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Emissary of freedom (& food) in the land of the rising sun

Probir Bikash Sarkar tells Susenjit Guha that though Rashbehari Bose is remembered as a revolutionary freedom fighter, few know that he also introduced Indian curry to the Japanese.

SUSENJIT GUHA  7th Sep 2013

Rashbehari Bose with his Japanese wife, Soma Toshiko.

. How did you come to know that Rashbehari Bose introduced curry in Japan?

A. I was interested in the life of the Indian revolutionary Rashbehari Bose since childhood. When I came to Japan in 1984 for higher studies, I decided to the check out the entertainment hub of Shinjuku in Tokyo. There I noticed Indo Karii, written in Japanese on a glass showcase at the entrance of a commercial building established in 1901, called Nakamuraya. Inside the showcase there were some carefully preserved very old family photographs in which Rashbehari Bose also figured. I took pictures of them and hunted the libraries for more material on Bose's curry connection. Out of the many books I found where it was mentioned that Bousu or Bose had introduced curry to the Japanese, there was one, written after World War II, by his mother and uncle-in-law of the wealthy Soma family that I got particularly interested in. It was about the Asian awakening and Indian revolutionary Bose and Japan. Later, many Japanese historians, authors, academicians and politicians went out of their way to help me in my research, including Takeshi Nakajima, a Hokkaido University professor, who penned a biography, Bose of Nakamuraya, touching on the exiled revolutionary's stay at various hideouts in Japan and his subsequent foray into the restaurant business.

Q. Have you written about Bose's curry connection?

A. Yes, I have mentioned the curry connection in several books written in Bengali and also in Jane Anjane Japan, a Hindi translation, published by Prakashan Sansthan, Delhi.

Q. How did Bose get married into a Japanese family?

A. Bose fled India for Japan after there was a nationwide search following the failed assassination bid on Lord Hardinge in Delhi. Bose landed in Japan in 1916 and got sanctuary at the house of a very powerful pan-Asian ultra nationalist leader, Toyama Mitsuru, who belonged to the secret Genyosha society. Police were hot on Bose's trail since Japan was an ally of the British in World War I, but could not risk raiding Toyama's. Bose's movement was restricted as he was virtually confined to the house. So, Toyama approached his friend Soma Aizo and his wife Kokkou Aizo, who owned Nakamuraya, to hide them in an attic in their first floor residence, which was used as a studio of sorts. Toyama requested the couple to marry off their daughter, Soma Toshiko, to Bose.

Q. What did Nakamuraya sell in those days?

A. Nakamuraya was a very popular bakery in Shinjuku which sold different variations of bread. The Somas bought the building from a Mr. Nakamura in 1901. The prefix 'ya' means a store in Japanese. The store was on the ground floor and the Somas lived above.

Bose told his father-in-law, Aizo, that he wanted to start selling chicken curry and rice along with the bakery products. Aizo readily agreed and set up a restaurant on the first floor named Indo No Mone for serving Indian style curry. Bose introduced chicken curry and rice to the Japanese.

Q. How did Bose get into the curry business?Image 2nd

A. Bose's wife Toshiko died of tuberculosis in 1925 at the age of 26, leaving behind a son and a daughter. Two years later, Bose told his father-in-law, Aizo, that he wanted to start selling chicken curry and rice along with the bakery products. Aizo readily agreed and set up a restaurant on the first floor named Indo No Mone for serving Indian style curry. Bose introduced chicken curry and rice to the Japanese.

Q. Bose died in 1945 and what happened to the restaurant after that?

A. Yes, Bose also died of tuberculosis in 1945 and his son, Masahide died fighting the US army at Okinawa in 1944/45. Bose's daughter, Tetsuko married a noted marital law exponent of the Higuchi order and took over the reins. Soon after the end of World War II in 1945, the private ownership ceased and Nakamuraya became a public limited company.

Q. Is Bose's curry still available at Nakamuraya?

A. Oh, yes. The building is up for renovation now, but it will open once again next year. Indo Karii is served the same way in an elegant sauce boat with vegetable pickles on the side. The restaurant is manned by local chefs. The chicken comes from the local poultries and vegetables are sourced from the Japanese countryside, while all the spices come from India. Packed ready-to-eat Indo Karii rice is sold at franchised outlets across Japan.

Q. Does the average Japanese know about Bose's curry contribution?

A. Yes. Whenever there is a feature or a TV report on Nakamuraya, Bose's contribution in terms of Indian chicken curry and rice is mentioned. Moreover, Bose is remembered in Japan as a businessman and a politician. After a Japanese daily, Mainichi Shimbun, interviewed me, I was approached by a local journalist, who introduced me to the former radical leader Toyama's grandson, an intellectual and politician, called Toyama Okisuke. He reminisced about his grandfather's links to Bose and mentioned about the curry connection as well.Image 3rd

Q. How did Bose manage to be an entrepreneur considering his revolutionary past?

A. Bose was an all rounder of sorts. To make his restaurant successful, he arranged farmers to procure rice and raise chickens. In Japan, he was a restaurateur, writer, journalist and an active votary for India's independence. He worked closely with radical groups in Japanese society to garner support for his cause.

Q. Did you meet his daughter?

A. No, I tried to, but Tetsuko was not willing to speak to anyone.

Q. Why was she reticent to talk about her father?

A. A noted Tagore expert, Kazuo Azimo, told me Tetsuko was miffed since her father did not get due recognition in his land of birth. However, I learnt she had quietly visited India once in the past and left without informing anyone.

Q. What were his other contributions?

A. Few people are aware that he drummed up support for independence among Indian soldiers of the British army, captured by the Japanese in what was known as East Asia. He was a low key operator and virtually gave shape to the Indian National Army, before handing over charge to the younger Subhas Chandra Bose.

Probir Bikash Sarkar is a Japan-based expatriate Bangladeshi writer and researcher on Tagore- Japan links. He has published various books and articles and appeared for TV interviews in Japan.

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