Japan Honours Amitabh Kant, Celebrates India-Japan Relations

Amitabh Kant, India’s G20 Sherpa, was conferred The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, by the Government of Japan at an impressive and well attended event at their embassy in New Delhi.

The conferment was in recognition of a most successful year of G20 hosted by India, and for the success of the summit which witnessed a joint declaration, even including the mention of Ukraine, a success that was seen by many as a hurdle difficult to overcome. Kant was also singled by the Japanese Ambassador Suzuki, for his continued efforts to bridge economic and cultural ties between Japan and India.

As the chief guest for the evening, Minister Hardeep Puri, Cabinet Minister for Urban Development and Oil and Petroleum, recounted his long association with Kant, recalled his success as the poster boy for Indian tourism, from his days at Kerala Tourism to his days in the central Ministry of Tourism, where he created the Incredible India campaign. Counting the success of the G20 meetings, Puri recalled how it was PM Modi’s idea to spread the impact of the G20 deliberations across the country. On a lighter note, Puri said he was of the belief that the best was yet to come in Kant’s most successful career.

It would be in order to recall Kant’s successes not only in tourism but much more. In his tenure at Niti Aayog, the idea of 120 aspirational districts across the country gave an unprecedented boost to what is local, making them vocal. He was instrumental in the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Made in India’ campaigns, inspired by the PM’s vision for self-reliance and boosting manufacturing in India. The high point of this effort was the month long Make in India Expo in Hannover, which was inaugurated by PM Modi and the then German Chancellor. He had also been tasked by the Ministry of Urban Development to head a committee to suggest ways and means to get the distressed realty sector from deep debt, and suggest how customers did not suffer at the hands of unscrupulous builders.

In his acceptance speech, Amitabh Kant said “this moment holds profound significance not just for me, but for the enduring bond between our two great nations — rooted in shared values, shared history, and mutual respect” and “as someone who admires Japan, its people, their language, their culture, their great refinement, their technology, their infrastructure, I am deeply humbled to receive your country’s great civilian honour”.

He paid handsome tributes to the people, the work culture and the profound gravity in their thought and action, in a stirring invocation to all that Japan represents.

Highlights of his speech are shared below, a praise of all things Japanese!

I have come to deeply appreciate the profound influence Japan has had on me. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene gardens of Kyoto to the modern architecture and the hearty street food of Osaka, each moment has been a lesson in cultural appreciation.

In Japan, everything is done with intention – from the precise artistry of Japanese cuisine, to the way the architecture reflects harmony with nature, to the custom of adorning evergreen trees with flowers to invite the Gods, every action, aesthetic, and arrangement is carefully considered and is purposeful.

In my time spent travelling there, I saw young children riding the train alone because they knew their part in a greater collective. Thousands of daily commuters walking in silence, respecting each person’s right to peace, personal space, and privacy.

This deliberate approach to daily life highlights the profound sense of respect and consideration that permeates Japanese society, a notion that deeply moved me as a civil servant.

Witnessing such a strong civic sense among the Japanese people served as a poignant reminder of the importance of community-thinking and collective responsibility in creating a society that belonged to everyone.

In Japan, riding the Shinkansen felt like flying – from the window, you can see a perfectly framed Mt. Fuji – at once making you feel proud of the sheer ingenuity of human capability, just as you realise our smallness compared to nature.

Whether through the meticulous attention to detail in tea ceremonies or the stoic disciple of the Samurai, I have looked to Japan for invaluable guidance throughout my life – especially when the path ahead of me was riddled with distractions and disturbances. I have strived, all of my career, to create a culture of work that meets at the confluence of efficiency and effectiveness, and there has been no better place to look for wisdom and inspiration than the philosophies of the Land of the Rising Sun.

In everything that Japan does, they embody a meticulous attention to detail – no error is too small to go unnoticed, no challenge is a wasted opportunity, and nothing is ever “good enough,” because there is always room to learn, change, and grow.

