Murayama Shichirō 村山 七郎

(born 25 December 1908, in Ibaraki Prefecture – died 13 May 1995)



Shichiro Murayama (1908-1995)

Shichiro Murayama, the Japanese linguist and Altaist, passed away on May 13th, 1995, two days before the publication of his last book, Comparative Studies of Japanese. He was 86 years old.
He was born on Christmas day of 1908 in the Prefecture of Ibaraki near Tokyo, and started his career in 1937 as an employee of the Research Department of Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the last year of the World War II he arrived in Germany to study in the Department of Linguistics at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He attended Nicholas Poppe’s lectures on comparative Altaic linguistics held in the Institute of Oriental Studies of the University on Friedrichstrasse, together with Erich Haenisch, Annemarie von Gabain and Arash Bormanshinov. Poppe also personally taught Murayama Mongolian and gave him guidance on how to treat Japanese Altaistically. Poppe reports in his Reminiscences that in late fall 1944 Murayama visited him, who was then in Marienbad, and surprised him by openly talking about the imminent collapse of Germany. He goes on to teil how Murayama and Secretary Hiroshi Sugiura of the Japanese Embassy tried to slip into Switzerland in the last moment; Sugiura made it, but Murayama was taken prisoner in Bad Gastein by the Americans.
After his repatriation to Japan in 1948 Murayama took up a Professorship at the Juntendo University in Tokyo, and taught German to medical students. In the same year, his first Altaistic article appeared: “The Chinggis Khan Stone deciphered”. Later he moved to the Kyushu University in Fukuoka, and after retiring from there, taught at the Kyoto Sangyo University for a few years.
Rather unfortunately, Murayama is best remembered in the small circle of Japanese Mongolists through the acrimonious critism he raised against fellow Mongolist Takashiro Kobayashi. The title of his article, published in 1960 in Toyo Gakuho, is self-explanatory: “Problems of Middle Mongolian: In particular reference to the coincidence found between Dr. Takashiro Kobayashi’s Studies of the Secret History of the Mongols and Murayama’s letters to him”.
In his later years Murayama, whose main concern was always the possible genetic affinity of the Japanese language, became rather disenchanted with the Altaic theory and began viewing Proto-Japanese as a mixed language with a Proto-Austronesian substratum. He was a prolific writer of books; no less than 16 titles are counted between his first book in 1965 and his last, most of which deal with Japanese and such neighboring languages as Ainu and Korean.
Murayama was always kind to me, mainly because he was the oldest, and I was the youngest Japanese Student of Nicholas Poppe. In his retirement in Tokyo, he would often call me on the telephone, always very early in the morning, and talk on and on about the ideas he had just had on some scholarly subjects.

(Hidehiro Okada)

(Source: Permanent International Altaistic Conference Newsletter No. 23, June 1995, p. 6–7)