Embassy of Japan in Nepal

People's Exchanges

The 100th Anniversary of Nepali Students in Japan


Return to Nepal

To oppose the Russian influence in Korea, Japan declared war against Russia in 1904 and emerged victorious. Meanwhile the students were asked to return to Nepal. Jang Narsingh wrote to the Prime Minister seeking permission to stay a few more months to complete the practical lessons. The permission was granted. They came back to Nepal by the end of September in 1905 and were appointed to different places. Even the attendants who had learned handicrafts were given jobs. In the beginning many of them were employed in the arsenal in Kathmandu.

The detailed records of the works done by the youths are not available. However, according to available records and sources, Jang Narsingh Rana, Bhakta Bahadur Basnet, Hem Bahadur Rajbhandari and Bal Narsingh Raimajhi were posted in the ammunition factory. The Howzer gun and the six rounder gun were designed by Jang Narsingh and Bhakta Bahadur. Bhakta Bahadur also made the Howzer-mountain gun, 3 pound-gun, improved the Enfield? -rifle, etc. Hem Bahadur was responsible for mechanical works. In this way, the youths made efforts to modernise and improve the arsenal. Jang's brother, Deep Narsingh Rana planted the fruits and flowers (wisteria, chrysanthemum, persimmon, chestnut), which he had brought from Japan in the selected place of Kathmandu. He was assigned in the construction of the Chandra Nahar (irrigation canal) in Saptari district (Barmajhiya) in the eastern Terai, which was the first irrigation canal built in the country. Later he was also appointed Chief Administrator of Dhankuta district. Bal Narsingh Raimajhi was appointed chief of copper mining in Baglung in the western hill region, where he was also appointed as Chief Administrator later on. On the order of the Prime Miniser he minted coins of one-paisa and fivepaisa denominations out of the locally mined copper. He became popular in the district when the people were exempted, due to his efforts, from dual taxation of land and copper mines. The copper could not be mined on a large scale because the deposits were small. Raimajhi served in the First and Second World Wars 11 under the allied British forces in India. He was appointed Consul General to Lhasa (1922- 26). His last assignment was "Member of the Council of Elders" during the time of Prime Minister Judha Shumsher Rana. Hem Bahadur worked in different places and later became head of the government Mint. For many years he was engaged in building suspension bridges in and around Kathmandu. Some of these bridges still exist. He too served in the Second World War (Gorkhas under the British Army).

Dev Narsingh Rana returned earlier due to illness and died shortly after. It is not known where Rudra and Bichar Man had worked.

The servants were employed in a tannery in Kathmandu and one of them was the accountant in the arsenal. Mulberry was planted and efforts were made to raise silk worms, but without success. Unfortunately none of the projects was taken up in an organised way. How far they were encouraged by the authorities is also not clear. The students might have tried their skills in many ways. Records of their works both personal and official were lost during the great Kathmandu earthquake of 1934.

During his last visit to Nepal in1913, Rev. Kawaguchi found that some of these youths were employed in ammunition making in a place somewhere in Kathmandu. Having lived long in an overseas country, the youths naturally surprised their friends by telling many fascinating stories about Japan and the places they visited on their way to and back from Japan. The overseas trip helped them to acquire new ideas which made them think about such questions as economic progress and equal rights for all. Jang Narsingh, in particular was an outspoken man. On several occasions he advocated powers for the Crown and equal opportunities for all, as he had seen in Japan. But such ideas were not appreciated by the then rulers. Therefore, the youths were kept under surveillance by the government. One day, Jang Narsingh surprised his friends by telling them that he could make a small weapon (grenade) that could even blow up the Durbar 12 like the official residence of the Prime Minister.

