Working Paper, #06, June 2023                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Centre for East Asian Studies

Cultural Resurgence In 21st Century: Strengthening Japan-India Relations

Josna Shibu Mathew

The Evolution of Japan-India Cultural Ties

The bilateral relationship between Japan and India is multifaceted and deeply rooted in cultural, economic, and political ties. It is crucial to understand the role of culture in a country's development and its impact on establishing ties between states. According to Joseph Nye, soft power has three pillars: foreign policy, culture, and political values. Culture, in particular, has been effectively employed to foster connections between countries, thus serving as a currency of soft power (Nye, J.S. 2017). The relationship between Japan and India, firmly rooted in cultural aspects such as religion, education, art, architecture, pop culture, cuisine, and cinema, has provided a strong foundation for their ties. The growth and development of these cultural aspects in the 21st century will play a significant role in shaping and strengthening the overall relationship between the two countries. Recognizing this, examining and understanding the evolving nature of these cultural aspects and their impact on the Japan-India relationship in the contemporary era becomes essential.

The historical connection between Japan and India can be traced back to the 6th century AD when Buddhism was introduced in Japan via Korea and later reinforced by the visit of Bodhisena in 736 AD. Although direct exchanges between the two countries began during the Meiji era, the relationship has been influenced by several factors, including mutual admiration and a shared vision of pan-Asianism. However, the development of their relationship encountered a challenge when India's nuclear program strained ties with Japan in 1998. Nevertheless, the relationship has gradually improved and strengthened through subsequent high-level visits and collaborative endeavors.

Keywords: Japan, India, Cultural ties, India-Japan Relations, Cool Japan 

Bonhomies: Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi

Despite occasional disagreements and stand-offs, Japan and India have managed to navigate their relationship and forge a path together. The tenure of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played a significant role in elevating the relationship between the two countries. During Abe's term, cultural relations, which had previously slowed down, were revived by signing the 'Joint Statement Towards Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership' in 2007 alongside Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Abe deeply admired the Indian Subcontinent, and India, in turn, maintained strong ties with Japan, particularly in areas such as science, technology, and strategic partnership. Both countries collaborated in organizing various cultural events over the past few decades, fostering stronger relations and reviving sentiments among their respective populations. Japan has become home to a significant number of Indians, while India has provided a welcoming environment for Japanese businesses to operate in its markets. On the international stage, Japan and India have engaged in numerous exchange programs and frequently organized cultural festivals to promote each other's values, customs, and traditions. The momentum in their relationship, which began in 2007 during Manmohan Singh's tenure, has been further advanced under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ever since the implementation of the Act East Policy, the bilateral ties between Japan and India have deepened. The shared values and historical connections have contributed to the strengthening of their relationship, transcending geographical boundaries. Notably, figures like Rabindranath Tagore, a renowned poet and philosopher, and Rash Behari Bose, a prominent revolutionary leader, have left indelible imprints on the collective consciousness of both countries.


In the 21st century, Japan and India find themselves driven by a shared sense of interest, largely influenced by the rise of China in the Asian continent and the increased presence of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. Both countries, recognizing the shifting dynamics and geopolitical landscape, realize the importance of collaborating to build a strong cover for the Indo-Pacific region, leveraging their relatively secure positions in global politics. Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, in his book Towards a beautiful country: My Vision for Japan (2007), wrote that "it’ll not be a surprise if in another decade Japan-India relations overtake Japan-US or Japan-China ties.The relationship between Japan and India, originating from religious affinities, has evolved and diversified across various spheres of society. However, at its core, the enduring bond between Japan and India is built upon a solid foundation of cultural similarity. Since the 1950s, the two countries have consistently fostered and strengthened their ties, actively pursuing avenues for further collaboration and mutual progress.

Unveiling the Multifaceted Japan-India Cultural Partnership

'Train in India' by Ganga Devi

Mithila Museum, Oike Tokamachi Japan 

Tsukiji Honganji Remple, Tokyo, Japan

Shared Heritage to Educational Bonds

The earliest connection between Japan and India is through religious resemblance. Buddhism has undeniably played a pivotal role in bringing Japan and India closer. The significance of Indian culture has not gone unnoticed. Prime Minister Modi has played a great role as an economic modernizer who sees heritage, tradition, and faith as important aspects of his political persona and conception of India (Malik, 2020). During his visit to Japan in 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent the weekend by visiting the Toji Temple. This shared religious heritage has woven a powerful thread between Japan and India, contributing to the depth and strength of their relationship. Religious visits by Japanese individuals to India, primarily for Buddhist pilgrimages, have been common. Scholars such as Teitaro Suzuki and Hajime Nakamura, among many others, have been drawn to India to delve into its rich culture, traditions, and profound teachings of Buddhism in South Asia. These scholarly exchanges often result in acquiring books, relics, and artifacts related to Buddhism, further solidifying the connection between the two countries.

