Scholarly interest in ancient Iran in Japan developed from the early 20th century on, suffered a setback with the advent of World War II, but re-emerged stronger than before from the 1950s on, when archeological research and excavation surpassed philology as the leading field of interest. Although archeological activity was suspended with the advent of the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, it was resumed in 2001 (see also above, v).


Ancient Iranian studies in Japan started at the beginning of the 20th century in Tokyo and Kyoto independently. In Tokyo, Shigeru Araki (1884-1932), who had studied ancient Iran under Abraham V. Williams Jackson (q.v.) at Columbia University from 1914 to 1920, began to teach ancient Iranian literature at the Department of Linguistics in Tokyo Imperial University; he served as a part-time lecturer from 1922 to 1931. He continued to collect source materials and scholarly books, with the financial support of the Keimeikai Foundation, until his death in 1932. His main publication is a brief summary of ancient Iranian studies in the West to that date (1922; in Japanese). His collection, currently owned by the Institute of Oriental Culture, Tokyo University, is now the most complete set of such source materials in Japan and the main starting point for students of the literature of ancient Iran (Henri Massé, “Comptes rendus,” JA 228, Janvier-Mars, 1936, p. 161; see also Aoki and Einoo, eds., forthcoming).

Araki’s pupil, Kametarō Yagi (1908-86), was appointed in 1932 as a research assistant at the Department of Linguistics, Tokyo Imperial University, and seemed to be a promising heir of Araki; but Araki’s early death and his own induction into the army, which caused him to lose his academic position in 1937, forced him to give up his career as a scholar of ancient Iran. He served in the military in China and Burma during World War II. In 1961, when a Department of Persian Language was established at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies, he was offered a teaching position as professor of Iranian studies, but he declined the offer and spent the rest of his life as a teacher of German. His articles on ancient Iranian studies were collected and published after his death (1988).

Viscount Atsuuji Ashikaga (1901-83), who had studied with Émile Benveniste (q.v.) at École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris in 1932-35, started in 1942 as an assistant professor at the Department of Indological Studies, Kyoto Imperial University, and became full professor in 1950. His major contributions are an introduction to ancient Iranian religions (1941) and a general survey of ancient Iranian history (1978), both in Japanese.


Philological studies at Kyoto University. After World War II, it was Kyoto University (renamed from Kyoto Imperial University) which became the academic center for philological studies on ancient Iran. In 1954, Ashikaga, in cooperation with Prince Mikasa, founded the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan (Nippon Oriento Gakkai), which started with 64 members, including Ashikaga himself and Gikyo Itō (on whom, see below). This society publishes two academic journals, which have served as the main vehicles for Near Eastern studies conducted by Japanese scholars. They are Oriento. Bulletin of the Society for the Near Eastern Studies in Japan (in Japanese, since 1955) and Orient: Reports of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan (in English, since 1960). Ashikaga also founded the Society for Western and Southern Asiatic Studies at Kyoto University in 1956, which within a year began publishing its own journal, Seinan-Ajia Kenkyū. Bulletin of the Society for Western and Southern Asiatic Studies, Kyoto University (in Japanese). Initially students and graduates of Kyoto University formed the main body of this society’s membership, but the high standard maintained by the journal attracted many scholars from other academic centers, and it is now another outlet for ancient Iranian studies in Japan. This society also provided the stimulus for establishing the Department of West Asian History at the same university in 1969.

Gikyo Itō (1909-96), a pupil of Ashikaga, succeeded to his teacher’s chair at the Department of Indological Studies, Kyoto University, in 1970. He was chiefly a scholar of Avestan and Pahlavi philology. His major works are his contributions to the syntax of the Gathas (1935), as well as a series of nineteen articles on the Gathas (“Gathica”) and another series on Pahlavi (“Pahlavica”); both series, mostly in English, were published in the above-mentioned journal Orient. (Some articles, printed but not published, are in the possession of the author.) He also wrote works in which he translated from the Zoroastrian Pahlavi books into Japanese from the viewpoint of his original perspectives on ancient Iranian philology and Zoroastrianism. Most notable among these contributions are “Linguistic Interpretations . . . ,” Ancient Persia, Studies on Zoroaster, and Selected Papers. His collection on Iranian philology, containing both source materials and scholarly books, is now owned by the Institute of Oriental Culture of Tokyo University (see Aoki and Einoo, 2004).

