Texture of bondingNepal-Japan relationship is shaped by a broad sense of human love and respect than anything else
Japan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Nobuo Kishi, visiting Kathmandu to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Nepal and Japan, stated that his country would stand by its promise to help in Nepal’s holistic development. A small gathering in Kathmandu on Thursday made me pensive about the nature of Nepal-Japan relations. Over the years, I have felt that the vibrant energy that once shaped the relations is somehow waning. I never contemplated the cause of that. It may also be possible that over the years, I did not closely follow the developments in the relations between the two countries.
The political developments in Nepal shifted some of the tenets of relations with many friendly countries in the last decade or so. The volatile and challenging political situation shifted the perception of the political parties, elites, civil societies, and think-tanks of this country to something that was immediate and worldly. Nepal once again became more tightly sandwiched between China and India even though the political parties of Nepal drew succour from these two countries. Natural calamities, last year’s earthquake, institutionalisation of corruption, sway of party cronies, weakening of people’s resistance including that of the students and the long Indian embargo made Nepalis ironically solipsistic in their thinking and behaviour. I think Nepal-Japan relations too suffered due to these developments. This is entirely my observation and I have some reasons to believe in the development of this situation. I repeat what I saw and experienced in the last years of the 20th century in Japan to try to understand such a shift.
An eye-opening experience
I always considered that Buddhist culture was the warp and woof of Nepal-Japan relations, and that every other consideration emanates from it. A certain kind of friendly atmosphere was always there to make sure that such religio-cultural relations continue to progress. But when I went to the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies to follow research on the works and travels of a Japanese Obaku Zen monk Ekai Kawaguchi (1866-1945) from a postcolonial perspective in 1997 under the Japan Foundation Fellowship, I saw a wider sphere of that relationship. My host Prof Hiroshi Ishii, the Director of Gaigodai and his Nepal studies resources made it easy for me to begin. Poet Tulasi Diwasa, an alumnus of the Japan Foundation, had introduced me to Ishii in Kathmandu.
After meeting academics and professors in Tokyo and getting familiar with their works and experience in Nepal, my earlier perception of the basis of Nepal-Japan relationship changed. The relationship was not entirely shaped by Buddhist culture and philosophy; it was a relationship of love between the two cultures and people. The Japanese, I found, were very open about Nepal and they looked at the people and culture of this land with utmost love and respect. Buddhism of course was and still is an important component of that. Over two dozen scholars have done significant work on Nepal; I was able to meet some of them and discuss the nature of Nepal-Japan relationship. It was shaped by a broad sense of human love and respect than anything else. There was no room for bigotry.
As a matter of happenstance, Kedar Bhakta Mathema was the Nepali ambassador to Japan. He invited professors to his residence for me to meet. Initially, there were some language problems. But gradually I found a way of communicating with them. I told ambassador Mathema in jest that after drinking, I became fluent in Japanese and the Japanese professors became fluent in English.
I met Buddhist scholars and writers in several places in Tokyo and other cities. Among some outstanding scholars I met there, Prof Jiro Kawakita’s name comes most prominently. This widely respected professor had gone around the Manaslu and Annapurna range in 1953 and published a book entitled ‘Ethno-geographical observation’ in 1957.
When Prof Kawakita came to Nepal, a younger man named Ryzo Takayama, a professor at Kyoto Bunkyo now, accompanied him. Takayama is a great friend of Kawakita, whom the former considers his guru. Takayama’s help was most significant for me because he is the greatest Kawaguchi scholar who has extensively published about the monk’s life and work.
Meeting of minds
Prof Kawakita is remembered as the first man to have told the Japanese people of the accounts of the Zen monk Ekai Kawaguchi’s visit to Tibet and Nepal over a century ago. Kawakita actually visited places that Kawaguchi had visited. I met senior diplomat Dr Nishizawa, the ambassador to Nepal during 1980-81. He knew BP Koirala, who had said to him his main worry was that his young generation party leaders could not express ideas properly. I met Nishizawa and another former ambassador Yoshida at Kedar Bhakta Mathema’s residence at a gathering to welcome the quiet and gentle NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba. Nishizawa said to me he had allowed his entire staff to join the funeral procession of BP Koirala. Dr Nishizawa has written Nepal’s history entitled Neparuno Rekisi.
Among the other senior scholars who were working very actively in different areas of Nepal-Japan studies were Musashi Tachikawa (working on Nepali Tibetan Buddhism), Kimiaki Tanaka (working on the Buddhism of Nepal), and Reiko Saigusa (who had just published a Nepali Japanese dictionary of 1,000 pages when I reached Tokyo). Izumi Morimotto, a young scholar who also interpreted Kawaguchi’s old text about Nepali art to me, was working on her research about Nepal’s tourism geography. Yuki Ito, a friend of Prof Dor Bahadur Bista, Seiji Ichibori, octogenarian Yoko Abe, who remains our great friend, and the great poet Kazuko Shiraishi were other people who were always contributing to widen the sphere of what I call a humanism of trust and love. Such bonding should shape Nepal-Japan relations in the days ahead.