Japan culture and goods find favour in Indonesia
IN FRONT of a crowd of thousands, two sumo wrestlers charged at each other with full force, their bodies colliding with a tremendous smack that echoed through the arena in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
"I love sumo - I've studied it, but this is the first time they've come to Indonesia and it's the first time I've seen it live," Julyana Antika, a 22-year-old student of Japanese literature at a Jakarta university, said at the weekend competition.
Antika is just one of many young Indonesians who are increasingly consuming Japanese culture through entertainment, comics, fashion and food.
Indonesians have come late to the party, but a boom in Southeast Asia's top economy and Japanese firms' hunt for new markets have combined to create a recent upsurge in interest.
"Two years ago, when I first came to Indonesia, we had around 1,000 Japanese business people coming to us for Indonesian-market advice," said Mr Kenichi Tomiyoshi, chief of the Japan External Trade Organisation's Indonesian operations. "But in the past 12 months, we've already advised 4,000," he said.
Japanese firms are flooding in as the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation rides the wave of a prolonged economic boom that has produced an army of new consumers.
While growth has slowed this year, Indonesia remains a bright spot in the global economic gloom. And as diplomatic tensions soar with neighbours and key trade partners South Korea and China, Japan has shifted its focus to the South-east Asian region.
Japanese direct investment in Indonesia ballooned to US$2.5 billion (S$3.2 billion) last year, from US$712.6 million in 2010, according to the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board.
"Five years ago, most Indonesian people couldn't buy Japanese goods, but now they have enough income to buy high-quality Japanese products," said Mr Tomiyoshi.