India — Bharat — Tianzhu/Tenjiku

(This is an additional text to the series Perceiving complexity)

I find interesting how the imagery of a specific population can grow in all kind of unexpected directions, sometimes multiple imageries in the same time, each with its own internal coherence, like a world in itself. For example, there are at least three established and independent perceptions of the same South Asian civilization. One is that of those people themselves, but there is also that of the Western society and that of East Asia.

As it usually happens in such cases, generic names coagulated and represented publicly the identity of these imageries. Let’s see the evolution of these names and of the notions they invoke. I will get into more detail about the East Asian one, because the perspective of Tianzhu/Tenjiku is less known now on the global stage, needing more description, and also because of the contemporary local meeting and cohabitation between its imagery and the Western one of India.

First, the perspective of the local people. The ancient geography mixed the knowledge of those times with spirituality in creating the local worldview, describing the Earth as divided into seven concentric islands, separated by intermediate oceans. The innermost is Jambudvip, “the island of the Jambu (Rose Apple) tree”. It is described as the real world, while the other islands are rather spiritual. In the ancient texts there appear descriptions of Jambudvip’s mountain ranges, river systems and the proposed identifications with contemporary geographic names suggest that, besides South Asia, it encompasses also parts of Central Asia (thus comprising roughly the area known by the Indians of those times).

In this area, the territory of the people known in English as Indian is named Bhārat or Bhāratvarsh (“the realm of Bhārat”), after the legendary ruler Bhārat, mentioned in Mahābhārat as the unifier of this land. There are used also other names, among them it deserves to be mentioned Aryavart (“the abode of the Aryans”) or Aryadesh (“the country of the Aryans”), describing only the northern and central parts of the Subcontinent.

The perspective of the Middle Eastern cultural area, and afterwards also that of Europe, began to develop along with their increased awareness about South Asia. The encounter happened in the North-West and that particular territory gave also the name for this view. The name of the river Sindhu (known in English as Indus), pronounced according to the rules of the Iranian languages, gave Hindush in Avestan (mentioned in an inscription from the times of Darius I). This evolved in Hind, but also Hindustan as “the country of the Hindus”, first in Persian, afterwards also in Arabic. In other local languages there appeared close derivations from that Persian name, for example in Hebrew, Hodu.

In the modern era, after India became independent in 1947, there appeared a certain differentiation between the geographic encompassing of these two variants, Hind referring rather to the modern state of India, while Hindustan to South Asia as a whole. Not in another important language from a close-by area, Turkish, using only Hindistan for India, while Hint means “Indian, Indo-“. Hindi got a specialized meaning in Turkish, naming the bird known in English as turkey. Because of a popular uncertainty about where it comes from (in fact it is from Central America), in each of these languages it appeared a fancy exotic origin, Turkish in English, Indian in Turkish.

Further on, this word was borrowed in Europe, as India, first in Greek, then in Latin and other European languages. In both Middle Eastern and European cultural regions this name gathered and assumed in its semantic area the local perception of the Indian subcontinent, as it developed a local tradition, not necessarily connected to the culture it was supposed to describe.

Longer the distance, more unclear it became the region this word was referring to in real life. In his influential travel book from the end of the 13th century, Marco Polo, after coming back from his journey to East Asia, describes as Greater India the territory from Coromandel Coast to Baluchistan, as Minor India the territory from the delta of Krishna river to Champa (contemporary South Vietnam), while Middle India is Abyssinia (East Africa).

This European tradition of describing as Indian various populations not known before the Age of Explorations continued for some other centuries. Although it became clear in a few years that they arrived in a new continent, the initial denomination of the native people from the Americas as Indians remained and lasted. Many other indigenous populations worldwide were also named Indians, but usually these denominations were not as enduring as in the Americas.

The geographic European perspective of the Indies evolved into the distinction between the West Indies (Caribbean region in Central America) and East Indies (South and South-East Asia). Further in South-East Asia, the mainland was named Indochina, as an area between India and China, while the maritime area was named Indonesia, the “Indian islands” (from nesos, meaning island in Greek). Indochina gained a more specific geopolitical meaning as the colony French Indochina, comprising the contemporary states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, while the name of Indonesia was appropriated by the former colony Dutch East Indies, after proclaiming the independence in 1945 (until then Indonesia was mostly an academic term).