Itō’s pupil, Ei’ichi Imoto (1930- ), concentrates mainly on the cultural connection between ancient Iran and Japan and has published two major contributions on the relationship between these two ancient civilizations. Thanks to his scholarship, the Department of Persian Language at Osaka University of Foreign Studies, where he started as professor in 1964, has become another academic center for ancient Iranian studies in Japan. His chair was eventually held by his pupil Shunsuke Okunishi (1947- ), the author of a collation of manuscripts of the Iranian Bundahišn (q.v.).

Koji Kamioka (1938- ), another student of Itō, had studied ancient Iranian philology under Richard N. Frye at Harvard University; in 1972 he became associate professor at the Research Institute for Languages and Culture of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Later, however, he turned his concentrated interest away from classroom teaching to fieldwork. He is the co-author of an important report on caravan routes in Sasanian Persia. He also arranged for the purchase of the late Mark J. Dresden’s (q.v.) collection on ancient Iranian studies for his Institute’s library. Owing to his efforts, the Research Institute became another academic center for ancient Iranian Studies in Japan.

Yutaka Yoshida (1954- ) studied Sogdian under Nicholas Sims-Williams at the University of London. He taught at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies before becoming professor at the Department of Linguistics, Kyoto University, in 2006. His proficiency in Sogdian and knowledge of ancient Chinese has led him to conduct notable research concerning pre-Islamic Central Asia. His publications include two contributions to Manichean studies and one on the Sogdian merchants in China and India (see also his PERSONAL NAMES, SOGDIAN, IN CHINESE SOURCES at iranica.com).

Yoshida’s pupil, Etsuko Kageyama (1972- ), succeeded Yoshida at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies. She has published several articles on Sogdian arts, notably one on Sogdians in Kucha.

Toyoko Kawase (1950- ) of the Department of Persian Language, Osaka University of Foreign Studies, studied the Elamite Fortification Tablets at the University of Chicago under Richard T. Hallock (q.v.) and is the author of two notable studies on the subject.

Seiro Haruta (1959- ) of the Department of West Asian History, Kyoto University, is the only specialist of Parthian history in Japan. His major contributions are an article on verbal logograms (see HUZWĀREŠ) in Parthian and a new translation of an Avroman (q.v.) parchment.

Archeological studies at Tokyo University. In Tokyo, philological studies on ancient Iranian were discontinued after Araki’s death in 1932. After 1956, however, Namio Egami (1906-2002) of the Institute of Oriental Culture, Tokyo University (renamed from Tokyo Imperial University) organized the Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition and conducted a good deal of archeological research in Iraq and Iran (see above, v). This included excavations at sites of the earliest farming villages in the Marvdašt area, Fārs, excavations of ancient tombs in the valleys of Deylamān and Ḥalimehjān in Gilān, excavations of the sites of ruins dating back to the Achaemenid period at Fahliān, Fārs (see Atarashi, ed.), and actual measurements of Ṭāq-e Bostān (Fukai and Horiuchi, eds.).

The expedition included Shinji Fukai (1922-85) and his student Katsumi Tanabe (1941- ), both art historians specializing in ancient Persia. Fukai, while directing measurement at Ṭāq-e Bostān, became interested in ancient Persian glass; he turned most of his scholarly efforts to this subject and made two notable contributions to the study of Persian glass and ceramics. Tanabe has published a good number of articles, in both English and Japanese, on the study of Sasanian and Kushan arts, including one on the investiture of Ardašir II and the images of Šāpur I and II, several others likewise concerning Ṭāq-e Bostān, and one on the origin of a Buddhist urn. Tanabe was a research staff member at the Ancient Oriental Museum, Tokyo (founded in 1978), which became a center for archeological studies of Iran in Japan. Another member of this expedition, Yoshimasa Chiyonobu (1937- ), has devoted his efforts to the repair and measurement of all archeological materials collected by this expedition in Iran. He has classified and published the materials from Deylamān and potsherds from Tepe Sialk in two separate parts of a catalogue.

