEGAME, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo : Mysore State and Visvesvaraya: Engineering and technical Education.
  • Sushila NARSIMHAN, Professor (retd.), University of Delhi : In search of a non-Western education model: Syed Ross Masood of Hyderabad turns to Japan.
  • Gita A. KEENI, Nippon Bhavana, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan : ‘Images of Japan in the works of Bengali travellers in early Twentieth century. 

Session: Technology Perspectives I & II

Shipping, Railways, Seismology, Architecture

  • Chih-lung LIN, National Chung Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan: Japanese shipping lines in India, 1891-1918.
  • Naoko FUKAMI, Waseda University, Tokyo : A comparison between the current and 55-year-old conditions of sultanate heritage in Delhi; Digital archive, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, the University of Tokyo.
  • Prof Anuradha CHATURVEDI, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi : Seismological studies in India by Fusakichi Omori, T. Nakamura and T. Koyama and their implications on the development of earthquake resistant architecture in North East India.

Organized by India International Centre & Mombusho Scholars Association of India (MOSAI)


India International Centre
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