In Memoriam: Tsuguhito Takeuchi (1951–2021)

Tsuguhito Takeuchi, a linguist, philologist, and an eminent and leading scholar in the field of Old Tibetan Studies, passed away on Saturday, 3 April 2021, at home after a two-year-long struggle against an illness. For many years, he was one of the central figures of the IATS seminars and, from 2013 onward, served as the Japanese representative on its advisory board.

He was born in Amagasaki, Hyogo, in 1951 as the second son—the elder son had prematurely passed away—of the 19th head priest at a Buddhist temple, Josen-Ji. His father was Professor Shoko Takeuchi, a renowned scholar of Buddhist studies. Takeuchi was raised in an academic atmosphere wherein his father’s colleagues and students often gathered and discussed Buddhist studies in his home. However, having entered Kyoto University, he chose linguistics, which was a relatively new academic field at the time.

In 1978, after initial training in linguistics by Professor Tatsuo Nishida, a renowned linguist of Sino-Tibetan languages, particularly for the decipherment of Tangut script, Takeuchi completed his master’s thesis on the sentence structure of the modern Tibetan language. He analysed the spoken words of his teacher, Professor Tshul-khrims skal-bzang, by using the most advanced contemporary theory of case grammar. His thesis was first published in 1990 as an article in Asian Languages and General Linguistics, the Festschrift for Professor Nishida, and then translated into English in 2016: ‘The Function of Auxiliary Verbs in Tibetan Predicates and their Historical Development’. He was an outstanding and pioneering student in the field of linguistics, which was not yet popular at Kyoto University.

In August 1978, he conducted his first linguistic field research on the Dingri dialect in Jawalakhel, Nepal. Dingri is close to Zur tsho, where his teacher Professor Tshul khrims skal bzang was born. However, Professor Tshul khrims skal bzang was educated at the Sera Monastery in Lhasa from when he was 10 years old and thus spoke the so-called ‘Central Tibetan dialect’.

In Nepal, on the way to field research, 1978

In July 1979, after spending a month at the University of Texas as a graduate student of the Fulbright Orientation Program, he studied linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania for a year. He then decided to move to Indiana University, where Professor Helmut Hoffmann was teaching, to learn the Tibetan language. Unfortunately, Professor Hoffmann retired six months later for reasons of ill-health. Nevertheless, Takeuchi continued to study under Professor Cristopher Beckwith, who sparked his lifelong research interest in Old Tibetan Studies.

Takeuchi took Professor Beckwith’s Old Tibetan class and embarked on a philological study of Old Tibetan documents. They read parts of the Old Tibetan Annals, parts of the Chronicle, the Samye Inscription, and the Prophecy on the Decline of Buddhism in Khotan, among other texts. Professor Beckwith remembers that Takeuchi was a brilliant student, very cheerful and kind, and always very helpful towards his teacher.

In 1982, as a doctoral student at Indiana University, Takeuchi made an outstanding debut in the 3rd IATS seminar held at Columbia University with a paper entitled ‘A Passage from the Shih chi in the Old Tibetan Chronicle’. He had found a passage in the Old Tibetan Chronicle that was an adaptation from the Chinese historical record Shiji, with which he was familiar from his childhood days.

In this way, during his days at Indiana University, he met excellent teachers and lifelong friends: Professor Beckwith; Professor Thubten Jigme Norbu, who was the Dalai Lama’s older brother; Professor Dan Martin; and Professor Elliot Sperling, among others.

Takeuchi’s research method was simple and straightforward: collect all related documents and analyse the text as a whole. He disliked ad hoc reading and interpretation, and always tried to collect parallel and similar expressions as far as possible. This is probably the most basic way to read a text in the absence of good dictionaries. Nevertheless, in reality, it was a tremendously challenging job simply because many Old Tibetan manuscripts remained unpublished at the time. He was also never satisfied with the edited text and sometimes said, ‘I only believe the original manuscript that I see with my naked eyes’. He regarded manuscripts not only as textual media but also in material terms, such as in terms of the shape of paper and the size, and thickness of wood. He spared no pains to go everywhere to see the original manuscripts, including London, Paris, Helsinki, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Xinjiang. His hands-on approach led him to many unpublished and uncatalogued manuscripts.

