Japan plans to set up 11 industrial townships in India as part of plans to double its investments in the country and improve economic ties. As Japanese PM Shinzo Abe visits India, a 12th township may be in the offing. Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury finds out how Japanese expatriates working at a township near Delhi are adjusting to life in India.
Along the Delhi-Jaipur highway, a short drive from the town of Neemrana that’s famous for its picturesque, 15th century hill fort, lies the Japanese Industrial Zone. It’s a bit of an oddity in the desert-state that’s known for its palaces, forts and havelis.
There are more than 30 Japanese enterprises in this zone, which has been developed by the Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation. The Neemrana model could be replicated in the at least 11 industrial townships that Tokyo plans to build in the country to widen its economic footprint in India, a key strategic partner.
Located about two hours away from New Delhi, the Japanese zone is just off the highway, housing enterprises including Toyota, Unicharm and Sanjo. The development of the Japanese zone has triggered a real estate boom in this once-sleepy town.
While efforts have been made to cater to the needs of the Japanese in the township by providing facilities from food to schooling, many professionals who serve here for tenures ranging from a few months to a year may not always find it easy. Some live in apartments that have been set up in the zone while others opt to stay in the few Japanese-style hotels that have come up in the area, where they can get their preferred food.
Komachi is one such hotel located in a quiet corner of the zone near the highway. Built two years ago, Komachi has a Japanese restaurant with a liquor licence and offers a Japanese-style jacuzzi and in-room cooking facilities. The hotel has recruited local residents to run the establishment. Until a few months ago, the restaurant even boasted of a Japanese chef who has now been replaced by a local chef who knows how to prepare Japanese food from sushi to tempura.
Yet, the Japanese living in Neemrana do miss some things. Beef, an integral part of their diet, isn’t offered in any of the hotels in the zone. With cow slaughter banned in Rajasthan, beef is not available in the state. “There is no doubt that no food for any Japanese national is complete without beef,” said Miky Kanazawa, who runs a consulting firm for expatriates in such industrial zones. The Japanese have to make do with alternatives such as pork, mutton, chicken and lamb.
It is the lack of recreation and the local work culture in the factories that put the visiting Japanese professionals in a spot. There is a cultural gap between the Japanese and their local colleagues in certain pockets of the country. “This becomes an issue in workplaces as well,” said Kanazawa, who is of Japanese-Indian parentage.
“For minimum recreation of modern city life, these Japanese nationals have to travel all the way to the malls of Gurgaon by driving for an hour or more. This is definitely a challenge for professionals getting posted in a zone like Neemrana,” he said.
Another facet of life that’s missing in Neemrana is the karaoke bars, which are a common form of musical entertainment at dinners and parties in Japan.
Pradeeep Chowdhury, one of the managers at Komachi, said every effort is made to make the visiting Japanese feel at home. “We in the staff know basic Japanese and this is good to handle the nationals from Japan.
We also use sign language. The Japanese nationals generally keep to themselves, sometimes even cooking their food in their rooms,” noted Chowdhury.
Still, Japan is seeking another industrial zone near Neemrana and the Rajasthan government could allot 500 acres at Ghilot, which is about 10 km from Neemrana.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is firming up its promise to help build India’s infrastructure and promote domestic manufacturing. Japan has identified 11 sites to set up industrial townships in India, including Tumkur in Karnataka, Ghilot, Mandal in Gujarat and Supa in Maharashtra. Japan aims to double its investment in India to about $35 billion in the next five years, strengthening bilateral economic ties.
The Modi government plans to give concessions to Japanese companies in the industrial townships, equivalent to at least what is offered to units in special economic zones.
Japan is the fourth-biggest foreign investor in India, contributing 7 per cent to the total foreign investment inflows since April 2000. Japan will extend its industrial township advance soft-skills development project to impart training to workers in the manufacturing sector.