Arrivals & Departures: Japanese Community in Bombay
Cinematographer: Avijit Mukul Kishore
Duration: 00:30:25; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 36.575; Saturation: 0.227; Lightness: 0.392; Volume: 0.088; Cuts per Minute: 0.887; Words per Minute: 76.448
Summary: The city of Bombay truly holds a vast array of customs and civilizations, but generally not in the way that you would expect. The Japanese cemetery, Niponnjin Bochi, holds the ashes of various Japanese immigrants right here in our city of Bombay. The Japanese cemetery is much unlike the cemeteries of Indian traditions; all it consists of is a shrine and two stupas. Nonetheless, it tells the story of thousands of Japanese traders and prostitutes who lived right here in Mumbai. This cemetery was founded in 1908 by Nichida Tsu Fujii, the founder of Nipponzan Myohoji, a Buddhist order, in order to give a rightful burial to them. Now, however, the population of Japanese in this so called cosmopolitan city has dwindled down to a mere 200 and therefore the use of the cemetery has been reduced to its minimum. The cemetery is now being run by Bhikshu Morita, a Japanese monk who came to India in 1970. Morita ji speaks better Hindi than an average Bombayite and runs a school for underprivileged children. Madhusree Dutta (M) conducted an interview with Bhikshu Morita (BM) at his cottage. This is a tale of unique connections. Shot by: Avijit Mukul Kishore
Bhikshu Morita enters the Japanese crematorium area, beating his prayer drums. A tall man with long strides he enters purposefully and pays his respects to the stupas and chants a prayer. The stupa seems old, but unique for its residency in Mumbai. The walls are unpainted. An unassuming, serene place in the middle of the mad rush of the metropolis. The crematorium is part of a larger ground housing Hindu crematorium, Muslim Kabrasthan, Christian burial ground and others in Worli.
Japanese Cemetery, E Moses Road, Worli, Mumbai
Moritaji puts his Japanese prayer drum back into his bag and pulls out prayer beads. He is praying to the souls of the dead and we now see the Japanese shrine, which holds the ashes of those Japanese people who died in this foreign land, India. Moritaji climbs up the stairs to the shrine and beats the prayer beads onto the shrine, three times.
Little kids in uniforms enter the area ushured by their teacher and are told to bow down in respect to the shrine. The kids greet Moritaji. It is indeed commendable that Moritaji, who is a Japanese monk, not only runs a school for the poor, but also provides them with uniforms! The hierarchy between the beneficiaries and the benevolent authority strangely gets smoothened out by the combination of gentleness of the man in power and the innocence of the local children.
(BM): Come inside. Everyone pray, put your hands together and pray.
(Girl): Say namaste (greeting).
(BM): Greet the shrine, ok? Come behind me.
(Kids): Namaste Guruji (teacher).
(BM): Come stand behind me.
Moritaji finishes his prayer and finally greets the distracted kids who are taken away in a single file. Moritaji goes on to show Madhusree the procedure of cremation.
(BM): (in Hindi) Namaste!
(M): Panthiji will you show us how the cremation takes place here. (to the kids) Go on child.
(M): Can I come up?
(BM): Yes come. Inside this, much inside this there is a place, inside this and the ashes are put into a pot, which is then cremated inside there. And after that we engrave here the name of the person and year of death. And when we cremate the ashes, all the Japanese from our community who are around, come here and pray with me.
Inside the shrine. A room with multi-purpose functions- nursery school for local children, prayer room, office for the priest, visitors' room etc. Bhikshu Morita is praying in the traditional Japanese, Buddhist tradition. Camera pans to frames on the wall - Gandhiji occupies a central position in the Japanese shrine. A Lady in a blue saree, with a child passes from outside the window. The local India flows around the unassuming Japanese shrine. It is such a contrast compared to the contemporary aggressive images of Japanese tourists and CEOs.
(M): Please introduce yourself for your viewers.
(BM): I am a Japanese Bhikshu (Monk). Bhikshu Morita, is my name.
(M): People call you Avantiji?
(BM): In India and Sri Lanka, monks are called by the name of Panthi.
(M): Ok. How long have you been in India for?
(BM): I have been in Bombay since 1976. However, I had come to India in 1970.
Bhikshu Morita is seated in his cottage. He introduces himself.He speaks in fluent yet archaic Hindi. One wonders what dedication and hard work have gone into acquiring this facility. This must have been prompted by the post world war anti-English campaign of Japan. It is another matter that contemporary Japan is rushing to embrace the English based world market. But our Panthiji, with his commitment to old worldly values seem to be blending well with his location. One wonders whether he can ever be a 'Japanese' again.
Moritaji speaks about the origin of the Japanese cemetery. He explains the rituals of Japanese cremation.
