Hidehiro Okada (岡田英弘, born in Tokyo on Jan. 24, 1931, died May 25, 2017) was one of Japan’s leading scholars in the field of Manju studies, Mongolian history and Central Asian history.
He was born into a family of scholars, his father Okada Masahiro being a famous pharmacologist and head of the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, his younger brother Okada Shigehiro being an archaeologist and ethnologist and later head of the Museum for the History of the North East.
In 1953, he graduated from the faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Tokyo, receiving his first scholarly award, the Japan Academy Prize, in 1957 for his work on the Manwen Laodang (満文老档), or “Old Manchu Archive”, a collection of documents covering the early phase of the Manchu empire before 1644 when Beijing became the official seat of the Qing Empire.
The occupation with the Manwen Laodang set the great lines of his lifelong scholarly endeavours as much as his early exposure to the international scientific community. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 1959 which enabled him to spend two years at University of Washington in Seattle where he became a disciple of Nicholas Poppe. Again two years later, in 1963, he had the opportunity to go to Bonn, Federal Republic of Germany, where he was a visiting scholar at Prof. Heissig’s Institute for Languages and Cultures of Central Asia at Bonn University.
Commuting between numerous high-ranking academic assignments in Japan and abroad, he spent another three years (1968–1971) as a guest professor at University of Washington.
He was a faithful participant and active contributor to the PIAC over many years, contributing at least 15 times with research on the Erdeni-Yin Tobči, Chinggis Khan as well as the relations between the Mongols, the Qing and the Chinese. He hosted the PIAC in 1995 in Kawasaki and was awarded the PIAC Medal, or Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies, in 1999.
His unique view of history through the eyes of both Asian and Western perspective, going back to Sima Qian in China and Herodotus in Greece, shaped his scientific work from the very beginning. He occupied himself with fundamental questions on the nature of empires, as reflected in his research on the Mongolian empire and the Manchu dynasty. His subtle yet expressive personal style and fluency in foreign languages made him a scholar who was appreciated internationally; he was awarded with Mongolia’s highest decoration the Polar Star, by the Mongolian government in 2008.
His rich oeuvre was published in eight volumes: 岡田英弘著作集 (Collected Works of Hidehiro Okada, Fujiwara Shoten, 2013 — 2016).
Hidehiro Okada leaves his wife, Junko Miyawaki, the intellectual companion of many decades of inspiring and fruitful collaboration, and like her husband a faithful member of the PIAC community; to her I wish to offer my deepest condolences.
Oliver Corff, May 28, 2017.