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Japan: The Land of The

Sons of The Sun

K. Ashraf


Dr. Khawaja Ashraf and Dr. Manzur Ejaz of Pakistan Weekly visited Japan from December 8 to December 18th. In Japan we spent time in Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto.


In Tokyo Dr. Arshad Ali welcomed us with a warm heart and big smile. He organized and managed our activities in Tokyo. Dr. Arshad Ali is a Geochemist by profession. He has PhD in Geochemistry from a distinguished Japanese university. Currently he is in Japan on a scholarship to work on several governmental geochemistry projects.


In Tokyo, we had the honor of meeting three distinguished Japanese scholars. Dr. Shinji Tajima is an internationally acclaimed expert in children’s literature. He is a representative of International Center for Literacy and Culture (ICLC). ICLC is an organization of Dr. Shinji Tajima who has served the Prime Minister Literacy Commission of Pakistan for three years as an advisor by JICA. He has produced several books based on folk legends of different countries for children. His world-over popular books are: Gaudi's Ocean, The Legend of Planet Surprise, Little Mary and The Blue-Eyed Doll. He traveled to Pakistan many times and interacted with Pakistani children through various local organizations. He taught Pakistani children how to manufacture paper. He presented many pictures of Pakistani children which they drew on the paper which they manufactured with the help of Dr. Shinji Tajima. Dr. Tajima loves Pakistan and intends to return to Pakistan with the aim of developing educational projects for rural Pakistani children.


Mr. Sato is another Japanese scholar who welcomed us in Tokyo. He spent quite a bit time with us and enlightened us about the various aspects of Japanese life style, culture, history and language.  He took us to a dinner in a local Dhaba style Japanese restaurant where he entertained us with variety of Japanese food and Sake wine which is considered a popular Japanese wine. It is made out of rice and has spectacular taste.


Mr. Sato is an Urdu scholar who studied at Karachi University and lived in Karachi for quite a few years. He taught Urdu to Japanese students at Tokyo University. Now, he is retired from the Tokyo University, but still teaches Urdu at various government institutes. He speaks Urdu fluently with predominant Karachi accent. During his academic years, he also lived in Lahore. But he liked Karachi because of availability of abundance of sea food. Sea food is major component of Japanese daily diet. Japanese love to eat raw fish and octopus. However, they use different sauces to flavor up the fish before it melts away in their mouths.


Dr. Asada teaches Urdu at Tokyo University for foreign studies, Tokyo. He is the head of Urdu department. While walking in Shinjuku streets, we discovered a Pakistani restaurant called Jinnah. Late at night we had our dinner at Jinnah restaurant with Dr. Arshad Ali, Dr. Atiq and Dr. Asada. The discourse was wonderful and the food was great. Dr. Asada spoke Urdu real well. He enlightened us about the state of Urdu at Tokyo University for foreign studies. The Urdu department at Tokyo University for foreign studies had a long history. It was established roughly fifty years before the creation of Pakistan. Later, when Pakistan came into existence in 1947, University’s Urdu department was also divided in Urdu and Hindi departments to signify the division in the subcontinent.


After spending three days in Tokyo, we took world renowned bullet train [it is known in Japan as Shinkansen] to Osaka. With a population of 2.5 million, Osaka is Japan's third largest and second most important city. It has been the economic powerhouse of the Kansai region for many centuries.


Osaka was formerly known as Naniwa. Before the Nara period each new Japanese emperor moved his capital. Naniwa was once Japan's capital city, the first one ever known.


In the 16th century, Emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka as the location for his castle, and the city may have become Japan's capital if Emperor to kugawa Ieyasu had not terminated the Toyotomi lineage after Hideyoshi's death and moved his government to distant Edo (Tokyo’s old name)


Osaka University also has a well established Urdu department. Well known Urdu scholar, writer, critic and linguist, Dr. Tabassum Kashmiri heads Osaka University’s Urdu department. He has been teaching Urdu in Osaka University for the last 23 years. Within next few weeks he is about to retire from the University and ready to return to Pakistan.


