Nupur Tewari is a transformation coach, spiritual leader and a motivational speaker and founder of Heal Tokyo. She has taught international students in more than 38 schools of Japan for more than 18 years, bringing India’s Vedic culture to Japan through her work.
After the devastating earthquake in 2015 at Kummoto (Kyushu), Nupur started raising funds for the Japanese victims through yoga. She has also been repatriating funds earned from Yoga classes in Japan for child education in India.
Nupur hails from a small town in the state of West Bengal, growing up in difficult circumstances to become the face of India in Japan. She was raised with Vedic principles and traditions; yoga was a part of her family’s daily life and she has been practising yoga since her childhood. Due to constraints she missed the opportunity to pursue her masters. She left home with her mother’s blessings and worked at a hospitality centre in Kolkata, following which she worked for Mitsubishi. This was when she landed an offer to travel to Japan and soon began working towards spreading Indic culture in Japan. She started the Heal Tokyo movement where she conducted free yoga sessions, bringing spirituality, calm and peace in people’s lives.
How did you find shifting from Indian culture to Japanese? What are the similarities?
I was raised in India and I definitely find many similarities in the way children are raised here and in India. Children here, at a very young age, are taught to be very independent and you can observe how they conduct themselves in a very independent manner. This, I find is very similar to how Indian parents raise their children. Children in Japan start schooling or are sent to day care at the age of 2.5 or 3. Either at the kindergarten or at the day care, the teacher or the guardian teach the children basic skills like tying and untying a shoe, table manners. They are also taught to eat on their own and no one helps them. They are taught to sit down in a place and eat their food and not to walk around while they are eating. This is what is taught in India as well. We always sit down and eat. Japanese dining tables are very low and hence they don’t have chairs and one has to sit down while having food. Food is to be respected and one must serve themselves as much food that they are able to finish and must make sure they have no food left on their plate at the end of the meal. They are taught to be non-violent and to not utter harsh words at others. The concept of “Athithi Devo Bhava” is very evident in Japan. Even at a business corporation, customers are the priority and are well taken care of.
Do you observe similarities in the form of worship between the two countries?
The Japanese worship many Indian Gods like Brahma, Saraswati and Ganesha, for health, wealth and education. They worship nature and every season and the plantation that comes with that particular season. The monsoon season is upon us right now and as in India, they worship the trees and flowers that grow during the monsoon.
How aware are the Japanese regarding India and its culture?
I came to Japan in 2003 and to this date I have lived in six places. In Japan, India is known as Indo. People are aware of India; however, they are not well-informed in many aspects regarding India; for example, they were not aware of the fact that Buddhism was born in India and then spread to Japan. Many Japanese words come from Sanskrit and in my opinion almost 60% of their culture comes from India. My friends here in Japan took me to a school and introduced me, to my shock most of them thought I was a native Indian American. That is when it hit me that the people had very little knowledge about India and I considered it my duty and made up my mind to spread the word about India and its culture. I started with teaching languages like Hindi and Bengali, music and of course most importantly Yoga.
I did this voluntarily and in my weekends which were free most of the time. I became the face of India and hence became more involved in yoga and teaching the essence of yoga which is not just exercise for the external body.
Could you explain what motivated you to charity through Yoga?
As a child, I was taught that “sabse bada daan” (the biggest donation) is Vidya Daan (donation of education). This can even lead to Atmanirbharta (self-sufficient). When you teach someone along with the essence of the subject, and they become profound at it, and also become independent. This according to me is a bigger donation that money.
As a Yoga teacher, I consider Yoga Vidya as the best Vidya that one can share. Yoga makes one realise who they are, how beautiful they are inside and out, it brings out their true potential. Once they realise this, they become stress free, their anxiety and fear diminish, and fearlessly are able to design their lives and take the path to reach their destination.
This was the reason I combined yoga and charity - but I wouldn’t say I did it, the Adi Yogi- Lord Shiva helped me take this path of helping others realise their true potential through Yoga.
Can you elucidate on the popularity of Yoga in Japan?
Yoga is quite popular in japan. However, when the word yoga is uttered, they think of it as form of exercise to lose weight. This is because yoga travelled to the west from India and later came to Japan from the west. Hence, the real essence of yoga is lost during this journey. There are a number of yoga studios here, but it is meant only for the external body and to lose weight. So, I needed time to break this idea of yoga practice for the external body only. Hot Yoga is very popular in Japan. It is where yoga is practised in a sauna like atmosphere to sweat it out as a way of losing weight. There is no connection to the body and mind. I have been asked on many occasions if I practised hot yoga.
But fortunately this is slowly changing. I try to teach the real practice and essence of yoga. There are a set of people who still practice hot yoga but there are also a set of people who are practicing and have understood what yoga really is.
Could you give us a view of how you conduct your classes?
My classes are combined; I teach Hatha Yoga, asanas, meditation, pranayama. There are days when I conduct only meditation, like for example, during the initial months of this year, I conducted only meditation practises, for world peace, in a Buddhist temple. I take these classes in the Buddhist temple due to the calmness and serenity that surrounds it.
But most of the times, I combine pranayama practices, bahiranga yoga and meditation. But what I emphasise most on, is meditation. We are planning on conducting more classes to focus more on meditation. Working out at a gym or going for a run can make you fit, even without performing yogasanas, but it is only yoga that can bring in mental peace and self-discovery. The path to understanding you and your divine self can be sought out with the help of yoga. With the current situation, there is a lot of anxiety and fear in everyone around the world. Meditation is the only solution to calm the mind and discovering yourself- thereby becoming happy.
How would you compare the social responsibility in the Japanese with the Indians?
India has faced many invasions and colonisations, and I think during this process we have lost a slice of our Indian-ness and with this our sense of social responsibility is also lost. In Japan, whatever the country might have been through, their first thought is that we are Japanese. They do not lose their sense of fraternity and stick together. Under no circumstance will they defy the law and very honest in their services to the country.
What I have observed is that their lives are very well-planned and organised- which means they follow a pattern- study, work, save and then retire. I remember teaching a 60-year-old woman who had recently retired. She told me that her new life was going to begin and she was going to pursue all the hobbies that she was not able to while she was working. Most of us fear retirement and do not know what to do post retirement.
The mind-set among these people is very different and is quite refreshing to listen to that. The elderly people, every Sunday, clean the local community park, they do not find the necessity to wait for the government to do it. They also go to the nearby schools and volunteer at the schools. They clean the schools or teach students. The children of a particular locality are to go to a particular school in that area. This makes it safe even for a 6-year-old child to go to school on their own. You can always find elderly people standing in various corners with flags in their hand to make sure the children are safe. If one happens to leave your bag at the supermarket, the cashier will make sure the bag is returned to the owner. The people are extremely socially responsible. In my opinion, we should also strive to become more socially responsible to our fellow citizens and to our society, thereby making our country better.