Embassy of Japan in Nepal

People's Exchanges

The 100th Anniversary of Nepali Students in Japan

Symposium on
A Century of Nepali Students in Japan and Perspective for the 21st Century

April 7, 2002.

Historical Overview: Pioneer Nepali Student in Japan- A Century Ago 1902-2002

Harendra B. Barua

Brief Introduction

Wisteria, Chrysanthemum, Persimmon and the big size Chestnut (Nillahar, Godaboriphool, Haluwabed and thulo Kattus) are familiar flowers and fruits of Nepal, particularly it is common in the Kathmandu valley. Seeds of these flowers and fruits were brought from Japan and planted here for the first time hundred years ago by one of the eight students who studied agriculture in Japan.

After thorough scrutiny and consultations with the Council of Elders a letter from Munshi Khanna (Foreign Dept.) dated March 1902, was written to the Students granting permission to go to Japan for study. Details instructions were given about the travel, expenses and asking them to make hard efforts to pursue study. Seventeen servants were also allowed to accompany the eight youths. The youths who ranged in age between 18 and 27, and their entourage left Nepal in April boarded a ship Thomas Cook on April 29 and reached Japan on June 17, 1902. They were the first Nepali nationals to land in Japan. Incidentally the students were also the first Nepalese to go overseas for study under government scholarship.

It was Prime Minister Dev Shumsher Rana, well known for his reform policy, who planned to send Nepali youths to Japan. But his plan could not be implemented during his 114 days of short rule. However, the youths went to Japan during the rule of Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana.

The group stayed in Yokohama for a few days. The students visited the British Legation with a letter from Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana to the British Minister in Tokyo. As requested by the Nepali Prime Minister, the British Minister wrote on April 21, 1902 to Japanese Foreign Minister Juntaro Komura, requesting that the youths be allowed to enter schools and colleges. He referred to the students as "state students" of Nepal. The Minister forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Education, and on the recommendation of the Monbusho (Education Ministry), the Nepali students were admitted into three government institutions Teikoku Daigaku (Tokyo University), Kuramae Koto Kogyo Gakko (Tokyo Institute of Technology) and Noka Daigaku (Tokyo Agriculture University).

Each student was placed under the supervision of a teacher at the colleges and in addition hired private teachers for tutoring in language and other related subjects.

Name of the students Age Subject
Jang Narsingh Rana 22 Arms Technology
Bhakta Bahadur Basnet 19 Arms Technology
Dev Narsingh Rana 20 Mining
Bal Narsingh Raimajhi 20 Mining
Deep Narsingh Rana 18 Agriculture
Hem Bahadur Rajbhandari 22 Mechanical Engineering
Rudra Lal Singh 27 Chemistry
Bichar Man Singh 25 Ceramics and Laquarevace
(Later change to Sericulture)

The Director of Tokyo Imin K. K., Fuji Boeki K.K. helped them to find a rented house and also stood as guarantor at the time of admission to the colleges and the schools.

By studying Japanese in the last few months we have been able to speak common words and carry on simple conversation but not enough to understand lectures of the professors. The standards of science subjects, Physics, Chemistry, Math, etc. are very high. Professors dictate lecture notes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in Japanese language and the students depend entirely on those notes. The notes are so complete and extensive that the students need seldom consult printed books."

The Professors of the Department of Arms Technology speak French instead of English. French and German are used in higher studies so if we could hire teacher or translator, with your permission (permission from Prime Minister Office of Nepal) it will be easier for us. We will try to get a teacher with reasonable salary".

The Japanese classmates used to help translating class notes and also extended co-operations when necessary, according to the diary notes.

The students rented houses near their colleges, in the neighborhoods of Hongo, Asakusa and Shibuyamura. According to a police report submitted in Tokyo in 1903, three students rented a house at 20 yen per month in Asakusa, had five Nepali servants. Four other rented two houses for 30 yen each per month in Hongo and had five servants in each house. One student who studied agriculture stayed in Shibuyamura, Tokyo and rented house for 10 yen and had two servants. In 1978 in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to meet 86 year-old Mrs. Narita, the daughter of that house's landlord. Although she was only 12 years old at that time, she well remembered the Nepali students, who she referred as the "prince students".

Upon their return to Nepal in 1905, all eight students found employment in their respective fields. Rev. Ekai Kawaguchi visited Nepal in 1905 and saw the former students working in various places. Among other efforts, they cast copper coins and manufactured some light ammunition. Due to some odd happening, the situation of the former students was dramatically changed some years later.

One of the promising youths who studied ammunition making was suddenly posted outside Kathmandu at Pyuthan, and never allowed to return back home in Kathmandu. In general, the works of the Japan returned youths were appreciated. Another Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher Rana tried to send students to Japan in 1937. But the programme was abandoned due to outbreak of World War II.

Regular dispatch of students to Japan resumed in 1957 soon after the establishment of diplomatic relation between Japan and Nepal in 1956.

Japan and South Asia
It is now one hundred years when for the first time a group of eight Nepali students went to Japan for higher studies. They were also the pioneer to go abroad for study. It is said that Japan had also started receiving foreign students about hundred years ago. The government of Nepal sponsored the first group of Nepali students to Nepal in 1902.

