1 Introduction

Count Ōtani Kōzui (1876–1948) was a student in London in 1901 when archaeologist Aurel Stein (1862–1943) electrified the scholarly world with news of his discoveries of Buddhist cities buried beneath the sands of the Taklamakan desert along the Silk Road trade routes in Chinese Turkestan. These finds revealed the existence of a Buddhist culture that had thrived in the region prior to the invasion of Islam, reflected the merging of Indian, Greek, and Chinese culture, and continue to be of major importance to Buddhist studies. As the various countries of Europe rushed to launch expeditions into the area for further exploration, Ōtani felt that Japan, eager to prove itself as a newly modern nation, should not be left behind. As the Japanese government appeared to be unaware of and uninterested in this endeavor, Ōtani decided to sponsor his own expeditions of exploration and archaeology. As scion to, and later leader of, the largest Buddhist sect in Japan, he had vast financial resources at his disposal that enabled him to do this. In part, he was motivated by patriotism, he felt this would enhance Japan’s prestige on the world stage, but he also felt that these were sacred sites and religious relics which should properly be explored and excavated by Asian Buddhists rather than European scholars and collectors.

It is also important to note that Ōtani’s objectives were different in nature and far more extensive and ambitious than any of the European-sponsored expeditions. In addition to three expeditions into the Tarim basin and surrounding areas in 1902–1903, 1908–1909, and 1910–1914, he also sent an expedition from Burma into Yunnan and central China to document a southern route for the transmission of Buddhism from India to China and ultimately to Japan. In addition, he led two expeditions to explore sacred sites in India and Sri Lanka. Tibet, inaccessible and isolated, had long been of interest to Ōtani. In 1899 during his first trip to China, he made a point to visit the Yonghegong temple in Beijing, which was the headquarters of Tibetan Buddhism in China. In 1904 when Hori Masuo completed the first expedition, instead of returning to Japan, he was sent to Yonghegong to learn the practices of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1908, the second expedition traveled through Mongolia to study first-hand the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, and at the end of that expedition Ōtani ordered Tachibana Zuichō to return to India via Tibet if possible. Therefore, Tibet was a major focus of Ōtani’s interest for many years. This was in part because Tibet adjoined India and particularly Nepal where the Buddha was born and died, and also because Tibet had maintained an uninterrupted tradition of Buddhism. Thus, it was thought that Tibet practiced a purer form of Buddhism than that which had made its circuitous way to Japan. In any case, Ōtani felt that Tibet was a vast repository of Buddhist texts and knowledge, and particularly religious scriptures that may have been lost in India and China, but had survived in Tibet. Indeed, the Chinese characters used to write the word Tibet mean “western repository.” In addition, Ōtani saw Japan and Tibet as the only two major Buddhist countries in the world and as leader of Japanese Buddhism he felt a special kinship with the Dalai Lama who was the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Thus it is not surprising that Ōtani had a special interest in Tibet.

In terms of religious scholarship, these explorations were all well and good, but in terms of the geopolitics of the time, they were highly problematic. Tibet was an especially sensitive and troublesome area. The Great Game between England and Russia had largely been resolved in the west in Persia and Afghanistan, and by the early twentieth century had shifted to Chinese Turkestan and Tibet. Russia was expanding its interests southward through what is known as Russian and Chinese Turkestan, Britain was determined to defend the northern approaches to India by pushing its influence northward, and China was anxious to hold on to and have recognized all the territories it claimed for its own, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibet. Consequently, everywhere Ōtani and his scholar priests went in pursuing their research, they were working in highly sensitive and contested areas and their activities naturally aroused suspicion. Accusations that he and his crew acted as spies are explored and assessed below. In the second half of the chapter, we also discuss the experiences and geographies described in Aoki Bunkyō’s travel account.

2 The 13th Dalai Lama and the First Ōtani Expedition

In 1904 Britain launched the Younghusband expedition into Tibet, an invasion by British Indian forces. The proximate cause for this was that Britain was hearing rumors that a certain Buriat Mongol from Siberia, Agvan Dorjiev (1854–1938), a lama studying in Lhasa, had gained the ear of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso (1876–1933) and was promoting the notion that the Russian Tsar was a leader who would protect Tibet. This rumor alarmed Lord Curzon (1859–1925), Viceroy and Governor-General of India 1899–1905, who did not want a Russian presence on India’s northern doorstep. Determined to block Russian influence in Tibet, he felt he needed to hold discussions with the Dalai Lama to persuade him that Britain, not Russia, would be Tibet’s savior. Curzon saw a minor border dispute between India and Tibet as an opportunity to open talks and sent a letter to the Dalai Lama. He got no reply, and in due time sent a second letter. After some months of silence from Lhasa both letters were returned unopened. Curzon was indignant that his letters had not even been read. As representative of His Majesty, King Edward VII (1841–1910), Curzon felt that both he and the king had been insulted by this rebuff. In 1904, he called on Francis Younghusband (1863–1942) to lead a military expedition to Lhasa to force the Dalai Lama to negotiate an agreement with Britain. It was no accident that the Younghusband expedition set out just at the time when Russia was engaged in a catastrophic war with Japan and therefore was distracted from what was happening in Tibet. One would guess this was the real impetus for the expedition; to steal a march on Russia and to assert British influence on Tibet while Russia was preoccupied.

Younghusband eventually reached Lhasa and forced Tibetan officials to come to an agreement, but what he did not get was acceptance of this agreement by the Dalai Lama, the supreme spiritual and political leader of Tibet. The Dalai Lama had seen the British army coming and had fled north to Kulun (also known as Urga and Ulan Bator) in Mongolia. He had hoped to find refuge in Russia, but the Russians refused to allow him to cross the frontier. Eventually the Dalai Lama withdrew to the sacred mountain Wutaishan in China in 1908, where he waited and pondered his next move. He was in a difficult position. Lhasa was occupied by the British army, the Russians had rejected him and at this point China, which had become alarmed by the British and Russian moves in Tibet, demanded that he come to Beijing to kowtow to the Emperor and the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908), thereby publically reaffirming that he was a subject of the emperor and that Tibet was part of China. Thus weak, isolated Tibet was being squeezed on all sides by the Great Powers of Britain, Russia, and China and the Dalai Lama did not know where to turn.

