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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Japan in Thailand


As in the rest of South East Asia, the Japanese economic, financial and cultural presence in Thailand is huge.

Bangkok has virtually a Japanese restaurant on every street, billboards advertising the latest Japanese products abound, Japanese supermarkets and bookshops appear in most shopping malls, many of which were built using Japanese capital.

Technological Promotion Association, Bangkok

Japan is Thailand's biggest trading partner accounting for 20% of the country's imports and just under 12% of its exports. Over 1,200 Japanese firms are registered at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok and Japan provides over 35% of all direct financial investment in the country. A large Japanese government loan helped finance the building of Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Japanese restaurant, Bangkok

On a more personal level there is even a Japanese-only street in the red-light district of Patpong off Silom Road in the capital, where the CSWs speak fluent Japanese and cater to no other nationality.

Indeed Japanese make up the largest number of foreign visitors to the country with around 1.2 million Japanese tourists visiting Thailand annually - Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai being the preferred destinations.

Japanese restaurant, Bangkok

The two countries' royal families supposedly enjoy cordial relationships and the history of interchange between Japan and Thailand goes back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when there was a Japanese settlement at the Thai capital of Ayudhaya (present-day Ayutthaya) and samurai served in the Thai King's army before the closed-door policy of sakoku shut off the valuable "red seal" trade between the two Asian neighbors.

Though never a colony, during World War II Thailand became a vitual satellite of Tokyo and it was to aid the Japanese war effort in Burma against the British and Indian armies that the infamous "Death Railway" was built. The original Bridge over the River Kwai can still be seen in Kanchanaburi in western Thailand with the small JEATH War Museum recreating a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Besides the numerous Thai CSWs who are trafficked to fuel Japan's pink industry, the next few years should see a small number of Thai nurses allowed in to the country to provide care for Japan's legions of old people.


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