Otani Kozui
edogawa.jpg This article was created with material from the abandoned Kurotokage sourcebook project. That material is in the public domain since 2003. The unfinished original content is archived.

Count Kozui Otani 1876-1948

Son of the 21st abbot of the West Hongan Monastery, brother-in-law to the Mikado, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, 22nd Abbot of West Hongan Monastery and the leader of the Jodo Shinzu (Pure Land) Buddhist sect between 1902 and 1914.

He was educated in England, where he developed a passion for the archaeology of Central Asia.

All available information points out to Otani’s involvement in Japanese espionage on the Asian mainland, and he was the man coordinating the archaeological/espionage missions along the Silk Road, and in the Taklamakan area in particular. As early as 1901, Otani sponsored 'monks' were studying geography in Oxford, and Otani was quite familiar with the works of the most noted archaeologists and explorers of the time.

The first mission was sent to the Taklamakan in 1902, soon after Stein had published his finds in the area. The Japanese 'archaeologists' (allegedly monks from Nishi Honganji Temple) retrieved Buddhist text and fragments in wicker baskets, and a number of paintings, but failed to publish the results of their expedition. Otani was himself part of the expedition, but had to leave the field and return to Japan due to the death of his father.

In 1908 - changes in the political arena having brought Japan to the fore in the meantime - the British intelligence operatives in Kashmir took much more interest in the second Otani-sponsored expedition. The two Japanese researchers - officially a Buddhist monk and Otani's personal temple secretary - were identified - by a Russian informer - as Zuicho Tachibana, of the Imperial Navy, and Japanese Army captain Eizaburo Nomura.

Incoming from Peking, and using a Mr Ama (about whom more to follow) as a contact in the area, the two men separated for five months, Tachibana executing a series of digs along the southern arm of the Silk Road, while Nomura concentrated his excavations in the northern arm of the Road, finally reaching Kashgar where he was rejoined by his companion (on the actual date of the meeting official papers show one week of discrepancy if compared to official British Intelligence reports).

While officially in Chinese Turkistan 'to make investigations in matters of religious interest', Tachibara and Nomura generally acted in a suspicious way (doing extensive and unrequired surveying and sketching sessions, examining and following the telegraph network). After an exchange of letters between British and Japanese governments, the two men were officially disavowed by their Government. In 1909, Tachibana and Nomura were back in Tokyo.

As for Mr Ama, information is scant - he was officially a buddhist priest of Japanese nationality, but his ties with the Japanese Secret Service were given as certain by British Intelligence. He made frequent trips in the Chinese Turkestan area ('in search of Buddhist remains'), and attracted much attention from Intelligence observers with his frequent detours in Tibetan territory.

In 1910 Zuicho Tachibana is back in Chinese Turkestan for a third expedition, this time accompanied by an Englishman, an O. Hobbs. Penetrating in Chinese Turkestan from Russia, the two men spent four months doing excavations in the Kucha area.

On Jan. 13th 1911, the British authorities in the region received two telegrams:

  • one informing him that the British A.O. Hobbs had been taken with smallpox
  • one from Hobbs himself

"I am suffering from skin disease wich has affected all organs I can only keep my eyes open for a few minutes at a time…. My mouth and throat covered with slime and I cannot swallow any food and very little water… For ten days I have been like this and I have not left my bed."

By Jan. 16th Hobbs is dead.

Tachibana is present at the burial service, and despite being identified as 'the Japanese archaeological traveller', he is shadowed all the same. In one occasion he points towards Tibetan territory - where his sherpas desert him and his burden animals die.

For a certain period Tachibana is reported missing in Japan, probably killed in the Chinese 1911 revolution.

Finally, on Christmas Day 1911 Tachibana meets in Tun-huang Koichiro Yoshikawa, that has been sent personally by Otani to track him down. The two travel extensively together and finally (1914) visit the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas; they are given six hundred texts, mostly sutras from the secret hoard, by the librarian Wang, alone manning the lost library.

And at this point Tachibana takes the long road to Urumchi and disappears without a trace.

At the same time exactly, Count Otani resigns from his position as abbot and leader of Jodo Shinzu and sells his Kyoto residence, claiming financial difficulties.

Not much is known from this point on about his activities - his huge collection of Chinese and Silk Road artefacts and texts is dismembered and distributed through a number of locations (see addendum below), and he does not appear to be holding any office.

He is still a player in the political/diplomatic arena, anyway, and the British Foreign office has a few files on him compiled, as late as 1928, by observers in the Nagasaki embassy.

Otani’s main concerns seem to remain with the future developments of the Japanese policy towards Korea and China. His profile remains extremely low (and open to conjecture) untill his death in 1948, and his involvement with the South Manchuria Railway Co. has not so far been explored.

Addendum: the fate of the Otani Expeditions Loot

The material collected by the three Otani missions was deemed the third largest collection of antiques from Chinese Turkestan, including paintings, statues and texts. Count Otani published a two-volume essay on his collection, including pictures and details on most of the pieces, but today the exact material collected, and the whereabouts of said material are obscure to say the least.

Some stuff (mostly statuary) was exposed in Kyoto Museum in 1910, but no catalogue of the exhibit survives today. When Otani found himself in need of money (having dried his family funds dry financing his expeditions), he donated 249 pieces of his collection to Kyoto Museum, and kept a further 100 pieces for himself (mostly texts, we are led to believe).

The rest of Otani treasure went with his Kyoto villa, and was bought by a former Finance Minister.

The former Minister then gave part of the material to the Japanese Governor-General of Korea, to set up the Seoul Museum. In exchange the former minister got mining rights for Korea. Otani himself gave part of his one hundred pieces to the Japanese Governor-General of Lushun (Port Arthur, Manchuria), for a local exhibit.

Today, the Korean portion of Otani Collection is crated in the basement of Seoul Museum.

The Manchurian portion of the collection, once thought to be in Russia (where the Russian forces took it after handing Port Arthur back to the Chinese in '55) turned out to be in the Chinese Delian Library instead - consisting of 5.500 volumes (Chinese, japanese and European), its filed as a “gift” from Count Otani to the Chinese people. This is in all likelyhood the material borrowed for the Lushun exibit.

The Kyoto Museum and the Tokyo National Museum hold much of what Otani donated before selling his house. How much of his collection is still missing is as yet unknown.

Details on the curent holdings of various Japanese institutions can be found at http://idp.bl.uk/IDP/idpnews10.html

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