At this point, Ōtani Kōzui stepped in, not with military force or harsh demands, but by extending a hand of friendship and fellowship as a fellow Buddhist. Ōtani dispatched his younger brother, Ōtani Sonyu (1886–1939), along with Hori Masuo (aka Hori Kenyū, 1880–1949), Teramoto Enga (1872–1940), and others to meet with the Dalai Lama at Wutaishan and reassure him that fellow Buddhists should stand together. Here we can see a clear case of spiritual networks forming across Asian space.

The meeting, on August 2, 1908, was a brilliant display of Buddhist pomp. Teramoto Enga described the scene. The Dalai Lama wore “dazzling yellow Chinese clothing and was wrapped in a crimson Tibetan Buddhist stole.” Sonyu “wore a skirted coat with red autumn leaves, and over it a seven-striped Buddhist stole with a cloud and dragon design embroidered in red.” Teramoto himself wore, “the garb of a Mongolian lama,” while Hori Masuo wore a “five-striped robe of raw silk.” Kai Hironaka wearing a frock coat and a Mongolian lama named Daruwa served as interpreters. Sonyu began with a greeting, “Although the Abbot (Kōzui) of Nishi Honganji in Kyoto, Japan has traveled extensively in India, the western regions and various parts of China, he has not yet been able to travel the long road to your country Tibet…. Consequently he has dispatched me to ask after Your Holiness’ safety and wellbeing.” The Dalai Lama for his part responded by saying, “Although I ought to send an emissary to your country Japan to reciprocate, for some years now I have been faced with adversity and it is truly regrettable that I have not been able to do so.” At a second meeting on August 4, 1908, the Dalai Lama expressed the hope that “students from your country and Tibetan lamas could go back and forth.”Footnote 1

On September 27, 1908, the Dalai Lama left Wutaishan and traveled to Beijing to kowtow to the Emperor and the Empress Dowager. The Qing court insisted on this in order to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, to make clear to both Britain and Russia that Tibet was Chinese territory. The Dalai Lama did this reluctantly, but felt he had no choice in the matter. Unfortunately, within a few days of his audience with the Chinese emperor, both the Emperor and the Empress Dowager died. Some suspected foul play on the part of the Dalai Lama that naturally increased tensions between him and the Qing court. Toward the end of December, the Dalai Lama left Beijing to return to Lhasa, but for some reason that is not clear he stopped at the Amdo monastery on the eastern edge of the Tibetan highlands and did not return to Lhasa until November 1909. By that time the governor of Sichuan, Zhao Erfeng (1845–1911), had been ordered to send Chinese troops to occupy the Tibetan capital.

3 The Second Ōtani Expedition

While all of this was going on, Ōtani’s second expedition into Central Asia was in progress. Tachibana Zuichō (1890–1968) and Nomura Eisaburō (1877–1964) set out in March 1908 to travel north from Beijing through Mongolia to Kulun, then west to Urumchi, the capital of Chinese Turkestan. Their goal in Mongolia was to investigate the nature of Tibetan Buddhism in that country. Once they arrived in the Tarim Basin, their objective was to follow up and expand on the explorations of the first Ōtani expedition of 1902–3. The pair split up and Nomura made his way along the southern edge of the Tienshan range to Kucha, then on to Kashgar. Tachibana headed south to the fabled and lost oasis city of Loulan along the Silk Road (which had no water at the time) and then followed the route along the southern edge of the Taklamakan desert to Kashgar where he rejoined Nomura.

Once Tachibana and Nomura were reunited at Kashgar in August 1909, problems arose. First, on August 15 Nomura received a telegram from Kyoto concerning their travel routes from Kashgar out to India. The telegram rather cryptically said “If Tibet is dangerous Tachibana is to go from Poru to Leh [in Ladak], otherwise, try the Mustagh Pass. Nomura will carry a light load of important artifacts and cross the Karakoram Pass…. Leave the heavy baggage with the English representative in Kashgar. The abbot will go to India in November, you are to meet him there.”Footnote 2

At that time, as we have seen, Chinese forces were invading Tibet, so perhaps Tachibana felt it was dangerous to travel in that country. In any case, he opted not to travel through Tibet, but chose to have Nomura go out by the standard route through the Karakoram Pass while he would attempt to make his way through the notoriously difficult Mustagh Pass across the Baltoro Muztagh range that includes K2, the world’s second highest mountain. Years earlier Francis Younghusband had gained some degree of fame by crossing the Mustagh Pass on his epic journey from Beijing to India, and apparently Tachibana was determined to show that Japanese explorers could manage it as well. At that time, Captain A.R.B. Shuttleworth was serving as British representative in Kashgar and when he informed Tachibana that no porters would agree to carry baggage across that difficult pass, and that besides, the Indian government would only permit him to enter India via the Karakoram Pass, Tachibana became obnoxious.

Next, Tachibana and Nomura found themselves to be without sufficient funds to pay for their travel to India and insisted that Captain Shuttleworth lend them 1500 taels (some sources say 2000 taels, in any case, a large amount of Qing currency), Shuttleworth demurred on the grounds that he did not know who these travelers were and could not justify lending such a large sum of public money. He suggested that they ask the Chinese Daotai, circuit officer, for a loan. Instead, they wired Kyoto and had the needed money sent telegraphically, but their demand and its refusal created more tension between Shuttleworth and the Japanese travelers. On top of these frictions, Shuttleworth received a report from the governor of Yarkand, located on the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert, that while there Tachibana had abused and beaten a Chinese citizen. All of this left Shuttleworth ill-disposed toward the Japanese.

