The late Donald Richie lived at apartment number 804 in a block directly facing Shinobazu Pond in Tokyo's Ueno Park. The writer would lead visitors through his home's dimly lit entrance area — crammed with bookshelves — and his minuscule living room to the balcony, beneath which a vast lotus pond spread out, in his words, like a "sacred mandala." The process, no doubt repeated with many visitors, was the closest the modest Richie ever came to a flourish.

Today marks the anniversary of the American writer's birth in 1924. It seems an opportune moment to assess the legacy of his work and its prospects of enduring.

Inseparable from Richie's value as a writer is the sheer fact that he lived in Japan for so long — more than 60 years. Unlike many others who wrote about Japan and then decamped, he entrenched himself here, and in the process bore witness to unimaginable changes.