Mr. Donald Keene, a prominent scholar of Japanese literature and Columbia University professor, has decided to make Japan his permanent home and has begun the process of becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen, it was reported last week. In an interview with NHK, the 88-year-old Japanologist said that now that Japan has suffered tremendously from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, he would like to express his “faith” (shinnen) in Japan, which he stated he loves. He went on to say, “I married a woman called Japan.”
Mr. Keene has a residence in Tokyo and spends about half a year annually in Japan. His decision to become a Japanese citizen is an expression of the strong solidarity he shares with the Japanese people at a most difficult time — especially with those in northeastern Japan who have lost their loved ones, property or communities in the disasters, and those who are living in the shadow of the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. His decision should give every Japanese citizen a feeling of joy and encouragement, especially because so many foreigners left Japan in the wake of the disasters.
Mr. Keene read “The Tale of Genji” in translation while at Columbia, studied Japanese in the U.S. Navy and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific region during World War II. After the war, he studied Japanese literature at Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge and Kyoto universities. Japanese authors he translated include Yoshida Kenko, Matsuo Basho and Yukio Mishima. He also wrote many books, including “Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan.” He received Japan’s Order of Culture in 2008.
For their part, Japanese should take a cue from Mr. Keene’s love for Japan by developing a greater appreciation of Japanese culture and tradition (without becoming insular), making efforts to protect Japan’s natural environment and building a society in which the socially weak are never abandoned.