The Japan Chronicler: Sandeep Goyal on his love affair with Japan

Tell us about your love affair with Japan. When did it start?

The love affair got ignited exactly 25 years ago when I first visited Japan in 1994. I was working for the ad agency Rediffusion then. Dentsu, the world’s largest ad agency, was one of Rediffusion’s equity partners and we were looking at opportunities with Japanese brands.

Fumio Oshima, the then global head of Dentsu business overseas, invited me to Japan to study the country, its culture, and its business orientation.

And it was love at first sight! I loved everything about Japan. Unlike the general impression that the Japanese are very opaque and inert, I found them extremely friendly and trusting.

I loved Japanese food. I loved the ‘kawai’ culture where an entire market is driven by cute innovations and fads. Japan looked and felt so very different from anywhere I had been before.

The cherry blossoms in full bloom were a heavenly sight. The Mount Fuji I could see from different perspectives and angles across Tokyo was mesmerising. I just fell in love!

The Japan Chronicler: Sandeep Goyal on his love affair with Japan

As a country, Japan had fascinated me for what they had achieved in 50 short years after the World War II. Anywhere I went the indomitable and indefatigable spirit of Japan was visible.

This first visit got me bitten by the Japanese bug. I have now been to Japan perhaps a 100 times; every visit is a new discovery and a continuation of the love affair with Japan.

What is that one aspect of the Japanese that inspires you? And another that you would like to see changed?

The Japanese are the most focused, disciplined and hard working race on this planet. More importantly, they do this with a heightened sense of teamwork and loyalty.

As a result, a small island nation has literally been able to move mountains. It is this aspect of Japanese life and culture that inspires me the most. This credo of one-for-all and all-for-one, this never-say-die spirit has made the Japanese rebuild their country into one of the most successful and enduring economies of the world.

If there is something that I would like Japan to change, it is the inward looking philosophy where the island mentality gets them to be inert and aloof, trying to restrict if not block the flow of ideas to and from Japan.

It is also this perceived inertness of the Japanese that gives everyone the impression that they are opaque and non-communicative. If the Japanese can be more open to outsiders, it will be mutually beneficial.

You are primarily an ad person but have worn many hats including that of a writer. Which do you like the most? And which is the most difficult?

I have loved being a client servicing person though the most difficult task in the agency business is the managing of expectations: client expectations, expectations of the creative team, expectations from the brand, consumer expectations...

There are no real benchmarks, yet everyone knows when expectations have not been met. It is all very subjective, very touchy-feely. So, one is always on one’s toes.

Is the timing of this book release ahead of the Tokyo Olympics strategic or a coincidence?

I have been working on the book for eight years now. It is kind of fortuitous, and somewhat fortunate, that I finished the book when I did. The timing just seems right! The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 is sure to generate a lot of interest in India, and worldwide.

As it is, tourist traffic from India to Japan is on the upswing. You can see lots more Japanese restaurants everywhere in big cities. They are even serving ‘sushi’ at Indian weddings! Japan was never as mainstream as it is today.

When are you going to release your first novel?

My first novel, The Witches of Worli, should be out in 2020; I need another three months to complete it. The novel will be to media and broadcasting what Alex Hailey’s Hotel was to the hospitality industry or Moneychangers was to banking...an insider’s view of what actually happens in that world, with a narrative that is gripping and real.

Goyal’s advice to Indians travelling to Japan

Be open-minded: Don’t carry preconceived biases with you. It is untrue that ‘vegetarian food is difficult to get in Japan’. There is abundant choice and if you somehow don’t like the local preparations, there is enough and more Indian food available in most cities.

Japan is a mix of the traditional and the modern: While a visit to a shrine is always a peaceful experience (and there are many beautiful places of God to visit), a visit to Mega Web, the Toyota theme park is a wonder of automobile engineering. In Japan, enjoy both.

Japan is expensive: But there are good and effective ways on how to get about without spending too much. For example, don’t even try to take a taxi from Narita airport to Tokyo city. It is very, very expensive. But the ‘Limouzine’ bus from the airport will drop you to your hotel at 10% of what a cab costs.

Experience in Japan what you will not get to see anywhere else in the world: A sumo wrestling match; a kabuki-za performance; the traditional tea ceremony.

Do take a trip on the Bullet Train. Do go visit the hot springs in Hakone. If you are physically fit, trek up Mt. Fuji. Japan has much to offer.

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