The 120-km-long drive on NH8 between Delhi and Jaipur takes motorists through the hilly landscape of Neemrana, a historic fort town in Rajasthan. Passing through, they could be forgiven for thinking they’re in the Land of the Rising Sun instead of the Aravalli range. Japanese names dot both sides of the highway, be it on a factory, a hotel or a restaurant. It’s a “Mini-Japan” as the area has come to be known.
In all, the area hosts 29 Japanese companies (11 operational, nine under construction, and eight yet to break ground). Spacious, clean, well-planned and well-laid, these factories are slowly becoming the new face of Neemrana, known more for its fort-turned-luxury hotel. Over the last four years, investments worth ₹2,519 crore have poured into this 320-acre Japanese Zone (as of September 2011). There still are quite a few empty plots but even those have already been bought by Japanese firms.
An eye for yen
Major investments in Neemrana
Sitting in his regional office in Neemrana, RC Jain, Senior Regional Manager, RIICO (Rajasthan Industrial Development and Investment), beams as he displays a file packed with enquiries from Japanese companies.
Apart from companies, research institutes and universities (such as Kobe University) have shown interest in conducting studies for Japanese businesses here. “Almost every day, one or other group comes here to enquire,”
The spurt in Japanese interest here is quite visible. The first floor of RIICO’s office houses a Japanese Business Centre—a 360-degree service provider for Japanese expats (from lodging to food to relocation). Jain feels that by March 2012, no land will be left in this zone. “We are acquiring 300 acres more for expansion,” he reveals. RIICO already possesses 2,000 acres of land in Ghilot, which is nearby. Environmental clearances are expected to be in place by April. The additional land will be used to absorb future Japanese investments.
Home away from home
Until now, Japanese expats mostly lived in Gurgaon and commuted to Neemrana. But with plants proliferating in the area, dwelling units have begun to pop up around Neemrana city. Anant Raj industries is building 2,500 flats for workers and another 2,500 are being built by others. “We want to develop Neemrana into a self-sufficient township,” asserts Jain.
A school run by the Parle group is already offering the Japanese language as a subject. In addition, Japanese executives will be able to send their children to the eight international schools that are within a 10 km radius of the area, says Jain.
In Neemrana town, the Azu Hotel, which operates out of a residential property, has a restaurant with Japanese-style seiza seating (patrons sit on folded legs at low tables) and chopsticks replace spoons here. As Azu Director Inder Yadav show us around the hotel, a group of Japanese guests walk into the restaurant from their rooms, and Yadav turns around to greet them in Japanese. Turning back, he proudly declares that his command over the language is increasing by the day.
The hotel takes in only Japanese guests and normally inks one- to two-year contracts with Japanese companies. Apart from the one in Neemrana, it has three other properties dedicated to Japanese guests: two in Gurgaon and one in Chennai. Every room in Hotel Azu has a Panasonic flat panel TV mounted on the wall. Yadav says that the Japanese “insist on Panasonic”. A female Japanese chef handles the cooking and ingredients are shipped in from Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
Business has been good. In February last year, occupancy was at 50% in Gurgaon. “This year it is 110%,” says Yadav, implying that he cannot meet demand. When the hotel is full, guests are lodged in other hotels but provided all other services by Azu.
RIICO has demarcated an area in the Japanese zone for a golf course. The sport is very popular among the Japanese and every other guest staying at Azu comes in with a golf kit, explains Yadav. “We have tied up with the Gurgaon golf course for our Japanese guests,” he adds.
In Neemrana, Japanese companies have found a platform to launch their Indian operations. Small wonder then that they’re making it a home away from home. The area will still be famous for its glorious sunsets. But it will also be known as the new home of the Rising Sun.