The earliest visits to Japan were inspired by Japan’s emphasis on moral education, social values, and practical training, subsequently influencing India’s education policy. Simultaneously, India’s rich tradition of ancient knowledge systems, such as Ayurveda and Yoga, has recently gained popularity in Japan (PTI, 2018). Japan has shown a keen interest in learning Indian languages, particularly Sanskrit, further deepening the cultural exchange between the two countries. The educational relations between Japan and India continue to show promise as both countries actively work towards strengthening their ties. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions temporarily disrupted international mobility, the trajectory of educational relations between Japan and India remained positive. In 2022, about 1457 students were pursuing their education in Japan (Asia Community News, 2022). 

Artistic and Architectural Influences

Japan takes pride in having more than 40 museums dedicated to art exhibitions, showcasing its commitment to preserving and appreciating artwork. Of the 40 museums, Japan has dedicated three to housing Indian art collections and Madhubani-styled artworks. These museums, such as the Mithila Museum and Glenbarra Art Museum, serve as platforms for preserving and promoting diverse Indian artworks by various artists in Japan. Japanese art forms like Kabuki and Noh theatre have been influenced by Indian classical dance and drama, showcasing the cross-cultural exchange between the two countries. Similarly, Indian pottery and ceramics have been influenced by the Japanese art of pottery, leading to the development of new techniques and styles in Indian ceramic art. This mutual artistic exchange showcases the interplay and inspiration between the two cultures, enriching the artistic landscapes of both Japan and India. 

Indian temple architecture has had a profound influence on the construction of numerous Buddhist temples in Japan. One notable example is the Tsukiji Honganji Temple, where the influence of Hindu architecture is evident from its striking exterior (Manish, 2015). The intricate details and grandeur of Indian temple architecture have left a lasting impression on Japanese temple construction. Conversely, Japanese architecture's emphasis on clean lines and simplicity has also impacted Indian architects in more contemporary times. 

Elements such as shoji screens, tatami flooring, verandas, and the use of wood and bamboo have found their way into Indian architectural designs, taking into consideration the climatic conditions and practicality. The exchange of architectural influences results in a fascinating blend of cultural aesthetics. Furthermore, Japan actively supports the preservation of heritage sites in Asian countries through initiatives like the 'Cultural Grant Assistance'. Under this scheme, Japan provides financial assistance for conserving and restoring culturally significant sites, contributing to the preservation of shared heritage in the region. In India, the grant has been invoked for the restoration and conservation of Buddhist monuments in Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh. The grant assistance has been extended to support exhibitions and traditional performing arts events. 

Bollywood to J-Pop

Bollywood films have significantly impacted Japan since the 1950s and 1960s, characterized by their vibrant song and dance sequences and melodramatic storylines. Several Indian films, such as Muthu, RRR, Om Shanti Om, and Bahubali have enjoyed success at the Japanese box office, becoming popular among Japanese audiences. The film industry has faced setbacks due to the pandemic, limiting opportunities for collaboration, but the desire to further strengthen the ties between Bollywood and Japanese cinema persists. In recent times, Indian culture has experienced a significant influence from Japanese popular culture, surpassing that of other Asian countries. J-Pop has found a notable place within Indian society, particularly among the younger generation. Elements such as anime, manga, and series have become part of the "Cool Japan" strategy, transcending borders and gaining popularity. The growing interest in Japanese popular culture has led to an increase in tours and visits between the two countries, with many individuals eager to explore Japan's animation industry and learn more about its vibrant pop culture scene. Japanese companies recognize the potential of the Indian market for anime and manga businesses and have shown enthusiasm for expanding their presence in India (Pandey, 2023). 

Fusion of Flavors

What could be better than food that brings people together? Indeed, Japan and India enjoy their culinary preferences. There are notable connections between Japanese cuisine and the cuisine of Northeast India, such as the use of noodles, rice, and spices. This overlap in ingredients and flavors contributes to a harmonious blend of culinary traditions. Sushi, in particular, has gained popularity in India, becoming a symbol of prestige and cultural appreciation. Many Japanese restaurants have been established in various cities across India, offering top-notch dining experiences for enthusiasts. The age of these establishments does not hinder their popularity, as the love for Japanese cuisine continues to grow among Indian people. Conversely, Japan boasts over 2000 restaurants dedicated solely to serving Indian food. Curry originating in India and acquiring its distinct flavors through its journey via Europe, earned the status of national food. It has become a favorite among kids, appearing in school lunches. Thus, curry has cemented its position as the quintessential spicy dish for those who relish the heat and zest of flavored food.