Nowadays they fell into oblivion (except some linguistic areas presented below) the “Indian” times of the Western perspective regarding South-East Asia and Oceania. Even in the second half of the 18th century, explorers like James Cook or La Pérouse used very confidently the name “Indians” for the local people. Just to remind of few examples from their journals, like the description of Timor as shared between the Dutch, Native Indians and the Portuguese, the description of the native people from Polynesia as Indians, including the Indian villages in New Zealand, the Indian vocabulary and Indian cultural customs recorded in Tahiti (James Cook); the details of the plight of the local Indians from Manila area, in Philippines, under continuous threat from the attacks of the southern Moors (La Pérouse).

In Dutch, as the language of the former rulers of an important part of South-East Asia, some Indian overlapping survives until today. Even in the first half of the 19th century, the Dutch king William I (1815–1840) named the native people of those colonies as Indianen (“Indians”), in his royal decrees. Later, the Dutch authorities will change their name to Inlander (“Natives”). The new name was adopted also by the local languages, by employing the translation of the word “native” (for example, Pribumi, in the language known as Indonesian after 1945).

In 1836, Raad van Indië (Council of India), the central board of the Dutch colonial administration in South-East Asia, changes its name to Raad van Nederlands-Indië (Council of Dutch India), as a result of the increased visibility of British India from South Asia. The colony will be known in most of the other languages as the Dutch East Indies. Indië or the adjective Indisch (Indian) will remain popular words in Dutch. As the speakers of this language had a direct involvement in this area, the context made a disambiguation whether it was (usually) about Nederlands-Indië or (sometimes) about Brits-Indië (British India). The adjective continued to be used as an ethnic name for the people from Dutch East Indies with mixed European and Asian ancestry, known as Indische Nederlanders (Indian Dutchmen). Later, after Indonesia’s independence, they will be known also as Indo.

The word India will appear in Dutch, after this country’s independence, as a precise term for the new political entity. The move Nederlands-Indië → Indonesië and Brits-Indië → India will be replicated also in the local languages. In Indonesian: Hindia Belanda (Dutch India) → Indonesia and Hindia Britania (British India) → India. In Dutch, the words Indië and Indisch continue to be used for describing the area known in English as East Indies. For example, Indische Subcontinent (“Indian Subcontinent”), but also Indische Archipel (“Indian Archipelago” for the Malay/Indonesian Archipelago). In the usual speech, Indisch, besides “Indian”, may mean “Indonesian” (there is the neologism Indonesisch as the plain word). There are also the adjectives Indiaas (usually confined to describe modern India) and Indiaans (only for the Native Americans).

Unlike in the Americas, as the time elapsed, in South-East Asia and Oceania, the initial denomination of the local people as Indians largely receded. The reasons would probably be the proximity to those who were the initial inspiration for this word, also the fact that the natives remained the main cultural group in the area (it did not emerge another dominant cultural group that would have continued to see them as Indians, as it happened in the Americas).

In Philippines, for example, the local people who were animists, later undertaking various degrees of Christianization, were named indios (“Indians”) by the Spanish rulers, although they were different from the people from the Subcontinent. This while the local Muslims were named moros (“Moors”), although, besides the religion, they had nothing in common with the Moors from North-West Africa (Maghreb). Basically, both local indios and moros belong to the same cultural area.

Nowadays, the Indian part of that Western worldview applied to Philippines is gone, but the Moorish part is quite alive. In the meantime, the latter got a life of its own, it really created a new local identity out of about ten distinct ethnic groups scattered in Southern Philippines, which, besides this Moro framework, did not experience another local historical commonality.

There did not appear encounters and vicinities with “the initial/real” Moors and subsequent identity issues (the same as in the Americas “the initial/real” Indians were not a local reality to raise identity questions when compared to the local Indians). Also it matters that they remain a marginal group, their public image continue to be defined by the uneasy Muslim-Christian relations of the colonial times. This while for the Christian majority the term indio became meaningless, those who named them in this manner disappeared from the local political stage, thus there surfaced the various ethnic identities previously encompassed by that name (while they continued themselves to see the local Muslims through the Spanish framework of moros).

