Shinzo Abe Was Inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s Ties to Japan

shinzo abe swami vivekananda

Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving Prime Minister of Japan, passed away on 8 July after being shot while giving a campaign speech in Nara. A champion of the idea of a ‘broader Asia’, he was the chief architect of Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific policy’ that closely aligned with India’s own ‘Act East’ policy.

He was also a transformative leader in the Indo-Japanese relationship.

In a landmark speech at the Indian Parliament in 2007 — “Confluence of Two Seas” — Abe quoted from Vivekananda’s 1893 speech in Chicago to highlight that among India’s many contributions to world history, there is “first of all its spirit of tolerance”.

Hailing Swami Vivekananda as a great spiritual leader gifted by India to the world, Abe said, “Vivekananda came to be acquainted with Tenshin Okakura, a man ahead of his time in early modern Japan and a type of Renaissance man. Okakura was then guided by Vivekananda and also enjoyed a friendship with Sister Nivedita, Vivekananda’s loyal disciple and a distinguished female social reformer.”

Interestingly, Swami Vivekananda had also been greatly impressed by Japan when he visited the country while on his way to the World Congress of Religions in 1893.

In an interview with The Hindu in 1897, he shared, “The world has never seen such a patriotic and artistic race as the Japanese…..The key to Japan’s sudden greatness is the faith of the Japanese in themselves, and their love for their country.”

He added, “When you have men who are ready to sacrifice everything for their country, sincere to the backbone — when such men arise, India will become great in every respect. It is the men that make the country! What is there in the country?”

“If you catch the social morality and the political morality of the Japanese, you will be as great as they are. The Japanese are ready to sacrifice everything for their country, and they have become a great people,” he said.

Not just Swami Vivekananda, two other legendary leaders of India too had great respect for Japan – Subhash Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore in Japan
Rabindranath Tagore in Japan. Source: George Grantham Bain.(Flickr Commons)

In 1916, Tagore (Asia’s first Nobel Laureate) stayed in the Sankeien gardens of the Japanese port city of Yokohama for three months as the guest of silk-merchant and art patron Tomitaro Hara. What impressed him most during these months was the Japanese intimacy with nature.

As for Netaji Bose, he is viewed by many Japanese as a noble martyr and a swashbuckling samurai who fought for his nation’s freedom. Even 77 years after his death, he remains the best-known Indian hero in Japan.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose listening to the Japanese PM Tojo in the Japanese parliament
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose listening to the Japanese PM Tojo in the Japanese parliament.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mentioning these ties in his seminal speech of 2007, Abe said:

“Be it the person whose name now graces Kolkata’s international airport (Chandra Bose), or, going back a bit further in time, the ageless poet Rabindranath Tagore — were engaged in at the deepest level of their soul with their Japanese contemporaries. Indeed, the depth and the richness of the exchanges that the intellectual leaders of Japan and India enjoyed during the early modern age are in some ways beyond what we in the modern day can imagine.”

Instrumental in elevating India and Japan’s relationship, Abe also shared that Japanese people had “undergone a ‘discovery of India’, by which I mean we have rediscovered India as a partner that shares the same values and interests and also as a friend that will work alongside us to enrich the seas of freedom and prosperity, which will be open and transparent to all.”

With his powerful words, Abe brought India and Japan closer, setting the stage for their economic and strategic ties to flourish.

In 2021, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan- India’s second-highest civilian honour.

With his demise, India has lost a true and trusted friend, one we will remember for many years to come.

Sources:

“The Abroad and the Problems at Home”, published by The Hindu in February 1897.

“Finding Rabindranath Tagore in Japan”, published by The Hindu on 9 December 2018.

“‘Confluence of Two Seas’: Shinzo Abe’s 2007 speech that shaped 21st-century India-Japan ties”, published by The Print on 8 July 2022.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

Author: Aaron Ryan