Embassy of Japan in Nepal

People's Exchanges

The 100th Anniversary of Nepali Students in Japan

by Harendra B. Barua


Chestnut1, Chrysanthemum, Persimmon and Wisteria (big Kattus, Godavari Phool, Haluwabed and Nil-lahar) respectively are familiar flowers and fruits of Nepal and well known in Kathmandu. All these flowers and fruits have been very common in Japan for hundreds of years. The existence of these beauties and delicacies was not known in Nepal before the beginning of the 20th century. These fruits and the flowers were the first humble contributions made by the Nepali youths on their return home after completing studies in Japan a century ago. Seeds of the flowers and fruits were first planted in the gardens of the aristocrats. The youth also taught the workers the technical know-how they had learned. At a time when the countries of Asia and elsewhere were sending their students to the West for advanced learning in the early 20th century, Nepal sent its students to Japan for advanced learning in the fields of ammunition making, mechanical engineering, mining, agriculture, applied chemistry and ceramics. Owing to the circumstances prevailing at the time, modernisation efforts were not continued systematically in the later years. Political stability and peace conducive to the development programme existed and government could have launched many programmes during the 104 years of long and peaceful rule of the Ranas equivalent of the Shogun in Japan, had they possessed the vision and the political will. On the contrary the country was kept isolated from the outside the world for over a century.

The Ranas established their oligarchic rule and remained in power from 1846 to 1951. During this period, even the King's role was reduced to merely ceremonial functions. But the sovereignty of the King continued and was fully acknowledged with honour. The highest office of the de facto ruler was the prime minister and other ministerial offices were occupied by the senior Ranas. An oligarchic prime ministership was established within the Rana family. This situation was analogous to that of the Shogun and Emperor in the then Japan. Tokugawa Shogun regime lasted from 1603 to 1867. A closed-door policy was adopted during this regime which is also known as the Edo period.

The rise of the Ranas was due to the unstable court politics of Nepal between 1775 to 1846. All the powerful clans (Thapas, Pandes, Basnyets) including the Kunwar family played different roles in the court politics. The central authority was weakened due to many political upheavals followed by continuous instability. The situation was ripe for stable change. The founder of the Rana regime was Jung Bahadur who belonged to the Kunwar clan. Jung Bahadur rose himself from an ordinary army captain to the post of Prime Minister at the age of twenty-nine only. He established authority in the country from 1846 to 1877 till his death. He also saved Nepal by appeasing the East India Company, the British ruler in India.

Nepali Prime Minister Jung Bahadur and Japanese Toyotomi Hideyoshi of Japan (1590) rose from the bottom to the top. Both of them established authority over the whole of their respective countries. Hideyoshi was a common footsoldier whereas Jung Bahadur was an army captain.

However, some benevolent Rana Prime Minister made some efforts to ameliorate the lot of the common people. But whenever they tried to introduce reforms, they were vehemently opposed, or swiftly removed from their positions by the rivals, their own brothers and cousins.

Prime Minister Dev Shumsher Rana has been recognised by the historians as the first benevolent, progressive and liberal-minded ruler. He had a great vision and introduced a number of reforms. He made considerable improvements in the arsenal at Nakkhu (South of Kathmandu City), proclaimed universal education, ordered three hundred primary schools2 to be opened all over the country, started the nation's first news media The Gorkhapatra3 (the daily with a large nationwide circulation) took steps to abolish the slavery system and several other social welfare schemes. The most conspicuous was the midday gun-fire (cannon) at the center of Kathmandu which was practiced from 1901 without break till 1989. The idea was to draw the attention of the public to the mid-day time. He also had a council of advisors in which people from all walks of life were represented. He often talked about the parliamentary system of government under the King. During his time he consistently attempted to ameliorate the lot of the common people and had sponsored several development programmes. Dev Shumsher had an Assembly hall at his residence in Thapathali, Kathmandu, where people's representatives used to attend the meeting. Representatives from the oppressed class were also included in the Assembly for the first time, according to Mr. Himalaya S. Rana, great- grand-son of Dev Shumsher. Probably that was a kind of Parliament that Dev Shumsher had in mind.

Another Prime Minister Padma Shumsher also tried to bring some reforms by encouraging education, administration, local autonomy, independent judiciary and some other welfare programmes. In spite of all these good ideas he lacked the statesmanship and qualities of leadership and had to resign voluntarily.

Those were just some of the reforms that Dev Shumsher Rana initiated. To carry out reforms successfully he needed a great deal of technical manpower, new knowhow, technology from advanced countries and was looking for the opportunity to get them. One day he happened to meet his old friend, an Indian, Swami Purananda Giri in Kathmandu. Mr. Giri had travelled in the U.S.A. Japan and some other advanced countries. He spoke highly of Japan during his conversation with Prime Minister Dev Shumsher. Swami Giri was said to be the follower of the great Indian philosopher and reformer. Swami Vivekananda became world famous after his speech at the World Religion Congress in Chicago in 1893. Swami Giri might have travelled to many countries with his Guru.

Dev Shumsher might have been impressed by Japan's rapid transformation, the change of an agricultural feudal society to an industrial nation, and the establishment of numerous small and medium industries and technical schools. He might have thought that all these could be useful in Nepal. He decided to send eight students to Japan and asked Swami Giri to accompany them as a guide. Unfortunately, Dev Shumsher could not implement his plans during his tenure of the office. The liberal minded Dev Shumsher was also liberal on extravaganzas, according to the historians. His rivals in the Rana family were not happy with his progressive ideas. May be with internal and external supports a bloodless coup d'etat against Dev Shumsher was staged, by his own brother, Chandra Shumsher Rana, who succeeded him as Prime Minister in 19014. Dev Shumsher was ousted from his position on June 27, 1901 after only 114 days in office and was exiled. At first he went to Dhankuta and later settled down in Mussorie, a hill station in India, not far from West Nepal till his last day.

It is said that Dev Shumsher was aware of the plot attempted by his brother Chandra Shumsher. But he believed that his liberal political views would be appreciated by the masses and that once he had won their confidence, none of his rivals would dare to move against him. Thus convinced, he went on to implement his reform programmes.

Although Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana (1901-29) disliked the idea of universal education5 and social reform progammes, he was a shrewd ruler and administrator who consolidated the Rana rule in Nepal. He implemented some of the reformation programmes initiated by Dev Shumsher. He permitted the eight youths to go to Japan. He knew that Japan was becoming an Asian power. Chandra Shumsher met Rev. Ekai Kawaguchi in 1903 during his second visit to Nepal. Rev. Ekai Kawaguchi was the first Japanese national to visit Nepal in March 1903. During this meeting Chandra Shumsher's direct question to Kawaguchi was what has transformed Japan into so great a power as she is now. Kawaguchi's reply was education and patriotism6.

[ HOME ]

Copyright (c): 2012 Embassy of Japan in Nepal