Rabindranath’s Speeches in Japan
Subrata Kumar Das
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), one of the most widely travelled persons of his age, visited Japan three times: in 1916, in 1924 and in 1929. It is worth mentioning here that Rabindranath’s visits may be counted as five since on his away back in 1916 and 1929 he landed in Japan. Before him, we had some more people from the Banglalanguage zone visiting Japan and writing on different aspects of the country, but Rabindranath’s visit became a milestone in the timeline of Japan-Bengal, i.e., JapanIndia relations. During his five tours the myriad-minded author met a huge number of people, from the Prime Minister of Japan to lesser mortals, among who were writers, artists, musicians, educationists, politicians, and journalists He delivered a good number of lectures and befriended a number of Japanese.
The three people who had visited Japan before Rabindranath Tagore and written on their experiences in Japan or on Japan in general are Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay, Manmatha Nath Ghosh and Hariprova Takeda. Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay authored at least one book on Japan with the title ‘Japane’ (1910). Manmatha Nath Ghosh had three titles on Japan to his credit, including ‘Japan-Probash’ (published approximately in 1910 or before), ‘Nobyo-Japan’ (the date of publication is yet to be assured but it was before 1915, no doubt) and ‘Supto-Japan’ (1915). Hariprova Takeda had ‘Bongomohilar Japanjatra’ on her experiences in Japan to her credit which was published in 1915, though she authored another book ‘Swaddhi Jnandevi.’ The other person who visited Japan beforehand is Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). On his way to Chicago in 1893, the ship carrying Vivekananda stopped for some hours in Nagasaki. It did not encourage him to author a book on Japan, as we have got from other travelers, the country Japan made a good impression on him which lasted for long and which opened many news windows in Japan-India relationship in the later years. From Nagasaki, Vivekananda went to Kobe and from he went to Yokohama. During this single visit to Japan, young Vivekananda toured to the cities named Osaka, Kiyoto and Tokyo. But no doubt, the visit of Rabindranath created huge tumult in Japan because by then he was internationally known as a Nobel laureate and the Japanese considered him as a great voice from the Asia continent.
Today it is a known fact that Rabindranath had expressed, in a letter to Prasantachandra Mahalanobis, a desire to see all the lectures in Japan collected in a book to be called Talks in Japan. In fact, an attempt was underway because two files existed in the Rabindra-Bhabana Archives entitled, ‘Japan I’ and ‘Japan II’. These files contain scripts of some of these lectures, mostly in handwriting of Leonard Elmhirst with corrections by Rabindranath. Herewith it might be worth mentioning that a similar book that includes Rabindranath’s entire visit to China got published in 1924 under the title Talks in China. But sorrowfully Talks in Japan could not see the light during the poet’s lifetime.
The lectures, delivered by Rabindranath on his 1916 tour of Japan, include ‘India and Japan’ (First speech in Japan, before an audience of 3000 people on 01 June), ‘Ideals of Art’ (10 June), ‘The Message of India to Japan’ (11 June, reprinted with a few changes as ‘Nationalism in Japan I’ in Rabindranath’s book Nationalism), ‘Address in Bengali’ (13 June. As most among the Japanese audience could not understand English, Rabindranath thought of delivering the speech in Bangla which was translated in Japanese by Rikhang Kimura), ‘Paradise’ (14 June), ‘The Spirit of Japan’ (02 July, later published under the title ‘Nationalism in Japan II’ in Rabindranath’s book Nationalism).
Among all the above-mentioned speeches, ‘Ideals of Art’ is not a complete one; it is simply a paragraph. It is the synopsis that Rabindranth spoke on the occasion. What Rabindranath wrote to Rathindranath in this respect was “… I had spoken on art at the Art School here. I send you a copy of this. Ask Pramatha to translate this for Sabuj Patra. But do not publish the English version in The Modern Review. I plan to enlarge it.” The editor of the current book has commented: “However, this did not appear in Sabuj Patra. The enlarged version of this speech was later published in Personality (1917) as “What is Art?” The address given on 13 June was actually given in Bangla and so was given such a title.
Kabiguru started his second tour of Japan on 29 May 1924, which ended on 22 June in the same year. The lectures on this tour included: ‘To the People of Japan’ (3 June), ‘Address to Women’ (5 June), ‘To Women’ (5 June), ‘Address at The Imperial University, Tokyo’ (9 June), ‘Address at The Imperial University, Tokyo-2′(10 June), ‘Women’s University , Tokyo’ (10 June), ‘International Relations’ (11 June), ‘My School’ (12 June), ‘To Japanese Artists’ (12 or 13 June), ‘The Place of Science’ (16 June), ‘The Child World’ (17 June), The Schoolmaster’ (18 June), ‘Freedom and Education’ (18 June), ‘To the Indian Community in Japan’ (20 June), ‘The Soul of the East’ ( on board, someday after 22 June).
The third trip of the poet started in January 1929. This time he left Japan for Canada on 28 March and reached Yokohama on 10 May again. The speeches delivered during this period are: ‘The Scared Mission of Women’ (27 March), ‘The Philosophy of Leisure’ (12 May), ‘Traveller through Life’ (13 May), ‘On Oriental Culture and Japan’s Mission’ (15 May), ‘Ideals of World Politics’ (17 May), ‘Ideals of Education’ (3 June).
The century-old relationship between Japan and Bengal started with Okakura Tenshin’s (1862-1913) visit to Kolkata and was enhanced by Rabindranath’s visit to Japan. Though it may here be worth mentioning that during the latter’s visit Okakura was no more alive. Then Rabindranath was welcomed warmly by Okakura’s son Kakuzo Okakura. Japan’s role in the liberation of the colonial dependent countries of
Asia, and as the abode of many Bengali revolutionists like Rash Behari Bose, Herembalal Gupta, Taraknath Das, Romanath Roy, involvement of Netaji Suhbash Chandra Bose with Japan, etc., are the other major events to recall. The opening of the Japanese department at Shantiniketan in 1954 also drew much attention. Celebration of the birth centenary of Rabindranath in 1961 in Japan was also noteworthy. The publication of the Japanese translation of ‘Works of Rabindranath’ in 1988 and establishment of Nippon Bhaban in Shantiniketan in 1994 are some other events worth mentioning in this regard. All these forthcoming incidents were the products of Rabindranath Tagore’s visits to Japan.
Subrata Kumar Das, the author of www.bangladeshinovels.com, can be reached at