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.

Ekai Kawaguchi and the Beginning of Cultural Exchange
Between Japan and Nepal

Professor Ryuzo Takayama

The first exchange between Japan and Nepal had a cultural purpose. It was fortunate when compared to the interchange between Japan and some other Asian countries, where the objective was of a political or military nature. After the Meiji Restoration many young Japanese Buddhist monks were alarmed at the decline of Buddhism in Japan, and some of them wished to enter Nepal or Tibet in order to acquire original Buddhist sutras.

Ekai Kawaguchi: The First Japanese to Enter Nepal

Kawaguchi Ekai, a Zen priest, is known for his explorations in Tibet. He was the first Japanese to enter Nepal on 26 January, 1899. Then on 4 July, 1900 he entered Tibet by crossing a pass in the Himalayas. Later he stayed in Nepal: in 1903, 1905, 1912, and 1913. In total, the length of his stay was two and a half years.

According to his famous book, Three Years in Tibet, the purpose of his travel was to collect the original Sanskrit Buddhist sutras of Buddhism and their Tibetan translations. Kawaguchi had read the Tripitaka which was translated into Chinese and printed in Japan, and he knew that there were various translations of the original, and also that the Chinese translations had been underestimated by European scholars. He got information about original Sanskrit Buddhist sutras that were not to be found in India, but which might remain in Nepal, as well as correctly translated Tibetan sutras.

Kawaguchi learned Chinese in Japan, Tibetan in Darjeeling, Tsaran (Mustang) and Tibet, and Sanskrit in Calucutta, Kathmandu and Varanasi, in order to carry out comparative studies of the sutras.

Kawaguchi visited Nepal four times:
  1. He smuggled himself into Nepal in the guise of a Chinese priest (1899-1900).
  2. He made an entreaty to Maharaja Chandra Shamsher to use his influence to save captured Tibetans who were Kawaguchi's friends in Lhasa (1903).
  3. He presented the Chinese Buddhist sutra, the Tripitaka, printed in Japan to Maharaja Chandra Shamsher (1905).
  4. He guided Takakusu Junjiro, Professor of Tokyo University and another person to Lumbini and Kathamandu (1912-1913).

Japanese Monks Who Headed for Nepal

Kawaguchi was not the only Japanese monk who wanted to enter Nepal. According to an academic journal of Oriental Studies in the early 20th century, Omiya Kojun, a student of the Tendaishu sect of Buddhism; Shimizu Mokuji, a student of the Shinshu sect of Buddhism; and Oda Tokuno, a priest of the Shinshu sect of Buddhism, went to India for the purpose of entering Nepal. Two of them met Sarat Chandra Das in Darjeeling, and learned Nepalese there. However, only Shimizu entered Nepal, at Tarai. Shimizu said in his letter to his family, "Kawaguchi was the first Japanese who entered Nepal, but he only passed through the country. Even if I could not find the Sanskrit sutras of Buddhism, I wanted to observe the religion and the customs of the Nepalese which Kawaguchi had not observed. And I would like to collect many materials in order to inform Japanese. I wanted to enter Nepal with the knowledge of Indian and Nepalese languages." Shimizu studied Sanskrit in Varanasi, but became ill and died in Bombay in August, 1903.

While Kawaguchi was in Nepal from February to March in 1903, Shimaji Daito, a member of the expedition led by Otani Kozui, was doing archaeological research on the Buddha in Tarai. His journey started from Birganj in Nepal, went on north-westward, and northward from Mafan village through the forest. He crossed the Churia Range, then reached the upper course of the Rapti River, went on westward to the Narayani River, and lastly went out to India. According to the record of Hasebe Ryutai in Koyasan, who entered Nepal later, Shimaji was driven back from Nepal at the end of the forest of Tarai.

From February to March, 1903, Shimizu, Honda Eryu, and Inoue Koen, the members of the expedition led by Otani Kozui, entered Tarai, went to Araurakot, Tilaurakot, and Lunmindi (Lumbini), where they did archaeological research on Buddhist artifacts.

