Central Asian Studies in Japan
Komatsu Hisao
@(Professor,Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, University of Tokyo)

Central Asian studies in Japan have a rich historiography. The first serious work was undertaken in the 19th century by a young diplomat, Nishi Tokujiro. After working some years in the Japanese embassy in St. Petersburg, in 1880 he travelled extensively in Russian Turkestan. After returning to Japan he continued to study contemporary Central Asia, and in 1886 he published a book, The Description of Central Asia, which is not only the first attempt to introduce Central Asia to Japanese readers, but is also distinguished by its detailed analysis. In later years it was translated into Italian, however it had no successor.

It is true that during the 1930s and up till 1945 some Japanese learned societies and institutions conducted numerous studies of Central Asian affairs, dealing with political and economic conditions as well as nationality problems in Soviet Central Asia. However most of them were sponsored by the expansionist policy of the Japanese Empire. Their aim was not to understand Central Asia and its peoples, but to investigate the weak points of the Soviet Union which was supposedly the greatest threat to the Japanese Empire. Japan's defeat in the Second World War put an end to this research trend.

In contrast to this ephemeral strategic research trend, Japanese orientalists have made a sustained contribution to the development of various facets of Central Asian studies, among them its ancient and medieval history and culture. Using their excellent command of classical Chinese, as well as other philological approaches, Shiratori Kurakichi, Haneda Toru and their successors produced highly accomplished work, especially on the historical geography of pre-Islamic Central Asia (mainly Eastern Turkistan). Their research results gave rise to a consolidated school of Central Asian studies after the war. This trend also contributed to the spread of the historical idea of a "Silk Road" extending through Central Asia to Japan.

Since the 1970s some younger scholars have begun to make use of original Central Asian sources written in Persian, Turkic and other languages, and take greater interest in the Islamic period of Central Asian history. This trend produced remarkable work especially in Timurid and Xinjiang studies. Representing this trend, Mano Eiji introduced a new concept: understanding Central Asian history from within. As a specialist in Timurid studies he stressed the importance of the mutual relations between Northern steppes and the Southern oasis area in the development of Central Asian history, rather than the earlier "Silk Road theory" that emphasized the importance of East-West relations throughout history.

Japanese studies in the modern history of Central Asia have remained a marginal part of Oriental history. Since the 1980s, however, gradual developments in Islamic and Slavic studies have stimulated research on modern Central Asia to augment our historiographical coverage. The great changes in the former Soviet Union have also played a decisive role in the increasing interest in modern Central Asia and the rise of related studies. In our historiographical studies we find the following subjects amongst those researched by Japanese scholars: political relations between the Central Asian khanates and the Ottoman Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Andijan uprising led by Dukch Ishan against Russian colonial rule in 1898, the popular revolts of 1916 which prevailed throughout Russian Turkistan, the reformist movement among Muslim intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century, especially the Alash Orda and the Jadid movements, Muslim national communism elaborated by Sultangaliev, the Basmachi movements against Soviet authorities, the National Delimitation in 1924 and others.

Until the mid-1980s, Soviet Central Asia was rarely studied, because access to primary source materials and the opportunity to conduct fieldwork in Central Asia was extremely restricted for Japanese researchers as well as Western scholars. However the perestroika dramatically increased Japanese interest in Soviet Central Asia. It brought to light a great amount of source material and stimulated fresh publications that revealed unknown aspects of modern Central Asia. Since the 1990s a number of works on Soviet and post-Soviet Central Asia have been published by younger researchers, dealing with nationality politics of the Soviet Union, national identity of Central Asian peoples, minority problems and so on. Amongst contemporary concerns, they treat such issues as the post-Soviet political system, the prospects of regional cooperation and economic integration, the resurgence of Islam, the great transformation in the Central Asian economies since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and ecological problems. Recent years have also seen the publication of ethnographical and social anthropological studies of Central Asia by Japanese scholars.

These scholarly developments document the great progress that Japanese studies on modern Central Asia have made over the last two decades. Although the specialists are relatively few in number, newly obtained source materials and field works make possible the promotion of studies and expand the scope of accessible research fields and specialist subjects. In the past decade, scientific exchange and cooperation with Central Asian institutions and scholars have made great progress, mainly thanks to individual efforts, and have begun to produce valuable results. At the same time, it should be noted that most recent research comes from younger scholars of various disciplines who have studied many years in Central Asian countries. Recently they published a new book, Contemporary Central Asia: the Depth of Changing Politics and Economy (Tokyo, 2004), which provides the latest analysis of political and economic changes in Central Asia. An Encyclopedia of Central Eurasia is currently in preparation (scheduled for April 2005).

In view of the great improvement in research conditions for modern Central Asian studies, we hope for publication of many more monographs in the near future. Although historical studies have played a leading role in Central Asian studies, in order to deepen our understanding of Central Asia in historic change we need to elaborate a new interdisciplinary methodology for Central Asian area studies. It seems that comparative approaches with historical perspective are helpful in the first stage. And new researchers are required to go beyond the boundary of individual disciplines such as Slavic, Islamic and Oriental studies.

Select Bibliography:
Bibliography of Central Asian Studies in Japan 1879-March 1987 with Index and Errata, Tokyo: The Center for East Asian Cultural Studies, 1988-1989.
Hamada Masami, "Research Trends in Xinjiang Studies," in Stephane A. Dudoignon and Komatsu Hisao (eds.), Research Trends in Modern Central Eurasian Studies: Works Published between 1985 and 2000, A Selective and Critical Bibliography, Part 1, The Oriental Library, Tokyo, 2003, pp.69-86.
Komatsu Hisao, "Modern Central Eurasian Studies in Japan: An Overview 1985-2000", in Stephane A. Dudoignon and Komatsu Hisao (eds.), op.cit. pp.127-155.
Kubo Kazuyuki, "Central Asian History: Japanese Historiography of Islamic Central Asia," Orient (Report of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan), vol.38, 2003, pp.135-152.