A separate archeological expedition was carried out by the Japanese Expedition of the Tokyo University of Education for the Prehistoric Sites in Iran, which, led by Sei’ichi Masuda, conducted excavations at Tepe Sang-e Čaḵmāq, Khorasan, between 1973 and 1975.

The political situation in Iran in the late 1970s, culminating in the Revolution of 1978-79 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, caused the suspension of the Japanese archeological expeditions there until 2001. In that year Tadahiko Ōtsu (1952- ) of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan and Kazuya Yamauchi (1961- , who had a master’s degree from Tehran University) of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo, started archeological surveys in Gilān Province in collaboration with the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization (Sāzmān-e mirāṯ-e farhangi-e Irān).

Archeological studies at Kyoto University. In 1959, Sei’ichi Mizuno (1905-71) of the Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University, organized the Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan Archaeological Mission of Kyoto University; its main targets were Buddhist cave-temples dug into mountainsides in Afghanistan. The mission, led by Mizuno, conducted research on the Buddhist temples in Haybak (see AYBAK [Afghanistan]) and Kashmir-Smast (Pakistan), on cave sites at Hazār Som near Haybak and Fil-ḵāna near Jalālābād (Afghanistan), and on Buddhist sites at Durman Tepe in the Qonduz plain and Lalma in the Jalālābād basin (Afghanistan); excavation of a monastery constructed atop Mount Mekhasanda near Shahbaz-Garhi (Pakistan); excavation of a Buddhist site on Chaqalaq Tepe in the Qonduz plain (Afghanistan); the survey of the Buddhist stupas in the Jalālābād plain and Kabul; and, led by Takayasu Higuchi, a general survey of Buddhist remains in Bāmiān (q.v.), Afghanistan.

Following Kyoto University’s mission, Hiroshima University’s Scientific Expedition in Iran in 1974 engaged in mapping archeological sites in Gorgān (see Shiomi).

Philological studies at Tokyo University. In contrast to the active situation of archeological studies, philological Iranian studies at Tokyo University in the second half of the 20th century produced only a few scholars of ancient Iran. Susumu Sato (1930- ) of Tokyo University of Education has published many articles (all in Japanese) dealing with the Median and Achaemenid periods. Most notable among them are a contribution on the Achaemenid economy and another on state formation in Media and Persia.

Yumiko Yamamoto (1946-) of the Department of Oriental History, Tokyo University, studied Zoroastrian history under Mary Boyce at the University of London. Her two articles on the cult of fire in the history of Iran are her most notable contributions.

Akinori Okada (1947- ), out of his own general interest in mysticism, translated the Yašts and Vidēvdād of the Avesta into Japanese.

Hiroshi Kumamoto (1948- ) studied Middle Iranian languages under Mark J. Dresden at the University of Pennsylvania and specialized in Khotanese. His main contributions are an article on a lyrical poem in Khotanese and another one on some Khotanese texts kept at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. He is now preparing an edition of Khotanese Saka documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale collected by Paul Pelliot (to be titled Saka Document Texts II). Kumamato became the chairman of the Department of Linguistics at Tokyo University in 1989.

Takeshi Aoki (1972- ) of the Department of Islamic Studies, Tokyo University, started his career as a student of Islamic mysticism, but later became interested in Zoroastrian religious thought in the Sasanian and early Islamic periods, which is now the focus of his research and scholarship. His most notable contributions are an article on an annotated translation of Dēnkard (Book 3) and another on the philosophical characteristics of Zoroastrianism.


