ドナルドキーン

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/

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Weapons in Japan

 

With the dreadful mass shooting in Las Vegas a few evenings ago – by someone you can simply call a domestic, white, terrorist – I thought I’d take a look at what the situation is in Japan with gun ownership.

The first bit of good news is the existence of the weapons law of Japan which starts by saying outright:

“No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords”. 

Very few exceptions are allowed.

Handgun ownership is out rightly banned, while shotguns and air rifles are allowed for hunting and sport shooting and you can only apply to own a rifle on proof that you have owned a shotgun for 10 years.  I’m not entirely sure what the difference between a shotgun and a handgun is but a gun is a gun. Also, people who do own guns and need cartridges must return the spent cartridges to the /a gun shop (of which each prefecture in Japan can have no more than three) in order to be allowed to buy more.  A person’s gun or guns have to be kept under lock and key and the police have to be told where it/they are stored.

 

Not even ordinary cops in Japan use guns that regularly, even though they do carry them. They spend more time on their judo, in which they are all expected to gain a black belt, and practicing Kendo (with wooden swords) than learning how to use the gun they’ll have to carry around.  In general, cops leave their guns at the station before heading home in the evening and apparently there is a case of one cop, who used his gun to kill himself while on duty, being charged posthumously with a criminal offence.  Yep, they don’t mess around.

Apparently, the Yakuza are the only ones affected (boohoo) though they still manage to find ways of importing them illegally.  In general, gun crime in Japan is still one of the lowest in the world and they can also hold their head high for rejecting the idea of gun ownership in the first place.  Incidentally, most ordinary folks in Japan are very concerned about the idea being touted for the Self Defence Forces becoming less self-defence and more offence in its structure (even with the current threat from that one particular neighbour).

Anyway, the current gun law has been in force since 1958 but their stringent gun laws go back a long way when in 1685, people were encouraged to hand in their firearms for a reward (I wonder what the reward was?).  So, long before 1876, when an Edict called the 廃刀令Haitōrei (the Sword Abolishment Act), banned everyone, bar former Lords (Daimyōs), the military and law enforcement officials, from carrying weapons.  Usually it was only samurai and government officials who carried swords by then (maybe because everyone else handed them in back in 1685?), and samurai/government families who owned them, so it was mostly these who were affected by this and other laws – losing their swords, topknots, their identity as warriors.  Ordinary farmers and so on were not allowed own arms I’m sure.  Feel free to correct me on this. People who made swords on the other hand were obviously going to be inconvenienced!

It’s a pity that samurai swords are still exported from Japan, even if they’re cheap imitations, and used by all kinds of morons (a very American insult I like to use!) in various countries to show off with and/or use for violence towards others, as I’ve often read about in news reports over the years.   Japan should try and ban the export of samurai swords, unless they are used for display in museums and then perhaps sent back to Japan.

Where there are large scale attacks or killings in Japan, it’s done with knives (except for the sarin gas attack by the Aum cult in the 90s) and there are unstable people in Japan as there are in many other countries who should not get that far, whatever their choice of weapon. But gun control is one situation where Japan can hold its head high.

I feel so bad for the people killed or injured in Las Vegas, and have real admiration for the police force but also various civilians who risked their own safety to help others.

Let’s not forget the two victims of the attack in Marseille either.  Knife attack victims of another terrorist who was luckily prevented from attacking anyone else.

 

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Poetry Day

Happy national

poetry day to all my

fellow haiku scribes!

 

Well, for the day that’s in it – National Poetry Day – I thought I should come back and write a post.  I haven’t been around in a while despite all that’s been going on over in Japan’s part of the world:

North Korea is

posing a bigger threat but

Aso still an ass.