The contemporary endeavor to give a clearer name for the native populations of the Americas (as Native Americans, American Indians, Amerindians and many others) does not enjoy yet this popular appeal. Quite the contrary, in some Latin American countries, it is used the word hindúes (Spanish)/ hindus (Portuguese) for the people from India/South Asia in order to make a distinction from the local indios. In Spanish, the traditional meaning of hindú is that of an adherent to the religion of Hinduism, but, in this case, it is used the word hinduista for the religious sense. In Portuguese there is no such difference, but it is also available the word indiano, employed only for people from India/South Asia, irrespective of their religion (as distinct from the American indio).

Here it is worthy to say that some languages have already distinct words (stemming from the same root) for the two meanings. For example, in German, the people from the subcontinent are Inder (with Hindus for the adherents to Hinduism), while the Native Americans are Indianer. In Latin American Spanish and in Brazilian Portuguese there is even more vagueness because indio preserved the meaning of native, indigenous people, appearing in expressions like indios latinoamericanos (“Native Latin Americans”) indios australianos (“Native Australians”), indios africanos (“Native Africans”), indios siberianos (“Native Siberians”) and others. It is encouraged the use of expressions like Native, Autochthonous, Aborigine, Indigenous peoples: pueblos nativos, autóctonos, aborígenes, indígenas (Spanish), povos nativos, autóctones, aborígines, indígenas (Portuguese).

Contemporary South Asia

As this European perspective benefited from the Western society’s prime position in the modern era, it compelled recognition worldwide, including in South Asia proper (when the local people finally learned too about the notion of India). Here, in the meantime, the related Middle Eastern perspective was already established as a result of the conquests originating from North-West. The originally Persian words Hind and Hindustan were employed in the local languages together with Bharat and, later, India. All these names acquired popular alternative uses, depending on the context, more or less reminding of their perspective.

With the advent of the European supremacy, Hind and Hindustan, as non-European words, but still sharing obviously much with India (not just phonetically), were included too in the Western nomenclature. They enjoyed some advantages, they were assumed as more local in the world perceived with Western eyes. Thus there were enforced words like Hindustani/Hindi, for the continuum of dialects, respectively the modern standardized language with Sanskrit register from the north of the Subcontinent. Or there were coined words like Hinduism, for the local religious view, as described through the patterns of the Abrahamic religions.

Freedom fighters like Champakaraman Pillai and Subhas Chandra Bose promoted the now famous salutation Jai Hind to inspire the people in their quest for independence. These evolutions were part of the on-going identity clarification when comparing to and seeking a place in the prevailing Western worldview. They went in parallel with the clarification of the real life boundaries of the cultural area of India.

After 1947, all of these names were inherited by the modern state known worldwide as India. The fact that this state does not comprise the entire territory known in history by these names created the necessity to employ other denominations for this cultural area, mainly geographical ones, like South Asia or Indian subcontinent. The former implies only this specific restricted meaning (otherwise, theoretically, it should include also South-West Asia/Middle East and South-East Asia). South Asian is employed for the people whose common culture gives the coherence of this region. These names did not gain yet a popular usage.

Worldwide, at a popular level, the concept of India, with all its cultural Western meanings, tends to be tantamount to the entire area of the Subcontinent. Just to remind of the Indian restaurants run by Sylheti Bangladeshis in the UK and USA. They don’t have much choice of naming as long as “Indian” remains worldwide the only strong South Asian brand name.

East Asia

The East Asian perspective of the world shares with the previous ones the usual starting point of its view from the geographic area of its own culture. The other parts of the World are then included by relating them to this center. In this case, such perspective is in fact ingrained in the local geographic names. The country known in the West as China has the native name中国 (Zhōngguó), meaning “The Country from the Middle (of the World)”. The Chinese name of Indochina, 中南半島 (Zhōngnánbàndǎo) means “the peninsula from the south of the Middle”, while Japan, from Rìběn, the Chinese pronunciation of 日本, means “The origin of Sun”, i.e. the East.

