Japanese literature expert Keene plans move to Tokyo
BY TOSHIHIRO YAMANAKA CORRESPONDENT
Donald Keene conducts a lecture last month at Columbia University. (Mari Sakamoto)
NEW YORK--The renowned Japanese literature expert Donald Keene, professor emeritus at Columbia University, is teaching for the last time this spring term.
The 88-year-old Keene will step down in late April, bringing to an end a teaching career at Columbia that began in 1955.
After concluding his teaching duties, Keene plans to move permanently to Tokyo and fulfill his dream of writing full time.
Keene was very concerned following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11. He had made many visits to Chusonji temple in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, and Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture, two of the hardest-hit prefectures in the Tohoku region.
"I have had special feelings toward the Tohoku region since I first traveled along the 'Oku no hosomichi' 56 years ago," Keene said. "I lectured for about six months at Tohoku University, and I am acquainted with the priests at Chusonji temple. I am very worried."
Keene referred to the classic work of literature written by the haiku master Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), which he translated into English under the title, "The Narrow Road to Oku."
While there is high scientific interest now in the United States on how to prevent earthquakes and tsunami, Keene is skeptical about the Western-style conviction in science that believes humans can control natural disasters.
"I am a person who has been heavily influenced by Japanese culture," Keene said. "I am moved by the sense of resignation that feels the power held by nature cannot be resisted."
In his final term at Columbia, Keene has been lecturing on such Noh songs as "Funabenkei" and "Yuya."
His initial encounter with Japanese literature was purely by accident.
Having skipped grades in school, Keene entered Columbia University when he was 16. One day, he happened to sit next to a Chinese-American student and started learning kanji from him. Keene was deeply struck by the beauty of kanji.
He was also fascinated by the English translation of "The Tale of Genji" that he read when he was 18, and he volunteered to enter the U.S. Navy's Japanese language school.
He was surprised to hear about Japanese soldiers fighting to the death at Attu in the Aleutian chain. During the Battle of Okinawa, he searched for Japanese hiding in caves.
His days in Qingdao, China, were spent interrogating Japanese prisoners of war.
"I saw the dark side of humans," Keene said. "There were Japanese POWs who betrayed their fellow soldiers, and there were U.S. soldiers who duped Japanese POWs into giving up their artwork possessions."
Becoming fed up with the interrogations, Keene asked for a discharge. He returned to New York, but he could not find an occupation that interested him.
"I resumed my study of Japanese literature because I felt the Japanese language best suited my constitution," he said.
Over the course of 70 years of research, he has written more than 40 books.
When asked to name his personal top three among all the books he has published, Keene gave the Japanese titles for works that he also wrote in English, a multivolume "History of Japanese Literature" as well as books titled in English as "Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion" and "So Lovely A Country Will Never Perish."
"Looking back, what I feel about my life is that it is not me who chose Japan, but Japan who chose me," Keene said. "After retiring from teaching, I will move to Japan and apply for Japanese citizenship. While immersing myself in the Japanese language, I want to devote my time to reading and writing."
His first project is to complete a biography of Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), a haiku poet of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
Some Japanese Portraits (Kodansha Amer Inc, March 1, 1979)
1435–January 27, 1490) was the 8th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate who reigned
from 1449 to 1473 during the Muromachi period of Japan. Yoshimasa was the
Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion: The Creation of the Soul of Japan (Columbia Univ Pr, November 1, 2003) by D. Keene
KyotoAshikaga Yoshimasa (Jp. 足利 義政 ) (January 20, 1435–January 27, 1490) w
Donald Lawrence Keene (born June 6, 1922 in New York City) is a Japanologist, scholar, teacher, writer, translator and interpreter of Japanese literature and culture. Keene is currently University Professor Emeritus and Shincho Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught for over fifty years.
Keene has published about 25 books in English on Japanese topics, including both studies of Japanese literature and culture and translations of Japanese classical and modern literature, including a four-volume history of Japanese literature. Keene has also published about 30 books in Japanese (some translated from English).
Keene is the president of the Donald Keene Foundation for Japanese Culture.
Keene received a Bachelor's degree from Columbia in 1942. He studied Japanese language at the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School in Boulder, Colorado and in California, and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific region during World War II. Upon his discharge from the Navy, he returned to Columbia where he earned a master's degree in 1947.
