The two learned men to whom Urdu owes most of its popularity in Japan are Prof Gamou Reiichi and Prof Suzuki Takeshi and both are rightly called 'Japan's Baba-i-Urdu'. If Prof Reiichi and Prof Takeshi were alive today, they would be proud to see Urdu blooming in Japan. They were the gardeners who had planted an exotic sapling, namely Urdu, in their Japanese garden and tended it for decades.
Today, it has grown into a shady tree and is bearing fruit. Aside from other institutions, Urdu is taught in three major Japanese universities Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS), Osaka University and Daitobunka University. Last month, TUFS celebrated hundred years of teaching of Urdu. The scholars associated with these institutions have carried out commendable and original research work on Urdu language and literature. Some of them have rendered many masterpieces of Urdu literature into Japanese, thereby making it available to Japanese readers. Thanks to these efforts, a considerable amount of modern Urdu literature has been translated into Japanese and Urdu language and literature are not alien to the people of Japan.
Prof Reiichi graduated from Tokyo School of Foreign Languages, a precursor of TUFS, in 1923, and joined his alma mater as lecturer in 1925. He was the first Japanese to teach Urdu in Japan and rose to the status of professor in 1934. As Urdu books were then hard to come by and teaching material in Urdu was even scarcer in Japan, Prof Reiichi decided to compile some basic books for Japanese students of Urdu. So, in 1938, he wrote 'Urdu ke ibtedai qavid', or Basic Urdu Grammar, a book that has guided generations of Japanese students and there would hardly be any Japanese who began learning Urdu without reading it. Another important contribution of his is the translation of 'Bagh-o-Bahar' into Japanese. His other books are on the history and culture of Iran, Islam and spoken Urdu. Prof Reiichi died in 1977 and his personal collection of books now adorns TUFS's library.
Prof Suzuki Takeshi, a pupil of Prof Reiichi, joined TUFS in 1963. He adored Urdu so much that in his room nobody was allowed to speak any language other than Urdu. He began translating modern Urdu fiction into Japanese and advised his students to work on Urdu fiction, with he himself writing many articles on the history and development of Urdu fiction, Urdu criticism and 'tazkiras'. He wrote research papers on Urdu literature created against the backdrop of the 1947 riots and on Munshi Navil Kishor, Urdu's legendary publisher and printer. His works include 'Urdu qavaid', 'Urdu bolchaal', 'Urdu-Japanese Dictionary', 'Ibtedai Urdu', or Basic Urdu and 'Urdu ki asaan kahaniyan' (Easy Urdu stories). Prof Takeshi untiringly worked on his 20,000-word 'Urdu-Japanese Dictionary' till he breathed his last on January 14, 2005. Now Prof Hiroshi Hagita, an associate of Prof Suzuki, is finalising the manuscript for publication.
Prof Hiroji Kataoka, who is dean faculty of International Relations and director, Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Daitobunka University, and student of Prof Suzuki, is well known for his works on Ghalib and Iqbal. Aside from translating Manto and Faiz and writing papers on Faiz, Mirajee, N.M.Rashid, Akber Illahabadi and other poets of Urdu, he has translated 'Divan-i-Ghalib' and 'Baang-i-Dara' into Urdu and is working on the translations of Iqbal's other books. Another scholar who has worked tirelessly for Urdu's promotion in Japan is Prof Asada Yutaka, chairman, Department of Urdu, TUFS. He joined TUFS in 1981 and has published many works including 'Muntakhab Urdu Adab', 'Fasadaat ka adab', 'Khawateen ka adab' and some Urdu Readers for learners. Prof Hagita is also associated with TUFS and in addition to working on the dictionary with Prof Takeshi, has written on Urdu's fiction writers such as Ahmed Ali, Hayatullah Ansari, Intizar Hussain and Urdu's Sikh writers.
One of his great works is the translation into Japanese of Shaukat Siddiqi's 'Khuda Ki Basti'.
T. Matsumura, who heads the department of Urdu at Osaka University, is another Japanese scholar of Urdu respected for his works and deep love for Urdu. Though modern Urdu literature is of more interest to him, his works also include papers on Sir Syed, Haali and Iqbal. He has to his credit the translations of selected ghazals of Wali Dakani, Mir Taqi Mir, Mir Dard and Nasikh. His another important work is 'Urdu Qavaid' (Urdu Grammar), which he very humbly calls 'basic' as modesty and humble attitude are the basics of Japanese characteristics, though it is quite a comprehensive grammar. Hardly would there be any Japanese who is not humble and unassuming. He has also penned papers on 'Aab-i-Hayat' and Delhi and Lucknow schools of Urdu.
Not to be forgotten are the veterans of Osaka University who tirelessly promoted Urdu, such as Prof Sava and Prof Hiroshi Kankagaya. Now the new genera
tion of Japanese scholars of Urdu is taking over the torch to carry it further and two of them who deserve a mention are Prof So Yamane and Prof Kensaku Mamiya, both of whom teach Urdu at Osaka University. Prof Yamane is quite popular and well known in Pakistan both for his witticism and love for Pakistan and Urdu. For fellow Japanese, he compiled a book, in 2003, that included 60 research papers on Pakistan's history, culture, language and literature. He has written many research papers on Urdu, Pakistan and Islam and is actively engaged in further research. Ghulam Abbas is his favourite short story writer and he wrote his MA thesis at Punjab University on him, not to mention the translation of 'Aanadi' and other short stories of Ghulam Abbas. Being an old student of Lahore's Oriental College and having lived in Pakistan for many years, he speaks flawless Urdu and beautiful Punjabi. His latest published paper is on Urdu orthography and its history.
Young Prof Mamiya has done M.Phil form Sindh University and, Urdu being his forte, knows Sindhi, too, very well. Last year he came to attend a seminar at Khairpur's Shah Abdul Latif University and surprised the chief guest, provincial minister for education, by talking to him in Sindhi. He has written a number of papers on Pakistan's regional languages, including one that gives a chronological history of language movements. His recent work is on teaching of Urdu through the internet, a project soon to be launched.
It would be unfair to ignore the role Pakistani expatriates have been playing in promoting Urdu in Japan. Aside from holding mushairas and assembling the Pakistani community in Japan under one umbrella on important issues, they have played a vital role in popularising Urdu by bringing out Urdu magazines and newspaper from Japan. Among others, Asgher Hussain and Muhammad Zubair were instrumental in ensuring the participation of Pakistani scholars in the recently-held Hindi-Urdu conference at TUFS.
Muhammad Zubair has brought out 'Pak Shimbun', the first Urdu fortnightly newspaper from Tokyo. Hats off to those who keep Pakistan's and Urdu's flag aloft in faraway lands.