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Maharaja Company president Emiko Kothari

by Judit Kawaguchi

Emiko Kothari is president of the Maharaja Company Ltd, a chain of Indian restaurants across Japan. In 1968, Emiko and her husband, Shivji, opened their first Indian restaurant in Tokyo, and the couple’s winning recipe of mixing authentic Indian cuisine and Japanese hospitality contributed to an Indian culinary boom in Japan. Today, her guests savor Maharaja’s delicious dishes in 17 restaurants in Japan and one in New York. Emiko is a great promoter of Indian culture in Japan, and not much happens between the two countries without the major players sitting down at her table for some serious eating and talking.

Everywhere in the world, women are more capable and much stronger than they allow others to see.
In general, the person with the most power doesn’t need to show off his or her authority. In Japan, that person is the wife. She controls the family and the finances in a quiet manner but she’s still the boss. And just like any power broker, she can be quiet and only need to whisper when communicating, because everyone listens to her anyhow.

Pick your friends very carefully: Choose wiser and older people than yourself so you can learn a lot from them. That was my husband’s motto, too. The trouble with aging, though, is that the older we get, the number of people older than us decreases. So it’s important to also become friends with younger people who are specialists in some topics, and through them we can continue broadening our horizons.

Enjoy life as we have only a short time! My friends and I don’t talk about problems. It’s not nice to complain and if we have time to talk, we just want to have fun.

My mistake in life was that I was too adventurous. Then again, that’s also why I have had so much luck. In 1960, some Indian business people visited Japan as the guests of Air India. By chance, I met some of them at a function and I stayed in touch with one gentleman by mail. The following year, he invited me to India. I was young and ready to see the world. My first thought was “This will be fun!” I didn’t have a second thought, so I flew to Calcutta immediately.

Don’t worry about moving to another country. We’re all on the same Earth, so no place is that far. No matter where we go and where we end up, it will be OK. I had the most wonderful life in India with my husband, and when we moved to Japan, he loved it here.

Listen to your mother! My mom never stopped me from going on an adventure. “Go ahead, see the world,” she said. And so I did. She was my mother. I had to follow her advice!

Women must be able to support themselves. My father died when I was young, so my mother raised me alone. She was very strong and opinionated. Luckily she was a medical doctor so she could afford to be so.

Women are choosy but they should understand why they are sometimes not chosen: Most likely it’s because they are not on the same level that they expect their men to be. Single Japanese women all want to marry a tall, handsome man with a good job and a large income. They hope to be the wife of a lawyer or a doctor or a successful businessman. But these women should know who they are. Is she as attractive a partner as him? I think the media spoils Japanese people with unrealistic expectations. That’s probably why we have so many single people.

Earthquakes don’t care if you’re a mover or shaker: once they hit, everyone — rich or poor — gets stirred up equally. On March 11, after the major earthquake devastated the Tohoku region, Tokyo’s transportation system came to a halt. The subways and trains didn’t work and cars couldn’t move on the congested streets. People had no choice but to walk. My friend, who is one of the richest and most powerful women in Japan, ended up marching for over five hours till she reached her home.

For most women, single life happens twice. Both are happy times but the ultimate freedom for women comes after their husbands die. I’m sorry to say this, but it’s the truth. Sadly, men usually die before their wives, but then suddenly the women find themselves completely free of obligations and with lots of time to spend with good friends. Most women end up in the same shoes — widows who can march to their own drummers. They don’t need to prepare meals for anyone so they travel around and enjoy life. Men rarely get such a luxurious happy ending. I’m sorry for the men, actually.

Great teachers make any topic fun to study. A unique approach to a textbook can make it come alive in a way one could never imagine. My friends and I organize study groups of about 10 people with a teacher. Each class meets once a month, so I have one or two classes a week. In some, we read classic Japanese literature, in another about the Silk Road, and one group is dedicated to the study of world religions. We also have classes in cooking and flower arranging. All of our teachers are amazing and each group is with different members, so the classes are so much fun. Busy!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com. Twitter: judittokyo