The cultural area of South Asia became known through the trade route of the Silk Road. Hence, in this case too, the first region of contact was that of the Sindhu River. It makes some sense, because otherwise, in the absence of a maritime connection, the forests of Yunnan-Assam or the Himalayan Range would have been difficult to cross. The oldest Chinese writing (preserved until today) about this area appears in 史記 (The Recordings of the Grand Historian), by Sima Qian (about 1st century BCE — 1st century CE), based on the reports of Zhang Qian’s explorations in Central Asia. It employs the name 身毒, which may be pronounced as Juāndú, Shēndú or Yuándú. The phonetic evolution of the language makes now difficult to know the exact sounds, however it is obvious that the word is derived from Sindhu. Subsequently, there appear many other variants, at least thirty, for naming this region. In 山海經 (Classics of the Mountains and Seas), a mythological geography from about the same era, it appears under the name 天毒 (Tiāndú). In the 5th century, in 後漢書 (Book of the Later Han), it appears as 天竺 (Tiānzhú), a name that will become the most popular along with the spread of Buddhism in all East Asia.

The origin of 天竺 (Tiānzhú) is not very clear. Studying the name variants and the linguistic context of those times, it is probable that these characters were pronounced then as Xiandu, again pointing to an origin from Sindhu. It is also possible that the Buddhist monks favored the character 天 (tiān) because it means Heaven (to emphasize the specificity of South Asia as the origin of Buddhism). One of the other names, 西天 (Xītiān), meaning “Western Heaven”, was more direct in making such a connection. The position this religion gained in the East Asian societies enforced the importance of the newly-created notion of Tianzhu, for a far-off neighbor, beyond deserts and mountains, but in the same time the source of religious enlightenment. Further on, it will get more consistency and stability according as the popular level will assimilate it in its worldview. It will expand also geographically, beyond the initial Chinese core, in Korea, pronounced as Cheonchuk, in Japan, as Tenjiku, or in Vietnam, as Thiên Trúc. In Korean it is also written with Hangul script: 천축.

The word entered in the common usage, becoming part of new names and expressions. For example, a variant of shogi (Japanese chess) is named 天竺將棋 (Tenjiku shogi). One of the three main Buddhist architectural styles from Japan’s Kamakura period (1192–1333) is 天竺様 (Tenjiku yō), the Tenjiku style. 天竺鯛科 (Tiānzhú diāokē), meaning “Tianzhu breams” is the Chinese name of the Apogonidae family of fishes. Or 天竺牡丹 (Tiānzhú mǔdān in Chinese, Tenjiku botan in Japanese), meaning “Tianzhu/Tenjiku peony”, for dahlia, 天竺葵 (Tiānzhú kuí in Chinese, Tenjiku aoi in Japanese), “Tianzhu/Tenjiku mallow”, for geranium.

Obviously, there are many Buddhist monasteries in East Asia that include Tianzhu/Cheonchuk/Tenjiku in their name. In Japan there was also a village named Tenjiku (now merged in the city Nishio from the Aichi prefecture). In 799, some Tenjiku people were shipwrecked there, bringing to Japan the first seeds of cotton. Later, the event started to be celebrated as the Cotton festival, centered on the local Tenjiku temple, the only temple in Japan dedicated to cotton. In Japanese, tenjiku got also the meaning of thick cotton sheeting (nowadays used mostly for bags, curtains).

The second character, 竺 (zhú in Chinese, jiku in Japanese), is employed as a short form for Tianzhu/Tenjiku, often included in compound words related to Buddhism. For example, 竺学 (Zhúxué in Chinese, Jikugaku in Japanese), meaning Tianzhu/Tenjiku studies, i.e. Buddhist studies or 竺書 (Zhúshū in Chinese, Jikusho in Japanese) as Tianzhu/Tenjiku scriptures, i.e. Buddhist scriptures. In China, 竺 (Zhú) appears also as the family name of people whose ancestors presumably had some relation with Tianzhu and/or with Buddhism.

The same as the Western notion of India, Tianzhu developed rather independently from the reality it was supposed to describe, becoming a meaningful part of the local cultural structure. In this sense, it is evocative the evolution of the popular perception about Xuanzang’s endeavors and travels. He was a Buddhist monk who became famous for his seventeen year journey to Tianzhu (629–646). Motivated by the poor quality of the Buddhist texts available at that time in Tang dynasty’s China, he decided to go to the source. He spends many years traveling and studying in monasteries and universities from Tianzhu, coming back with hundreds of Buddhist texts that he will keep translating for the rest of his life.