In the end, Shuttleworth wrote a letter to Francis Younghusband, who at that time was the British Resident in Kashmir, expressing his doubts and misgivings about the Japanese explorers. He wrote in part that they swagger about and sometimes thrash the natives so that the local Chinese do not think well of them. He told how Tachibana had become impertinent when told he could not cross the Mustagh Pass. He complained that they demanded travel money, and he concluded by saying the Russian consul claimed that Nomura was an army officer and Tachibana a naval officer.Footnote 3 Shuttleworth also claimed that the Japanese did a great deal of surveying and engaged in secret activities although he did not say what those activities were. He also said they gave him a large packet of letters to forward and he believed, without evidence, that the packet might contain maps and reports of some sort. He said Nomura was seen making sketches in the vicinity of Kashgar and that he himself observed Nomura on the city wall where he appeared to be making a survey. Finally, he said that Tachibana made sketches of the road from Marlbashi to Yarkand and that he was seen measuring the distance between telegraph poles.Footnote 4

Captain Shuttleworth was clearly put off by Tachibana’s attitude and behavior, and perhaps rightly so, but he was also willing to believe anything negative he heard about the Japanese, especially false information from the Russian consul who was a well-known troublemaker who frequently went out of his way to create dissention between the British and anyone else who was in the area. The Chinese governor of Yarkand surely had a more reasonable view when he said, “Tachibana’s actions were unpleasant, but it is probably because he is so young.”Footnote 5 Tachibana was 19 years old.

Captain Shuttleworth was also influenced by the English missionary George Hunter (1861–1946) who told him that Tachibana and Nomura had been involved with Hayashide Kenjiro (1882–1970) while they were in Urumchi. Hayashide was known to be an agent of the Japanese Foreign Ministry sent out to collect information on Central Asia, but the fact that he would give assistance to Tachibana and Nomura is only what one would expect any time Japanese travelers encounter a countryman in a foreign place.

Shuttleworth said that Nomura spoke no English and Tachibana only a few words, so it may have been largely a communication problem that led to their misunderstandings, the Japanese simply could not explain clearly their plans and intentions, and Shuttleworth was too willing to listen to rumors and untruths spread by George Hunter and the Russian consul.Footnote 6 In any case, Shuttleworth’s negative report went to India and the seeds of doubt had been planted. The British were concerned enough about Ōtani and his project that they ordered Sir Claude MacDonald (1852–1915), British ambassador to Japan, to look into the matter. On November 12, 1909, MacDonald sent a sharp note to Komura Jutarō (1855–1911) the Japanese Foreign Minister. He wrote: “I have received through the Secretary of the Government of India certain confidential information regarding the conduct of two Japanese, Messrs. Tachibana and Nomura who have been, and may still be traveling in Chinese Turkestan, which suggests the advisability of enquiring whether these gentlemen, if they should be known to Your Excellency, are proper persons to receive the assistance of British officials in their travels.” He then goes on to document their rude behavior and concludes, “I venture to think it would be of advantage for all concerned if Your Excellency could kindly inform me whether they possess any claim to consideration or title to official recognition.”

This was the first the Foreign Ministry had heard of Ōtani’s expeditions. On November 22 Komura completely disavowed any connection with Ōtani’s men, writing “In reply I have the honor to state for Your Excellency’s information that the two persons named above are not Japanese government officials and that as regards the travels of these men in that region the Imperial Government have no concern with or cognizance of them.”Footnote 7

There are two important points about this exchange of notes. First, it seems remarkable that the ambassador would concern himself with something so trivial as a pair of Japanese travelers in a remote part of China asking for travel assistance. Is this the sort of issue that ambassadors and foreign ministers normally discuss? It is a measure of how anxious the British were to know whether or not Tachibana and Nomura were agents of the Japanese government. The second point is equally important, namely that the Foreign Minister was able to say unequivocally that these men had no ties to the Japanese government.

The upshot of all this is that Tachibana and Nomura were marked as suspicious characters by the British government, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry became interested in knowing what Ōtani was up to with his expeditions and were concerned that he might upset a delicate international balance in a way that would be detrimental to Japan. The Foreign Ministry was concerned that suspicion of Ōtani reflected British suspicion of the Japanese government.

It was in this context, then, that Ōtani traveled to India in the autumn of 1909 in order to meet Tachibana and Nomura, and to carry out further explorations of Buddhist sites. We should also note that if the Dalai Lama had not stayed over at Amdo for eleven months on his return from Beijing, he would have been back in Lhasa at this time. It may be that Ōtani planned his trip to India with the expectation that the Dalai Lama would be in Lhasa. The situation Kōzui met in India was quite different from that of his earlier trip in 1902–03. When he arrived from Chinese Turkestan in 1902, he had been allowed to enter India by the Hunza Road, a special military road that was off limits to civilians and certainly to foreigners. But because the Anglo-Japanese treaty had just been signed there was a feeling of goodwill toward Japan,Footnote 8 and because Ōtani was an important person, he was allowed to travel by that road on his journey from Kashgar into India.Footnote 9 In 1909, he faced a very different reality; the British were suspicious of Kōzui’s activities. He arrived at Srinagar in October where he met with Younghusband and explained the nature of his research activities and assured the Resident that his men were not spies. Nevertheless, at every turn he ran into roadblocks that inhibited his plans.

After meeting up with Tachibana and Nomura on their arrival from Central Asia, Kōzui and his party traveled to Delhi. There they visited the hospital room of Seki Roka, a reporter from the Mainichi Shimbun, who had accompanied Kōzui to India, but who had fallen ill. Seki was astonished when introduced to Tachibana. He had imagined the explorer to be a hard figure with a beard and something of a swashbuckler. Instead, he saw a young man of 19 who stood barely five feet two inches and whose “overall impression was that of an attractive 18 or 19 year old maiden.”Footnote 10

From Delhi the party moved on to Calcutta. Tachibana and Nomura had left the bulk of their excavated artifacts at Kashgar in care of Captain Shuttleworth. Following Ōtani’s instructions they had brought with them only a selection of written materials in various languages which they deemed to be the most significant of their finds. In Calcutta in November 1909, they showed these to Dennison Ross (1871–1940), an Orientalist who was an expert in the languages of ancient Central Asia. He immediately recognized the importance of the Li Bai manuscript which Tachibana had unearthed at Loulan. This early fourth-century letter in Chinese turned out to be perhaps the single most important artifact collected by any of the Ōtani expeditions. Though it had nothing to do with Buddhism, it certainly established Tachibana’s reputation in Europe where he was recognized as an archaeologist of importance and elected to membership in the Royal Geographical Society.