People-to-people connection plays a vital role in strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries. With a significant number of expatriates residing in a particular country, it becomes imperative to address their well-being, thereby fostering closer ties between the two countries. This is particularly relevant in the cases of Japan and India, where a substantial expatriate community exists. 

Indians are spread across the Japanese prefectures, with the highest in Tokyo (14,157), followed by Kanagawa (6,449). The population of Indians in Japan constitutes about 1.34 percent of the total foreign population in Japan. In contrast, the Japanese population in India is primarily concentrated in cities such as Chennai, Bangalore, Calcutta, and some areas of Bhopal. Discussions are held to improve the lives of these expats, ensuring their security and welfare. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan for the G7 meeting in May 2023, he received a warm welcome from the elated Indians in Hiroshima, as they expressed their deep gratitude to the Indian government for ensuring comfort in a foreign land (Midday India, 2023). The needs and requirements of the people cannot be overlooked, necessitating frequent meetings to discuss various initiatives and collaborations. It is noteworthy that both leaders extend a warm welcome to each other and provide mutual support on the international stage. Japan and India have witnessed a series of events in collaboration and opposition. Today the leaders of both countries converge on a unified platform to engage in negotiation and form bilateral ties. This enduring relationship has consistently proven to be mutually beneficial for Japan and India. 

Have you ever pondered over the question of influence? Who influences whom more? While India draws deep admiration from Japanese pop culture and cuisine, the Japanese, in turn, find themselves influenced by aspects such as religion, art, and architecture. This has fostered a well-balanced relationship of reciprocal influence. Currently what brings the two countries closer is the growing number of expatriates and increasing affinity for Japanese cuisine and anime in particular. With significant expatriate presence, institutions such as the Japan Foundation, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Japan India Friendship Association must intensify their efforts. Both countries have recognized the importance of leveraging their soft powers to achieve common objectives.


Culture as a Catalyst to Strengthen Bilateral Ties

India's interest in strengthening its ties with East Asian countries, particularly Japan, has been evident during Narendra Modi’s tenure as the Prime Minister of India. During his election campaign, Modi pledged to enhance India's foreign relations, leading to the introduction of the Act East policy. This policy aimed at revitalizing the ties with East Asian countries and injecting new energy into the partnerships. Among the four C’s that determine the aims of Act East policy is Culture. Culture has therefore emerged as an inevitable tool for fostering and maintaining the bond between the two countries. The recognition of the importance of soft power has grown over the past two decades, with countries realizing that a combination of hard power and soft power, referred to as smart power, is essential for progress and influence on the global stage. While economic and strategic partnerships have gained prominence, the cultural aspects continue to serve as a strong adhesive in the Japan-India relationship. The Prime Ministers of both countries, renewed the Memorandum of Cooperation related to the Japanese language and exchanged notes regarding a USD 300 billion loan to build the Japanese ‘Shinkansen technology’ i.e., the bullet train facility from Mumbai to Ahmedabad on 20 March 2023 (ANI News, 2023). The younger generations have developed a strong affinity towards Japan, primarily influenced by their engagement with the Cool Japan initiative, extensive anime consumption, and the resulting familiarity with the country’s cultural origins. These cultural ties have played a pivotal role in keeping the countries connected, despite the shifting dynamics in their economic and strategic cooperation. The partnership between the two countries has emerged as one of the foremost relationships in the Indo-Pacific region, as affirmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a ‘Natural partnership’. It is characterized by a strong commitment from both sides to nurture and deepen their ties (Indian Express, 2022). The invisible threads that bind Japan and India have formed a resilient base, ensuring the continuity and growth of their relationship in the years to come.

It is anticipated that Japan and India will have a multifaceted and progressive future together as they increase their mutual support while maintaining their cultural ties. Recognizing their significant position in the Indo-Pacific region has highlighted their role amidst the subtle power struggle of economic giants like China and the US. Both Japan and India have acknowledged their long-established connections and intend to leverage them to shape future global politics. The cultural bond between the two countries will hold a distinct advantage, as it is inherently robust than any negotiated bilateral ties driven solely by strategic benefits. This natural affinity will act as a powerful link, allowing the utilization of cultural similarity as a form of soft power in strengthening their relationship.


Admin. (2021, July 5). Japanese Culture and Government: How Culture Influences Politics, Governance, and Priorities. The Yale Review of International Studies.


Ashok Malik. (2023, May 23). The India that made Modi.

