Updated on: Mar 10, 2018


More and more Indians are saying hello in Japanese as our fascination with everything from the Land of the Rising Sun — including bullet trains — keeps growing. Swathi Moorthy reports

At 53, most plan for their retirement. Ramesh G instead left his supposedly stable and well-paying central government job and became a teacher of Japanese. He had started learning the language as a hobby. “I wanted to read Japanese literature,” says Ramesh, who lives in Chennai with his family. The hobby evolved into a profession.

Six years on, Ramesh is glad he made the shift. Apart from being a teacher, the now 59-year-old is also a Director atthe Hayakawa Japanese Language School and Culture Centre in Chennai. “It took me four years to master the language enough to be able to teach,” says Ramesh. Apart from being a teacher, he also dons the role of a translator from time to time.

Says Ramesh: “If I can get an opportunity to teach in my 50s, imagine the choices out there for people who learn the language at young age.”

Ramesh is right. Japanese language education has been gaining momentum in India in the last few years, thanks to increasing job and business opportunities for Indians, both at home and in Japan. A teacher can start off with a salary of about ₹15,000 per month, and it can go up to ₹50,000 according to the number of batches and levels one can handle.

That's for the teachers. An interpreter, with an experience of three-four years, can earn ₹45,000 per month as a beginner. The remuneration can go up to $2,000 per day as he or she accumulates experience.

The spurt in interest in learning the language, and its increasing commercial opportunity is just one part of the rapidly growing popularity of everything Japanese, in India. Earlier this month, we added bullet trains to the list. From food (just look up any app for restaurants serving Japanese cuisine) and movies to manga and anime (Japanese comics and animation), more and more Indians are finding taste for things from the Land of the Rising Sun. And all of this is backed by the increasing investment from Japanese businessmen and conglomerates (think Masayoshi Son of Softbank and Suzuki).

Diplomatic ties between the two countries are at a high, reinforced by the recent visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India. Around 15 MoUs were signed during the three-day visit.

Friends of yore The first documented record of interaction between the two countries can be traced back to 752 AD, when Buddhist scholar Bodhisena consecrated the towering statue of Lord Buddha in Japan. Centuries later, in 1903, the Japan-India Association was set up, the oldest friendship body in Japan.

Bilateral ties deepened with the launch of the Japan-India Global Partnership in 2000. The joint statement signed by Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Shinzo Abe in 2006, upgraded the ties to a Global and Strategic Partnership with the provision of annual Prime Ministerial summits.

In 2014, Modi and Abe’s governments pledged to realise private and public partnerships worth ¥3.5 trillion. Abe also promised to double the number of companies in India over next five years.

As of 2017, Japan is the third largest foreign direct investor in India accounting for about 8 per cent of total inflows. The cumulative inflow between April 2000 and March 2017 stood at ₹1.42 lakh crore.

From 550 in 2008, the number of Japanese companies registered in India more than doubled to 1,305 in October 2016. When it comes to establishments — joint venture partnerships, head offices, factory and branches — the rise has been more impressive; from 838 in 2008, to 4,177 in October 2015. According to data from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are about 8,600 Japanese nationals living across India.

While many of the Japanese investors in India, including Suzuki, Honda, Hitachi and Toyota are in manufacturing, investments have diversified in recent times to other businesses like food, textiles, banking and insurance.

The 2015-report by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), titled ‘India: A new dawn for Japanese companies?’ states that India’s demographic profile and economic transition represent great opportunities for Japan, which has abundant capital. The EIU report estimates that there will be massive demand for infrastructure needs, consumer goods and financial services in India in coming years that the Japanese firms are well-positioned to provide.

“In Japan, ageing population is on the rise. On the other hand, with young population and abundant engineering talent, India fits the bill,” said a senior official from a Japanese company.

Also, business and leisure are bringing more and more Japanese to India. In the three months from June 2015, 36,000 Japanese visited India. Two years later, that number increased to 49,000 over the same period.

The language boom These socio-economic factors could have contributed to the rise in the number of people learning Japanese in India, says Kousuke Noguchi, Director, The Japan Foundation, New Delhi.

According to a report published in 2015 by the Japan Foundation on Japanese education overseas, around 24,000 people study the language annually in India, compared to 20,000 in 2012. About 10,000 Indians applied for the Japanese language proficiency test in 2013. Their number increased to close to 17,000 in 2016, with most of the applicants coming from New Delhi and Chennai, followed by Pune.

When a Japanese company sets up operations, say in Chennai, it brings its own people to install machineries. While high-level employees understand and speak English, blue-collar workers rarely can. Also, most of the instruction manuals are in Japanese, which Indian employees cannot understand. “They need to be translated either in English or Tamil,” say Mohana Vijay, proprietor of Trust Tokyo Japanese Language School.

A senior Japanese official in Chennai admitted that it's hard finding a good interpreter in the country though he is willing to pay a handsome sum.

The increasing demand is showing in the schools. “We have doubled the number of batches for the basic course (in five years),” says Chenthil Kumar, Director of the Hayakawa Japanese Language School in Chennai. Now the institution runs a minimum of 24 batches, each with about 20 students. There were barely two batches 10 years ago. Over 1,000 students learn Japanese here every year, across five different levels — basic, intermediate, advanced, fluent and business.

The 2015-report of Japan Foundation states that around 185 institutions teach Japanese in India, employing 655 teachers. India ranks 12th in terms of number of people learning Japanese in the world, and number one among South Asian countries.

Like Ramesh, many others have spotted the opportunity. N Velan, a software engineer, took up the language after trying hard to find bi-lingual engineers in Chennai to engage with his Japanese clients. The 38-year-old now works for a Japanese client. “I’m required to travel frequently to Japan and learning the language will improve my career aspects,” Velan says.

Published on September 25, 2017
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

You May Also Like

Recommended for you