He studied for a year at Harvard University before transferring to Cambridge where he earned a second masters, after which he stayed at Cambridge as a Lecturer from 1949-1955. In the interim, he also studied at Kyoto University, and earned a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1951. Keene credits Tsunoda Ryūsaku as a mentor during this period.
Keene taught at least two courses [Elementary Conversational Japanese, and Japanese Literature in (English) Translation] at the University of California (Berkeley), c. 1954/55
- Chikamatsu Monzaemon, The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu's Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance (Taylor's Foreign Pr, 1951)
- Dazai Osamu, No Longer Human (New Directions, 1958)
- Chikamatsu Monzaemon, The Major Plays of Chikamatsu (Columbia Univ Pr, June 1, 1961)
- Yoshida Kenkō, Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko (Columbia Univ Pr, June 1, 1967)
- Mishima Yukio, Five Modern No Plays - Including: Madame de Sade (Tuttle, 1967)
- Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, a Puppet Play (Columbia Univ Pr, April 1, 1971)
- Mishima Yukio, After the Banquet (Random House Inc, January 1, 1973)
- Dazai Osamu, The Setting Sun (Tuttle, 1981)
- Abe Kobo, Three Plays (Columbia Univ Pr, February 1, 1997)
- Matsuo Bashō, The Narrow Road to Oku (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1997)
- Kawabata Yasunari, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Kodansha Amer Inc, September 1, 1998)
- Yamamoto Yuzo, One Hundred Sacks of Rice: A Stage Play (Nagaoka City Kome Hyappyo Foundation, 1998)
- Donald Keene & Oda Makoto, The Breaking Jewel, Keene, Donald (trans) (Columbia Univ Pr, March 1, 2003)
- Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Grove Pr, March 1, 1960)
- Anthology of Chinese Literature: From the 14th Century to the Present Day (co-editor with Cyril Birch) (Grove Pr, June 1, 1987)
- Love Songs from the Man'Yoshu (Kodansha Amer Inc, August 1, 2000)
 Works in English
- The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu's Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance (Taylor's Foreign Pr, 1951)
- The Japanese Discovery of Europe: Honda Toshiaki and other discoverers 1720-1952 (Routledge and K. Paul, 1952)
- Japanese Literature an Introduction for Western Readers (Grove Pr, June 1, 1955)
- Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology (Grove Pr, June 1, 1956)
- Major Plays of Chikamatsu (Columbia Univ Pr, January 1, 1961)
- Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu (Columbia Univ Pr, June 1, 1961)
- Japanese Discovery of Europe, 1720-1830 (Stanford Univ Pr, June 1, 1969)
- Twenty Plays of the No Theatre (Columbia Univ Pr, June 1, 1970)
- World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867 (Henry Holt & Co, October 1, 1976) -(Second book in his "A History of Japanese Literature" series)
- Some Japanese Portraits (Kodansha Amer Inc, March 1, 1979)
- Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era (Henry Holt & Co, September 1, 1987)
- Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era; Poetry, Drama, Criticism (Holt Rinehart & Winston, April 1, 1984) -(Fourth book in his "A History of Japanese Literature" series)
- Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era; Fiction (Holt Rinehart & Winston, April 1, 1984) -(Third book in his "A History of Japanese Literature" series)
- The Pleasures of Japanese Literature (Columbia Univ Pr, October 1, 1988; ISBN 0-231-06736-4)
- Donald Keene with Herbert E. Plutschow, Introducing Kyoto (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1989)
- Travelers of a Hundred Ages: The Japanese As Revealed Through 1,000 Years of Diaries (Diane Pub Co, June 1, 1989)
- Modern Japanese Novels and the West (Umi Research Pr, July 1, 1989)
- No and Bunraku: Two Forms of Japanese Theatre (Columbia Univ Pr, December 1, 1990)
- Appreciations of Japanese Culture (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1991)
- Donald Keene with Ooka Makoto, The Colors of Poetry: Essays in Classic Japanese Verse (Katydid Books, May 1, 1991)
- Travelers of a Hundred Ages (Henry Holt & Co, August 1, 1992)
- Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (Henry Holt & Co, June 1, 1993) -(First book in his "A History of Japanese Literature" series)
- On Familiar Terms: A Journey Across Cultures (Kodansha Amer Inc, January 1, 1994)
- Modern Japanese Diaries: The Japanese at Home and Abroad As Revealed Through Their Diaries (Henry Holt & Co, March 1, 1995)
- The Blue-Eyed Tarokaja: A Donald Keene Anthology (Columbia Univ Pr, June 1, 1996
- On Familiar Terms: To Japan and Back, a Lifetime Across Cultures (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1996)
- Donald Keene with Anne Nishimura & Frederic A. Sharf, Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Woodblock Prints from the Meija Era, 1868-1912 (Museum of Fine Arts Boston, May 1, 2001)
- Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600 compiled by Donalde Keen, Wm. Theodore De Bary, George Tanabe and Paul Varley (Columbia Univ Pr, May 1, 2001)
- Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 (Columbia Univ Pr, April 1, 2002)
- Donald Keene with Lee Bruschke-Johnson & Ann Yonemura, Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints from the Anne Van Biema Collection (Univ of Washington Pr, September 1, 2002)
- Five Modern Japanese Novelists (Columbia Univ Pr, December 1, 2002)
- Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion: The Creation of the Soul of Japan (Columbia Univ Pr, November 1, 2003)
- Frog In The Well: Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan 1793-1841 (Asia Perspectives),(Columbia Univ. Press, 2006)
- Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan. (Columbia Univ. Press, 2008)
- So Lovely A Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers (Columbia Univ. Press, 2010)
 Honorary degrees
Keene has been awarded nine honorary doctorates, from:
- Kyoto Sangyo University (Kyoto, 2002)
- Keiwa Gakuen College (Niigata, 2000)
- Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (Tokyo, 1999)
- Waseda University (Tokyo, 1998)
- Tohoku University (Sendai, 1997)
- Columbia University (New York, 1997)
- Middlebury College (Vermont, 1995)
- St. Andrews Presbyterian College (North Carolina, 1990)
- University of Cambridge (1978)
 Awards and commendations
- Kikuchi Kan Prize (Kikuchi Kan Shō Society for the Advancement of Japanese Culture), 1962.
- Van Ameringen Distinguished Book Award, 1967
- Kokusai Shuppan Bunka Shō Taishō, 1969
- Kokusai Shuppan Bunka Shō, 1971
- Yamagata Banto Prize (Yamagata Bantō Shō), 1983
- The Japan Foundation Award (Kokusai Kōryū Kikin Shō), 1983
- Yomiuri Literary Prize (Yomiuri Bungaku Shō), 1985 (Keene was the first non-Japanese to receive this prize, for a book of literary criticism (Travellers of a Hundred Ages) in Japanese)
- Award for Excellence (Graduate Faculties Alumni of Columbia University), 1985
- Nihon Bungaku Taishō, 1985
- Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University named in Keene's honour, 1986
- Tōkyō-to Bunka Shō, 1987
- NBCC (The National Book Critics Circle) Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement in Publishing, 1990
- The Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (Fukuoka Ajia Bunka Shō), 1991
- Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK) Hōsō Bunka Shō, 1993
- Inoue Yasushi Bunka Shō (Inoue Yasushi Kinen Bunka Zaidan), 1995
- The Distinguished Achievement Award (from The Tokyo American Club) #65288;for the lifetime achievements and unique contribution to international relations）, 1995
- Award of Honor (from The Japan Society of Northern California), 1996
- Asahi Award, 1997
- Mainichi Shuppan Bunka Shō (The Mainichi Newspapers), 2002
- The PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, 2003
 National Honors and Decorations
- The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, 1975.
- The Order of the Rising Sun, Second Class (Japanese Government), 1993
- Person of Cultural Merit (Bunka Kōrōsha) (Japanese Government), 2002 (Keene is the third non-Japanese person to be designated "an individual of distinguished cultural service" by the Japanese government)
- Order of Culture (Bunka kunshō), 2008.
- ^ "Professor Gets Prize; Keene of Columbia Cited for Work in Japanese Letters," New York Times. March 5, 1962.
- ^ "Donald Keene, 7 others win Order of Culture," Yomiuri Shimbun. October 29, 2008.
 See also