Ki-n Donarudo 

was a keen observer of 

all things Japanese.


One of Japan’s most well-known foreign scholars and observers of Japan – Donald Keene* – died last week at the age of 96.   He  came across a copy (in English) at the age of 18 of the Tale of Genji which kicked off his interest in Japanese literature and has translated many works during the course of his very long career.  He covered mostly high-brow literature and was friends with many of Japan’s most famous authors, Mishima, Kawabata and others, of his generation. I still haven’t gotten back to my abridged version of The tale of Genji (the edition I have is translated by Royall Tyler by the way).  I might do so soon.   Like Donald Keene, my (albeit abridged) copy of the book was also cheap but I do plan to read it, not just keep it on my bookshelf.  His hero Arthur Waley once translated a woodblock printed version of the full form of the Tale of Genji, if you don’t mind.  That must have been an interesting task.

No doubt he loved Japan, relocating there for good after the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, gaining his citizenship a year later, partly in sympathy with said event.  The current White House resident was a long way off at that time from expressing an interest in the presidency (publicly anyway).  I can’t imagine the then president Barack Obama would have prompted anyone to renounce their US citizenship though his war involvement wasn’t admired by everyone (other than that, anyone protesting at his presidency because of his mixed race, and unfortunately for him there were plenty, would have been welcome to leave!!).

To give a few examples, on the contrary, of well-known people who relinquished their US citizenship because of the government /president in office, the director Terry Gilliam relinquished his in 2006 in disgust at the Orwellian-like atmosphere George W. Bush’s presidency brought about in America (given today’s atmosphere, he’s probably even happier he did that) and the director John Huston left America for Ireland in the 1950s in disgust at the activities of the House Committee on Un-American activities.   Oona Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s wife, and daughter of playwright Eugene O’ Neill, renounced her US citizenship after joining her husband in the UK in 1952 – after Chaplin had been accused of communist sympathies during the same era and had moved to the UK where he was born.  Various Japanese-Americans who were interned in camps during World War II under the internship act also renounced their US citizenship in understandable protest and emigrated to Japan, or perhaps elsewhere.  I think Donald Keene’s citizen relinquishment was purely out of love for Japan but maybe he was even happier in the last few years that he did so.

Speaking of war/peace, did Shinzo Abe really nominate that plonker in the White House for a Nobel peace prize?  What a joke.  He, Abe, is allowed to keep that strange decision secret unfortunately, despite pressure in the Diet to own up to it (because said plonker has already bragged about it, of course).  I would not be at all surprised if Mr Abe, with his Korean comfort women denial tendencies, did that.  However, he’s not the only one who needs his head examined to even think about it, as there are two other political thunderheads out there, in Norway, who actually think Trump does some good in the world and have admitted to nominating him.  Who knows who else has done so.

I was surprised when looking this up to learn just who could nominate a candidate or be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. As I said above, the person can keep their nomination secret and the list of candidates and the people who nominate them can be kept from the public for a period of 50 years from the year the nomination was entered.  They’ll both be dead by then.

Not every one, or every institution, necessarily deserves their Peace Prize but this tool doesn’t even deserve a nomination, which undermines the deserving nominees or recipients of the past.

Just to go off track a bit, as I mentioned the death of Donald Keene (and possible death of the Nobel Peace Prize).   I heard something on the radio recently about using the words dying and death.  The person was saying that people seem to be afraid of the d word – death, dying, died.   I completely agree with that. Other terms or phrases are chosen instead, such as ‘the person has passed on’ or ‘has gone’ or other phrases.   Even for children, I think it is more honest to use the d word as it is only a word and they will learn it soon enough and that we all die – but many adults are shy of using it with each other.


* Donald Keene – 1922-2019 – name in Japanese, キーン ドナルド/ poetic nom de plume Kīn Donarudo (鬼怒鳴門)


P.S edit: I just found an interesting piece, in the following link, featuring Donald Keene from 2005.  It shows his lighter side yet despite being from 2005 gives some idea of what he thought of his fellow Americans, and their attitude to the world, so I’m going to take it from that that he wouldn’t have been a fan of DT who is utterly lacking in cultural knowledge or intelligence.