The following is a select list of the contributions by Japanese scholars to pre-Islamic Iranian studies. Takeshi Aoki, “The Genealogy of Philosophical Zoroastrianism,” Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute, no. 64, 2001, pp. 59-78.

Idem, “An Annotated Translation of Zoroastrian Book Pahlavi Literature, the Dēnkard Book 3.1 from the Posthumous Papers of the Late Prof. Gikyo ITO,” The Memoirs of the Institute of Oriental Culture, Tokyo University 146, 2004, pp. 41-72 (in Japanese).

Takeshi Aoki and S. Einoo, eds., Catalogue of ITO Gikyo Collection, Tokyo, 2004.

Idem, eds., Catalogue of Araki Shigeru Collection, Tokyo, forthcoming. Shigeru Araki, Considerations on the History of Persian Literature, Tokyo, 1922 (in Japanese).

Viscount Atsuugi Ashikaga, Persian Religious Thoughts, Tokyo, 1941 (in Japanese).

Idem, Persian Empires, Tokyo, 1978 (in Japanese).

Kikuo Atarashi and Kiyoharu Horiuchi, Fahlian, The Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition Report 4, Tokyo, 1965 (the excavation at Tepe Saravān).

Yoshimasa Chiyonobu, Catalogue of Archeological Materials in the Department of Archeology of West Asia II: Iran (Metal Remains); III: Iran (Potsherds from Tepe Sialk), The University Museum, The University of Tokyo Material Reports 12 and 28, Tokyo, 1986-93 (in Japanese).

Namio Egami “Excavations at Two Prehistoric Sites: Tepe Djari A and B in The Marv-Dasht Basin,” in A Survey of Persian Art XIV, pp. 2936-39.

Namio Egami and Jiro Ikeda, Human Remains from the Tombs in Dailamanistan, Northern Iran, 2 vols., Tokyo, 1963-68.

Namio Egami, Selichi Masuda, and Toshihiko Sono, eds., Marv-Dasht, The Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition Report 2-3, 2 vols, Tokyo, 1962 (excavations at Tall-e Bākun and Tall-e Gap; in Japanese with Eng. abstract).

Idem, eds., Dailaman, 3 vols, The Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition Report 6-8, Tokyo, 1965-68 (excavations at Qalʿakoti, Nowruz Maḥalla, and Ḵorramrud). Shinji Fukai, “A Study of a Glass Bowl at Hassani Mahaleh in Dailaman,” The Memoirs of the Institute of Oriental Culture, Tokyo University 36, 1965, pp. 1-22.

Idem, Perushia no garasu, tr. Edna B. Crawford as Persian Glass, New York, 1977.

Idem, Perushia no kotōki, tr. Edna B. Crawford as Ceramics of Ancient Persia, New York, 1981.

Shinji Fukai, Namio Egami, and Jiro Ikeda, eds., Dailaman IV: The Excavations at Ghalekuti II and I, Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archeological Expedition. Report 12, Tokyo, 1964.

Shinji Fukai and Kiyoharu Horiuchi, eds., Taq-i Bustan, 4 vols, Tokyo, 1969-84.

Shinji Fukai, Kiyoharu Horiuchi, and Toshio Matsutani, Marubu Dashuto/Marv-Dasht III: The Excavation at Tall-i Mushki, The Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition 14, Tokyo, 1973 (in Engl. and Japanese). Shinji Fukai and Tashio Matsutani, Halimehjan I: The Excavation at Shahpir, 1976, Tokyo, 1980; II: The Excavation at Lameh Zamin, 1978, The Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition 16 and 18, Tokyo, 1982.

Seiro Haruta, “Formation of Verbal Logograms (Aramarograms) in Parthian,” Orient 28, 1992, pp. 17-36.

Idem, “A New Translation of the Avroman Parchment No. 3 (British Library Or. 8115),” Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan 44/2, 2001, pp. 125-34 (in Japanese).