4 The Third Ōtani Expedition, 1910–1914

On December 7, 1909, Japanese Consul General Hirata made a request to the Indian government asking permission for Ōtani, Tachibana, and the student Aoki Bunkyō to enter Nepal to explore the site of Buddha’s death. The Indian government curtly denied this request.Footnote 11 Although Ōtani’s stated purpose for entering Nepal was to examine the site of Buddha’s death, it may be that he also planned to continue on to Lhasa to meet the Dalai Lama. At this point both Ōtani and Tachibana had been marked as suspicious travelers by the British government. In refusing to allow them to enter Nepal the government really gave no reason for its decision, only the vague statement that the Nepalese authorities had sometimes objected to the presence of foreign travelers. Unable to meet with the Dalai Lama directly, Ōtani wrote a letter that he gave to Aoki Bunkyō to deliver. Although Ōtani and Tachibana left India on January 29, 1910 bound for Europe, the letter is dated February 7, 1910, so perhaps Ōtani hoped Aoki would somehow be able to make his way to Lhasa by around that date. Ōtani’s letter, written in English, reads:

“To His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Your Holiness,

It is with great pleasure to write a few lines to Your Holiness for greeting on your good health and happiness availing myself of the opportunity of my short visit to India on the way for Europe.

I am exceedingly glad to recollect the friendship which happily ties Your Holiness and myself which Your Holiness have kindly extended to my younger brother Rev. Sonyu Ōtani by cordially receiving him when he paid respect on my behalf to Your Holiness in 1908, at Utai Shan, China. It is my sincere hope to see our personal relation thus established continue to improve for ever.

I am sending my private secretary, Rev. B. Aoki for forwarding this letter to Your Holiness.

With kind regard to

Your Holiness

(sd.) Kōzui Ōtani”Footnote 12

Before Ōtani left India for Europe his project suffered yet another setback when Nomura Eisaburō requested permission to return to Kashgar to retrieve the artifacts and other baggage that had been left there. Nomura planned to return via the Karakoram Pass, the same route by which he had entered India just a few weeks earlier. Again the British denied his request without giving any reason for doing so.Footnote 13

Perhaps they thought that if Nomura crossed into Central Asia, he might attempt to enter Tibet from that side. Under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese treaty they could not have denied him that passage if he had been a Japanese government official, so here again it is clear that Ōtani’s agents were traveling as private citizens, not as spies for the government.

It was not only the British who were suspicious of Ōtani and his activities; the Japanese Foreign Ministry was also becoming increasingly nervous, especially after Ambassador MacDonald’s complaint. In a secret dispatch to the Foreign Minister in January 1910 Consul Hirata wrote: “With regard to Nomura’s recrossing the Karakoram Pass, the request was denied with no reason given. I cannot help feeling this was a cruel way of dealing with the matter. From the beginning the Karakoram Range has formed a wall on India’s northern border and these mountain roads are strictly closed as a matter of military strategy, but this one road is used for commerce and the local people are allowed to pass through it. For foreigners to get permission is a special case. When they [Tachibana and Nomura] entered the country, however, they were immediately given permission, but now that he plans to pass through again, he has deliberately been denied permission. Perhaps from a military standpoint making a round trip is different, or perhaps it reflects the extensive activities of the Count’s party, or reflects Nomura’s own position as a military man (Because the British representative at Kashgar knew that Nomura had been enlisted in the army), they are suspicious about the real intent of these activities. I wonder if they unjustly suspect that they may have some sort of special orders apart from archaeological exploration concerning religion. Although this is nothing more than my own speculation, when I think the matter over, I must say their suspicions are definitely harsh and inappropriate.”Footnote 14

At this point all of Ōtani’s attempts to penetrate Tibet had been frustrated by the British government who were suspicious of his activities and did not want any foreigners meddling in Tibet. The Japanese Foreign Ministry was also concerned as we see by the fact that Consul General Hirata felt a need to send a long and secret report to the Foreign Minister outlining all he knew about Ōtani’s activities as well as the suspicions expressed by the British.

Ōtani’s attempts to cross the Indian frontier and go to Lhasa were thwarted at every turn by the British. He had given up and left India for Europe, but just at that point events took a dramatic new turn. The Dalai Lama who had finally returned from Beijing to Lhasa only in November now felt threatened by the approach of the Chinese army. China wanted a military presence in Tibet to prove to the world its sovereignty over that nation. The Dalai Lama who had always resisted Chinese attempts to impose their authority on his country now sought refuge in India. In February 1910 he and his entourage crossed the Himalayas and established his headquarters at Darjeeling in northern India.

Once the Dalai Lama was outside Tibet he was approachable just as he had been in 1908 at Wutaishan in China. Aoki Bunkyō wasted no time. On February 24, 1910, two days after the Dalai Lama’s party had crossed the border, Aoki handed over Ōtani’s letter of February 7 to the Dalai’s aide Te Wande. But the matter did not end there. Aoki immediately set out from Calcutta to Darjeeling to meet the Dalai Lama in person. In his diary he wrote: “I left Calcutta and traveled 380 miles to Darjeeling high in the Himalayas. Prior to my arrival the Dalai’s party had crossed the Indian frontier and rested a few days at Kalimpong and were just now getting settled in at Darjeeling…. Earlier I had communicated with the Dalai’s interpreter and with officials of the British Indian government my wish to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai, and right away the next day the audience was granted…. I first completed my official audience, then I was granted a second, private meeting in a separate location. With the help of an interpreter I conveyed Abbot Kōzui’s thoughts to him and presented some gifts. Furthermore, I expressed my desire to enter Tibet to study. In response His Holiness the Dalai expressed his appreciation for the goodwill of the Honganji abbot and recalled that time some years ago at Wutaishan in China when he met the abbot’s representatives and he promised that from now on he would maintain a close relationship with Honganji. For the present he acknowledged the possibility of an exchange of students between us and them. This meeting was, in fact, the first step on the way to my study in Tibet. This was also the first instance of a concrete relationship with Honganji.”Footnote 15