This conversation brought his destruction. The conversation was reported to the Prime Minister. According to the family members of Jang Narsingh, one morning a group of officials and Bijuli Garat (personal security guards of the Prime Minister) came with a letter ordering Jang Narsingh to leave Kathmandu immediately for Pyuthan, West Nepal. For a moment there was a chaos and distress in the family. Everything was ready for his deportation. He was escorted out of Kathmandu, never to be allowed to return home. However it was also mentioned in the Prime Minister's letter that he had been posted as Chief Administrator in the Pyuthan district. Jang Narsingh died at Lucknow (India) at his middle age. His last wish was to meet his brother Deep Narsingh who studied agriculture in Japan. Deep Narsingh was sent to Rajbiraj, Eastern Terai, also as Chief Administrator. The idea was probably to disperse them. Jang Narshingh and his friends were afraid to get together, except on official occasions, according to the family members. The youths were very much afraid of the authorities. During a visit to Nepal, Prof. Takakusu incidentally met a former student who refused to identify himself. However, Ryutai Hasabe, accompaying Prof. Takakusu, wrote the name of the student Hem Bahadur in his diary. Friendship with foreigners was suspected at that time. Bal Narsingh Raimajhi wrote a Nepali-Japanese conversation booklet but did not publish it for fear of unwanted troubles.

One of the reasons for taking drastic action against Jang Narsingh Rana may be due to the fact that, he was an outspoken person talking about liberalism etc. His association with the palace was not liked by the authorities. He used to visit the palace in disguise, according to family sources. Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana was a suspicious man. The post of Prime Minister was always full of constant worries with fear of conspiracies and coup d'etat. All Rana Prime Ministers were worried about making their position safe and secure at all costs.

Noted British historian Perceval Landon wrote in his book 'Nepal' 13 about the students as follows:

"At one time the Nepal Government adopted a policy which in the circumstances, was natural. A small number of the sons of the aristocracy were sent to Japan to be trained in technical knowledge, especially in the modern methods of engineering, It was thought that thus the advantages of modern science could be enjoyed by Nepal without the corresponding danger of the introduction of men imbued with western principles of democracy. Even this comparatively slight departure from the tradition of land met with some criticism. It was thought that the Japanese offered the best channel of instruction in matters which after all were largely foreign to Japan herself. Although this experiment could not be called a success, a certain amount of credit is due to the students themselves for the gallant efforts made by them to overcome the difficulty in which they were placed by their almost complete ignorance of the Japanese language. In the meeting of Councillors in 1905 Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana tentatively put before the responsible officers of Nepal a proposal that students should be sent for study in Europe or America. But the council advised against this scheme and suggested that it would be better to send them to India or invite the help of Indian experts. In general this policy was adopted".

However, recommendations and efforts were made later also to send Nepali students to Japan. While inaugurating the first industrial exhibition in Kathmandu, in 1937, Prime Minister Judha Shumsher Rana promised to send Nepali students to Japan. But the programme was postponed due to World War II. He reiterated his commitment during the second industrial exhibition in 1939. Judha Shumsher was the pioneer of several industrial programmes. Many of his development programmes remained unfulfilled until he retired in 1945. One of the Japan returned students Bal Narsingh Raimajhi was "Member of the Council of Elders" in the Prime Minister's Office.

Rev. Ekai Kawaguchi in his fifty-seven page letter14 (dated October 22, 1905) to Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana highly recommended the promotion of education. He even offered to obtain the services of the Japanese teachers and instructors. He suggested sending able Nepali men to Japan for advanced education and training. Rev. Kawaguchi gave details about the education programmes to be taken up which, he said, would be beneficial to Nepal in the long run. He made several other suggestions related to the establishment of vocational schools in major disciplines, starting industry, mines, the production of electricity, banks, trunk roads, trade, modern administration and many other programmes. He also offered to make available Japanese cooperation for all these works.

As always the British Resident in Kathmandu was watching the activities of the Rana government. The British thought if Nepal needed technical help from outside then it could be obtained from India. But Nepal was trying to approach the Japanese for technical assistance and this made the British in India worried. The British Resident reported the matter to the British Authority in London 15. In reporting, it wrote... "it is a pity that Nepal should turn her eyes towards Japan as her instructors as it means that her ambitions are for producing cheap labour rather than good solid staff... we might also ask for the exclusion of Japanese influences from Nepalese factories, although delicate... we do not want Japanese penetration into Nepal. The Nepalese government seem to feel that if they must have imports they would rather import Japanese and German products and influences."

