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Indian history in Tokyo temple

October 09, 2013 08:53 IST

Indian history in Tokyo temple

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Aseem Chhabra in Tokyo

The Renkoji Temple is a lot smaller than other grand Buddhist shrines in Japan. In front of the gate, in a very serene setting, is the bust of Netaji. Aseem Chhabra reports from Tokyo.

On all my travels abroad, I always look for signs of India. Last week while I was in Tokyo, I heard about a Buddhist shrine where there is a statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I knew I had to go there.

Finding online directions to the shrine was not difficult. Despite the language issues, it is easy to find online information about Tokyo in English.

Last year I had taken a couple of friends on a day trip outside Tokyo, to the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s grave. It had taken us a while to find our way. Netaji’s statue is in Tokyo itself. So it had to be easier to get there.

For various reasons I was only able to go to the Renkoji Temple -- where the statue stands -- on the last day of my trip. TheTokyo subway system is quite easy to follow.

Despite the very foreign sounding Japanese names, the subway maps are available in English. There are announcements in Japanese and English. And if one is lucky, one can find an English speaker willing to give directions. The Japanese people struggle with their English, but they are very friendly and polite.

My friend Ben Lopez and I took the Maranouchi Line to the Higashi-Koenji station. Upon exiting, we took a left turn and immediately ran into a South Asian-looking man, who was handing out flyers for an Indian restaurant called Indus.

Turns out Mithilesh Sharma was Nepali, from outside Kathmandu. He had been in Japan for six years. Before that he worked in Noida, outside Delhi. His Hindi was definitely better than his English.

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Image: The Renkoji Temple in Tokyo
Photographs: Aseem Chhabra/Rediff.com

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Indian history in Tokyo temple

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I followed Sharma’s directions, walked along a park, and then made another left turn into a quiet residential street. I stopped to ask an elderly Japanese man, “Excuse me, Renkoji Temple?” And I realised we had just passed by our destination.

The Renkoji Temple is a lot smaller than other grand Buddhist shrines in Japan. It sort of has a local, neighborhood temple feel to it. And in front of the gate, in a very serene setting, is the bust of Netaji, surrounded by Japanese foliage. His name was written in Japanese, but the face was definitely Netaji’s.

We were the only people there. The shrine was closed, so alas I was not able to see pictures of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi who visited the shrine.

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Image: The bust of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at the Renkoji Temple
Photographs: Aseem Chhabra/Rediff.com

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Indian history in Tokyo temple

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Right behind the statue on the wall was a plaque with signatures of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajendra Prasad. Nehru visited the shrine in 1957, Prasad in 1958 and Indira in 1969.

There was another plaque with a message in Hindi and Japanese by Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he visited the temple on September 12, 2001. It read: ‘Mujhe Renkoji dubara akar prasannta hui, jahan Bharatiya swatantrata sangram ke mahan senani Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose ki samritiyan surakshit hain.’ (I am happy to revisit Renkoji for the second time where Indian freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s ashes are safely kept.)

There was a visitor’s book that stated every year the local community paid tribute to Netaji August 18 -- the day of the plane crash in 1945. It was heartening to see messages by Indians from all parts of the world -- Australia, Dubai, New York, and various Indian cities like Kolkata, Noida, etc.

We stood by the statue for sometime, took pictures and finally left. As we were leaving a Japanese woman walked inside the temple compound. She had come to pray, and seemed oblivious about Netaji’s statue there.

 


Image: A plaque with a message in Hindi and Japanese by Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Photographs: Aseem Chhabra/Rediff.com

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