Takayasu Higuchi, ed., Bāmiān, 4 vols., Kyoto, 1983-84 (in Japanese).

Eiichi Imoto, Kodai no Nihon to Iran (Ancient Japan and Iran), Tokyo, 1980.

Idem, Asuka to Perushia (Asuka and Persia), Tokyo, 1984.

Gikyo Ito, Syntax der Nebensätze der Gathas des Avesta mit steter Rücksicht auf den Rgveda, Kyoto Imperial University, 1935.

Idem, “Lingusitic Interpretations of the Pahlavi Version of the Pahlavico-Chinese Bilingual Epitaph Found at Sian,” Bulletin of the Society for Western and Southern Asiatic Studies, Kyoto University 13, 1964 (in Japanese).

Idem, Ancient Persia, Tokyo, 1974 (in Japanese).

Idem, Studies on Zoroaster, Tokyo, 1979 (in Japanese). Idem, Selected Papers on Zoroastrianism, Tokyo, 2001 (in Japanese).

Estuko Kageyama, “Sogdians in Kucha: a Study from Archaeological and Iconographical Material,” in Les Sogdians en Chine, Paris, 2005, pp. 135-62.

Koji Kamioka and Hikoichi Yajima, Iran Zagurosu Sanmyaku goe no ki karaban ruto (Caravan routes across the Zagros Mountains in Iran), Research Institute for Languages and Culture of Asia and Africa, 1988.

Toyoko Kawase, “Female Workers ‘pašap’ in the Persepolis Royal Economy,” Acta Sumerologica 6, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Hiroshima, 1984, pp. 19-31.

Idem, “Kapnuški in the Persepolis Fortification Texts,” in Leon de Meyer, Hermann Gasche, and François Vallat, eds., Fragmenta Historiae Elamicae: mélange offerts à M. J. Steve, Paris, 1986, pp. 263-75.

Hiroshi Kumamoto, “The Concluding Verses of a Lyrical Poem in Khotanese,” in Haranandalahari: Volume in Honour of Professor Minoru Hara on His Seventieth Birthday, Reinbek, 2000, pp. 143-54.

Idem, “Sino-Hvatanica Petersburgensia,” Manuscripta Orientalia 7/1, 2001, pp. 3-9.

Selichi Masuda, “Umam Material and the Li-Tripod,” in A Survey of Persian Art XV, pp. 3213-19, figs. 1217-29.

Idem, “Excavations at Tappeh Sang-e Čaḵmāq,” in Gozārešhā-ye dovvomin majmaʿ-e sālāna-ye kāvešhā wa pažuhešhā-ye bāstān-šenāsi dar Irān/Proceedings of the Second Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran, 1974, pp. 23-33.

Idem, ed., Tappeh Sang-i Čaḵmāq, Tokyo, 1977 (in Japanese).

Idem, “The Excavation at Tappeh Sang-e Čaḵmāq,” Archive für Orientforschung 31, 1984, pp. 209-12.

Seiichi Mizuno, ed., “Haibāk and Kashmir-Smast, Kyoto, 1962.

Idem, Hazār-Sum and Fīl-Khāna: Cave Sited in Afghanistan Surveyed in 1962, Kyoto, 1967.

Idem, ed., Durman Tepe and Lalma: Buddhist Sites in Afghanistan Surveyed in 1963-65, Kyoto, 1968.

Idem, ed., Mekhasanda: Buddhist Monastery in Pakistan Surveyed in 1962-1967, Kyoto, 1969.

Idem, ed., Chaqalaq Tepe: Fortified Village in North Afghanistan Excavated in 1964-1967, Kyoto, 1970.

Idem, ed., Basawal and Jelalabad-Kabul: Buddhist Cave-Temples and Topes in South-East Afghanistan Surveyed Mainly in 1965, Kyoto, 1971.

Akinori Okada, tr., Zoroastrianism: Hymns for Gods, Tokyo, 1982 (in Japanese). Tadahiko Ohtsu, Archaeological Survey in Northern Iran: Report on the General Survey in Gilan and its Surrounding Areas, Tokyo, 2003.