 

Yes, North Korea is one thing but having a minister like Aso on your team who says things like ‘H~~~ had the right idea in the 1930s’ (won’t type out his name for obvious reasons) is no help to politics in Japan or Japan’s reputation abroad.  You’re on the brink of being wiped out by a bullying nutcase neighbour and you hero worship another genocidal nutcase from the past?   What an ass (to put it mildly).   Shinzo Abe with his raised right arm tendencies doesn’t help either!!    I’m glad he’s getting a scare from the current governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, who has formed a new party which is already threatening his poll ratings, already low.  She says she won’t run against him in the next elections to be PM because she wants to focus on Tokyo 2020.    She was his defence minister at one point and is a conservative populist (don’t like that word too much) but apparently she wants to challenge the political old guard. Becoming the first female governor of Tokyo has given her a good start there!   The Party of Hope is the name of her party. Let’s hope it lasts a while and doesn’t turn bad.  She certainly is scaring him in the polls.  We can’t let long-time leaders like right-arm raising Abe get too comfortable can we.     Things are certainly looking very dark over there right now, even with the Party of Hope hoping to bring some light in.  I’m almost glad I’m not in Japan these days.

Speaking of darkness of another kind, and onto one of my favourite topics of conversation, film, A third murder, Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent film (for the first time in a while, or ever, not really about family issues which is his speciality), which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival this year, explores the dark side of being a lawyer defending a client who admits to a crime even if the lawyer doubts his guilt.  Is he covering up for someone? Well, who cares!!  I’d like to see this at some point.

 

Kore-eda strikes

again to give us a slice

of life in Japan.

 

I have another film to see before that, which is also about a pretty dark area of society – American society.   It’s called Wind River, set on a reservation (the actual Wind River reservation where it was filmed) in Wyoming where an experienced park ranger helps an inexperienced FBI agent to investigate the death of a young Native American woman, found lying dead in the snow.   Missing or murdered Native American women (and First Nation women in Canada) is an ongoing problem, mostly neglected if not ignored by authorities (in Canada at least, I’m not as sure about the US) and reservations in America have other problems too.    Some very good actors in this and it’s directed by the man who screen-wrote Hell or High Water last year (also a very good film where Jeff Bridges, a very good actor most will agree, as the Texas Ranger chasing sibling bank robbers – robbing branches of the bank which has taken back their ill mother’s farm/house – has his scenes stolen (geddit?) by the actor playing his Native American (Comanche)-Mexican partner, who plays the grieving father of the murdered young woman in Wind River – a brilliant character actor).  I’ve read some very interesting books lately exploring the history of Native Americans and the American West.  I  admire to some extent the chiefs and rebels from various tribes who resisted and only gave in for the good, or so they were led to think, of their people.  They were robbed in every way and yes the murder of settlers by some Indians was definitely not right either but ‘there were good and bad Indians and good and bad whites but the whites only saw the bad in the Indian’, to paraphrase a quote from one leader.  Incidentally, one of the books covers the Texas Rangers who were originally created as a form of militia back in the 19th century in order to hunt down Indians.  There were some white figures in US history who come out looking relatively good but not enough of them. I’ve watched and am watching some dramas and documentaries on the subject as well (which also cover earlier periods, in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the early pilgrims arrived in the East of the States) but the books are brilliant.   I got both out of the library – and am waiting for another one, long live libraries – but am planning to buy one of them now so I can have it in my collection to refer to in the future.   Definitely not a book that will be left in 積読/tsundoku state (the Japanese term for books bought and then left piled up and unread) – not that many books I buy are.

Back to Japan, well I don’t think there is that much else happening there at the moment (though on the positive side, in terms of film, it’s nice to see good films continuously coming out, especially by Hirokazu Kore-eda).  They have their hands full I imagine with North Korea, and certain idiotic politicians.

So that’s it for today.  I hope no-one minded me going off-track there to talk about a non-Japanese issue.   Actually, apart from the fact the film mentioned is a worthy one (and starting a film blog is something I’m not ready to do yet), there are some parallels in the story of native Americans with Japanese history, as back in the 19th century if not earlier, the Japanese government also mistreated and wiped out most of the Ainu, the aboriginals of Japan.  They also humiliated other Japanese who weren’t seen as equal to them.   They could do what they wanted and got away with it.

 

The world is small with

governments showing

evil in common

 

More in another while.

 

 

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