The other people featured, listed below his piece, might be of interest to readers also.

I hope Judit Kawaguchi, the author/interviewer, does not mind me using her feature here:  https://judittokyo.com/words-to-live-by/professor-donald-keene/


Crime spree

I went on a crime

spree lately … that is to say

a crime fiction spree!!



Belated Happy New Year.  Well, I’ve more than satisfied my Keigo Higashino curiosity for now, through this crime fiction spree of mine, having got no less than five of his books out of the library at some point over the last month or so.  Yeah five. Once I am interested in something, I just dive in.  I started with A Midsummer’s Equation and have just finished the quintet with Newcomer.  Two of the books belong to his Detective Galileo series (said detective is not a detective in fact but a scientist nicknamed Galileo who helps his detective friend(s) solve crimes) and two belong to the Detective Kaga (friend of said Galileo) series.  I just flew through them and not because I wanted to spend time away from the madness of the holiday season, and get through a dull January.   Now, while they’re good I wondered at times if there were inconsistencies in one or two of them.  In small details I mean.  Is this an oversight in the plot or in the translation?  Over all they were pretty good reads despite any ‘huh?’ moments I had.   I thought it was strange how the detectives in this book – Kaga et al – spoke so much with the main suspects in a case (one or two characters in fact ask the detective(s) this very question in one of the novels) and were so casual with them.   Isn’t that strange?  These novels have some strange and disturbed characters but also very decent ones.

I haven’t really read a crime novel in a while, years actually, but I have watched a good many crime dramas – of varying quality – from different countries so I had something to compare the novels to – sort of.    By the way, speaking of other countries, I wonder how Higashino feels about being called the Japanese Stieg Larsson, who died in 2004 but was most famous for his posthumously published Millenium Trilogy.

I note the translators of these particular books were all men.  There are plenty of female translators of Japanese fiction out there but most of the books I have on my shelf were translated by men, with the exception of three or four of them and one of those is co-translated with a male translator.   As long as the translation itself is good, that’s great but I’d be interested to know if there are more women out there translating Japanese crime fiction or actually writing it.  I hope there is no sexism involved on the part of the writers but I suspect that certain authors, male or female, just have their favourite translators who just happen to be men and don’t want to change.   As long as more books are being written and more authors are made aware of budding literary translators, whoever they may be, there should eventually be more work for more people.  As for the translation itself, I wondered more than once in more than one of the novels about the English used at times. Even without seeing the original Japanese, or any other language, you can tell pretty easily if there’s something wrong.   In one or two of Higashino’s books, there are two translators involved.  Not that team efforts are a bad idea but you have to be more careful, to make sure you’re singing the same tune.  I’m sure they check everything before it’s published but even experts (including at the publisher’s end of things) make mistakes as the Japanese proverb goes (猿も木から落ちる ).

It’s always good to widen the literary net and though Keigo Higashino is a pretty prolific writer, I think that’s enough of him, for now. If anyone can recommend any other Japanese crime writer I’d be delighted to hear suggestions, male or female.  Just so I have someone to compare Keigo Higashino with,  and maybe I’m not quite finished with crime (fiction) just yet.

I’ve got a couple of books on the go at the moment but when I’m done with those, I’ll return to Natsume Soseki as I bought two of his novels – Kokoro and Sanshiro – before Christmas but I’ve not yet started them.  I’ve read Kokoro before but it was years ago and I borrowed it from a library so I thought I’d like to read it again.  That, along with Sanshiro which I’ve not read, should fill out my NS collection a bit more too (if not complete it, I don’t know how many more works of his I have left to read and may have them all now).  The translator of this copy of Kokoro is a female translator which is nice to see but again a good translation is what matters.  I hope I am not offending any translators, male or female, here.

