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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

Sympathy for Thailand!

Updated: May 20

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka

 

There are bound to be people in this world who get along well with each other and people who do not. This also applies to foreigners, but in that case, national characteristics are added to the equation. What I feel sympathy for is the Thai national character. Since research results will be shared around the world, it goes without saying that research presentations should be done in English. In addition to participating in academic conferences held around the world, many researchers experience working on research overseas for both short- and long-term periods. In other words, researchers are connected on a global level. When I finished my postdoctoral research in the United States and got a job at Nagoya University, the first person I supervised in research was an international student from Thailand. She was better at experiments than any other researcher I know. This is a personal quality, but I also found that my human relationships were very Japanese, and I did not get tired of them. She graduated from Chulalongkorn University, the highest university in Thailand. In other words, her knowledge and English skills were impeccable. After obtaining her doctoral degree in Japan, she worked at Mahidol University, one of the best in Thailand. Afterward, her impression was so good that I asked her to accept an exchange student from Mahidol University into the University of Shizuoka. The international student was also excellent; her personality seemed to have adapted to Japan.

 

Where does the sympathy for Thailand come from? The first thing to mention is that Thailand is a Buddhist country, just like Japan. Although many Japanese people do not consider themselves Buddhists, Buddhism has dramatically influenced history and culture. Thailand has a deep-rooted culture of politeness and respect for others, and in Thailand, people greet each other with their hands together, saying “wai". On the other hand, in Japan, there is a difference: bowing. Second, one of the reasons why such a culture has been maintained is that neither country became a colony of Western Europe. Thailand (then known as Siam) was located between British-controlled Burma (present-day Myanmar) and French-controlled Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos). Therefore, it acted as a “buffer state" between Britain and France, and both countries probably thought it was better to keep Siam independent than to rule it directly. Siam's leaders, especially Rama IV (King Mongkut), who was famous as the model for the musical "The King and I," and Rama V (King Chulalongkorn), also displayed shrewd diplomatic skills. They adopted a balanced policy between Britain and France, maintaining Siam's independence through treaties with each country. Thirdly, there is a commonality in food culture. Rice is the staple food in both countries, and while Thai and Japanese cuisine have unique characteristics, they share a commitment to fresh ingredients and cooking methods.

 

Thailand (formerly Siam) and Japan have a rich history of exchanges. From the 1400s to the 1500s, trade between Japan and Siam flourished. Siam exported spices, ivory, silk products, etc., to Japan, and Japan exported swords, silver, etc., to Siam. Later, after 1583, the era of Toyotomi Hideyoshi began, leading to the start of the red seal ship trade, and Japanese merchants expanded their trade into Siam. In particular, interaction with the Ayutthaya dynasty of Siam deepened, and a Japanese town was formed in Ayutthaya. It is said that more than 1,500 Japanese people lived there at its peak. One of them, Yamada Nagamasa, demonstrated his talent as a trader. He remained prominent as the captain of a Japanese mercenary force in Ayutthaya and made a name for himself in the battle against Ayutthaya's archenemy, the Burmese. As a result, Nagamasa and his mercenary army gained the trust of the imperial court. They even served as the king's bodyguard, and in 1629, he rose to become the king of Rigor under the Ayutthaya dynasty. Then came the modern period, in 1900, the Buddha's sarira (relics) were donated to the Japanese people by King Rama V. Kakuozan Nissen-ji Temple was built in Nagoya City in 1904 as a place for this enshrinement, and was renamed Nittai-ji Temple ("Ni", Nippon=Japan; “tai”, Thai) in 1949 when Siam changed finally its name to Thailand. In the same year, an elephant named “Hanako” was sent from Thailand to Japan, and it had suffered physically and mentally from World War II, giving courage to people all over Japan. Hanako lived until 2016, making her a long-lived 69-year-old.


I have visited Thailand five times, including Ayutthaya. At that time, the former exchange students acted as guides. They are grateful people. It takes more than six hours to fly from Japan to Thailand, so while it cannot be said to be close, we want to remember that Thailand is our irreplaceable neighbor in Asia.




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