Donald Keene's hidden message September 30 19:52

“I was impressed that Japanese people were calm despite the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. I like Japanese people. I want to die as a Japanese.”
That's what I wanted to tell Donald Keene, a Japanese literature researcher who became Japanese. This is a hidden message from Keen who loved Japan for his lifetime.
(Junya Kajiuchi, reporter of the Faculty of Science and Culture)

March New York at Columbia University

On March 29, 2019, a reporter I was in the library at Columbia University in New York. At that time, more than a month after Donald Keane died, Keen won the translation award for Japanese literature related to Keen at a place where he was involved at the age of 16 for three quarters of a century. The ceremony was open.

At the venue in the corner of the prestigious library, a picture of Keen's smile was displayed, and attendees, including the winners, talked about their memories with Keen one after another.

Donald Keane translated many English works into the world

Donald Keane died in Tokyo at the age of 96 in February. For many years, I went back and forth between Japan and the United States, studied Japanese literature, translated many authors' works into English, and introduced them to the world.

In addition to making friends with Junichiro Tanizaki, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, etc., we also analyze diaries of people who are unknown to the world from Japanese classical literature. He said that he was fascinated by Japanese delicacy and subtlety.

Many students have been raised, and it is said that many novelists such as Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto have created a base that is accepted worldwide. In 2008, he received a Japanese culture medal.

Mr. Keane's email

While many people talked about Keene's memories at Columbia University, one person spoke from a slightly different angle.

A Japanese literary researcher who exchanged intimate emails with Keen for several years later, Professor Charles Inouye of Tufts University. Some emails were introduced at the venue.

"Ishikawa Yuuki is serialized but difficult. It swings between the wonderfulness of his work and the life that makes him uncomfortable" (April 13, 2014)

“I am worried about the Prime Minister ’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine. Previously I was worried that Japan would be hijacked by the left wing, but now I am worried that the right wing will be hijacked.” (December 2013 27th)

Prof. Inoue, a Japanese literary researcher who is one or two generations younger than Keen, got to know Keen and exchanged e-mails after another translation award. There were nearly 50 reports from events happening around us to specialized literary theory.

“Because I was a renowned professor, I thought it was difficult to approach at first, but as I exchanged emails, Mr. Keane began to show me something I couldn't see anywhere else.”

Strong warning to Japan

I was surprised by Mr. Keen's candid email, and I received permission from Prof. Inoue, Mr. Keene, and Mr. Seimi, and showed me how to exchange emails.

Intimate email exchanges continued intermittently from 2012 to the end of 2014. Keen, who loved Japan, had a strong warning to Japan in the email she showed me this time.

“If the government sticks to the Olympics, it should open in Tohoku, not Tokyo” (January 14, 2014)

“Monthly magazines contain only articles on why Japanese dislike Koreans and why Koreans dislike Japanese” (February 13, 2014)

Peace that Keen was particular about

In the email, Mr. Keane emphasized Japan's peace. To Keen's eyes, the recent state of Japan seemed to undermine the peace that had been built after the war.

Furthermore, even though the constitutional amendment began to be a debate, I was disappointed with the situation in Japan indifferent to history and peace.

“Only two people have responded so far (constitution and my thoughts on the Olympics were published in the newspaper). Only acquaintances of former newspaper reporters and students. No miracle occurred” (January 16, 2014 )

“I don't want Japan to experience the suffering of war again. If the war happens again, it ’s the end of the volume.” (January 14, 2014)

Prof. Inoue: “Kean was very concerned about the war. It was hard to see Japan prospering after the war gradually forgetting the lessons of the war.”

Keen and the war

The background to Keen's thoughts on peace is the war experience of more than 70 years ago.

At that time, as a naval interpreter, studied Japanese and inspected Japanese soldiers. I also played a role in calling for surrender in the Battle of Okinawa. At this time, Keen, who knew the feelings of the Japanese from the soldier's diary, deepened his thoughts on peace with the Japanese.

Acquire Japanese nationality with special preparedness

Donald Keene moved to Japan in 2012, the year after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and acquired Japanese nationality. The kanji name “Ken Donald” was also shown and became a Japanese. I encouraged the Japanese who were suffering from the earthquake and nuclear accident.

Mr. Keane: “I was impressed that the Japanese were calm despite the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. I like the Japanese. I want to die as a Japanese.”

“You will only hear when you talk about your love for Japan”

However, Professor Inoue's testimony proved that there was another aspect in acquiring Japanese nationality.

Mr. Keane told Professor Inoue that he wanted to convey a message with the preparedness by giving opinions from the inside as a Japanese, not as a foreigner.

Prof. Inoue: “Kean has been talking about the good points of Japan for a long time, but now I have to say a little bit worse, but it is hard to say as an American. Instead of criticizing as a foreigner, I wanted to make a complaint as a Japanese. ''


"As you say, I just need to be able to communicate more, but I'm concerned that the Japanese will only listen when they talk about how I love Japan (January 14, 2014)

How do you accept Keen's message?

Prof. Inoue talks about Mr. Keane's current thoughts about Japan as follows:

“Kean has spoken many times that Japanese people must take Japanese literature more seriously because Japan is peaceful. Understand who the Japanese are and where they come from. I had to read literary works to do this, but I was sad that young people didn't read books very much, and Keen was very grateful to the Japanese people who made her career. The criticism of came from deep love. ''

Donald Keene said he took Japanese nationality with his preparedness to take responsibility as a Japanese. At that time, I was asked many times during the interview to see if we were able to respond to what we wanted to convey.

Finally, I will introduce two words from the email that Mr. Keane spelled.

“A masochistic Japanese asks,“ Why do you give your life to a country like Japan? ”, But sincerely say,“ Because there are Japanese people ”(February 26, 2014)

“Even if you are in a different position and way of thinking, you should be able to reach a solution if you speak.” (January 25, 2014)