Kawaguchi and Nepalese Students in Japan

Kawaguchi came back to Japan in May, 1903. According to a newspaper of that time, two months after his return he met two Nepalese students, Jang Narshing Rana and one other, who had already been studying for one year in Japan. After they talked in Nepalese about circumstances in Nepal, Kawaguchi sang a Nepalese folk song. The two students were surprised and delighted at his hospitality, and clapped their hands. Kawaguchi reported to the Maharaja on some misunderstandings which existed between the students and their Indian supervisor that was requested by the Maharaja.

Buddha Vajura, the chief priest of Bouddhanath, sent a letter to Kawaguchi on the Russo-Japanese War. Kawaguchi guessed that it was actually the Maharaja's question to him, and he replied by giving the reasons for the start of the war, the circumstances of the war and the other details in Tibetan.

Presentation of the Tripitaka and "The Memorial"

Kawaguchi tried to collect Sanskrit Buddhist sutras in Kathmandu and other places, but it was not so easy. He proposed to the Maharaja an exchange of the Sanskrit for the Japanese sutras, and it was agreed upon.

Then, Kawaguchi carried one set of the Tripitaka printed in Obakusan Manpukuji (Uji-city, Kyoto Prefecture), and presented it to the Maharaja in 1905. He had once belonged to Manpukuji Temple, where he had read the Tripitaka, and he had some questions about the Chinese translations.

He brought many volumes of the Tripitaka in special wooden boxes covered with galvanized iron. Unfortunately, a fire occurred in the warehouse in Bombay. He received the information that his cargo was lost in the fire, but then was informed that only the cargo of the sutra was safe.

Kawaguchi brought a tomi with him, a rice and rice-case separating machine and a model of a water wheel. He thought that these Japanese agricultural machines would be useful to Nepali agriculture. But this cargo may have been lost in the fire. If the gifts had really arrived, it might rightly have been called the first step in Nepal and Japan cooperation. Kawaguchi stayed in Bouddanath, waiting to collect the Sanskrit sutras of Buddhism, and also tried to collect them by himself. During this time he was requested by the Maharaja to present a long English letter titled 'The Memorial, Peace and Glory' (57 pages.). It was published in the journals Nepali (1992) and Himal (1993). Kawaguchi's detailed proposal on the modernization of Nepal was in it. The English letter and its translation were published in Kawaguchi Eikai Chosaku Syu (The Complete Works of Kawaguchi Ekai). Vol. 15, 2001, which I edited.

Kawaguchi stayed in Varanasi, India, studied Sanskrit and translated sutras, and researched Buddhist artifacts. He started from Calcutta, reentering Tibet at the end of the year of 1913, and came back to Japan in September, 1915. He may have visited Lumbini in February 1907.

Search for the Sanskrit Sutras of Buddhism

Sakaki Ryosaburo of Kyoto Imperial University might have collected the Sanskrit sutras of Buddhism in 1910, but the details are not clear. Aoki Bunkyo passed Ilam and Urunzon in eastern Nepal, entering Tibet by the order of Otani Kozui in September 1912.

Several young Japanese came together in Kawaguchi's dwelling in Varanasi, where Professor Takakusu Junjiro of Tokyo Imperial University visited on his way from England. Takakusu, Masuda Jiryo and Tani Dogen entered Nepal without visas under Kawaguchi's guidance, and researched sites of Buddhist ruins. Soon after this research, Takakusu, Kawaguchi and Hasebe Ryutai entered Nepal, and collected the Sanskrit sutras of Buddhism in January and February 1913.

In 'the List of Europeans who have visited Nepal' in the Appendix of Nepal. Vol.2 by Perceval Landon, "Mr. J. Taka, M. A. D. Lit., Professor of Tokio University, Mr. Ekai Kawaguchi, of Japan, two Japanese, names not known (January - February), to study Sanskrit MSS." were written. Takakusu's name was not correct. Takakusu had an audience with the Maharaja, and he was asked his opinion. Against Takakusu's proposal on general education, the Maharaja expressed his reluctance because of his fear of the influence of civilization and education. Also the Maharaja said that he sent some students to Japan, but that it was useless, and he stopped sending them.

According to the record of Hasebe, Hem Bahadur, a Newali who was a student in Japan, spoke to them in Japanese in a Buddhist Temple at Patan. He was glad to see some Japanese in his country, and then he showed them around.