Along the centuries, his exploits gained a legendary status in the popular imagery, culminating, about a millennium later (end of the 16th century), with the publication of the strongly fictionalized novel 西遊記 (Journey to the West), with Wu Cheng’en as the probable author. The book enjoyed wide success in all East Asia, becoming part of the local basic cultural luggage. In China proper, it became one of the Four Great Classical Novels, group that gathers the most influential classical Chinese fiction.

There are interesting and significant changes in perception angles between the travel accounts (preserved in Xuanzang’s own book, 大唐西域記 — Great Tang Records of the Western Regions) and this novel. While most of the years abroad of the real travel were spent in Tianzhu (the trip from China: 629–630, back to China: 643–646), in Journey to the West, although reminded and discussed along the book, Tianzhu became just the goal. It is rather the “Western Heaven” where, once arrived, one may experience the enlightenment.

The narration is not about Tianzhu itself, but about the trip. As the novel’s title suggests, the epic develops around the journey’s trials (also around the previous exploits of Sun Wukong, the disciple of Xuanzang). The journey itself become important as well as the sparsely populated territory between the two civilizations. This neutral area gives occasion for unfolding the appeal of this book, as an adventure story featuring a plethora of characters that mirror and satirize the Chinese society. On another level, the journey is an allegory of the path towards enlightenment, in the same time bringing to surface the popular integration of Taoism, of the Chinese mythology and folk religion into the local understanding of Buddhism.

In this sense, the novel succeeds in expressing the way the local branch of Buddhism became Chinese (and, together with it, also the notion of Tianzhu), the manner it was assimilated in the local culture. Rather than a journey to somewhere else, it is the second part of the round trip determined by the novelty of the Buddhism. It is the coming back, the rediscovery of the Chinese self, giving voice to the way the people became again self-assured Chinese, now with Buddhism and Tianzhu as meaningful parts of the Chinese culture. That neutral area offers primarily the possibility of a self-study; hence actual narrations about the people from Tianzhu became less important.

In about the same time, in 1584, some other book was published too, but with much less impact, 新編西竺國天主實錄 (The new accounts about the Divinity from West Tianzhu), the first Christian catechism in Chinese. The Europeans who arrived for some decades in East Asia became too the objects of a local exotic identity shift similar to their own indiscriminate Indianization of much of the World. They were imagined as coming from some part of Tianzhu. The Jesuit priests supported this perception and assumed the Tianzhu identity, because of its prestigious and spiritual nature.

They hoped to supersede the East Asian Buddhism, by presenting the Christianity as the new and the true religion from Tianzhu. Hence, Michele Ruggieri, the author of this attempt of a localized “New Testament”, signed as 天竺國僧 (a monk from Tianzhu), using the character 僧, designating a Buddhist monk. The endeavor produced few results, because of subsequent cultural misunderstandings, inconclusive public debates with the local religions, increased awareness of the Europeans’ expansionist intentions, plus conflicts between the Christian factions.

After some time, the initial Tianzhu/Tenjiku impersonation became unimportant. The Christianization project did not succeed, also the high Catholic clergy in Europe was not very enthusiast to hear of Jesuits dressing in Buddhist robes. The East Asian states became resistant to the European colonial ambitions; usually, their official reaction was to restrict the communication between their citizens and these foreigners. Nevertheless, the European presence increased year by year, the balance of power continued shifting towards their side. In the 19th century, the local political entities were in a position in which they became part of the Western shaped world stage (including the Western-imagined India and having no idea about Tianzhu/Tenjiku).

Regarding the 16th century Japan in increasing contact with the European explorers, as it became obvious that the newcomers belong to a previously unknown culture, they were named 南蛮 (Nanban), “Southern Barbarians”, due to a perceived unmannered behavior. Initially they did not change the pre-modern Japanese worldview consisting of the three civilized regions, 三国 (Sangoku, “The Three Countries”: Japan, China, Tenjiku) and the rest of the barbaric world. The term Tenjiku continued, in an ever-changing manner, to name miscellaneous people, like Jesuits, dark-skinned people from South Asia proper, South-East Asia or Africa. As long as direct contacts between Japan and Tenjiku were scarce, the Japanese too were not very sure about the limits in real life of this cultural area.

