Yuto Hishiyama from Japan: ''The future of the Tatar language depends on Tatars themselves''

Yuto Hishiyama from the Tokyo University is another Japanese (Realnoe Vremya talked to University of Tsukuba student Mizuki Nakamura) who learnt Tatar with books in German and won the International Tatar Language Olympiad in Kazan. In an interview, he told where his interest in Tatar came from, negative stereotypes about Islam, tense relations of Japan and Russia as well as his small contribution to the development of the Tatar language.

Having listened to Tatar songs...

How did you become interested in the Tatar language?

When I studied at university in Turkish Language Department, I started to be interested in other Turkic languages. Having accidentally listened to Tatars songs on YouTube (Aerylmagyz, and Tugan Tel), I wanted to learn the Tatar language immediately.

Is it possible to learn the Tatar language in Japan? Pierre Aberg said there is little information in English and Swedish. How did you learn Tatar?

There is almost no information in Japanese. One can find books and dictionaries in foreign languages in big libraries. Now people can learn Tatar on language courses for money. But they did not exist when I was learning it.

My friends and I created a site to acquaint Japanese people with the Tatar language and culture. Our site offers information about the Tatar language and culture.

As for my learning of Tatar, first of all, I studied grammar with a book taken from the university library written in German. I used two dictionaries to learn words: Tatar-Russian and Russian-Japanese. Having learnt the grammar and simple words, I tried enriching my vocabulary by reading Tatar articles on the Internet. As the same time, I mastered my pronunciation by listening to Tatar radios and watching Tatar videos.

What difficulties did you face while learning?

Most materials to learn Tatar are in Russian. This is why I needed to know a bit of Russian to learn the Tatar language. I did not know Russian at all. It was difficult for me to learn Russian because its grammar is very complicated.

How did you know about the International Tatar Language Olympiad? Did anybody help you to prepare for it? Did you think about a victory before it?

A Tatar living in America wrote me a letter and offer to participate in the olympiad. It turned out he was born and grew up in Japan but moved to America. He saw me on TNV channel. I decided to take part immediately. I signed up on the website and passed an online test. I did not think I would reach the second stage until I received a letter from the organisers. As nobody knew Tatar here, I prepared on my own. I did not think of any victory. The olympiad days in Kazan seemed to be a dream.

Having learnt the grammar and simple words, I tried enriching my vocabulary by reading Tatar articles on the Internet

What do you do now?

Now we are on the spring holidays. I will start a postgraduate course in April.

As far as I am concerned, you are interested in the Bashkir language. What inspired you to learn Bashkir?

Having known that Bashkir was similar to Tatar, I wanted to try learning it. The phonetics of the Bashkir language is more complicated, but as its grammar and words are similar to Tatar learning was not tough.

What other languages do you speak?

Apart from Japanese and Tatar, I speak English, Turkish and Bashkir at an intermediate level. I understand Russian, though not very well. In addition, I also tried learning other languages.

Are you also interested in the Tatar literature and culture except the language?

Yes, especially the Tatar culture. I like national dishes and folk songs much.

What surprised you in Kazan and Russia? Had you visited Russia before the olympiad?

I had been once in Kazan before the olympiad. I came to travel for 5 days and see my friends. It would not be wrong to say that everything surprised me as a person who travelled abroad for the first time. The city centre, especially the beauty of the Kazan Kremlin, the pleasant taste of Tatar dishes, hospitability and friendliness of my friends… Tatar was rarely heard in the capital of Tatarstan, which made me feel sad.

Why did you decide to study at KFU? Is the difference of our educational system big from that of Japan? Did you like Russian student life?

I entered the Tatar Philology Department of KFU's Institute of Philology and Intercultural Communication thanks to the certificate given at the olympiad. Having studied a 2-year programme on Turkic languages, I defended my thesis and got a diploma.

The difference of the educational system is big. For instance, in Japan, academic year starts in April, timetable doesn't change during the semester, there is no such thing as ''zachetka'' (a report), students take books from bookshelves themselves (they don't need to order them in a catalogue).

Do you use the Tatar language now? Do you speak to anyone in Japan in Tatar? When did you meet Midzuki Nakamura? Do you communicate with Tatars and Turks living in Japan?

I am, but rarely. I speak with my friends in Tatar when they come to Tokyo. I met Mizuki a long time ago. I saw her for the first time when Rustam Minnikhanov visited the Tokyo mosque. I rarely talk to Tatars and Turks living in Japan. In general, there are very few Tatars living in Japan.

I entered the Tatar Philology Department of KFU's Institute of Philology and Intercultural Communications thanks to the certificate given at the olympiad

I saw photos of Tatar dishes on Vk.com. Did you like them? Do you cook them yourself? What did you like especially?

Yes, I liked them very much. Having returned to Japan, I started to prepare Tatar food because I missed it. I especially liked chak-chak, ochpochmak and peremech. It is not easy to cook them yummy.

In general, do Japanese know about Tatars? What is their attitude towards Muslims?

In general, they know nothing about Tatars. There are negative stereotypes about Muslims. However, they have tried understanding Islam in recent years. The number of tourists from such countries as Indonesia, Malaysia is growing. Halal food is prepared for them. The first Muslim fashion show took place last year.

Is there any problem of conservation of the Japanese language?

The Japanese language is one of the most popular languages in the world by the number of its speakers. This is why there are no extinction or conservation problems. But due to globalisation, there are many English borrowings. If the young understands them, the elderly maybe not.

It was said the Tatar fund of documents in Japan can disappear. Do you know anything about it?

I have heard about the document fund of Tatars in Japan. The documents are going to be gathered and kept there.

What happened to the Tatar mosque? Do many people go there?

A historical building of the Muslim school near the mosque was dismantled recently. Now a Turkish culture centre is built there. Many people go to mosque on Fridays. There are many Muslims from such Asian countries as Indonesia, Pakistan among them.

It is rumoured here that Islam is forbidden in Japan. Is it true?

Perhaps, no. According to the Japanese Constitution, every person can choose a religion he or she likes. As I wrote above, there are negative stereotypes about Muslims. Many people link Islam with terror, terrorists.

How would describe the relations between Russia and Japan? The Kuril talks are not ceasing.

I think the relations between the two countries are improving. Japan Prime Minister Shinzō Abe wants to solve the issue on the Kuril Islands during his term. He has very good relations with Putin. There is an opinion that America presented the issue on the Kuril Islands as an obstacle to prevent closer relations of the USSR and Japan.

Many people go to mosque on Fridays. There are many Muslims from such Asian countries as Indonesia, Pakistan among them. Photo: mahalla1.ru

Did the coup in Turkey affect Japanese Turks?

As I have no link with Japanese Turks, I don't know what happened to them. As far as I am concerned, it affected Turkish Language Department students of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. The number of people who wanted to go to Turkey to study reduced, both students and their parents were against, so they could not go.

Why doesn't the Tatar language have authority in the republic while abroad there are enthusiasts who learn it?

If one language has authority in the country and it is widely used, the second language will have the same authority but won't be widely used. But people who like to learn languages don't look at it. They learn a language they are interested in and they like. In my opinion, the originality and beauty of the Tatar language and culture attract people. I am one of them.

Do you think that the Tatar language has future? What should be done to make it popular?

The future of the Tatar language depends on Tatars themselves. There are many indifferent people, but there are those who try making it popular. They do different things. I wish them great success. I also want to make my contribution to the future of the Tatar language, though it is small.

By Aygul Ziyatdinova. Photo: vk.com/boltwatts, facebook.com/yuto.hishiyama