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/