The coincidence of two essentially conservative administrations meant there were few ideological differences. Finally cultural and religious ties that have their origins in the spread of Buddhism from India to Japan mean that the nations have usually been on good terms. Modi must have known from the outset that he was among friends.
The two men have one more thing in common – distrust of the expansionist aims of their big neighbour, China. Japan is in dispute with Beijing over ownership of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, while China lays claim to 90,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in the State of Arunachal Pradesh and another 38,000 square kilometres in Jammu and Kashmir.
Modi made no secret of his position when, in a speech to Japanese businesspeople, he deplored the “expansionist tendencies among some countries which encroach upon the seas of others”.
At about the same time he was giving this address, the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi announced that a scheduled meeting in Beijing between its Minister, Sushma Swaraj and her Russian and Chinese counterparts would not now take place.
It may well be that Modi did not want India involved in a high-level meeting with Russia while most of the rest of the world was condemning its military adventures in Ukraine; more likely he did not want to place Ms Swaraj in the position of possibly having to defend his remarks in the capital of the country they were so obviously aimed at.
Meanwhile the Indian PM got what he came for – some $35 billion in Japanese investment and financing over the next five years for infrastructure projects such as smart cities and the cleaning of the River Ganga.
Japan will participate in the establishment of India’s first bullet train network, while New Delhi has agreed to buy Japan’s US-2 amphibious rescue and reconnaissance planes in a deal which may eventually see a plant to manufacture the aircraft set up in India.
Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to make visits to New Delhi over the next few months. Both will receive cordial welcomes – but by now both will also understand they will be visiting an active player in Asia’s diplomatic games.