(M): Please tell us about this place, the crematorium. How it started…please tell us.
(BM): This is a Japanese Cemetery. In1908, the Bombay Municipal Corporation had given this place to be utilized by the Japanese Community. Before the War, before the World War, now the Japanese community here is very small, under 200. However, before the War, the Japanese community was really large. If a Japanese person died, he would be cremated in this cemetery. In Japan, we do not immerse the ashes in the river, we put the ashes into the tomb in the cemetery. This is how the Japanese community used to utilize this Japanese cemetery.
bombay municipal corporation
Moritaji talks about the Indo-Japanese trade which goes back to 1894. Japanese population in Bombay then was huge compared to the mere 200 now. How ironic, considering that Mumbai is supposed to be a cosmopolitan city now and trade at its boom.
Vidarbha, Akora, Wardha, Nagpur, Bombay
(BM): And Japanese Traders, before the war, there was a huge cotton business. So companies, big big Japanese companies, Mitsi, Mitshubishi, 100 - 200 traders would come and they would go from Bombay to Vidarbha, Akora, Wardha, Nagpur, when they would use the cotton…what do they call it?
(Another person): Ghughu?
(BM): Yes, At that time 100-200 traders would go from one company to these places and do business. That is why we have this Japanese cemetery here, it was very important for the Japanese community here, very necessary.
(M): So how did the population reduce so much? It is only about 200 now - as you said.
(M): The Japanese population, how did it go down so much?
(BM): The Japanese community?
(M): In Bombay, the Japanese community was quite big right?
(BM): Before the war there were all kinds of Japanese people here.
Japanese prostitutes were the first to come into India, followed by restaurant owners, traders, leather makers etc. The sea based trades had the traders physically traveling to and reside in foreign countries. With the begining of commercial aeroplanes in mid 20th century the nature of trades became less interactive.
Kamathipura, Worli, Bombay
(BM): You would have never even thought but, Japanese prostitution, what do you call it in Hindi? Vaishya…Firstly, 100-200 prostitutes were brought and put into the Kamatipura (Bombay's Red light district). After that, Japanese traders would come in and with them Japanese restaurant owners, boots, shoe makers
(M): leather, leather.
(BM): Yes leather, and then Japanese general store owners. Various people would live in Bombay. Now only the Japanese diplomats and Japanese businessmen come here. There is a Japanese school at Worli seaface, the Japanese teachers there. That is the only Japanese community here now. But before the war, there was a good population of Japanese here.
(M): So how did the population decrease? Did the people go back to Japan or?
(BM): At that time Japanese traders, would return to Japan in 10-20 years. However, there were a lot of people who ended up living here for business.
red light district
The local myth of Oshiwara, a thriving suburb of North Bombay, being a settlement area for Japanese prostitutes amuses Moritaji.
(M): Ok. So this prostitute community that came here, we have even heard that they lived in Oshiwara.
(BM): Oshiwara… Now in Japan also, the schedule castes and the untouchables are about 3 lakhs in population, those who are Dalits. The women of these castes were mainly who would come to Bombay for prostitution... they would even go from Bombay to villages in Maharashtra for their business. Maybe there was something in Oshiwara also.
(M): Because Oshiwara's name has come from a Japanese name, so we've heard.
(BM): Is that so?
(M): People say so…
(BM): Oshiwara is…
(M): It's in north Bombay.
(BM): Oshiwara comes in the Japanese diction…Who said that?
(M): This is a local myth, not in any history book but the local myth is such that Japanese prostitutes lived there and therefore that neighbourhood is known as Oshiwara.
(BM): Is it still there? Any idea?
(M): The place Oshiwara is still there. There is a place, Oshiwara, quite famous.
(BM): There is a Japanese NGO, at Khetwadi, called Women's Corporation at Khetwadi, it is an NGO. The next generation of the prostitutes who live in Japan are being supported by them. Did you understand?
Khetwadi, Oshiwara, Bombay, Maharashtra
(M): Yes. Please tell us one thing Panthiji, the migration of these women workers from Japan to here, what time did they come here? What must have been their reason for coming here?
(BM): Just like there is so much poverty in Nepal, you will not be able to imagine that Japan used to be a very poor nation, very poor! For that reason, they would not only come here but go from here to Africa, from Africa to Europe and from Europe, the wives of the Irish would come here for prostitution, because they were also very poor.
Moritaji talks about the Japanese prostitutes and how poverty in Japan at that time forced them to go to India, Africa and even Europe. Bombay, being a trade center and a port city for the British also got a lot of Irish prostitutes at that time. The little histories of reverse migrations.
During the Gold Rush in South Africa, Japanese prostitutes were taken from here to South Africa. According to Moritaji, the first set of migrants were the Chinese coolies and then the Japanese prostitutes.