Immediately, on March 5, Consul General Hirata sent a classified, coded message to the Foreign Minister saying: “…Lama received in audience today Aoki who is private secretary to Count Ōtani and had telegraphic instructions from the count to pay respects on his behalf (sic).” This report of Aoki’s audience seems innocuous, but Hirata felt it was important enough to notify the Foreign Minister in a classified, coded message. On March 8, Hirata sent a second, much longer classified and coded report. “As an attachment to classified document #3 dated February 28 I reported that Abbot Count Ōtani of Nishi Honganji passed a letter to the Dalai Lama through his associate Aoki. Because Aoki had received telegraphic orders from Count Ōtani in London to meet with the Lama, when Aoki received word that the Lama had arrived in Darjeeling, he went there… On the morning of the 5th the Lama had a special meeting with him. It was a private meeting with Te Wandei, who had received the earlier mentioned letter in Calcutta, acting as interpreter. Representing the abbot Aoki expressed the substance of the greeting given in the abbot’s letter, for which the Lama was very thankful. He inquired about the abbot’s current condition and the meeting ended without covering much else. This I heard from Aoki. Although Aoki’s meeting with the Lama as an associate of Count Ōtani was reported in the local Calcutta newspapers, it did not attract any special notice from the people here. I report the above along with classified telegram #6 for your consideration.”Footnote 16

There are several things about Hirata’s report that we should notice. First is the fact that he heard all of this from Aoki, this is Aoki’s version of what took place. What Aoki did not tell the consul was that there was a second and more substantial audience which went beyond mere pleasantries between two religious leaders. In the second meeting, they dealt with issues of strengthening ties between their two institutions and establishing an exchange of students. Second, we notice that Hirata was at pains to say that the meeting was innocuous, that it had been reported in the press, and that no one was unduly concerned about it. Here Hirata is reassuring the Foreign Minister that this meeting had not upset the British. It is also worth noting that this second meeting, like the one at Wutaishan, was held at a detached location away from where the Dalai Lama normally held public audiences.

Once Aoki had met with the Dalai Lama and laid the foundation for an exchange between Tibet and Japan, Ōtani summoned him to London. There Ōtani was outfitting and preparing Tachibana to lead the third Ōtani expedition into Central Asia.

Ōtani published a notice in the April 1910 issue of Geographical Journal outlining Tachibana’s forthcoming expedition:

“The young Japanese traveler, Mr. Zuichō Tachibana, who lately carried out an interesting journey of archaeological research through the northern parts of the Chinese empire, informs us that he is about to start on a new expedition to the same region, again under the auspices and at the expense of Count Kōzui Ōtani . The archaeological spoils of the former expedition were left at Kashgar, as permission to cross the Karakoram pass could not be obtained from the Indian Government. Mr. Hashiramoto, who will join the expedition as naturalist, will therefore proceed from Beijing to Kashgar via Kwa-hua-cheng and Guchen in order to fetch the collections, and on his return will be met by the leader (who hopes to enter Central Asia from the Russian side) at Hami. At Guchen and Turfan systematic excavations will be carried on by Mr. B. Aoki, the leader meanwhile making a trip to Sachu by the route used as a highway during the Han and Yan dynasties. Returning to Hami, he proposes to go east-north-east to the Yellow River…. Mr. Aoki will also meet the other members of the party at, but will then go direct to Beijing or Hankow with the baggage.”Footnote 17

Professor Joshin Shirasu of Hiroshima University has suggested that this notice was a red herring published by Ōtani to allay British fears that his agents were trying to penetrate Tibet.Footnote 18 As it turned out, this itinerary was almost pure fiction, but it reassured anyone reading it that for the next few years both Tachibana and Aoki, the objects of British suspicion, would be busy with projects far off in the north-eastern corner of the Tarim Basin and far from the Tibetan border. In reality, neither Aoki nor Hashiramoto accompanied Tachibana on the expedition. Instead, he took a young man named Orlando Hobbs (1894–1911) with him.Footnote 19 Hobbs had no experience as an explorer nor as an archaeologist, nor did he know any Eastern languages. For Tachibana his chief asset was the fact that he was an Englishman; how could Tachibana be up to any nefarious activity while in the company of an Englishman who could observe and report his activities? In fact, Hobbs died of smallpox fairly early in the venture and Tachibana went on to crisscross the Tarim Basin and even made two brief forays into the remote northern borders of Tibet.Footnote 20

5 The Resultant Relationship Between the Dalai Lama and Nishi Honganji Temple

As we have seen, once Aoki had met with the Dalai Lama Ōtani summoned him to London where he arrived on April 30. However, since Aoki did not accompany Tachibana when he set out three months later, we can suppose that Ōtani had called him there to give credence to the plans outlined in the Geographical Journal. In fact, Ōtani still wanted Aoki to go to Tibet, and now that he had reached an understanding with the Dalai Lama, he knew that Aoki would be welcomed in Tibet if he could manage to get across the border without the British or Indian governments knowing it.

Aoki spent nearly a year in London and on the continent and was about to return to Japan when he received a personal letter from the Dalai Lama. The Dalai said he was ready now to send students to Japan and requested that Aoki come to Darjeeling to help arrange this. Once Aoki had met with the Dalai Lama and discussed criteria for students, those candidates had to be brought from Lhasa where fighting was in progress with Chinese soldiers. Eventually they chose a young priest of about 30 who would be accompanied by two servants/companions. The Dalai wanted the exchange arranged so that students would be sent officially by the Tibetan government at the invitation of the Japanese government. Aoki explained that given the relationships and tensions that existed among England, Russia, and China with regard to Tibet, the Japanese government could not be involved in this exchange. It was necessary that the Dalai Lama as a private individual send students specifically to Honganji as a private arrangement with Aoki serving as their guardian. Aoki noted in his diary: “For a time the Dalai was dissatisfied with this, but there was no point in making an international incident of it,” so the exchange was a private relationship between religious institutions.Footnote 21