In the words of a British mandarin one reason for this fear was that if the British obtained knowledge of the natural resources of Nepal it will be difficult to debar them from exploiting these resources. The Nepalese government attached much significance to the saying "where an Englishman comes he stays" ... But according to the same mandarin "others also will stay as long as the Englishman, which the Nepalese do not understand."

The students naturally tried hard to adjust themselves in a completely unknown society particularly where the language was entirely new. To engage a full time Japanese teacher who lived together was a very sensible decision for the students to understand the Japanese society which greatly helped them to overcome the difficulties in a foreign land. The Japanese government was sympathetic to them and the cooperation and friendship of the Japanese people made them feel quite at home. According to the son of Deep Narsingh, one of the teachers of his father offered help to educate the sons of the students if they wished to go to Japan. Mrs. Miyuki Narita, a housewife, wrote the following letter in 1934, thirty years after the students returned home.

"Dear Deep Narsingh,
How are you and your family? According to the newspaper of Japan, a big earthquake has occurred in your city and there have been much loss of lives and property. I hope all of you are safe. You may not remember me now. I am the daughter of your landlord Mr. Hyokichi Watanabe of Shibuya the house you used to stay in 1902-5. I was twelve years old at that time. In 1923, I went to Europe with my husband Hidezo Narita. He is a teacher in Toyama High school in Toyama prefecture. On our way back, we stayed in Colombo for two nights and remembered you all. I wanted to write, but I had no address with me. My brother Jiro is working in the Nippon Bank, and another brother is a director in Nippon Yusan Kaisha. Sisters are married..."

Very luckily, I had the chance to meet this lady in Tokyo in December 1978. She was 84 years old then, and could remember the Nepali students who rented the second floor of her father's house in Shibuya, Tokyo. She talked about Deep and Jang Narsingh and others and surprised me by singing a Nepali folk song she had learned from the students.

In those early years of the 20th century when every country, including Japan, was looking to the West for training in modern technology, why Nepal chose Japan for learning needs more studies.

Great many changes had been taking place in Japan in the latter part of the nineteenth century. US navy under the command of commodore Perry forced the Tokugawa regime access of the US ships access to the Japanese ports in 1853. That also brought the end of isolation policy. The feudal ruler Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu returned the reins of government to the Emperor in Novemer 9, 1867. A cabinet system was introduced in December 1885, the Constitution was promulgated in February 1889 and the Imperial Diet (Parliament) established in November 1890. Thus Japan became Asia's first nation to have parliament. The constitution became famous as Meiji Constitution, like its Prussian model, constitutional monarchy with more authority to the Emperor.

Industralisation that began in 1889 in Japan was moving faster. Railway started from Yokohama to Tokyo in 1872. Government built strategic industries in production of weapons and ammunition, developed mining and other sectors. Silk industry and cotton mills flourished in 1880 and many pilot projects for production as well as training purposes were started. Sino Japanese war (Aug. 1894 - March 1895) broke out over the control of Korea. Japan defeated China the giant neighbour and surprised the world. Taiwan was annexed and later on south Manchuria as well.

The restructuring of the government and economy was not so easy. Government carefully selected fields of priority, sent students to the western countries and even hired foreign experts. All these drastic measures paid with satisfaction. Within two decades government had achieved military and financial security from the west.

In the beginning of the twentieth century national security and advanced technological society were the priority for many countries, including Japan. According to Richard J. Samuels, Japan did not isolate the defence production from the general commercial economy. This he calls Japan's "Techno Nationalism16"

By the middle of the nineteenth century the European maritime powers that had completed the subjugation of the Indian subcontinent, had taken over much of Southeast Asia and started knocking the doors of China and putting the Chinese under pressure for semi-colonial system of unequal treaties.