Asian Community News. (2022, November 19). Japan with one of world’s best education eco-systems calling Indian students to study, shape their careers.

Bhasin, J. (2019). Difference Between Indian & Japanese Education System. DU EXPRESS.

Borah, R. (2011). Japan and India: natural but wary allies. New Zealand International Review, 36(4), 23–28. 

Channagiri, P. (2019, June 17). Japanese learners have wealth of opportunities. The Times of India.

Crossley-Baxter, L. (2022, February 28). Japan’s unusual way to view the world. BBC Travel.

Cultural Grant Assistance. (n.d.). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Desai, S. (2021, March 18). 5 ways you can incorporate Japanese architectural elements in Indian architecture. The Times of India.


Embassy of India Tokyo, Japan. (n.d.-a).


Embassy of India Tokyo, Japan. (n.d.-b).

Guha, R. (2019, December 29). Tracing Japan’s engagement with modern India. Hindustan Times.


Huq, S. (2019). Soft-power, culturalism and developing economies: the case of Global Ibsen. Palgrave Communications, 5(1).


ANI News. (2023, March 20). India, Japan sign 2 documents on cooperation on Japanese language and bullet train.

 Indian population in Japan & Top 20 Nationalities in Japan – Dec 2019 – IndoJapanPulse. (n.d.).


Japanese investments in India - Overview & Opportunities. (2023, May 1). Invest India.

Japan-India Relations (Basic Data). (2023, May 15). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Japan-India Summit Meeting. (2023, March 20). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

JENESYS Programme. (2021, January 22). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Kathryn Hill. (2012). Religious nationalism in India and Japan

Lentin, S. (2019, March). Imperial Japan’s trade with Bombay. Gateway House Indian Council on Global Relations.

Livemint. (2016, November 14). India, Japan and a new regional architecture. Mint.


Loreng, A. C. (2023, March 21). India-Japan and their deep Buddhist connect. TimesNow.


Manish. (2015, March 20). Discover India in Japan : Tsukiji Honganji. Indian architecture in a Japanese temple. Experience Tokyo - Travel, Discover and Explore.


Mathur, A. (2012). Setting the stage: India and Japan history. In India-Japan Relations: Drivers, Trends and Prospects. (pp. 1–15). S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Mazumdar, M. (2022, November 3). All Indians Should Visit This Museum in Japan!

Michel. (2019, January 19). The artistic and cultural links between India and Japan (to 1890-1940) - Society of Friends of the Cernuschi Museum. Société Des Amis Du Musée Cernuschi.

Midday India. (2023, May 20). G7 Summit: PM Modi Lands In Japan For Meet, Indian Diaspora Welcome Him With Huge Excitement [Video]. YouTube.

Pillalamarri, A. (2014, August 29). Japanese Cultural Influence Grows in India. The Diplomat.

Press Information Bureau. (2022, March 19).

Program J. I. E. P. (n.d.-a). MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) Scholarship Seminar.|Japan India Exchange Platform Program.

PTI. (2018, October 29). India and Japan for the first time to cooperate in Yoga, Ayurveda. The Economic Times.

Rajesh Williams, (2021, June). Indian films:Strengthening cultural ties between India and Japan

Roychowdhury, A. (2023, January 28). The forgotten story of Calcutta’s once thriving Japanese community. The Indian Express.

Shah, G. R. (2020, August 31). Japanese collector Masanori Fukuoka on the auction of works from the Glenbarra Art Museum.

Shankar, K. (2022, December 22). About Time Japanese Street Food Gets The Recognition It Deserves: Chef Asami Indo.

Suzuka Nishiyama. (n.d). A comparison of education in India and Japan with particular emphasis on how financial means can affect access to education and an examination of the disparity between rural and urban schools.


Tatsumi, Y. (Ed.). (2015). Japan-India Relations: Toward a Special Strategic Partnership. In JAPAN’S Global Diplomacy: Views from the Next Generation (pp. 33–41). Stimson Center.

Underthepeepal. (2016, December 14). 5 Striking Similarities Between Indian and Japanese cultures. The Peepal.

Vivekananda Cultural Centre, Tokyo, Japan | Official website of Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Government of India. (n.d.).

Indian Express (2022, May 23). India-Japan ‘natural partners’, relationship of spirituality, cooperation: PM Modi in Tokyo. The Indian Express.

About the Author

Josna Shibu Mathew is a Research Affiliate at the Centre for East Asian Studies, Christ University, Bangalore. She is currently pursuing her Master's in International Studies, at Stella Maris College, Chennai. She has a strong interest in World History and International Relations, and specializes in bilateral ties between India and Japan. 

Working Paper, #06, June 2023                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Centre for East Asian Studies