Tokyo Triumph for this Indian

Yogendra Puranik—also known as Yogi—was campaigning to win a seat as a councillor in the Edogawa Ward assembly, Tokyo, earlier this year. He was supported by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. From the corner of his eye, Yogi noticed a man in a wheelchair, who was hovering near the edge of the crowd in the Kasai area. The 35-year-old man stood up with the help of people and managed to come near him and ask, “Yogi-San, what are you going to do for the handicapped people?”

For a few moments, Yogi was flummoxed. He is a 41-year-old, with an easy smile, wearing a black pinstripe suit, a green tie and shiny black shoes. On his lapel, Yogi had pinned two tiny flags next to each other: that of Japan and India. He also had a white sash across his chest which displays one word, in red Japanese letters, ‘Yogi’.

The candidate shook his head and said, “Honestly speaking, I don’t have a separate agenda for the physically-challenged people. But if I am elected, I want to do something for everybody. So, that will also include the physically-challenged.” Wherever Yogi went, be it parks, outside metro stations, office buildings or malls, locals would shake his hand and say, “We are going to vote for you.” And they did. Because when the election results were announced on April 23, Yogi became the first Indian to win electoral office in Japan. Edogawa Ward has the highest number of Indian residents among Tokyo’s 23 wards with 4,300 or so Indian nationals registered, accounting for more than 10 percent of Indians living in Japan.

However, Yogi’s introduction to Japan began right after school, when his father suggested that apart from studying physics and IT, he should learn a foreign language. In July, 1994, he began a three-year degree course from the University of Pune, where the Puraniks lived. He liked the language and was able to complete the course swiftly. In September 1999, he got a scholarship to live in Japan for a year. “We were given housing, and lived in a cosy environment,” recalls Yogi. Following his return, he started working for an IT company in Pune. Then, in March 2001, he secured a job with tech giant IBM and returned to Japan. But this time he did not enjoy his stay. “The Japanese are, on the surface, very receve and polite, but they keep a distance from you. Even among the Japanese, they keep a distance from each other. So, when it came to a Japanese and a non-Japanese, the gap is quite large. So, I started feeling very lonely,” reminisces Yogi.

He resigned within eight months of the job and returned to Pune once again. But fate had other plans for Yogi. On joining Infosys in 2003, Yogi was sent back to Japan once again. This time, he was determined to do something about his isolation. He started participating in community gatherings, meetings, and the Parent Teacher Association in Nishi-Kasai, the area where he lived, in Tokyo. “I went to local festivals, not just to attend, but to participate, enjoy the food and help out in the preparations,” he says.

The turning point was during the massive earthquake which hit Japan on March 11, 2011, followed by a tsunami. Along with a couple of friends, he set up a helpline for the Indian community in Japan. They received more than 300 calls daily. Yogi also went into hundreds of local homes and lent a helping hand. “That was when I became close to the Japanese. I felt that I belonged there,” he says. In October 2011, Yogi finally applied for Japanese citizenship and got his papers a year later.

When asked about his future plans Yogi triumphantly says, “I want to become a Member of Parliament in Japan one day. I also want to change the Japanese society by making people show more emotion and attachment to each other like we Indians do. ”