The student, Tsawa Teitoru, was an outstanding priest from an aristocratic family. Aoki refers to him as the “bishop.” One of his attendants was Waga Sojo, but we never learn the name of the other. As the party traveled to Japan from Darjeeling, they did so secretly in order to avoid drawing the attention of the British authorities. Aoki wrote in his diary: “Of course we felt it was absolutely essential that we keep our travels secret. The bishop and his attendants packed their Tibetan priestly robes at the bottom of their baggage and wore purely European garb. They changed their names to Japanese ones.” The group sailed from Calcutta and at one point aboard ship Aoki slipped up and spoke a few words to the bishop in Tibetan which could have blown their disguise as Japanese, but fortunately no one noticed. At Singapore, however, they transferred to a Japanese steamer with many Japanese passengers, so the Tibetans could no longer pass themselves off as Japanese. From that point on they pretended to be Mongols and eventually made it to Kyoto without anyone guessing their true identity. Aoki explained, “The reason it was necessary for our party to maintain secrecy from the time we left India until we arrived in Japan was because at that time Chinese and Tibetan forces were fighting in Tibet and the Chinese felt a deep enmity toward Tibet. If they had found out that the Dalai had dispatched the bishop to Japan, they undoubtedly would have devised some sort of reprisal, and at the same time they would have had ill feelings toward Honganji which was sponsoring the Tibetans, and more importantly, they would have become suspicious of the Japanese government. For this reason the secret was maintained even within Honganji except for a few officials.”Footnote 22 Aoki's description shows how religious faith and friendship had shaped an alternative Asian geography, networks different from and challenging to political maps and interests. This can be formulated as follows: In political terms the Asian landmass was divided horizontally (east–west) into three layers. Britain ruled a southern tier, what is today Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Burma. China asserted control over the middle tier consisting of China proper, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Russia dominated a northern tier consisting of Russian Turkestan and Siberia. In contrast to this east–west horizontal configuration, in Buddhist terms we see a north–south configuration that cuts across the horizontal political tiers. Buddhism prevailed in Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Tibet, Qinghai, Mongolia, and southern Siberia.

At first the students stayed at Honganji where they studied Japanese. “After about six months the bishop could pretty much communicate in everyday Japanese.” Later they moved to Ōtani’s villa, Nirakusō, on the slope of Mount Rokko where they continued to study Japanese language and also the history of Japanese Buddhism.

In October 1911, the Republican revolution broke out in China and many of the Chinese troops were withdrawn from Tibet to help suppress the revolution. The Dalai Lama saw this as an opportunity to free Tibet from Chinese control, and marshaled his troops to drive out the Chinese soldiers who remained in his country. In Japan, the bishop received an urgent telegram written in the Dalai’s special code, “Tibetan forces have prevailed, the Qing forces are defeated and the Dalai has decided to return to Tibet. The bishop is ordered to return to India immediately.”Footnote 23

For the return to India, they made a party of six, the three Tibetan students, plus Aoki Bunkyō, Tada Tōkan (1890–1967), who had been the bishop’s study companion in Japan, and another Japanese priest named Fujitani Sei. “Because it was necessary, of course, for our group to maintain strict secrecy, the bishop and his attendants, as well as myself, used aliases. Our whole group introduced ourselves as being Japanese and said that the object of our travels was to make a pilgrimage to Buddhist sites in India. Considering the difficult experience we had when coming to Japan, we avoided taking a Japanese ship and chose to go directly to Calcutta aboard an English ship. We secretly set sail from Kobe a little after 5:00 PM on January 23, 1912.”Footnote 24 On arrival at Calcutta they did not linger, “…but set out the next evening on the express train and hurried to Darjeeling. The Dalai and his entourage had already left and were now at Kalimpong on their way back to Tibet. The Dalai would be spending a week there, so we left Mr. Fujitani in Calcutta to handle communications while Mr. Tada and I accompanied the bishop and followed after His Holiness the Dalai.”Footnote 25

Although Aoki’s original plan was to reunite the bishop and the Dalai Lama and see them off to Tibet, then return to Japan, he found a confused and uncertain situation at Kalimpong. The Dalai Lama had very little information about the situation in China; the revolution was only minimally reported in the English language newspapers in India. Most of the Dalai’s information was coming from newspapers and telegrams sent from Japan. Given the uncertainty of the situation the Dalai decided to remain in India for the time being and monitor the developing situation. Aoki and Tada also postponed their return to Japan.

For the next few months Aoki and Tada were treated as honored guests at the Dalai Lama’s headquarters. They supplied the Dalai’s people with information about the current situation in the Far East and they encouraged the bishop to continue his Japanese language studies. Finally, on June 24, 1912, the Dalai decided definitely to return to Tibet and the bishop would return to Lhasa with him rather than go back to Japan for further study. The Dalai told Aoki, “At this time I must definitely take back with me people like the bishop who will be useful. Later, when the time comes to send students to study abroad, I can send other talented people. And as for you two [Aoki and Tada], if it is not necessary for you to return to Japan right away, you should use this opportunity to come to Tibet.”Footnote 26 At this time the Dalai Lama gave Aoki special authorization to enter Tibet and a travel pass. “I was also given a Tibetan name, Thubten Tashi. This used part of the Dalai’s personal name which is Thubten Gyatso and added Tashi as an honorific. ‘Thub’ means quiet or serene, and ‘ten’ means teacher of the Law. ‘Tashi’ means lucky omen. Mr. Tada was given the name Thubten Gentsuen in anticipating that we would enter Tibet later.”Footnote 27

Aoki planned to accompany the Dalai Lama on his return to Lhasa, but the British government would not allow it, so he decided to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to cross the frontier secretly. He explained the problem to the Dalai saying he would require some assistance in crossing the border. “The Dalai said that from now on there would be a representative of the Tibetan government stationed at Kalimpong who would be my sponsor and I should wait for him to take care of everything. On the 24th as scheduled, His Holiness’ palanquin headed north out of India.”Footnote 28

Because Kalimpong was on the direct road leading from India to Lhasa, there were people there from all over the world seeking to enter Tibet, so the British kept the place under close surveillance. “Reckless Chinese and Mongols who tried to enter Tibet secretly were arrested on the road, and during my stay there more than ten people were severely punished. I realize that this place was extremely unsuitable as a jumping off place for entering Tibet.”Footnote 29

Aoki and Tada withdrew to Gum, a town several miles down the rail line from Darjeeling. There was a temple called Rising Sun there with a Tibetan lama where they went daily to practice speaking Tibetan. “When people asked about our plans we deceived them saying that since we could not enter Tibet we were instead studying Tibetan Buddhism at this temple.”Footnote 30 As the second instance we have seen of the Buddhists disguising themselves, this raises important questions of identity as a part of trust conveyed in these situations as suggested by Charles Withers in terms of other travel accounts.Footnote 31 In particular, we see in these particular uses of disguise, the perceived necessity for deceit in order to maintain spiritual networks in the face of prohibitive political boundaries.