He then collected 55 contracts from many Old Tibetan manuscripts worldwide and finished his Ph.D. dissertation. It was published in 1995 as a monograph titled Old Tibetan Contracts from Central Asia, one of the essential works in Old Tibetan Studies until the present day.

He continued to catalogue the Old Tibetan manuscripts: Choix de documents tibétains conservés à la Bibliothèque Nationale, Tome III in 1990 and Tome IV in 2001, Old Tibetan Manuscripts from East Turkestan in the Stein Collection of the British Library, 3 vols. in 1997–98, Old Tibetan Inscriptions in 2009, Old Tibetan Texts in the Stein Collection Or. 8210 in 2012, and Tibetan Texts from Khara-khoto in the Stein Collection of the British Library in 2016. This was detail-oriented work, or ‘slave-work’ as he liked to put it. However, he achieved it through persistent efforts. Using his sincere efforts, his smile and his friendliness as leverage, he built the trust of librarians and scholars, who allowed him to enter the stacks where many unpublished manuscripts were kept. He checked these manuscripts one by one, read them, sometimes corrected the numbering, and even found lost manuscripts.

Field research on rock inscriptions in Ladakh, 1988

Regarding his academic career, immediately after returning from the United States to Japan he was first appointed as a full-time lecturer at Kinki University in 1984. He then moved to the Kyoto University of Education in 1988 and to the Kobe City University of Foreign Studies in 1997, where he stayed until his retirement in 2017 at the age of 65. He was also appointed as the director of the International Office in 2009 and the director of the Research Institute in 2011 and served as the dean of the graduate school during 2011–2013.

He was also eager to cultivate the next generation of Old Tibetan scholars, and launched a private class for reading Old Tibetan texts in 1998. It was held once a week, sometimes once a month, in his office at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies until his retirement in 2017. The first text we read together was Old Tibetan Chronicle, which he had read along with Professor Beckwith at Indiana University. Then, we read many and various texts with him: official documents of the Old Tibetan Empire such as Pelliot tibétain 1089, private letters, Khotanese prophecies, divination texts, etc. He shared many things with us, including the reading skill required for Old Tibetan texts and the gossip of Tibetologists.

His private class was not only the reading group but also an academic salon. We freely discussed numerous topics in a relaxed mood and an informal setting. We discussed numerous new projects, some of which became a reality, such as the Old Tibetan Documents Online project; the publication of some catalogues; and the organisation of several conferences, including the 57th Conference of the Japanese Association for Tibetan Studies, the 17th Himalayan Languages Symposium, the Third International Seminar of Young Tibetologists, theInternational Seminar on Tibetan Languages and Historical Documents, and several Old Tibetan panels in the IATS seminar. We also proposed new ideas, which were eventually published as individual papers. Through discussions with him, we learned how to develop a logical argument and to write an academic paper.

At Andiast in Switzerland, on the workshop “Secular law and order in the Tibetan Highland,” 2014

Unquestionably, Takeuchi opened a new path in Old Tibetan Studies and was a crucial person in Tibetan scholarship in Japan. With his outstanding contributions and a brilliant legacy, he remained cheerful, kind and helpful to young scholars just as he had been in his university days. Everybody who met Takeuchi knows that he loved joking, drinking with friends, and watching football. He always said that he could bring good weather with him wherever he was, and he proved it repeatedly. We respect him as a great scholar and generous teacher and also loved him as a person. We will remember his shining smile whenever we have a drink or look up at the blue sky.

At Munich in Germany with Prof. Helga Uebach, 2012

Kazushi Iwao

Ai Nishida