Apart from religion and cultural links since ancient time the relation between Japan and South Asia were comparatively thin and psychologically distant till the middle of the 20th century. There was neither conflict of interest nor serious problems between Japan and South Asia.

Compared with South Asia, Japan is widely familiar in Northeast Asia, namely ASEAN countries. Interaction between Japan and South Asia yet to be developed appropriately. Officially South Asia region is called "Nansei Asia" (South West Asia). No South Asian leaders have shown particular enthusiasm about Japan Medias in South Asia also does not publish details, except on national days. Publications on Japan are handful.

Over the past decade, some Asian political leaders have some interest on Japan with the slogan "look to the East". This sentiment was expressed in 1988 in Tokyo by late Rajib Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister during Indian festival inauguration there. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir also expressed similar sentiment to look to East.

Inspite of limited interaction between Japan and South Asia there has been no feeling of hatred or animosity in south Asia against Japan. Japan also has shown soft and friendly attitudes towards South Asian region soon after postwar period.

Japan and Nepal

Notwithstanding the thin and psychologically distant relation till the middle of the 20th century Nepali leaders looked to the East long ago at the start of the 20th century. While countries of Asia even Japan was looking to the west for advanced learning government of Nepal sent its youths to Japan for higher studies.

One of Nepalese moderate Rana Prime Minister Dev Shumsher thought Japan an appropriate place for Nepalese for learning. The reason he chose Japan may be:-
  1. Some similarities between Nepal and Japan rejoining their culture and then political situation. Cultural heritages of Nepal are closely linked to Japanese traditional culture through deep historical parallel which connects both the countries.

    Nepal and Japan adopted self isolation policy over hundred years during Shogun Tokugawa Period, which is also know as Edo period (1603-1869) and the Rana period (1846-1951). Other striking similarities were both the countries ruled by feudal rulers, fought with their giant neighbor and respected their monarchy.

  2. In the 19th century a profound transformation began in Japan which was often more revolutionary than evolutionary, according Prof. Reisshaur. Meiji leaders succeeded in building Japan with the slogan Fukoku - Kyohei, rich country and strong army, a public awareness was created for modernization which is referred to as "Bummeikaika", civilization and enlightenment. In only half a century Japan built a powerful modern nation out of feudally fragmented technologically backward country, thereby winning the national security and equality they longed for.

  3. Dev Shumsher was impressed to hear about the Meiji Ishin (Meiji restoration) policy, modernization programme, Meiji Constitution that promulgated in February 1889 and the Imperial diet established in 1890. Japan became the first country in Asia to establish Parliament and the constitution. Small country like Japan became victorious in the war with China (1895).

  4. Dev Shumsher and his predecessors did not secure British recognition as Prime Minister. British rulers wanted Nepal to accept a role of subordination to India. Every Rana rules had good reasons to be worried about the then British super power. To remain sovereign and independent has been the prime concern of Nepali rulers. Other fear was that if the British obtained knowledge of the natural resources of Nepal it would be difficult to debar them from exploiting the resources. A closed-door policy was adopted for 104 years.

Dev Shumsher became Prime Minister at the age of 39 in March 5, 1901. Rev. Kawaguchi came to Nepal in 1899 January-February, on way to Tibet for the first time. It seems that he had remarkable insight of understanding the situation of those days in Nepal which is very much clear from his famous letter written to Chandra Shumsher in 1905. The letter is full of patriotic feeling recommending the Prime Minister of Nepal for the promotion of education, vocational schools, exploring mines and production of electricity, construction of roads, trade, banks and modernization of administration. All these recommendations were rather in detail and Kawaguchi offered Japanese co-operations to achieve these targets. He also mentioned in the letter about the Pan-Asiatic feeling and indication to wean Nepal away from British influence, etc. What Rev Kawaguchi recommended hundred years ago for the overall progress of Nepal is still relevant, a visionary monk indeed he was.

Dev Shumsher's quest for modernization was strikingly similar to the recommendation made by Kawaguchi. Dev was desperately looking for Japan and information of that country. Had Dev Shumsher met Rev. Kawaguchi history of Nepal-Japan relation would have probably been different.

One can imagine how Chandra Shumsher the strong ally of the British might have left after reading the letter of Kawaguchi. The letter had indication of weaning Nepal away from British influences. Ideas of great Pan-Asiatic feeling was clear in the letter. Chandra Shumsher had appreciated the feeling of Kawaguchi. However, the shrewed Prime Minister was more concerned about Nepal's future as sovereign independent country. The letter was not known to any one till 1990s.

Nepal-Japan have enjoyed century old unblemished friendly ties. There are plenty of evidences for Japan's soft attitudes to Nepal. As I mentioned earlier regular dispatch of Nepali Students started from 1957 and the total number may be around 200 who have completed university level education at present.

Apart from learning science and technology from Japan, Nepalese going to Japan for studies should make all efforts to understand and discover the originality and merit of Japanese culture, both earlier and modern. Japanese value and sensibility is another area that should be understood. The concept of values that lie behind Japan's socio-economic activities is growing among people who are looking to Japan. By virtue of being Asian and sharing common values of Asian culture it should not be difficult for Nepalese to gain from Japanese perspective.

