Lessons from Japan for the world

Aaditya Tiwari
4 min readApr 27, 2024

Growing up in India, I once overheard a conversation extolling how in Japan, regardless of their profession, everyone commutes by bicycle. The narrator’s aim was to illustrate the egalitarian and industrious nature of Japanese society. This portrayal of the Japanese society has remained etched in my memory and my firsthand experiences in Japan only served to reinforce this image.

Personally for me, visiting Japan was like an unfulfilled pilgrimage. I wanted to visit the country where the Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose spent time strengthening the Indian National Army to fight for its freedom and allegedly where his ashes have been kept ever since 1942. Renkoji Temple was among the first places I visited after landing in Tokyo.

Thanks to the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), I had the opportunity to explore Japan through the Japan Trek in March 2024. Our journey through Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Kyoto revealed distinct lessons from each city — lessons that I believe hold valuable insights for addressing global challenges today.

Tokyo-Model Urban Infrastructure for the Future

In Tokyo, we were fortunate to meet Ms. Yuriko Koike, the Governor of Tokyo. She is a seasoned politician who understands the challenges of building resilient infrastructure for a sustainable future. Although trained as a journalist, she explained Japan’s challenges and her plans to overcome them in the form of a power equation, just like a mathematician. The variables in her equation included population, economic growth and military enhancement all amplified by a combination of strategic power and national resolve. Innovation, she stressed, is pivotal to Japan’s vision for ‘Future Tokyo’ — a long-term strategy aimed at reinforcing Tokyo’s status as a global financial hub.

The governor mentioned the collaboration between Columbia University and the city to realize this ambitious vision. The 10×10×10 innovation matrix for Tokyo includes a tenfold increase in startups, global unicorns, and public-private cooperation. Governor Koike highlighted initiatives for green infrastructure, energy security, and decarbonization, including the mandate for solar panels by 2025, hydrogen fuel cell buses, and schemes supporting female entrepreneurs and global exposure for Japanese high school students.

Hiroshima-Model for Global Peace

President Obama on his visit to Hiroshima had remarked, ‘Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.’ My anticipation did not prepare me for the profound impact of Hiroshima on my psyche, nor the power of words to convey such deep historical significance. The site where the US Air Force had dropped the atomic bomb (referred to as A-bomb everywhere without the mention of Atomic), today stands a Peace Memorial, not a War Memorial.

In our conversation with a 95 year old A-bomb survivor, one of the delegates questioned if there was anger among Japanese people for what they had to suffer. His answer was a straight No, simple yet profound! It is hard to digest this answer, and that too from someone who has suffered so much, lost his schoolmates and friends in the attack. It reminded me of a line I had read from the author Rahul Pandita’s book, ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’. When questioned by someone on why he had no hate for the perpetrators who caused the internal migration of the Pandit community from Kashmir, his answer was, ‘I have lost my home, not humanity.’ My understanding from what I heard and saw at the Peace Memorial was that the Japanese people wanted to get out of the perpetual cycle of hate and war and didn’t want their future generations to suffer what they had to suffer. In Prime Minister Abe’s words, ‘That any place in the world this tragedy must not be repeated again’. A prosperous life for their children was the commitment that motivated the Japanese society to look beyond and forgive. The memorial stands there as a reminder to continually aspire for global peace as they realize the cycle of hatred, ‘never ends’.

Kyoto-Rooted in the Indigenous Faith & Culture

It is hard for someone to study at SIPA and be unaware of the city of Kyoto, given the relevance of Kyoto Protocol in the global fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the essence of Kyoto is not just about giving the world a vision, it is so much more. The moment you venture past the hustle and bustle of the city and enter the ancient shrines, you realize the calmness, as if speaking to you through the still air. Kyoto stands as a testament to Japan’s ability to thrive while remaining anchored in its cultural and spiritual traditions. Shintoism and Buddhism provide not just a framework for forgiveness and forward-looking optimism but underscore the impermanence of life itself — nothing lasts forever, yet within this cycle, there is profound wisdom and strength.

My journey through its remarkable cities was further enhanced by the experience aboard the Shinkansen, Japan’s iconic bullet train, symbolizing efficiency and technological advancement. The Shinkansen is not just a marvel of engineering; it embodies the Japanese ethos of precision, and respect for time. Gliding at breathtaking speeds across the country’s landscapes, it offers a moment of reflection on how tradition and modernity can coexist in seamless unity. This balance is what makes Japan a beacon for the global community, urging us to embrace hard work, sustainability and peace.



Aaditya Tiwari

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