Hasebe visited the National Library, maybe Bir Library. Hasebe said "the Tripitaka of Japan was Kawaguchi's present, and was seen by no one, but it was completed." He may be the only testifier of the Tripitaka which Kawaguchi presented to the Maharaja. The year of 1913 was the year we see the stamp of Maharaja Chandra Shamsher on each sutra.

The number of the Sanskrit manuscripts collected by Kawaguchi and Takakusu in Tokyo University was 566. Among them, 390 manuscripts were collected by Kawaguchi. These Catalogues were made by Professor Matunami Seiren in 1965.

My Confirmation of the Sanskrit Sutras of Buddhism

The sutras were safe, that was clear, but what was not clear was whether he had brought one set of all the volumes of the sutra and dedicated it to the Maharaja, and whether those sutras he presented were preserved or not. Therefore, the main objective of my visit to Nepal in 1998 was to look at these sutras and establish whether or not they were the real ones that Kawaguchi presented to the Maharaja. With this purpose in my mind, I visited the National Archives, Department of Archaeology with Professor Abhi Sbedi, on 4 September, 1998.

It was very difficult for the Nepali to read the Chinese letters. In fact, nobody here in Nepal could evaluate and identify the Tripitaka or establish its authenticity.

The Tripitaka in the National Archives was the exact Japanese edition hand-printed in Obakusan Manpukuji. Each package contained five or six book-form sutras. The number of the last package was 275, but at first I could count only 249. I wondered if the other packages were lost. Fortunately, I found that the 26 packages that were not numbered were kept in another place. The total number of the packages was exactly 275. I was very delighted to find the complete Tripitaka in the National Archives.

The next problem was that of the authentication of the actual dedication of the Tripitaka to Maharaja Chandra Shamsher. I confirmed that the front and the last pages of each book bore the seal or stamp signet of Chandra Shamsher Rana. The date was recorded as 1970 B. S., or 1913 A. D. It was certain that Kawaguchi had presented the Tripitaka in 1905, but it must have been received only later.

After making some proposals in my report, I concluded with the following words: "The sutras are the symbols of a Nepal-Japan relationship that started 93 years ago."

My Research of the Tripitaka

My research in 1998 brought me the confirmation of the existence of the Tripitaka, which Kawaguchi Ekai presented to Maharaja Chandra Shamsher in 1905. However, I did not know whether or not it was a complete set. I would like to do further research based on my proposals. I visited the National Archives with Professor Abhi Sbedi on 30 August, 1999 again. Under the permission of the Chief of the National Archives, the following tasks were conducted between 30 August and 9 September:
  1. Cleaning the packages and books.
  2. Arranging the books according to the "Chinese letter number" and to our list.
  3. Labeling each book by number. The first number indicated the package number, the last number indicated the book number.
  4. Checking the package title, the book title, and the sutra title of contents. If any differences were found, there were recorded.
  5. Affixing titles on non-titled packages and non-titled books.
  6. Some books, whose titles and contents were mistaken, were corrected.
  7. Labeling the package numbers.
  8. Arrangement of all the packages, according to their numbers.

After checking all packages and all books, we have found the Tripitaka of the National Archives in a completely preserved state. We, the Japanese, thank the Bir Library and the National Archives for preserving it for 94 years. The total of the packages was 275, and the total of the books was 2100.

I am sorry to say that two packages were badly eaten by worms. Also, I am sorry to have found a slight disarrangement and missing pages, from the stages of bookbinding back in Japan.

I have added the package numbers and book numbers to the so-called "Nanjo Catalogue (A Catalogue of the Chinese Buddhist Tripitaka)", which has the Chinese letter title, its Chinese pronunciation, English title, Roman Sanskrit title, and English explanation of each sutra. I already presented the catalogue with the number of packages and books, as a record of the Tripitaka which Kawaguchi Ekai presented to Maharaja Chandra Shamsher in 1905, in the National Archives, to the Royal Nepalese Ambassador, Dr. Mathema, on 17 November 1999 in Tokyo.

Why had Kawaguchi brought such voluminous sutras from Japan? Though he surely wished to present the Tripitaka according to his agreement with the Maharaja, there is no doubt that he wanted to return the Tripitaka made by the Japanese to the country of the Buddha's birth, and to complete a great circle of Buddhism: India-Silkroad-China-Japan-India (Nepal).

Copyright (c): 2012 Embassy of Japan in Nepal