By Mohan Krishna Shrestha– Located in the Asian continent, Nepal and Japan are two very old countries. Nepal is considered to be the 17th ancient country in the world. Similarly, Japan was founded on 11 February 660 BC with Jimmu as the first Emperor.
There lies a striking difference between the two countries. Nepal is a land-locked country, whereas Japan is a sea-locked archipelago composed of 6,852 islands. Japan’s territorial area of 377,944 sq kms is more than double of Nepal and 126 million population is almost five times bigger. Japan is a highly developed and rich country whereas Nepal, with considerable natural resources, is waiting for speedy economic development.
Rising from ashes, Japan has had transformed herself from an agrarian country to a giant, prosperous, industrialized and modernized country. Japan is also known for innovative technological developments. Japan is the only country in the world to have faced the horrors of nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Her eventual surrender after defeat in the World War II brought untold sufferings. The book Embracing the Defeat by Jown Dower provides a full account of such sufferings.
On other side, Nepal prides herself as a totally sovereign and independent country never subdued by colonial powers. On common sides, both countries are bind by a strand of true friendship, mutual trust and cooperative spirits. Buddhism entered into Japan in 538 A.D. and it pervaded into the minds of Japanese people. Classic example is recorded as Emperor Shomu renounced his royal garbs to become a monk in 749 A.D. Buddhism is playing a pivotal role in bringing two peoples closer. There also exists a deep cultural affinity between two peoples. Senior Japanese citizens, while visiting Nepal, become nostalgic remembering old Japan.
The relation between the two countries is considered to have been opened by the seminal visit of Revered Ekai Kawaguchi in 1899 A.D. Thereafter, he visited Nepal in 1903, 1905 and 1912. Seeing the then situation, he wrote a 57 page lengthy letter to then Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana highlighting the need for imparting education to the people.
In 1902 A.D. a group of eight Nepalese students were sent to Japan for pursuing higher studies along with a retinue of 17 servants. They were Jung Narsingh Rana (Arms technolology), Bhakta Bahadur Basnet (Arms Technology), Dev Narsingh Rana (Mining), Bal Narsingh Rayamajhi (Mining), Deep Narsing Rana (Agriculture), Hem Bahadur Rajbhandari (Mechanical Engineering), Rudra Lal Singh (Chemistry) and Bichar Man Singh (Sericulture). They left Nepal on 18 April and reached Japan on 17 June 1902 and all of them returned to Nepal on 16 September 1905 after 3 years studies. Deep brought with him Wisteria, Chrysanthemum, Persimon and Chestnut seeds from Japan. These are blossoming even today in Nepal symbolizing a deep friendship between our two countries and peoples.
Nepal and Japan established diplomatic relations on 1 September 1956 at the Ambassadorial level and both countries established residential Embassies in each other’s capital in the following years. Mr. Hidemichi Kira was the first Japanese residential Ambassador to Nepal and Mr. Bharat Raj Rajbhandari was the first Nepalese residential Ambassador to Japan.
Since then, our relation has been developing in a smooth manner based on true friendship, deep respect and mutual understanding. Both people harbor a strong sense of belongingness and respect for each other. Japan, with its painful background, knows well the traumas of being poor. Now, Japan has become a highly developed and rich country. But she has not forgotten her past days. Japan, therefore, valuing the role of peace, stability and economic development, is extending a helping hand, to the developing countries. Many Asian, African and Latin American countries have benefited through munificent economic and technical cooperation from Japan.
Exchange of Visits
Our bilateral relations has been nurtured and strengthened by the exchange of visits at high levels. Their Imperial Majesties Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Nepal twice in 1960 and in 1975 . Similarly, HIH Crown Prince Nahuhito visited Nepal in 1987 and HIH Prnce Akishino and Princess Kiko also visited Nepal in 1997.
From Nepal side, late King Mahendra visited Japan in 1960 and late King Birendra studied a year in Tokyo University in 1967. Further, Late King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya paid official visit to Japan in 1978 and another visit to attend the Tsukuba International Exposition in 1985. Similarly, former Crown Princes Dipendra and Paras visited Japan 2001 and 2005 respectively.