(M): Because this was a trade center, the port of the British, that's why.
(BM): From here, when the Gold Rush occurred in South Africa, the Chinese "coolies", labour, started working there, then the Japanese prostitutes were taken from here to South Africa.
(M): So this phenomenon, that Japanese women had to work as prostitutes and leave the country to do so, does this show today, is the community still there today?
(BM): This community, all this did not happen after the war. But the new generation of this community, the young people, whose grandmothers worked here, they have formed an NGO for their support.
Moritaji shows us old photos, one of a memorial service for a monk held in 1908 and the other of the inauguration of the Japanese temple in 1931. The cottage has been named Kasturba Kutir to honour the visit of Kasturba with Gandhiji in 1933.
(M): Renu was telling us that you have some photos. Can we see them?
(BM): Yes, there is one there is one photo over there. Bag, please bring my bag.
(M): Panthiji one minute, let him just…
(BM): This is in 1908, when the Japanese cemetery was founded. At that time, there was a shradha here, do you know what shradha means? Memorial service. There was a monk whose memorial service had been done. This is a photo of that time.
And this is a photo of…please bring that also. This is also, my Guruji had come here in 1931, and had built a temple in the Japanese cemetery, with the permission of the Japanese community. That was the place to burn the bodies and this was the temple. And in 1933, November 21st, Kasturba had come with Gandhiji for an appointment with our Guruji, in this place. That is why we call this cottage, Kasturba Kutir.
(M): And whose photos are these?
(BM): These photos are of the Kamathipura.
(M): They are current pictures?
(BM): Yes, they are of today. This one is of the old days.
(M): I see.
(M): Kamathipura. These are all Japanese?
(BM): They are all Nepalis. These here are Japanese.
(BM): This is Singapore, Rangoon, Lanka, all from the old days.
(M): But now where do you burn the bodies?
(BM): Now, there are not that many Japanese here. Sometimes, maybe once in ten years someone dies in an accident, so then it is either burnt in the Hindu cemetery or something or the body is taken to Japan. However, we perform the rituals in our temple.
Moritaji shows us pictures of the Kamathipura (the redlight area). He claimed they are of 'olden days'. The claim did not seem very
strong though. Anyway, the point seems to be that when it comes to death there is no discrimination.
The Japanese Community in Bombay keep their culture alive by organizing a function every year. Ushaben Mehta, an active Gandhian helped Moritaji to run the school and now he runs it by himself.
(M): And you run this school.
(M): what a nice thing to do. How does this school run.
(BM): (interrupts) And on the 6th, every year the Japanese community has a festival, you should do shooting at that time.
(M): Ok, what happens here at that time?
(BM): We perform certain rituals, give lectures and Japanese people give gifts to children. It is a very nice function, you should come, next year.
(M): This children's school, this nursery that you are running here. How long has this been running?
(BM): Earlier, our Ushaben you know? Ushaben, I used to work with her. But now, I do it myself, for over 20 years.
Bhikshu Morita is a strong believer of Gandhiji's teaching. In 1987, Sunil Dutt organized a countrywide rally(padayatra) to campaign for secularism. Representatives of all religions, with Moritaji as representative of Japanese Buddhists, marched on foot from Bombay to Amritsar to protest the violence in Punjab.
Guna, Madhya Pradesh
(M): You work under the teachings of Gandhiji a lot.
(BM): My Guruji was very close to Gandhiji. So, For his memorial.
(M): Ahinsa, non violence…for that.
(M): So what is your social life like here?
(BM): We work to join India, every part of India, for communal unity. I had gone to Punjab once in 1987 with Sunil Dutt. When we were in Punjab for our rally, there was an article in a Newspaper in a place called Guna in Madhya Pradhesh. Have you heard the name? Guna, Guna. There was an article that they will kill the rallyists if they go to Punjab from Bombay. Inspite of that, Dutt saab (Sir) took us to Punjab. We showed them an atmosphere of peace and cooperation.
Bhikshu Morita wants to restore the same values to India that India taught the rest of the world. the Indian-Japanese Buddhist monk is aware of the plurality of his identity and proud of it.
(BM): When India was strong in its integration, they used to shine the light on the rest of the world; culture, tradition, knowledge. In our country, we do not have caste discrimination, people are very aspiring, systematic in Japan. The reason for Japan's growth is that everyone works together. These boons, humanity, democracy, all these boons originated from India and went into the world and brought my country forward. That is why I do my social work to unite India.
(M): So you consider yourself, to some level as Indian?
(BM): I am Indian and I am proud to be a Japanese. And because I am Japanese I get a lot of respect.
(BM): (praying) Nam-yo-ho Renge Kyo.
