Mizuki Nakamura: ''As a Japanese Tatar girl, I want to conserve the Tatar language for the future''
How Sajida from Ufa became Sachiko and her descendant learnt Tukay’s language on the Internet
Student of University of Tsukuba Mizuki Nakamura started to learn Tatar when she was 20. Now she regularly participates in Tatar Language Olympiads, sings Tatar songs and dreams of conserving the language for future generations. In her interview to Realnoe Vremya, she told why her Tatar grandma's name was Alexandra and whether there are Tatar villages in Japan.
When I was 20, I started to learn Tatar with the help of Russian
When did you start to learn the Tatar language?
My grandmother was Tatar who lived in Japan. This is why I was always interested in learning the Tatar language. Unfortunately, there are no books and dictionaries of the Tatar language written in Japanese in my country. For this reason, I did not have a chance to learn the Tatar language until 20 years. At university, when I was a student, I studied the Russian language hard. This learning of the Russian language was linked with my interest in Russia and Central Asian countries to some extent. When I was 20, I did an exchange in Tashkent. University of Tsukuba where I study has different programmes with many universities, including the Kazan Federal University, an agreement with it was signed in 2016.
During my studies in Tashkent, I learnt the Uzbek language. I noted that I could understand Tatar if I carefully listened because I knew Uzbek. At the same time, I knew Uzbek and Russian well. This is why I did not need any book of the Tatar language written in Japanese. When I was 20, I started to learn Tatar with the help of Russian – I made new Tatar friends on Facebook and Vk.com, we exchanged letters in Tatar many times, so I learnt live Tatar. By the way, I also learnt Russian this way. Aged 22, I started to learn Tatar on Ana Tele website. I learnt Tatar quickly on that portal, and it improved a lot. So I had a chance to participate in the 3 rd International Tatar Language Olympiad in 2015. During the Olympiad, when I had free time, I bought books on Tatar written in Russian on Baumana Street. It was like Holy Writing for me. I became a laureate in 2015 and took third place in 2016.
Where are you living now?
I am living in Tsukuba, which located 80 km to the north of Tokyo. I study Central Asian Studies and god a Master's degree from School of Humanities & Social Sciences at University of Tsukuba.
Aged 22, I started to learn Tatar on Ana Tele website. I learnt Tatar quickly on that portal, and it improved a lot. So I had a chance to participate in the 3 rd International Tatar Language Olympiad
Could you tell us the story of your family? It was written that your great-grandparents lived in Ufa, in Kazan…
It is a pity but I don't know what my great-grandparents did in Ufa. It seems that they sold cloth in Japan for a living. At first they emigrated to Harbin in 1919 and then to Japan in 1920 or so. As far as I am concerned, they decided to move to Japan looking for new opportunities for their business. At that moment big Japanese cities had many Russians (probably as well as Ukrainians). Not only they but also Japanese had business opportunities.
Why was your grandmother called Alexandra and given Japanese name Sachiko? What does Sachiko mean?
Because her Tatar name was Sajida, Sasha – a shortened form of Alexandra. Pronunciation of Sasha is close to Sajida and Sachiko. In Japanese, Sachiko means ''happy child''. My great-grandparents spoke Russian fluently, Russians also had good relations. If my grandmother were born in Russia, she would have a Tatar name. But she was born in Yokohama, in a city with many Russian-speaking people. After the war, she worked in a café and additionally earned as Russian language teacher. She said she had that job because she had a Russian name. Japanese-speaking people find it a bit difficult to pronounce Sajida and Sasha, this is why she also had a Japanese name.
Why did your grandparents and parents do in Japan?
As I said, my grandmother worked in a café and earned extra money as Russian language teacher, my grandfather was a seller. My father is an engineer. My mother is a housewife. It is quite a usual family.
''When Japanese hear the word ''Tatar'', they always remember Mongols''
What do you think about University of Tsukuba?