At last, on the night of September 8, 1912, Aoki resolved to set out across the border accompanied by Tibetan guides and servants supplied from Kalimpong. In rain and thick fog, disguised as a Tibetan pilgrim Aoki and his party set out from Gum to cross into Nepal. Although tormented by leeches and fatigue, by daylight they were in Nepal and no longer had to fear pursuit by Indian authorities. Because his fluency in Tibetan was still poor, Aoki adopted a Mongol name and passed himself off as a Mongol.Footnote 32

On October 15th, Aoki arrived at the Dalai Lama’s temporary headquarters some distance from Lhasa. On the 16th, he had an audience in the Tibetan Buddhist style. “I prostrated my body on the floor and performed this obeisance three times as a way of showing him greatest respect. His Holiness placed his right hand on my head as a blessing and I noticed that he had put on some weight since he was in India…. I said I was grateful that as a result of my entering Tibet relations with Honganji would gradually become closer. Then His Holiness made it clear that he hoped the relationship between Japan and Tibet would not stop with Honganji and the Tibetan government, but would spread to other denominations in Japan and to the Japanese government.”Footnote 33

Although the Dalai Lama was now within fifty miles of Lhasa, peace negotiations with the Chinese forces had broken down. The Chinese used the lull in the fighting to secretly resupply their forces with arms, ammunition, and food, and now they made a vicious counterattack on the Tibetan troops in Lhasa. Consequently the Dalai Lama’s entourage remained outside Lhasa until peace could be restored. Aoki adds a curious note in his diary saying, “At this time the only Japanese in Lhasa who had a close look at the fighting between Tibetan and Chinese forces was the mendicant traveler Yajima Yasuijirō.”Footnote 34

While waiting to enter Lhasa the Dalai Lama was working feverishly on plans to modernize his country and run it independently. He asked Aoki to search the area for coal deposits and also to obtain specimens of coal from Japan. “At present the fuel used in Tibet is yak dung and a dirty coal which is like peat. There is an extremely limited amount of firewood. All of these produce very weak fire. They have not been able to discover the sort of fuel they need to establish various industries.”Footnote 35 Not being a geologist, Aoki was unable to locate suitable deposits of coal. As for samples of Japanese coal, he had a friend in Calcutta obtain some from the Japan Mail Line, but it did not arrive until four months later.

In his efforts to modernize the country the Dalai Lama hoped to bring an instructor from Japan to train a new style Tibetan army. He also asked for a complete set of military textbooks of the kind being used by the Japanese army. Again, five months later all those materials arrived in Tibet.Footnote 36 While waiting at his temporary headquarters, the Dalai Lama also set up a postal system for the nation which was inaugurated in mid-November 1912.Footnote 37

Waga Sojo, who had accompanied the bishop to Japan, worked with Aoki to set up a study abroad program for Tibetan students. “I must also make special mention of sending students abroad to study. Waga Sojo spent nine months studying in Japan, and because his experience there could not have been better, he selected a number of students to study abroad. First, five young men were sent to study in England. In years past many Tibetans have studied in China or India, but these were probably the first to study in Europe. Also there were two candidates for study in Russia and two for study in Japan (One of them was Waga Sojo and the other was the son of an aristocratic family) and they were waiting for appropriate responses from officials in those countries. Later, the students going to Russia traveled first to Mongolia, and then on to Russia, but the students for study in Japan did not receive any response at all and so naturally they gave up. On the other hand, while His Holiness the Dalai was dispatching students to study abroad, he had also decided to set up a new system domestically for education of the general public. For that he planned to use the Japanese model, and for that he asked me to acquire books dealing with common education in Japan at the present time, and a complete set of elementary and secondary school textbooks…. Five months later all those materials arrived in the hands of His Holiness. While in Lhasa I was given responsibility for establishing elementary and secondary schools there. In this way, even while there was still fighting going on inside the city, His Holiness was expending a great deal of effort with regard to both the cultural and martial arts. When I think about it, however, this all resulted from his stay in India for the past two years when he spent some time studying Western culture. If the Chinese army had not attacked, he would not have fled to India, and Tibet would not have had the opportunity to come into contact with world culture.”Footnote 38

Here Aoki modestly gives credit for all this modernizing to the Dalai Lama who has often been referred to as the “Great Thirteenth” for his efforts to modernize the country, but it was Aoki who was the conduit, and behind him Ōtani Kōzui who was the driving force that made all these initiatives possible. We see here again how religious networks have been important yet overlooked channels in the transfer of knowledge across space. The Tarim Basin expeditions and the expedition from Burma sought to clarify the ancient Buddhist networks across Asia, while the effort to engage Tibet represents the establishment of a contemporary Buddhist network.

In early December the Dalai Lama received a long telegram from Yuan Shikai (1859–1916), President of the new Chinese Republic. He announced that the Qing government had fallen, he regretted the Qing army’s lawless invasion of Tibet, and he pledged the good will of the Chinese republic toward Tibet. His Holiness responded by demanding that all Chinese forces be withdrawn from Tibetan territory and stated that further interference with Tibetan affairs would not be tolerated.Footnote 39 He hoped that China and Tibet could be linked in a relationship of friendship. By the end of December the Chinese forces in Lhasa laid down their weapons. All military, cultural, and commercial officials, all except those who were naturalized Tibetan citizens, left Lhasa and were repatriated through India to China. On January 12, 1913, the Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa. “At that time he communicated this development to the Great Powers who were involved with Tibet, and in the case of Japan, notified the abbot of Nishi Honganji.”Footnote 40 Although the Dalai wanted to establish contact with the Japanese government, it did not happen. Either because Nishi Honganji wanted to monopolize the relationship, or because the Japanese government was uninterested, the Dalai was only in touch with Japan through Nishi Honganji. Aoki Bunkyo joined the procession of thousands of priests, officials and soldiers who accompanied the Dalai Lama on his return to Lhasa where they were joined by thousands more who came out from the city to greet the returning Dalai Lama.