It is said that Dev Shumsher had no close contact with British rulers in India. Till this time Rana rulers were treated as ambassadors of the King of Nepal, when they paid visit to British Viceroy in Calcutta. Lord Curzon's (Viceroy of India 1899-1904) outlook on relation with Nepal proved to be different from that of his predecessors. He did not want Nepal to have anything to do with China, and he sought to make Nepal accept a role of complete subordination to India. Several points of irritation developed due to this British attitude17. From Chandra Shumsher's time formal recognition of Prime Minister was secured in 1920. Every Rana ruler had good reason to be worried about the then British super power. Even King Prithivi Narayan Shah had stated in his Divya Upadesh (divine teaching) that Nepal should be careful about the intention of the southern neighbour. To remain sovereign and independent has been the prime concern of Nepali rulers.

The Gokhali rulers were deeply suspicious of foreigners and actively sought to eradicate all foreign influences from Nepal. The christian missionaries were expelled soon after the Valley was conquered by Prithivi Narayan Shah in 1769 and foreign traders were banned18.

Every Rana ruler was convinced that if the British were allowed to move freely in their country or foreign merchants were permitted to carry on trade it would ultimately lead to the subjugation of Nepal19.

As mentioned earlier Dev Shumsher learned a lot, through books and people, about the modernisation of Japan since 1868, the famous Meiji period. In Japan the historical term Meiji Ishin20 (Meiji restoration) is used with reference to the establishment of the new government, its policy and the modernisation programmes. A seizure of power from Tokugawa Shogun in 1868 and the subsequent modernization of the country were done in the name of Emperor Meiji, which became known as the Meiji Restoration. The reign of Emperor Meiji (1868-1912), is known as Meiji Era. Periods year corresponding in length of reign of an Emperor are still used in Japan. For example the last year of Emperor Hirohito was called Showa 64. This year (2002) is called "Heisei 14" the forteen-year reign of Emperor Akihito. A policy of strong centralised government was made with the slogan of "A rich country and strong army" (Fukoku-kyohei). In the subsequent years Meiji leaders clearly succeeded in building Japan as they had dreamed. Japan's military superiority had been unmistakably established in the wars with China (April 1895) and Russia (May 1905).

In its policy of creating a wealthy nation and powerful army the government perceiving the necessity of promoting the modernisation, took the lead in the positive direction by introducing a modern (western) thought and life style in Japan, It helped to encourage public awareness which gave momentum for modern Japan - it was referred to at the time as "Bummei Kaika" civilization and enlightenment.

In the nineteenth century, a profound transformation began in Japan which was often more revolutionary than evolutionary, according to Prof. O. Reisehauer, of Harvard University. In a mere half century Japan built a powerful modern nation out of a feudally fragmented technologically backward country and thereby established the national security and equality they longed for.21

All these events were a great source of inspiration for Dev Shumsher Rana. He found some similarities in his own vision for modernisation programmes in Nepal. He was also highly impressed with the talks he had with Swami Purananda Giri who recommended Japan for the Nepali students. He decided to send Nepali youths to Japan for studies in ammunition making, mining, engineering, agriculture and for a few other fields, which were feasible in Nepal.

Dev shumsher's quest for the modernisation of Nepal becomes clear by his liberal attitudes and the welfare schemes he wanted to implement. Dev Shumsher was every inch a democrat, convinced by the idea of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary system.22 He realised that new knowledge was essential from developed countries. Although the developed countries in the west were favourite destinations for the new know how in those days, Dev Shumsher had chosen an advanced Asian nation for learning, probably because of some similarities between Nepal and Japan rejoining their culture and the then political situation. There are three striking similarities between Nepal and Japan as both the countries had feudal rulers, Ranas in Nepal and shogun in Japan, who ruled their respective countries and adopted the closed-door policy over hundred years, secondly both the countries fought with their giant neighbour and the third, both the countries respect the institution of monarchy.

