If one proceeds in a north-easterly direction from north-east India, beyond the vastness of Tibet and the mainland of China, one will eventually reach the Yellow Sea. Beyond this lies the Korean peninsula, and still further away, off the continent of Asia, the island at its edge: Japan. This is a country that has a unique place in the history of Asia and the world. It is relatively small in territorial terms, by the standards of Asia, but it has for over a hundred years now managed to punch above its weight, for good and for ill.

Japan’s first engagement with northeast India happened, as most people remember, during World War II, when a Japanese army accompanied by the Indian National Army led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose fought the battles of Ko- hima and Imphal against the Allied forces and the British Indian army. They were eventually defeated in those battles, and in the war that ended with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima specifically targeted a bridge over the river Aioi called the AioiHashi. The entire city center was destroyed, and its inhabitants killed, either instantly, or slowly and painfully in subsequent years due to cancer. Remarkably, such was the quality of construction that the AioiHashi itself survived the atom bomb and remained in service till 1983 when it was replaced with a new structure.

There is much that India, and its northeastern states, can learn from Japan. Quality of work, especially public construction work, is definitely one. Their country is largely hilly and mountainous, prone to devastating earthquakes and typhoons, but that has not prevented them from building some of the finest infrastructures in Asia and the world. They were totally decimated by World War II but by 1960, only 15 years after the destruction, the country was booming economically. In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Olympics, becoming the first Asian country to have the honor.

Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics again in 2020, and the Paralympics too. The country suffers from an ageing population and a shortage of workers in many spheres. It is opening up to the idea of hiring workers from abroad. Only this month, November 2018, the government there proposed a loosening of visa regulations to enable foreign workers to move there.

There will be opportunities for Indians, and especially for Indians from India’s east and northeast who share certain historical and cultural connections, to engage with that country. The Olympics may be a good time to visit that country, and perhaps even to become a volunteer for the Games. The organizers are currently recruiting 80,000 volunteers from around the world. Being involved, even in a small way, in helping organize the Olympics is something that might be worth doing.

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