Shunsuke Okunishi, “The Collation of the Manuscripts of the Bundahishn: Preface and Chapter I, Part I,” Orient 19, 1983, pp. 63-85.

Susumu Sato, “A Study of the Royal Economy of the Achaemenid Empire,” The Bulletin of the Tokyo University of Education, Literature Department, 91, 1973, pp. 1-26; 106, 1976, pp. 1-17.

Idem “Ethnogeny and State-Formation in Media and Persia,” Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan, 38/2, 1995, pp. 16-37.

V. H. Shiomi, Archaeological Map of the Gorgān Plain, Iran, no. 1, Hiroshima, 1976.

Toshihiko Sono, “Recent Excavations at Tepe Gap, Marv Dast,” in A Survey of Persian Art XIV, pp. 2940-46.

Katsumi Tanabe, “Unique Sasanian Silver Plate with Bahram Gur’s Ostrich-Hunting Scene and with Gold Inlay,” Bulletin of the Ancient Orient Museum 2, Tokyo, 1980, pp. 45-68.

Idem, “Iconographical and Iconological Study on the Larger Iwan at Taq-i Bustan,” Bulletin of the Okayama Orient Museum 2, 1982, pp. 61-113 (in Japanese with Eng. abstract). Idem, “Date and Significance of the So-Called Investiture of Ardashir II and the Images of Shahpur II and III at Taq-i Bustan,” Orient 21, 1985, pp. 102-21.

Idem, “The Iranian Origin of the Buddhist Urn,” AMI 20, 1987, pp. 251-59.

“The Kushano-Sasanian Kings Hidden in Roman and Chinese Literary Sources,” in Katsumi Tanabe, Joe Cribb, and Helen Wang, eds., Papers in Honour of Prof. Ikuo Hirayama on His 65th Birthday, Studies in Silk Road Coins and Culture, Kamakura, 1997, pp. 75-88.

Idem, “A Kushano-Sasanian Silver Plate and Central Asian Tigers,” Silk Road Art and Archaeology 7, 2001, pp. 167-86.

University Library of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, ed., The Library of the Late Prof. M. J. Dresden on Indo-Iranian Linguistics and Languages, Tokyo, 1989.

Kametaro Yagi, Collected Papers of Kametaro Yagi, 2 vols, Tokyo, 1988 (in Japanese).

Yumiko Yamamato, “The Zoroastrian Temple Cult of Fire in Archaeology and Literature,” Orient 15, 1979, pp. 19-54; 17, 1981, pp. 67-104.

Kazuya Yamauchi, The Vocabulary of Sasanian Seals, Tokyo, 1993.

Idem, “New Discoveries of Iranian Archaeology,” Bulletin of the Ancient Orient Museum 17, 1996, pp. 123-49; 18, 1995, pp. 233-57.

Yutaki Yoshida, “Manichaean Aramaic in the Chinese Hymnscroll,” BSOAS 46/2, 1983, pp. 326-31.

Idem, “Middle Iranian and Old Turkish -Notes on Two Sets of Colophons or Scribbles Found in Manichaean Texts,” Studies on the Inner Asian Languages 8, 1993, pp. 127-33 (in Japanese).

Idem, “Additional Notes on Sims-Williams’ Article on the Sogdian Merchants in China and India,” in Alfredo Cadonna and Lionello Lanciotti, eds., Cina e Iran: da Alessandro Magno alla dinastia Tang, Firenze, 1996, pp. 67-77.

(Takeshi Aoki)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 13, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 6, pp. 564-568

Cite this entry:

Takeshi Aoki, “JAPAN vi. IRANIAN STUDIES IN JAPAN, PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD,” Encyclopædia Iranica, XIV, Fasc. 6, pp. 564-568, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/japan-vi-iranian-studies-in-japan-pre-islamic-period (accessed on 30 December 2012).