When the Japanese Zen monk Ekai Kawaguchi went home to Japan a century ago after his tour of Nepal,Tibet and India his tales of adventure received a mixed
reaction.Even as there was general celebration to mark his trip,there were some who didn 't believe his stories of the Land of the Buddha.
Eight years after Kawaguchi 's death in 1945,Jiro Kawakita set foot in Nepal as an ethnography and geography expert in an 11-member Japanese team invited by the government of Nepal."We walked into the slow rhythm of Kathmandu of the mid-1950s.I felt a sense of peace,and also of anticipation at all the things unexplored in this exotic land," recalls Professor Kawakita.
It was not until he reached Pokhara that Kawakita stumbled upon what would turn out to be his life 's mission in Nepal:to retrace the steps of his great compatriot and predecessor, Ekai Kawaguchi.Sunning himself on the banks of the Phewa Tal,he met the sons of the man who had hosted Kawaguchi in Tukche.Anang Man Sherchan and Krishna Man Sherchan told him legends of this mysterious Japanese monk.Kawakita had never heard of Kawaguchi before,and he was immediately fascinated.
In Pokhara,Kawakita also ran into two interesting contemporaries. FellowgeographerToni Hagen was at the Swiss mission hospital in Pokhara.At that time Hagen was well into his geological study of Nepal and the two exchanged notes."Toni was an energetic and humorous person," he recalls..Kawakita also met the Badahakim of Pokhara,Puran Singh,who had fought the Japanese Imperial Army in Malaysia and Burma while serving in the British Indian army during World War II.
Kawakita soon discovered that his trekking route to Pokhara was the same one that Kawaguchi had taken more than five decades previously.He recalls being pleasantly surprised and filled with curiosity."I decided to find out as much as I
could about Kawaguchi,and with the help and assistance of my Nepali friends it was possible."
At Tukche,where Kawakita conducted some of his research he found that Kawaguchi had entered Tibet via Thak Khola and Mustang.The Zen monk had reached the Tibetan border drawing maps and collecting details of villages and societal affairs in these remote trans- Himalayan highland villages.
After Tukche,Kawaguchi lived in Tsarang and Marpha to read sacred texts.But all his research and study were looked upon suspiciously by locals, some of whom thought he was a British spy.Kawaguchi fled north up the Dhaulagiri trail to Thorpo in Dolpo where he gathered information on the animistic Bon Po religion that
pre-dates Buddhism in Tibet. Kawakita went over these routes like a detective.
Comparing local descriptions with notes from Kawaguchi 's journals,Kawakita
found the diaries to be accurate and the information meticulously noted and precise. "Even the population of villages, the maps,sketches and description of mountain peaks were very correct," says Kawakita,who only laments the fact that Kawaguchi never lived to see his life 's work taken seriously.
From Thorpo,Kawaguchi bid farewell to his porter and carried his possessions himself and disguised himself as a Tibetan monk to avoid being Taken for a foreigner in reclusive Tibet.He spent almost two years in Tibet until the authori- ties found out his real identity, and chased him to Darjeeling. He then backtracked into eastern Nepal and finally arrived in Kathmandu for an audience with the Rana prime minister, Chandra Shumsher.
It was on this trip that Kawaguchi wrote his famous letter to the prime minister.In it the monk advised the astute dictator how to run affairs of state,to keep his cool in dealing with the British in India,about political strategy,and in avoiding the company of sycophants.
"His trip to Tibet was an effort to find the original texts with the teachings of the Buddha.Kawaguchi believed that in Tibet,he would be able to find the closest version of the original text kept safely," says Kawakita."Kawaguchi was
sometimes labeled a spy for the British and sometimes for Meiji Japan but he was basically a lonesome wanderer,a historian and a pilgrim."
Kawakita,who himself is the first anthropologist to have extensively travelled in Nepal during the 1950s,also played a big role in the establishment of a cable car and water supply project in Myagdi in mid- western Nepal during the early 1970s.Kawakita remembers how the community 's voluntary participation helped the project grow.He is a firm believer in the "small is beautiful " concept of projects that people can manage by themselves."Nepal needs small projects which are flexible enough to blend technology with the society 's situations," says the professor who remains optimistic on grassroot participatory approach.He suggests that villages in Nepal should be self- sufficient entities so that each community can groom itself as there would be voluntary collective efforts working towards a common goal.
Together with Toni Hagen and Italian historian Giuseppe Tucci,Kawakita was among the pioneer researchers in Nepal,
involved in conducting the first extensive anthropological studies of Nepal by a foreign expert. Apart from several research articles in Japanese and English
he has three major books in English to his credi t -Hill Magars and Their Neighbours, Nurturing Creativity in the Himala ya an d People of Nepal Himalay a(ed H.Kihara). Currently the professor is working on a seminal book which he says is "totally offbeat ".His students say it will reflect his thinking on development,modernity and tradition.
Kawakita has a cult following back home because of his famous "Kawajero Methodol- ogy ".Among his admirers are his colleagues,Prof Ryzo Takayama,a Nepal specialist and the man who accompanied Kawakita in his early travels, and Prof Hiroshi Ishii,the famous Japanese Nepalogist and director of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.
The Kawajero Methodology is a basic problem-solving method that takes a blank slate and without pre-conceived notions.When data has to be collected,it has to be done is such a way that qualitative data is not missed out,information must be extracted as a creative
synthesis of real life.
The Kawajero Methodology remains controversial because of
its complexity.But Kawakita says:"It 's easy once you understand the logical framework.It depicts the reality of ordinary people and that is why the elite in society don 't like it." It is a bottom--up approach,you don 't find solutions from the top.
"Nepal is in the same situation as Japan in early 20th century.Big changes are taking place," he says.."Some of these changes are not unique to
Nepal,they are happening all over the world.There have to be major reforms and changes in the current bureaucracy to let democracy function to its fullest.For now,the elite is too busy pursuing their self- interests."
Kawakita is a frugal man, who eats little,likes to laugh a lot and is completely humble despite the adulation he gets among Japanese academics.He is worried about Japan:"Society is heading towards an unknown darkness.The young generation is lost in a quest for inner peace. People are getting agitated over small things.In the time I have left,I have decided to do something for the country I love,Nepal." He is planning to open a school in Pokhara,and is currently raising money for it.