The arrival of the Europeans also facilitated a few travels abroad. Tenjiku Tokubei, sometimes dubbed by the Westerners as “Marco Polo of Japan”, became the most famous traveler of those times, after narrating in 天竺渡海物語 (The story of sea travels to Tenjiku) his journey to South-East and South Asia (hence his name). His trips occurred by the beginning of the 17th century, just before the closure of Japan’s borders and the ban of contacts with non-Japanese people. Subsequently, his image, besides that of a pioneer, evolved also into that of a strange Japanese person, sometimes a magician, living and experimenting in the neutral area between what is culturally Japanese and what is not, making him a popular character in stage plays.

In the same period of Japan’s seclusion, Hiraga Gennai, a multivalent personality of the 18th century, wrote under the pen-name 天竺浪人 (Tenjiku rōnin). In Japanese this means “a Tenjiku masterless samurai”. The expression, now part of the Japanese speech, is a pun, with Tenjiku as an inverted word for 逐電 (chikuden), meaning “absconding”. His main literary successor, the fiction writer Morishima Chūryō, employed the pen-name 天竺老人 (Tenjiku rōjin, “Old Tenjiku man”), to allude to Hiraga. The kind of examples that can remind of the unexpected ramifications an image can take.

By the half of the 19th century, the seclusion status-quo became impossible to maintain. After some decades of uncertainties, there followed the Meiji reforms, well rendered by the catchphrase 和魂洋才 (Wakon-yōsai, “Japanese spirit, Western techniques”). The Nanban perspective of the Westerners was abandoned and the new Japanese authorities began to relate with the rest of the world through the Western geographical framework.

This included also the notion of India. In Japanese it is pronounced Indo, written インド, with katakana (the script employed for neologisms), the version endorsed by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. It is also written with kanji: 印度. Sometimes there appears the word インディアン (Indian), as an adjective, in expressions borrowed directly from other languages (usually English), or as a noun, designating various people known as Indians.

As it was felt obvious that India does not convey the same views, perceptions and traditions as Tenjiku (although it is well known that they describe segments from about the same area of the real life), it did not occur a substitution. They began a cohabitation that continues until today, with Indo as the current productive denomination and with Tenjiku largely limited to the already existing derivations (but still not “frozen”, it remains occasionally productive, due to its cultural value in the Japanese society).

The term Tenjiku faded out among the population as orientation in the world, but it remained alive from a cultural perspective. The fading out as orientation was gradual. For example, even by the end of the 19th century, the Hawaii archipelago was presented as a part of Tenjiku to the prospective Japanese emigrants. Most likely the organizers of the emigration process were informed through the prism of the Western accumulated knowledge of the world and they got the idea that Tenjiku is now what is called India in the Western patternization (or maybe they did not think themselves officially about this issue, as people have the capacity to keep simultaneous divergent points of view if this suits them, even if they do not make sense when you make them meet directly in your mind). What is obvious is that they took advantage of the pre-modern lack of clear knowledge among the population about where Tenjiku is situated, while they were interested in benefiting from the high status of this imagery in the people’s mindset.

The Western-originated term Indo introduced its own series of Japanese words and expressions. For example, インド・ヨーロッパ語族 (Indo-Yōroppa gozoku, “Indo-European languages”), インド・ルピー (Indo rupī, “Indian rupee”), インド洋 (Indoyō, Indian Ocean), インドライオン (Indo raion, “Indian lion”), インディアンペーパー/インディア紙 (Indian pēpā/Indiashi, “Indian paper”), インディアンジュエリー (Indian juerī, “Indian jewelry”), インディアンサマー (Indian samā, “Indian summer”), アメリカ・インディアン (Amerika Indian, “American Indian”), イースト・インディアン (Īsuto Indian, “East Indian”).

Besides such borrowings, the word began producing new expressions inside the Japanese language. Apples were also among the novelties of early Meiji era’s opening to the rest of the world, time when the area of Hirosaki emerged as the main producer of this fruit in the country. In 1875, a new cultivar of apple obtained in Hirosaki was named インドリンゴ/印度林檎 (Indo ringo, “Indian apple”). Most likely it had no connection to India, probably it just sounded cool as branding for a Meiji-era introduced fruit (or maybe it is about the American origin of the initial cultivar, thus maybe referring to American Indians as a cool branding).