I first learnt of Kaizen when I visited the Toyota factory as a young officer. It was about empowering people and being transparent. It was about continuous improvement by creating a team atmosphere and making a job inviting, fulfilling, less tiring and safer. It was human centric.

That is why nothing flusters the Japanese. Their dedication to continuous improvement is evident in every aspect of their work – from the layout of production floors to the training of employees. I observed how even the smallest details were meticulously analysed and optimised to enhance efficiency and quality. Workers were empowered to suggest improvements and participate in problem-solving initiatives, fostering a culture of engagement and ownership.

They were ready for anything, and when they weren’t, they had a quiet confidence that they eventually would figure it out.

And Japan has always figured it out. Throughout its history, Japan has faced numerous challenges, from earthquakes to nuclear and natural disasters to economic upheavals, yet time and again, it has emerged stronger and more resilient than ever before.

Following the devastation of World War II, the Japanese people rebuilt their nation from the ground up, transforming it into an economic powerhouse and a beacon of innovation and progress. I grew up on the Japanese brands – Sony, Sanyo, Nikon, Canon, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Toyota and Honda.

After 2011, following an unthinkable earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, Japan faced one of its greatest challenges in recent history. The devastation was unprecedented, and the road to recovery seemed daunting. Yet, Japan refused to be defeated. The resilience displayed in the aftermath of such a catastrophe serves as a powerful reminder of the indomitable spirit of the Japanese people. It is a testament to their ability to rise from the ashes, stronger and more united than ever before.

And just as Japan never gave up on its people, the people never gave up on Japan. Professor Donald Keene who had taught for more than 50 years at Columbia announced his decision at the age of 90 to become a Japanese citizen and live his last days in Japan. He said, “If any civilisation has constantly suffered tragedies and always bounced back, it is Japan. I want to live with these people. I want to die with these people”.

It is through the Japanese people that I have learnt of all the wonderful ways in which Japan celebrates the beauty of nature, the strength of the human spirit, and the art of hearing what is unspoken. I learnt how to listen to the cherry blossoms. How to be punctual from the high-speed train – every second mattered. How to value patience and precision through the art of sushi-making, and find harmony in the delicate notes of the koto. I learned that sumo wrestling is as much about maintaining a centre of balance as it is about strength—size might get you through the door, but only strategy will help close the deal.

In so many ways, Japan has been my lifelong teacher. Like India, Japan is a force that shapes the future by drawing lessons from the past – carrying its rich cultural traditions while embracing cutting-edge technologies of tomorrow.

Japan has created its own model of sustainable development: one that refuses to ape the West and carries its heritage and identity with pride.

The nation’s commitment to excellence in science, technology, and innovation has propelled it to the forefront of global leadership. From pioneering advancements in robotics to ground-breaking research in renewable energy, Japan’s contributions have had a profound impact on shaping the world we live in today.

Going forward, I believe collaborations between our great nations will hold the key to solving many of the world’s most pressing challenges.

The relationship between Japan and India is one built on a foundation of mutual respect and admiration—a relationship that dates back centuries and continues to thrive in the modern era.

The close friendship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and now with Prime Minister Kishida is a testament to the deepening ties between our two nations—a friendship that I have had the privilege of witnessing first-hand during Prime Minister Modi’s first visit to Japan.

Japan played a key and critical role during India’s G20 presidency- a period during which it was chairing G7. This collaboration and partnership enabled us to get consensus on all key issues confronting the world. Japan played the most positive and constructive role.

Much like Ezra Vogel, whose 1979 classic ‘Japan as Number One: Lessons for America’ Japan has greatly influenced me, I am a firm believer in Japan. I am a great believer because of Japan’s ability to manage tradition, technology and transformation successfully. Even the Japanese Golf set with which I play – HONMA, is a great blend of technology and transformation. It always makes you win and constantly improves your game: its technology is perfect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *