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Scholar Donald Keene finds his life intertwined with Japan

14 Comments
By KEN MORITSUGU

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14 Comments
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Instead of retelling his life couldn't the interviewer have asked Keene his impressions of modern Japan? I mean, he made a commitment to die in Japan at just the same time as the country seems to be drifting into senescence or right wing demagoguery. How does he feel about that? Perhaps he denies it. Or does he just dwell in the glory years and hope, somehow, they will be recreated. Like many others. These are the kind of things I would have liked to know.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

So Professor Keene decides that he would like to "die in Japan" and is immediately granted citizenship by the government of Japan and also lauded as a hero for moving to Tokyo in the aftermath of Fukushima. Meanwhile the hardworking, sacrificing, suffering foreign citizens of Tohoku, and the thousands of foreigners who have lived for decades in Tokyo, working hard to contribute meaningfully to the Japanese nation, are utterly ignored by the government and by the media.

0 ( +8 / -8 )

The thousands of foreigners who have lived for decades in Tokyo, working hard to contribute meaningfully to the Japanese nation, are utterly ignored by the government and by the media.

Some of those thousands of foreigners may be permitted to apply for citizenship. Foreigners do take Japanese citizenship, but many choose not to. My personal choice is that I wouldn't, because I neither need it nor want it, and anyway I like my current citizenship.

I don't really know what you mean by "working hard to contribute meaningfully to the Japanese nation" either. It sounds impossibly grand. Keene has arguably done so. I'm less sure about myself or others like me. I work for money, not love of country. And I don't work hard, I merely work. Coal miners work hard.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Meanwhile the hardworking, sacrificing, suffering foreign citizens of Tohoku, and the thousands of foreigners who have lived for decades in Tokyo, working hard to contribute meaningfully to the Japanese nation, are utterly ignored by the government and by the media.

Mate, seriously, what do you want? Some kind of formal recognition for being a long term expat in Japan?! Why would that happen? It doesn't happen anywhere else. I don't recall seeing long term foreign residents in my home country dragged in front of the media with a: 'Here is Mustafa. He arrived from Iraq as a refugee in 1976. Has had to learn English, drive taxis and endure years of abuse, racism etc in his struggle for a new life' This man is outstanding and has clearly done a great deal in Japan to help in the understanding of cross cultural arts, literature and intercultural understanding. He was a trail blazer in a very difficult time, clearly a scholar and an academic and far, far beyond your average joe expat. I admire and applaud him.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

I think the main reason Keene became Japanese was to adopt his lover, not to show solidarity with the people of Tohoku or whatever.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Those who have attended Columbia University can never forget Japanologist Professor Emeritus Keene. He was wonderful and one of the most brilliant. If he didn't recognize you while passing him in the hallway you know he was so absorbed with everything he read. He was quite a man and an asset to both Japan and the United States. Professor Keene has helped shape the English-speaking world's understanding of Japanese culture. Few Americans or Japanese have been as deeply and broadly engaged with Japanese culture as Professor Keene. His translations of classic works of premodern and contemporary literature and drama to insightful books about modern Japan have become standards in the field. He is one of the best in his field. I thank this awesome professor. I know many former graduate students are grateful for all his help.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I cannot even begin to judge or be a critic of this mans academic career, he has surely risen above the rest. Ive never been one to follow yukio mishima or other quacks but maybe he can see something in their bizarre reads I cant. What I see, however, is another apologist in the very real transistion of making Japan their home but slowly realizing what they have done. All their other "works" are irellevant to me, I witness this "phenomenon" all the time. You just wait and watch the transformation. It doesnt matter what race, eductional background, it happens to everybody.In the intial stages of his move, this guy seemed to be quite critical of the "flyjin" and he was the special one to move to Japan to show his support. Was he in Japan during the very scary information deciet we all had to endure? Would he of backed them all up, or made a statement against it? There was a clown, his name escapes me, that was quite good at that, informing us all that the foriegn media had it all wrong. Havent seen much of his ridiculous self lately. You cant go on praising someting like that and it work out, eventually people will see it for what it is.

Moonraker makes an excellent point and I must agree. Maybe this guy will continue to praise and love Japan. I willing to bet, however, as you see in this article, he will slowly begin to take off the rosey blinders and see it for what it is.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@Tamarama, @wipeout

I just don't feel like Keene has done that much to contribute to Japanese society. He has admitted himself that the only reason he is famous is because he stumbled into the world of Japanese literature appreciation at a time when virtually zero other Westerners were doing so.

I don't care if I'm not lauded in the media for my work in Japan. I just think it's rather incongruous that the media and government seem to worship this academic for what are, in my opinion, profoundly pedestrian contributions to Showa and Heisei Japan.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Interesting. Two questions, re.

His decision to settle in Japan in 2011, at a time when many foreigners were fleeing because of the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant..."

Where had he been living before 2011?

How many is "many"? What part of the whole decided to leave?
1 ( +2 / -1 )

Keene moved to Japan for personal reasons, not to demonstrate "solidarity" with Tohoku, or whatever.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@ Maria

Professor Keene was living in New York before moving permanently to Tokyo.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

“I gradually thought of Japan as a place where I would like to live, and also where I would like to die,”...

I plan to live forever. So far so good.

"... he says at his Tokyo apartment, which overlooks a leafy public garden that was the estate of a wealthy 19th-century businessman."

I'll bet that place costs a bundle.

"He learned Japanese in U.S. Navy language school and interrogated Japanese prisoners in Okinawa during World War II."

I wonder if he asked any of those Japanese prisoners if they actually believed the emperor was divine.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So Professor Keene decides that he would like to "die in Japan" and is immediately granted citizenship by the government of Japan and also lauded as a hero for moving to Tokyo in the aftermath of Fukushima. Meanwhile the hardworking, sacrificing, suffering foreign citizens of Tohoku, and the thousands of foreigners who have lived for decades in Tokyo, working hard to contribute meaningfully to the Japanese nation, are utterly ignored by the government and by the media.

These oppressed foreigners you speak of have contributed a pea while Keene has contributed mountains. Stop thinking just because you pay taxes--you receive a salary. What did you expect?--you're contributing to Japan in some magnificent way. What have these foreigners, the most of who are bushy-bearded backpackers looking to party and hit on every Japanese girl in sight and work at an eikaiwa to fund their bacchanalia, what have they done in comparison to likes of Donald Keene? Most of them cannot speak, read, or write Japanese. Donald Keene does all three plus translation of Japan's greatest literary works. This has introduced millions to Japanese literature. And Japan does have great poetry and literature and arts.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@ Mr. Noidall

An unequivocal, resounding Amen. I agree with you completely. Literature preserves the ideals of a people and ideals, love, faith, duty, friendship, freedom, reverence are the part of human life most worthy of preservation. And through arts you can develop the life-long skills such as analytical thinking, clarity, written and spoken expression, collaboration, and creativity.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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