Prior to the 1990s, most people in Japan probably knew little more about India than it was the home of curry, snake-charmers and the Taj Mahal.

Nowadays, though, it's as if the two countries are moving ever-closer together -- and not just because there are a lot more Indian restaurants around. Over the past five years in particular, there has been an influx of IT engineers from India arriving to fill a huge skills gap in Japan's software industry -- and in the process helping this country to remain globally competitive despite its rapidly shrinking and aging workforce.

Compared to the United States, where 2.3 million Indians live and where a third of Silicon Valley's engineers are said to be from India, Japan's mere 16,988 Indians registered with the Immigration Bureau at the end of 2005 -- less than 1 percent of Japan's 2 million foreign residents -- are a drop in the ocean.