Cultural heritages of Nepal are closely linked to the Japanese traditional culture through the deep historical parallel which connects both countries. (For more details, see "The Wealth of Asia: In Search of Common Values" by Zenji Kaminaga, Tuttle Shakai Inc. 2-7-20, Kita-Aoyama, Minatoku, Tokyo 107-0061. Mr. Kaminaga is Ambassador of Japan currently serving in Nepal. Nepalese Deities in Japan is another article by Mr. Takamichi Okabe, currently Minister at the Embassy of Japan in Nepal, published in the daily Rising Nepal, November 2, 2001. This article sheds light on links of heritages between Nepal and Japan.

Nepal has a critical geopolitical and geographical position as it is sandwiched between the two big countries, India and China. Also it is a mountainous country with two thirds of its land is covered by difficult terrain. British-India was reluctant to allow other trading nations to enter Nepal; and as a consequence this country has always remained a captive market of the southern neighbour. Dual currency (Nepali and Indian) system was prevalent until 1966. Without vigorous efforts this country can not free itself from ecomomic dominations of big neighbours whose goods are flooding in the market.

The eight Nepali students who went to Japan in 1902 were the pioneers to go abroad for higher studies. Whatever was done in a difficult situation at home by the Japan returned youth was commendable. Their performances were appreciated by the authorities and the people concerned. Therefore, even after a gap of over thirty years since the students returned home another enthusiastic Prime Minister Judha Shumsher Rana tried to send another group of students to Japan in 1937. Earlier in 1916 Padma Sunder Malla went to Japan for study. He had been trying hard to go to Japan and looking for the opportunity. He derived inspiration from the eight Japan-returned youths. The eight new technocrats established good impressions into the society and people would talk about them. Malla happened to meet Prof. Takakusu in Kathmandu and later on Rev. Kawaguchi in 1913. Malla expressed his desire to go to Japan for study. Prof. Takakusu and Rev. Kawaguchi told him that they would help him if he would come to Japan. With great difficulty Malla convinced his parents. The parents gave permission, but not to go alone. His elder brother also accompanied him to Japan. The two brothers boarded a cargo ship in Calcutta and reached Yokohama. As promised, Prof. Takakusu and Rev. Kawaguchi helped him to get admission in Tokyo Koto Kogyo Gakko (present Tokyo Institute of Technology). Malla's brother came back to Nepal. Padma Sunder Malla lived in Asakusa. He studied in Japan for two years and from there be went to the U.S.A for further studies. He was the first qualified electric engineer of Nepal. Upon completing his studies in the U.S.A when he came back to Nepal unfortunately he was outcasted. His faults was that he had not sought permission to go overseas. However, he got a job in Darjeeling in the Electric power house and stayed there for many years. Later he also worked in the Morang (Biratnagar) Power Project. Incidentally Mr. Malla and I worked in the same place, the Balaju Industrial Estate, Kathmandu, the first in the country, in 1963 just after I returned from Japan. He was in his last leg of career whereas I had just started my career. We used to talk about Japan of his days and mine with many pleasant memories.

Sending more Nepali students to Japan did not materialise for over half a century. Regular sending of Nepali students to Japan resumed in 1958 to begin with Monbusho (Education Ministry of Japan) scholarship and later on under other non-government programmes.

Nepalese going to Japan for studies should make all efforts, apart from own field of study, to understand and discover the originality, the spirit and merit of the Japanese culture. The concept of values, strong determination and commitment that lie behind Japan's socio-economic activities also should be understood. By virtue of being Asian and sharing common values of Asian culture it should not be difficult for Nepalese to gain much from the Japanese perspectives. As mentioned earlier many cultural heritages of Nepal and Japan are closely linked. Culture and tradition play an important role in the course of modernisation. Japanese experience in this area is another field Nepali Students should try to understand in order to play a significant role in development process.

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