At the Government level, former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiro Mori, for the first time, paid an eight hour visit to Nepal on 25 August 2000 and several visits by famous Japanese former Prime Minister late Ryutaro Hashimoto in other responsibilities. There have been several visits by parliamentarians and other high dignitaries from time to time. Japanese State Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi visited Nepal to attend the International Conference for National Reconstruction last year.
From Nepal side, late Prime Minister G.P. Koirala visited Japan in 1998. Other Ministers and high dignitaries also visited Japan from time to time. Both countries have also started a political dialogue at the Foreign Secretary level to augment different aspects of mutual cooperation.
I remember noteworthy words of a Japanese Minister and parliamentarian Mr. Toshihiro Nikai who spoke at a function in Tokyo in 2005 saying that in Japan, government and opposition agree only on one agenda: that is to help Nepal.
Japan started giving economic cooperation to Nepal since 1969. Japanese official development aid consists of mainly 3 components: Grant, Loan and Technical cooperation. Within these 47 intervening years, a colossal amount totaling to 3,042 billion dollars have been given to Nepal by Japan under these headings. Grant consisted about 58 percent of the total amounts. Similarly, more than 2,000 Japanese volunteers have been dispatched to Nepal and more than 5000 Nepalese officials have been trained in Japan in different disciplines. Japan has emerged as one of the largest donor country to Nepal in recent years. Hallmark of the assistance is that her economic cooperation has always remained strings unattached. Japan pledged US dollars 260 million during the International Conference on National Reconstruction held on 25 June 2015 and it is understood that Japan has signed agreements for the transfer of the agreed funds becoming the first country to do so among donors.
Several important projects have been completed with Japanese economic assistance in the fields of agriculture, aviation, bridges construction, education, health, human resource development, roads, rural development, sanitation, transportation, telecommunication and water supply. Hallmark projects like Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital and Banepa – Sindhuli Highway will remain as symbols of ever growing relations between the two countries. All these projects accrue direct benefit to the people. Nepalese people remain grateful for such generous assistance which bears direct impacts on their daily life. Japanese are known for quality works and time bound commitments. These are yet valuable gifts from Japan to be emulated. Nepal – Japan relations is also based on other multi-dimensional aspects. These all areas together are making contributions to solidify our relations.
Trade relations between the two countries is going smoothly although balance is always in favor of Japan. In early 1980s when I was in Japan I met one Japanese businessman who told me that he used to import Lycopodium powder from Nepal. Quality stuff was exported in the beginning, but later on, it was found mixed with turmeric powder. So he discontinued the import. Such malpractice will never be condoned in Japan. Japanese look for quality goods not costs. Rather high quality goods do not fetch much if the price is low. Without knowing psyche of the Japanese consumers, it would be difficult to do business.
Nepal exports to Japan more than hundred types of goods but traditional pattern has not changed much since many years. Nepal’s total export to Japan is increasing every year and it was Rs. 1,153 million in 2015. Similarly, imports from Japan are also increasing every year and it was Rs. 5,977 million in 12015. However, trade balance has remained always in favor of Japan. Nepalese exportable goods consist of woolen carpets, pashmina, precious stones, leather and leather goods, textile goods and many other primary and tertiary goods. While import consists of chemicals, electronic goods, industrial raw materials, machineries, steel products, vehicles, etc. There is enough room for developing this trade relation to a higher level in coming days subject to strenuous efforts to be exerted by the business community of both countries. Lately, few Nepalese edible produces have got market in Japan through efforts of a Nepali company.
As Nepal has started producing several kinds of consumer goods, those might have a good market potentiality in Japan. One Village One Product concept being mooted since several years is gaining ground and it will further facilitate the export of Nepalese produces to Japanese market. Nepalese healthy food products like wheat bucket and Labsi are getting popular in Japan. In a huge consumer market like Japan, even few our suitable products, if liked, by Japanese might trigger to do a roaring business.
Arghelo plant which is commonly grown in the rural areas are being used in Japan to produce Japanese monetary unit Yen. If this fact is known to many Japanese, they might feel more homely with Nepal and Nepalese people.
Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign Direct Investment from Japan is limited to a minimum amount of Rs. 1,988.77 million creating 7,946 jobs. Several projects have been operating in the fields of tourism, trade and production of small industrial goods. Japanese business community regards Nepal as a high risk country with weak and inefficient bureaucracy which discourages with many rules and regulations. If there is likely improvement to reverse such situation, many big, medium and small investing companies from Japan might invest in Nepal in different sectors like water resources development and in other industrial ventures.
Japan is a big sources of tourists to Nepal. But only about 26,000 Japanese visited Nepal in 2013. Highest numbers of visitors was recorded in 2000 when it reached to more than 41,000. In view of the millions of overseas visitors from Japan every year, we can welcome many thousand more visitors. But at the moment, the lack of a direct flight between the two countries has hindered such tourists arrival. Japanese love to see our high snow-capped Himalayas, visit birthplace of Lord Buddha – sacred Lumbini and engaged in the host of other tourism activities. Our rich history, cultural heritages and wonderful natural beauty always attracts Japanese visitors.
Diamond Jubilee celebration
As this is the celebrated Diamond Jubilee year, both countries have chalked out several programs to celebrate sixty year’s of excellent diplomatic relations. Once such programs are completed, these will surely contribute to further boost our bilateral relations in all possible ways. In fact, love and affection for Nepal in Japan is never ending and vice versa. Nepalese people love Japanese for their hard work, time management and cohesive decision making process. At the same time, Japanese love Nepalese people for their simplicity and honest dealings. Such common traits of our peoples have always worked as a strand to knot both people more closely.
Greying population in Japan
It is estimated that out of Japan’s total population, about 10 percent are more than 100 years old. Japan’s birthrates are falling due to late marriages and government is wary of the greying population. Like many nationalities, Nepal can also get benefit from such scenario, as Japan offers job opportunities in many fields like in the agriculture, construction, electronics and care givers. But a sore point is that some Nepali nationals make mischiefs running away from sponsors which ultimately deprive the confidence of Japanese employers.
Nepalese Diaspora in Japan
It is estimated that as of now, more than 48,000 Nepalese are living in Japan in different vocations. Every year thousands of Nepalese youngmen go to Japan for studies. Many get chances to pursue higher studies. There are many Nepalese nationals who are settled in Japan through marriage. Hundreds have been doing business too. Earlier, mostly Nepalese workers used get engaged in manual jobs. But recently, situation has changed and few entrepreneurs have emerged as successful businessmen with a capacity to make contribution in developing our bilateral relations. Similarly, more than 60 social organizations have been established which are effortful to promote Nepalese culture, food, music and other social values. It is estimated that about 1,000 Japanese are living in Nepal following various vocations and business.
Earthquakes and Friendship
Everybody knows that Japan is a earthquake prone country. 1 September 1923 Great kanto earthquake killed thousands and another major earthquake hit Kobe on 17 January 1995 followed by yet major earthquake on 11 March 2011 which triggered a massive tsunami. All these natural disasters cost thousands of precious lives and properties worth colossal amounts.
Similarly, Nepal has had experienced major earthquakes since 1255 A.D. when even a sitting king died. Great earthquake of 1934 and recent earthquakes of 25 April and 12 May 2015 have opened our eyes that our region, too, is a earthquake- prone zone.
No one can prevent such natural disaster like earthquake from occuring. But preventive measures can save precious lives. During these earthquakes, the government and people of Nepal extended cooperation to Japan even in a small way. Amounts do not necessarily count during such tragedies but sincere cooperation complemented by warmth count much. State Foreign Minister Kiuchi publicly acknowledged the cooperation received from Nepalese nationals living in Japan during the 11 March 2011 earthquake. Similarly, Japan dispatched medical teams and extended other necessary assistance soon after earthquakes hit Nepal.Principal human values like to know the pains brought by the disasters and to extend a helping hand to soothe such pains have bound both peoples even closer.
As Japan has also shown keen interest in the peace process of Nepal and extended help in various ways, our bilateral relations are unfolding in a much dignified and multi-dimensional ways and we can expect that such vistas of cooperation will be promoted further in coming days.
(Mr. Shrestha is a Nepal’s former Ambassador to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. Earlier he served in Japan as Charge d’affaires in Nepal Embassy in Tokyo).