India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu has long been characterised by its mountains, its proximity to the Indian Ocean, and the many Hindu temples which dot the southernmost part of the Indian subcontinent. But another distinguishing force is coming into play. Over the last two decades, an influx of Japanese expatriates has slowly coloured the area’s culture and landscape.
The largest Japanese community in India rests within the city. Chennai is home to over 50 Japanese and Korean restaurants, all of whom report immense popularity. Take Dahlia, the oldest Japanese restaurant in Chennai. The branch’s expansive success has led to other Japanese companies looking at the city to start their own food chains. The clients themselves are a mix of Japanese and Indian eaters, all of whom have an affinity for the sushi Dahlia has offered for over 25 years. It is just one of the ways in which this city has been shaped by Japan—a phenomenon which continues to grow as the country plans to increase its investments in the region.
According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the relationship between the two regions can be traced back to the early 1990s, when India first opened its market to global companies. Japanese firms such as Mitsubishi Motors, Maruti Suzuki and Toyota Motor Corporation were quick to jump at the opportunity to establish themselves across the Indian subcontinent. This is particularly applicable to Tamil Nadu, now one of the world’s top ten car manufacturing locales.
The South Indian state is now home to over a fifth of the 1,000 Japanese businesses dotted across India. This is partly because Chennai is the second-largest port in the country and its Ennore neighborhood, situated on a peninsula, was developed specifically for Japanese businesses and exports to flourish in. The relationship shared between the neighborhood and Japan has been critical for Japanese investors, who are now diversifying their interests in Tamil Nadu, across a number of sectors such as shipping ports, airlines, or industrial parks.
Furthering Japan’s presence in the region is their plan to develop three industrial parks in Tamil Nadu. Japanese firms are currently working on the project, with dozens of companies looking to set themselves up in these parks.
K.V. Kesavan, an expert on Japanese studies, told SCMP that there is “tremendous public interest in Tamil Nadu, when it comes to Japan, unlike other Indian states.
Across Southern India, 6,300 people took the Japanese Language Proficiency test in 2018. If they are successful, the test could become a ticket to Japanese academic and professional opportunities.
To a lesser extent, Japan, too, has felt South India’s influence. Some of its films have become such a craze in the country that they have been played at cinemas for entire years. Now, film star Rajinikanth’s movies are periodically shown across movie halls in Japan.
A deeper cultural exchange could just be around the corner for these two regions. Especially as tourism between Chennai and Japan is projected to experience a boost in the coming years. All Nippon Airways, Japan’s largest airline, will have daily direct flights between Chennai and Japan, beginning in October.