In the residence cum temple building in Worli. Bhikshu Morita is performing his evening prayers. The pictures in his holy setting also includes a picture of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Dalit leader and the author of the Constitution of India.
nam yo-ho renge kyo
Moritaji opens a book that contains newspaper cuttings of Dr. Ambedkar. He talks about his teachings and about his view on real independence in India as opposed to the illusion of independence that has been created in U.S.A. Obviously Ambedkar's call to the Dalit community to convert to more egalitarian Buddhism in protest of caste system of Hinduism, too has touched the priest.
(BM): This book has Dr. Ambedkar. Maharashtra has a tradition of rescuing its memories, of respecting a person and of protecting its memories. There is Tukaram Maharaj, Jyotiba Mahatma Phule and Kalki Maharaj who are in their traditions. He is a very great person, I think so. This democracy is a part of India. So this democracy, humanity. The humanity, independence of America, is fake. The real democracy was started in Vaishali and Bihar. For that reason this country was very ahead. Dr. Ambedkar, Babasaheb Ambedkar had said that India truly is a democratic country, then why is there so much discrimination in this country? The people who discriminate against the dalits, he showed us the true meaning of India without this discrimination, this is what I feel.
(M): Your thinking is great.
United States of America
Moritaji's thoughts on the nuclear civilization. The Defense budget in India is being hiked while Primary Education, being identified as one of our core issues, is still being given minimal importance.
(M): And this, it is happening in India and Bombay also, against nuclear war. Please tell us your thoughts on that also.
(BM): (mumbles something) (laughing). India has this much of a budget for defense. Other than that, Primary Education should be given the most importance. But the worst thing is that this country has decreased budget of primary education in order to increase the budget of defense. This is a very sad thing. And India propagated Ahinsa, and non violence.
At the time of the nuclear revolution and the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was the same India that is investing in nuclear weapons today, that had attained Independence by practicing non-violence and that was only 51 years ago! The Japanese monk is not only holding an office in a foreign country, but is also engaged with the political debates concerning his adopted country.
(BM): In the 20th century there were 2 tragedies, one was Katla, and the other was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 1945 6th August, 9th August, where there was an atomic bomb explosion. The common people were sacrificed for the world and the world had been told that the nuclear civilization would prove to be the holocaust. But, India had an Independence revolution and in the history of humans the first social revolution, political revolution and India first said that without any arms and with non violence, this independence movement was successful. The showed the world that through spiritual civilization the world could be saved. Such a great country is getting weak through nuclear weapons. That is why we revolt. Ok?
Moritaji talks about how politics is weakening our country by heightening and manipulating class- caste differentiations.
(M): Very nice. Other than that also, there is communal violence happening in India…
(BM): This is a very sad thing. When India was a prosperous country, at that time we community, every caste. In this world, in every society there is class- caste differentiation, communal tensions happen. However, when India was a very prosperous country, at that time the wall between societies, the wall was very low. That's why humanity rose, humanity rose and that's why the country rose. It's a very sad thing that today because of politics, communalism has risen, the country is becoming weak. Still it is our desire that we will work for the unity and growth of India, that is our contribution.
From this little Japanese temple, Moritaji has lived and understood the change in the city of Bombay. Like all the 'early' settlers in the city he too is remorseful and judgemental about population rise in Bombay.
(BM): Bring some tea. It is very less. You come on TV sometimes right?
(BM): I've seen you sometime.
(M): Panthiji, one more question. All this politics, violence is an ongoing thing, and our fight against it will also continue until violence will be around. But, I had one personal question for you. You have been here in Bombay since '76, so how is Bombay changing, how has it changed?
(BM): when I was here in '76, in my room, and in every room, there were no fans. Still, I never felt hot. There is so much pollution here now. Two years ago, my elder sister was here and she started saying "where does this noise come from?" and if we ever left the temple, my sister would ask "where is the mela (festival) today? Why are there so many people?" So Bombay is noisy, polluted. Pollution has been rising. When I had come here it was not this noisy, the pollution was not this bad. Bombay was a very beautiful city.
Bhikshu Morita loves Bombay, the melting pot, where he gets ample respect from the citizens. Sadly, he gets no respect from our government and his work has gone unrecognized.
(M): So what do you like about Bombay?
(BM): Bombay is a cosmopolitan. There is every community. It is in Bombay's tradition - cosmopolitanism. People of all castes live here together, which I like.
Because I am Japanese I get a lot of respect here. And my Guruji has given us such a lovely temple, that is why other than the government, the common people, give us so much love and give us so much speech and benefits. There is Ushaben Mehta, Sunil Dutt and Baba Amte, these people, who you will not get to meet anywhere in the world, I get to meet them and that is why I like Bombay.