Dr. Tabassum Kashmiri received us at Shin-Osaka railway station. He spent that evening with us at hotel Osaka garden. Next day we went to Dr. Tabassum’s house, where Dr. Tabassum and his wife Mrs. Gul served us delightful dinner along with Sake wine. Before serving sake, he warmed it in traditional Japanese style and then served it in small cups in Japanese fashion. He told us Japanese add letter O before anything to revere it. That is why some time they add O to Sake and call it O-sake to revere the wine.


Next Morning, we again hopped on bullet train and went to Hiroshima. Hiroshima is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture and the largest city of the Chugoku region, the westernmost region on Japan's main island of Honshu. It is home to about one million people. In Hiroshima, we visited the site where United States’ bombers dropped first atom bomb in the human history against civilians on August 6, 1945. The bomb exploded up in air about 330 Meters above the prefecture metal lab. The structure of the lab stayed very much intact, however, everything else in two miles radius turned into ashes. About two hundred thousand people evaporated in thin air after the explosion. A beautiful river flows adjacent to the prefecture metal lab. About 50 thousand people jumped in the river to escape the effects of atom bomb, but the river water did not help them. They also immediately died because of radiation and burning.


Japanese students have built a tower near the prefecture metal lab in memory of atom bomb. Audio cassettes in Japanese and English remind the visitors about the horrible event of explosion of atom bomb.


From Hiroshima, we went to Kyoto which is used to be the capital of Japan before Tokyo. Japanese emperors lived in Kyoto from 794 to 1868. It is now Japan’s seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people. Kyoto is known for its temples, shrines and imperial palaces. The golden temple (Kinkakuji) which was built in 16th century is the most beautiful temple. It is located on a very vast estate in between triangular mountain range. The whole estate of Golden Temple is extra ordinarily cold because of heavy moisture due to the presence of lot of centuries old trees. Golden Temple looks like an old Chinese structure with a shiny gold exterior.


Old imperial palace in Kyoto comprises many simple hall style structures which used to serve different purposes. The main hall contains three imperials large size chairs which are carried to Tokyo on special occasions. Those chairs are also considered sacred because they are used by emperor who is revered as god by Japanese. Japanese royalty is right now going through a crisis like situation, because the next heir in line is a female who has to marry a commoner because no bridegroom is available for her in the royal family. By law, if a royal female marries a commoner, she becomes commoner. Japanese legislators are considering changing the law to accept the commoner as a royal if the princess marries one.


Japanese have very interesting history. Japanese generals, who were called Shoguns, ruled Japan almost for two hundred fifty years. Two hundred fifty years of Shoguns’ rule destroyed Japan socially, economically and politically. The Japanese lamented over the destitution of their country. They mounted tremendous pressure on Shoguns and forced them to resign. The Shoguns (generals) resigned and handed over powers back to the emperor.


In the middle of 19th century, Emperor Meiji took revolutionary steps to modernize Japan. He gave a constitution to Japan and reformed her education, economic and political system. He sent Japanese to Western countries to learn the modern technology and work for the technological advancement of Japan. His economic reforms helped Japan to distribute its resources and economic opportunities equally among the masses of Japan. He opened up Japan for the outside world. He even allowed foreign teachers to come to Japan and teach in Japanese schools and colleges.


Politically he turned himself into a constitutional monarchy with almost non significant role for the emperor. To administer the country, he introduced democratic system in Japan. Japanese elect their representatives to the parliament which is responsible to run the state affairs through a prime minister. Japan turned into a global power in result of Emperor Meiji’s reforms. Emperor Meiji died in early 20th century in 1910. Japanese still revere Emperor Meiji like a god. In Tokyo, there is a shrine which is known as Meiji Shrine. Meiji Shrine is a visitor’s spot where a large number of foreign and Japanese tourists pay homage to Emperor Meiji.