It is a unique and huge university. You can find information about it on KFU's website. Several KFU students are studying at Tsukuba on a student exchange. As the campus is huge, I acquainted only with one Tatar boy. I have seen a Tatar girl from KFU today in front of the library. I hope we will communicate with them.
Everything depends on people, but many students and postgraduate students go abroad on a student exchange. Today we have 338 partners around the world.
University of Tsukuba is a unique and huge university. You can find information about it on KFU's website. Several KFU students are studying at Tsukuba on a student exchange. As the campus is huge, I acquainted only with one Tatar boy
Are there many Tatars in Uzbekistan where you went on a student exchange?
I was an exchange student at The University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent. At that moment, I was interested in learning the Uzbek language much because I had many friends from Uzbekistan in Tsukuba and I wanted to talk to them more. There are many Tatars in Tashkent, Sabantuy is held every year. Uzbek Tatars are very hospitable as well as Uzbeks. They won't forget the Tatar national pride. People say that Tatars in Uzbekistan don't speak Tatar and forgot their mother tongue, but it is not true. I have several friends from Tashkent who speak Tatar fluently.
What your scientific research is about?
It is on Linguistic Situation of Tatar Diasporas in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. My research is linked with linguistic politics and identity. Almost all works are written in Japanese, some of them are in English. If possible, I will also write in Russian, God willing. Today I am also interested in the linguistic situation of Tatar diasporas in the USA, Finland, Australia, etc. From this perspective, I wish I had more money.
How many people does the Tatar diaspora in Japan have?
Not many. Nowadays the majority of them are businesspeople, they live with their families. There is even a Tatar girl who married a Japanese man. There are old people who have been living in Japan for a long time, of course.
What do Japanese know about Tatars? What is their attitude?
Unfortunately, Japanese don't know about Tatars at all. They even don't know the word ''Tatar''. But historians know about them a lot because many Tatars came to Japan after the revolution. When Japanese hear the word ''Tatar'', they always remember Mongols.
What languages do you speak?
I speak Japanese, it is my mother tongue. English is my second language. I easily understand and fluently speak Russian. I speak the Uzbek and Tatar languages, not fluently, but I speak well. As I know Uzbek and Tatar, I understand Kazakh, Uighur, Bashkir and other languages well. When I was in Tashkent, I also studied the Tajik language, but I did not learn it. When I was at school, I studied Chinese and German – it was my hobby. I am fond of learning different languages.
But I love retro songs, especially Guzel Urazova and Kazan Yegetleri. I listen to Tatar Radio almost every day. I always look for and choose beautiful Tatar songs to sing
The atmosphere of Tatar village reminds old Japanese villages
What songs do you sing in Tatar? How do you choose them?
Any songs. But I love retro songs, especially Guzel Urazova and Kazan Yegetleri. I listen to Tatar Radio almost every day. I always look for and choose beautiful Tatar songs to sing. Kyshky Romans, Zhomga and Teftileu are my favourite songs.
Do you believe in the future of the Tatar language?
I believe in the future of the Tatar language. It won't die because the young generation continues speaking it and especially writing (writing is a very important factor to conserve languages from a linguistic point of view). And they want to conserve the Tatar language. The Tatar language is a beautiful language. As a Japanese Tatar girl and person who studies this beautiful language, I want to conserve it for the future.
How often do you visit Kazan? When will you come next time?
About once a year. Probably I will also participate in the Tatar Language Olympiad this year too. It will be in April in Kazan. I won't know whether I will be able to take part until I got results of the online stage. I hope I will.
Do you know another expert in Tatar from Japan Yuto Hishiyama?
I know him very well. I often meet with him in Tokyo. My fiancé studied at KFU. Now he deals with anthropology on the history of Bolgar, life and identity of Kryashens, etc. When we were in Kazan last year to participate in a big academic conference, we met with Yuto in Kazan. We know each other well.
Are there are Tatar villages in Japan?
No. But the atmosphere of Tatar village reminds old Japanese villages. Today there is no ''ethnic village'' in Japan.