I also bought and have already finished a book of essays about different members of Japanese society towards the end of the 19th and around the turn of the 20th century which was very interesting. It’s also called Kokoro (though with an added subtitle: hints and echoes of a Japanese inner life).  I have to admit though that there were one or two essays I felt like skipping!  It’s by Lafcadio Hearn, one of whose former houses I paid a visit to while in Japan last year (he was mainly based in Matsue but lived and worked in other parts of Japan as well during his life there).  He was a contemporary of Natsume Soseki.

It’s really cool to have new books at hand by favoured authors knowing that you’ll enjoy them when you are ready to pick them up. Same goes for other writers and other books that you anticipate reading for other reasons.  So any tsundoku is never long term in this bookworm’s space!  And as much as I like to declutter, books are almost never included in my decluttering drives.

One last book I bought was a craft manual – for the Japanese stitching technique known as sashiko.   I’ll talk about that in another post.  Anyone tried it who’s usually not a craft-oriented person?  I’d love to hear how you got on with it.


Books bonanza

So Natsume-san,

we meet again in my search

for more JP lit!


Well, just checking in after a bit of a hibernation from my blog.

I had a chance to stock up on a few books lately, with novels by such authors as Natsume Soseki, Kanoko Okamoto, Akira Yoshimura and Murasaki Shikubu now added to my list of works to be relished.  I did see the full unabridged version of The Tale of Genji in the shop but decided I didn’t want to spend the money on it and that the abridged version I had already picked up was good enough.  I was on a cheap book buzz!  As much as I love books, I have a limit as to how much I’ll spend in one go, or on any one book.  I felt like it was a real bonanza in any case.

Well, I started on the Natsume Souseki novel (after finishing another novel I had out from the library) but I wasn’t really feeling it so I might go back to it again as I’ve moved on to Okamoto.  There are in fact two novellas in the book I bought by her and so far it’s going well.  It’s nice to read female writers from that time (late 19th/early 20th) century.  I have to admit I had not heard of her before I bought the book so it’s also exciting in that way.  Okamoto and Yoshimura were new to me but the other two I knew (well I knew of Souseki of course, having other books of his, but not that particular work while I did know of course of The Tale of Genji and its author)

I was delighted anyway on finding these books as I found them in a bookstore which has both new and second hand books over two very big floors for very decent prices.  For decent, read cheap!  Only one was over 10 euros and not that much over it.

Books are one of the few things I like to have as material objects.   I don’t buy much in life really – as travel is my biggest and most worthy expense – but I still buy books (and dvds if I can’t find the film online and I really love the film enough to get the dvd).   I rarely give away or try to reduce my book collection.  Any time I have I ‘ve mostly regretted it.   I’m not even fond of lending books (or dvds) to others.  I always say I’ll try not to buy new books or dvds as I like to keep my overall personal possessions to a minimum but then I come across second hand ones or new ones I’m really interested in (like Pachinko which I bought lately and wrote about here)  and that half-hearted vow is quickly forgotten!!  It’s easier to stick to the vow not to buy dvds as there are so few places left to buy them now if you prefer to buy them in person.

As I said, I use the library a lot and the libraries in my county do have a good selection, not just of books but also dvds, and you can also order from libraries around the country but while I believe in keeping libraries going (staffed by real people, not the self service libraries I’ve heard talk of in the last two years) for community purposes, if you choose to buy a book, buying it in a real bookshop rather than on-line means you’re putting money into the local or national economy.   The exception might be for rare books, or textbooks for study purposes which are hard to find cheap (one way that being a student is unnecessarily expensive for many) or hard to find at all in actual bookshops and need to be bought online.  There is one online bookshop I prefer if buying online, but I’d still prefer to go into a bookshop, buy the book and read it when I decide to read it, which is usually straight away unless there’s a book I’m in the middle of, rather than waiting for it to arrive, however quickly, in the post from some other country.

Well, that’s all for today.  I have another post in mind about Japanese-Korean relations again after seeing an interesting documentary lately on-line which reminded me of Pachinko in terms of people belonging neither in one place nor another.    That’s for another day.