“Nepal And Japan Share A Lot”

Having served as a Nepalese ambassador to Japan for six years, KEDAR BHAKTA MATHEMA, knows Japan more than many others do. During his tenure, Mathema was able to organize three important high level visits, including the visit by Japanese Prime Minister Mori, Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and then royalties of Nepal. As Nepal and Japan are celebrating sixty years of establishment of their bilateral relations, Mathema spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on various issues related to Nepal-Japan relations:

Issue Name : Vol 10.No.3, September 02,2016 (Bhadra 17, 2073)
“Nepal And Japan Share A Lot”

Kedar Bhakta Mathema

As a former Nepalese ambassador to Japan, how do you look at Nepal-Japan relations at present?

Nepal-Japan relations have always been good and cordial since the establishment of their diplomatic relations in 1956. Nepal-Japan relations operate at three levels: political, bureaucratic and people-to-people. The people-to-people relations are exemplary as Japanese are attracted by the beauty of Nepal and once they visit Nepal, they fall in love with it and Nepali people. Then they think they have to do something for Nepal. They start NGOs to support Nepal. I would say that there are more Japanese NGOs working in Nepal than any other country of the world. Of course, some of them are big and some of them are small. This indicates the level of Japanese people’s involvement in Nepal. In this way, Nepal-Japan relations are unique.

How do you remember your tenure as an ambassador to Nepal to Japan?

Honestly speaking, that was the greatest period in my life. Exchange of visits by high level dignitaries is one of the parameters to measure how close the relations existed between the two countries. During my tenure as the ambassador, I was fortunate to see exchanges of visits of parliament delegations of lower house of Japan to Nepal and Nepal to Japan, and parliamentarians of upper house from both the countries. There was a visit of Royalties. There was also a first official visit of Nepalese prime minister to Japan and the first ever official visit of Japanese prime minister to Nepal. These were  major achievements. One of the strengths was democracy, which was recently restored and Japanese people, particularly government of Japan and Japanese political leaders had shown a great interest on political developments in Nepal. Japanese were eager to support Nepal’s young democracy.

How did the Japanese perceive Nepal?

What one of the greatest outdoor photographers of the world Yoshikazu Shirakawa said in his book The King of Himalayas in 1971 is a reflection of Japanese people towards Nepal and Nepali. He writes, “Himalayas extend from Nepal to India, Pakistan, Tibet to Bhutan and he had covered the mountain Himalayas peak from all the South Asian countries. If I had opportunity to travel the Himalayas again, I would go only to Nepal and I would not take a camera and I would call all Sherpa porters, who worked with me to go with me for trekking. If they know that I am coming to Kathmandu, they will come to airport to greet me. They would be wearing same shoes.” This is the warmth and love for Nepal what I found among all the Japanese.

Why do Japanese love Nepal?

Many Japanese have told me that when they visit Nepal as it would remind them of the old days of Japan. Some said visiting Nepal reminded them of their home town. Going back to Nepal for them is going back and travelling to old days of Japan. Japanese see there are so many similarities between people of Japan and Nepal. So, they have a great affection and love for Nepal and Nepalese culture. As I told you earlier, when they first visit Nepal, its lovely mountains attract them. Once Japanese come to visit, they fall in love with people and culture and come back again and again. I have met people who said they visited Nepal forty or fifty times and their quest to visit Nepal continues. Japanese have a great and great love for Nepalese people for the hard work Nepalese have been doing. They still believe that Nepalese are honest. Japanese have great fondness for people of Nepal.

Since Japan has been supporting economic and social development of Nepal, how do you look at the Japanese support to Nepal?

I am no more up-to-date about the economic assistance, but Japan used to be the largest bilateral development partner of Nepal. You name the sector, Japan is there. The areas include forestry, education, health, road, hydropower, drinking water, agriculture, irrigation, soil conservation, disaster, earthquake and aviation. They are everywhere. Japan has been a consistent supporter for Nepal’s development. Japanese aid projects are usually completed in time. Japanese also bring new technologies in Japanese assistance programs.

How are the Japanese projects?

What I can say is that Japanese projects have done a lot of good things for Nepal. Look at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital. It has been producing the best quality doctors and medical staff for Nepal. The Banepa-Sindhuli road, which was recently completed by Japan, has been doing quite a good job. One of the criticisms I have with Japanese support is that they have been doing little in changing the school system. In education, they have been supplying materials for school construction and funds for renovation. It is not enough. Japanese school system is quite good. If they could introduce some kinds of a curriculum change and method of teaching, teacher training, operating classrooms, such support would be greatly appreciated.

What are the similarities between Nepal and Japan?

Both are mountainous countries. They consider themselves as mountain people. Our culture is very close, particularly Newari and Japanese. Even some of the words are very similar. Nepal shares culture, people and religion with Japan. Great many Japanese follow Buddhism and they also know that Nepal is a land of Gautam Buddha. They have a special respect for Nepal. Japanese have also been  enchanted by the culture. Japan is technically a very highly developed country and they have lost so many of their cultural mysteries. This is the thing they like to see in Nepal. It is not the regular tourists, mountaineers or photographers, even film stars and television stars come here regularly to explore the mysteries in Nepal.

As Nepal and Japan have maintained a very smooth relationship in the last sixty years, what do you suggest for the coming decades?

I think there is the need to have frequent exchanges of visits between the two countries. In the last few years, Nepal has been too engrossed with India and China. It is good since India and China are very important as our neighbors and friendly countries. Our priority should go there. However, having said this, we cannot ignore the importance of a country like Japan which has been a great donor for Nepal and Japan has been a supporter for Nepal in many international arena and platforms. Long time back, when I was with the World Bank, Japan always used to come to assist Nepalese whenever Nepal was in trouble in holding the aid group meeting. Japan has always consistently helped Nepal. For example, if there is a shortage of fund, Japan would come to help meet it. There ought to be more exchanges of visits at political level, bureaucratic level and also at the people-to-people level. Melamchi, for example, is a project which was rescued by Japan at the last minute. Even during the recent earthquake, you could see how Japan came to support us.

How do you see the current state of relations?

Nepal is the fifth largest country to send the students. Great numbers of Nepalese students are going to Japan for study. In this context, Japan is very important for us. I would like to stress that we need to promote more frequent visits and have more discussions.

How was it when were you in Japan?

I spent almost six years in Japan from 1996 October to 2003 February. It was a busy time.

How deep are our social relations with Japan?

Because of similarities in culture, Japanese men and women tend to like Nepalese like they do each other.  We have sister city relations like Matsumoto and Kathmandu, we also have several sister villages in Nepal and Japan. Lomanthang of Mustang is one of them. I would say the similarities in language and culture also bring us closer.  Even our language is similar in terms of grammatical structure. Like subject-object-verb and even preposition follows the same way in Nepali language as in Japanese. This is the reason Japanese language is very easy for Nepalese to learn. I have come across many Nepalese students who speak fluent Japanese. Because of the strength of language, they have developed high quality contact in Japan, including Mayors, governors and presidents of university. Because of the presence of Nepalese students in various places, I used to be invited to all kinds of places. We do have similar world views.

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