Foot Notes and References
  1. Chestnuts of smaller size are grown wild on the mountains of Nepal. Seeds of bigger size Chestnuts, Wisteria, Chrysanthemum, Persimmon were brought from Japan and planted in Kathmandu for the first time.

  2. Kamal M. Dixit, "Esto Pani" (Like this also) 1st. Ed. 1957-p-40, Madan Library, Patan Dhoka (Kathmandu), Nepal.

    Dev Shumsher was very satisfied with the plan "Universal Education" (Aksharanka Shiksha) prepared by Jay Prithivi Bahadur Singh. Later it was published in "Gorkhapatra" 1st and 2nd Edition 1958 B.S. (1901 A.D.). Dev Shumsher remarked, "If anyone wishes to satisfy the prime minister, it should be with the works like this, not flattery". Jay Prithivi Bahadur Singh, a progressive intellectual of Nepal, published a booklet about Japan in 1908. That was the first publication in Nepal giving brief information on Japanese affairs. Mr. Singh visited Japan on his way back from the U.S.A. He also served as head of "Gorkhapatra newspaper".

  3. The publication of "Weekly Gorkhapatra" started on May 1901 (B.S. 1958. Vaisakha 24). Within a short period of time the paper progressed well and started Bi-weekly publication. Owing to its popularity, later it started daily issue, which has become the oldest and largest daily of Nepal today.

    Iron ore Mine was started in Thosay during Dev Shumshere's time. The Thosay bazaar is 15 km away north from Manthali, the headquarter of Ramechhap district. At one time this was Nepal's largest iron ore processing center. Iron from this area was used for manufacturing weapons that were used during war with Tibet. Trekkers pass through this Thosay bazaar on their way to Mt. Sagarmatha (Everest) (Gorkhapatra Daily, Jan. 16, 2002)

  4. Prof. Junjiro Takakusu, Journey to Nepal, Chigaku Zasshi, (Magazine) No. 305, 1914, "During the conversation with Prime Minister Chandra Shumshere Rana Prof. Takakusu of Tokyo University emphasized universal education a prerequisite for all round development and also told that Japan had been benefited by doing so. But the Premier rejected the idea". Prof. Takakusu was an author and had translated and edited several books on Buddhism and Indian philosophy.

  5. Modern Nepal; A political history 1769-1955. vol-II by Risikesh Shah. Manohar publication 2/6 Ansari Road, Daryagang, New Delhi -110002.

  6. Three years in Tibet by Ekai Kawaguchi. (I received the copy of the book from Mrs. Miyata Teru, nece of Rev. Kawaguchi.)

    Published by Book Faith India
    416 Express Towet
    Azadpur commercial complex. Delhi-110033.

  7. Immigration Record of Foreigners. Meiji 35 yr (1902). Yokohama Sea Port, Japan.

  8. Gaiko Shiriyokan, Meiji 35 yr (Diplomatic Record Office of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo).

  9. S. Hidaka, Nepal & Japan: A survey of Japanese activities 1899-1966, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1967.

  10. Autobiography of Rev. E. Kawaguchi. Prof. Ryuzo Takayama. Kyoto Bunkyo University, Kodansha Publication.

  11. 'Nepali soldiers known as "Gurkhas" were sent to India and other places of the world to assist the British Government during war. But Nepal did not take part in any world war.".

  12. Nepal's largest building and official residence of Rana Prime Ministers which had more than a thousand rooms.

  13. Perceval Landon, Nepal- VOL II (reprint) Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu, 1976-pp-157, 179.

  14. Letter of Rev. Ekai Kawaguchi to Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana, Oct. 22,1905, Kathmandu, Madan library, Patan Dhoka, Kathmandu.

  15. Distant Asian Neighbour, Purnendra e. Jain. L-10 Green Park Extn. Sterling Publication Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi - 1996. Page 175 Articles by Deepak Gyawli.

  16. Rich Nation Strong Army: National Security and the Technological Transformation of Japan by Richard J. Samuels, Cornell Univesity Press Ithoca, USA, 1994.

  17. Modern Nepal, Vol-II by Rishikesh Shah, Monohar Publication 2/6Ansari Road Daryaganj, New Delhi.

  18. Nepal under the Ranas by Adrian Sever. Publushed in India by Mohan Promlani for Oxford & IBH Pub. Co. 16, Janapath, New Delhi 110-001.

  19. Nepal and British India by Nagendra Kumar Singh, Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi- 110-002, India.

  20. Japan in Modern History (Vol-1). International Society for Educational Information 22 wakaba, I-chome Shinjuku -Ku. Tokyo -160.

  21. East Asia, The Modern Transformation. By Prof. J.K. Fairbank, & Prof. E.O. Rieischouer and Prof. M. Craig. Harvard University. Asia Edition.Charles, E. Tuttle Co. I-Chome, 2-6, Shinjuku-ku. Tokyo.

  22. "Seto-Bagh" (White Tiger) by Diamond Shumsher Rana, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu, 1978.

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