Japanese visit Meiji Shrine to pray for fulfillment of their prayers. They come to Meiji Shrine and write their prayers on small wooden tablets which they hang on small board out of Meiji Shrine. Once that wall is full of tablets, the old tablets are removed, and people start hanging new tablets on the wall. One can stand next to the wall and read people’s prayers inscribed on those tablets.


Japanese also use Meiji Shrine for tying marital knots. Japanese brides and bridegrooms come to Meiji Shrine in traditional Japanese dresses and go through the marriage rituals right at the shrine.


At various shrines and temples, one can discover the spiritual side of Japanese society. Japanese mostly believe in Buddhism but some still believe in their older religion Shinto. “Shinto ("the way of the gods") is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people and as old as Japan herself. Shinto does not have a founder nor does it have sacred scriptures like the sutras or the bible. Propaganda and preaching are not common either, because Shinto is deeply rooted in the Japanese people and traditions.


Shinto gods are called Kami Sama. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become Kami Sama after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral Kami Sama. The kami Sama of extraordinary people are even enshrined at some shrines. The Sun Goddess Amaterasu is considered Shinto's most important Kami Sama.


In contrast to many monotheist religions, there are no absolutes in Shinto. There is no absolute right and wrong, and nobody is perfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. Consequently, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami Sama.


According to Japanese, before Buddhism’s arrival in Japan, they believed in 68 thousand different gods, so they did not mind embracing another one in Japan. Thus they adopted Buddha as a god as well.


It is amazing how Japanese have preserved their spiritual side regardless of tremendous industrial development. Before entering in any shrine one has to wash his hands and mouth with water flowing from fountains in front of all shrines. By washing hands and mouth you prepare yourself to enter in the holy shrine where spirit of god resides. Mostly shrines do not have images or statues in them, but some of them do. Particularly Buddha temples do have Buddha statutes. Once you are in the temple or shrine you have to clap both hands to catch god’s attention. After clapping you join palms of both hands and silently pray for whatever you like.


Japanese society not only has a spiritual side, it also has superstitious side. For example, the Sony’s head (well known International Corporation) donated the outside big gate for Asakusa temple. The people who visit Asakusa temple in Tokyo, they light Agarbaties in a big pot outside the temple and then rub the smoke coming out of that pot on their hands, face and body. Similarly, about three million Japanese pass through Meiji Shrines main gate between January 1st and January 3rd every year. Japanese think passing through the Meiji Shrine’s main gate on these specific dates (O-Shogatsu) would arrange their salvation.


After spending three days in Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto, we returned to Tokyo where Dr. Arshad and Dr. Atiq arranged a meeting of  Punjabi Baithak a night before we left for USA on December 18th.


Punjabi Baithak, as the name identifies, is an organization of lovers of Punjabi language and literature. This organization has about 13 members. Most of them are PhDs in different sciences. They frequently meet at different places in Tokyo and discuss Punjabi poetry and literature. They are particularly interested in Punjabi Sufi poetry. Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah are their favorites.


Dr. Arshad and Dr. Atiq arranged this meeting in our honor at the beautiful residence of Dr. Gurbakhsh Singh who has PhD in Philosophy of Buddhism. He has extensive knowledge of Punjabi language and literature. He made a comprehensive and comparative presentation about Granth Sahib, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah. Dr. Manzur Ejaz elated people by singing Bulleh Shah’s blissful poetry in traditional Punjabi tunes.  


This beautiful evening ended with a delicious dinner served by Dr. Gurbakhsh Singh. Although his family was away in India he had hired a local Sindhi Chef to do the cooking. The Chef indeed did a good job by preparing delicious and spectacular dinner for the guests of the Punjabi Baithak.


The Punjabi Baithak is planning to arrange an International Punjabi conference in Tokyo in 2005. We have already committed to Dr. Arshad and Dr. Atiq to return to Japan and attend the International Punjabi conference.


Japan is indeed a beautiful country. Japanese are beautiful people. If you ever visit Japan you will love the country and the people.





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