Indo appears also in borrowed compound words of the Western geographic perspective: インドネシア (Indoneshia, “Indonesia”), インドシナ (Indoshina, “Indochina”). As a side note, シナ/支那 (Shina), the Japanese correspondent of the English word China, appears only in such contexts. The Meiji reforms introduced its official use (together with Indo and other Western geographic names), replacing the East Asian 中国 (Chūgoku, “The country from the middle”). During the following Sino-Japanese wars, the exotic and potentially colonialist meaning of Shina was used to the point that it became an ethnic slur. At the end of the Second World War, China requested that Japan must cease using Shina and reinstate Chūgoku (interesting how a 20th century country can demand in war reparations to be named as “The center of the world”).

インド人/印度人 (Indojin, “Indian person”) may mean Indian (citizen of India), but also Hindu. The word for Hinduism is インド教/印度教 (Indokyō, “Indian teachings”). In order to avoid the misunderstandings, there appeared another neologism, ヒンドゥー (Hindū), spreading in the Japanese mass-media the use of the words ヒンドゥー教 (Hindūkyō, “Hindu teachings”) for Hinduism and ヒンズー教徒 (Hindūkyōto, “follower of Hindu teachings”) for the Hindus. The change did not occur yet for “Hindu philosophy” (less present in the news): インド哲学/印度哲学 (Indo tetsugaku, “Indian philosophy”), or short, 印哲 (Intetsu).

Comparing 印哲 (Intetsu) and 竺学 (Jikugaku, “Tenjiku studies”, i.e. “Buddhist studies”), the two words reflect well the carvings made by the Western and the East Asian worldviews. Both equated the country’s name with their own perception of the local religions, determining the subsequent differences in the perception of this religions. The histories of the two cultural areas determined also the different approaches to these religions. Intetsu, as it is perceived through the Western perspective, is a philosophy, a wisdom, accessible to individuals through a personal endeavor (its second character, 哲, tetsu, means “wisdom”). Jikugaku is about a religion intrinsic to the social texture, it comes with acquiring the local social skills (its second character, 学, gaku, means “learning”).

The differences between the notions invoked by Tenjiku and Indo (as a whole, not just religious) become more obvious in South Asian-related customer-oriented contexts, like the image management of the Indian restaurants in Japan. For example, on the website of this Indian restaurant from Tokyo, the presentation goes 天竺夢料理 (Tenjiku yume ryōri, “Tenjiku dream food”) and then 印度屋 (Indoya, “Indian restaurant”). Each name comes with its own identity. Plus, this gives some idea about the place, the significance of these two notions in the contemporary Japanese society. Tenjiku brings the cultural value, while Indo comes with the identification in the real world. Of course, these roles are not inherent, it is just a contextual share of attributions. It rather brings to light the existence of the two component parts of any cultural notion. Once, Tenjiku had applicable both the cultural value and the identification in the real world, the same as nowadays India has both of these layers in the Western world. In an alternative history, with an East Asian prevalence worldwide, one may imagine an inverted situation with a Tenjiku restaurant in the UK with the presentation “Indian dream food, Tenjiku restaurant”.

This does not mean that Tenjiku and Indo are somehow “maimed” and then combined into something new inside the Japanese cultural context. Each of them remains an independent notion with its own imagery and coherence (briefly sketched above), they convey different feelings, while the Japanese society knows the cultural values and the identifications in the real world of both of them. However, knowledge is just potentiality. When it comes to applications in real life, to basic things like the presentation of a restaurant, requiring both attending to the customers’ most reliable cultural tastes and an accurate identification in the real word, the solution is such a share of responsibilities. Also, this does not mean that now Tenjiku is a “frozen” notion. It is occasionally productive, like the Tenjiku series of sake, where the name Tenjiku is employed for its cultural value, as an established cultural brand in the Japanese context.

Such cohabitation between 天竺/천축 (Tianzhu/ Tenjiku/ Cheonchuk) and 印度/インド/인도 (Yìndù, in Chinese; Indo, in Japanese; Indu, in Korean) happens, more or less, in all East Asia. The contexts of the former denomination are not well known outside this cultural area, hence the word itself did not become yet familiar elsewhere. It appears occasionally in cases that may not necessarily require explanations about what it means and about its position in the real world, like translations of East Asian video games or of East Asian fiction.

More about such topics in the series Perceiving complexity.