Aoki noted that Russia had abandoned its interest in Tibet as a result of its loss to Japan in the Russo-Japanese war combined with its problems in the Balkans and, of course, its own festering revolution at home. Aoki’s conclusion: “In short, today Tibet is Britain’s exclusive stage. She is serving as the country’s protector in place of China. Britain has not yet sent a representative as far as Lhasa, but they have already established a base at Gyantse which is 145 miles from Lhasa. They have a trade representative there, have established a garrison and have commercial rights. According to the most recent information I have, in the Kamu region on Tibet’s eastern border fighting between Tibetan and Chinese forces is in full swing and it is hard to say who will prevail, but China will not easily be able to reassert its influence. So now we have to wonder what will happen in the future in terms of the three country relationship between Britain, China and Tibet, and the relationship between Britain and Russia.”Footnote 41

Aoki goes on to observe that although Tibet had long maintained a policy of seclusion, the Dalai Lama had twice traveled abroad, once to Mongolia and China, and once to British India where he was exposed to Occidental culture. As he became more accepting of foreigners, he welcomed the Japanese who came to his country. But relations with Japan were still of a private nature based on his contact with Nishi Honganji. “Tibet now turns to Japan and Britain for guidance in opening the country and is making many demands. Britain is working adroitly to implement this within the bounds of its various treaties [with Russia and China], but the officials of Japan have completely avoided relations with Tibet and have not responded to discussions or requests from that country.”Footnote 42

During his three-year stay in Lhasa, Aoki worked closely with the Dalai Lama. “In the capital of Lhasa I was provided with accommodations and a stipend that were above my status. And until I became fluent in the language I was even provided with a tutor by special order. In return for these special favors I consulted with His Holiness from time to time and answered his questions. By means of foreign and domestic newspapers I informed him of important events occurring abroad and sometimes I was charged with translating articles. In this way we developed a relationship and from time to time I had good opportunities to observe the current Dalai Lama.”Footnote 43

In 1915, there were four Japanese living in Lhasa. By the time Aoki arrived, the itinerant traveler Yajima Yasuijirō was already there. He had arrived in 1912 and was working as an instructor at a military school. Tada Tōkan arrived in the autumn of 1914 and was studying Buddhism at the university at the Sera monastery. Kawaguchi Ekai also arrived in 1914 on his second visit to Lhasa. He was living with an aristocratic family and spent his time collecting Buddhist texts and visiting sacred sites. He was also highly regarded as a physician.Footnote 44 All four men were warmly received by the Dalai Lama’s administration. Aoki left Tibet to return to Japan in the spring of 1916, departing from Lhasa in late January. At a private audience with the Dalai Lama he was informed about a special emissary who was being sent to India. At a formal public audience, the Dalai asked Aoki to work hard to bring about more intimate relations with Honganji, but to also work for close relations between the governments of Japan and Tibet. Later he had another, private, audience. “The following day, January 23, at the Norbulingka detached palace I had my final, private audience. His Holiness dismissed his close retainers and I was told in detail about a special emissary. The man’s mission was to purchase weapons from the British government in India and to study their currency and postal systems. But because Britain was at that time engaged in a war, if the above goals could not be met, the emissary was to obtain the good will of the English, but negotiate with Japan. That was the plan.”Footnote 45

After Aoki returned to Japan, Tada Tōkan stayed on and continued his studies there. When the bishop and his companions were in Japan, Tada had been assigned to teach them Japanese, but Ōtani felt that Tada’s strong Akita dialect meant that the Tibetans were learning a rustic form of the language that was not appropriate. Tada was relieved of his teaching duties, but remained close to the Tibetans and picked up some of their language. When they were recalled to India, they requested that he be allowed to accompany them.

After about a year in India, Tada finally managed to slip into Tibet where he studied at the Sera monastery in Lhasa. He also began practicing the austerities of the Tibetan priesthood. During his time in Tibet he had free access to the Potala palace and often was asked to provide the Dalai Lama with information on world affairs. After a decade of study, he received the highest academic degree awarded by Tibetan educational institutions, the equivalent of a doctoral degree. When he returned to Japan in 1923 he brought with him a collection of some 24,000 books and documents including the Deruge edition of the Daizōkyō plus many books on medicine, medicinal herbs, and other rare books.

6 Conclusions

We can see that Ōtani Kōzui’s goal in sponsoring and financing the Ōtani expeditions was to document the origins and transmission of Buddhism from India to Japan, and to collect and study the foundational texts of the Buddhist traditions. This motivation for creating networks of travel tends to fall below the radar of secular accounts of space and modernization that typically focus on political power. Through the Ōtani expeditions, a new religious landscape emerges in Asia that is based on a strong bond of identity among those involved from Japan and Tibet, two major Buddhist countries. Yet, as we have seen, identities can be disguised and often undergo change through the experience gained by traveling.

While Ōtani and his scholar priests have been accused of being spies, the Foreign Ministry archives examined by Professor Joshin Shirasu show clearly that far from being agents of the Japanese government, the Foreign Ministry was at first not even aware of Ōtani’s activities. When it did learn of them from the British ambassador, the Foreign Minister became alarmed that Ōtani’s activities would upset an international balance in a way that would reflect poorly on Japan. The suspicion that Ōtani’s men might be spies stemmed from Captain Shuttleworth’s alarmist report to the Indian government which was the result of his personal antipathy toward Tachibana Zuichō and reinforced by troublemaking innuendos from Russian officials and others. Once the suspicion was raised, those fears were reinforced by the fact that Ōtani’s men were probing politically sensitive areas throughout Inner Asia. In terms of relations with the Dalai Lama we see that Ōtani and his representatives were careful to keep the connection limited to Nishi Honganji. The Dalai repeatedly sought to establish official relations with the Japanese government as well, but was rebuffed at every turn. This would not have been the case if Ōtani had been acting as an agent of the government. Ōtani stepped down from his position as abbot of Nishi Honganji in 1914 in the midst of a financial scandal and the third expedition into the Tarim Basin concluded at the same time, but the successful effort to penetrate Tibet continued on for another nine years and eventually proved to be the most fruitful of all the ventures Ōtani sponsored.