It feels as if I now have a truly great man for a relative. Japanologist Donald Keene, 89, has finally become a Japanese citizen.
I understand that it was during his hospitalization last year that he set his mind on making Japan his permanent home and acquiring Japanese citizenship, and that his decision was rendered absolute by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11. His advice on our country's post-disaster reconstruction effort should prove invaluable.
We are born with our sex, name, ethnicity and nationality, and need really unavoidable reasons for wanting to change any of them. In some cases, it can be a matter of personal integrity. But it is definitely not a decision that can be made lightly out of self-interest or mere likes or dislikes.
In Keene's case, I think his choosing to become a Japanese citizen was an expression of a most profound love of Japan.
His love affair with Japan began when he read an English translation of "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji) at the age of 18. During the Pacific War, Keene served as a Japanese translator for the U.S. military. After the war, he studied at the Kyoto University, went on to associate with Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima, and was awarded the Order of Culture. I can see the "red thread of destiny" that brought Keene and Japan together.
"I don't think there has been one day since I was 18 years old or 19 years old that I hadn't thought about Japan in one way or another," he once noted. He also said: "I didn't choose Japan. Japan chose me," and voiced his desire to become "just an ordinary Japanese." Everything Keene says about Japan reflects his deep intelligence and feelings.
Twenty years ago, I had an occasion to sit next to him at someone's New Year's party. He was such a delightful conversationalist as we chatted about New Year's holiday food and other things, that I missed the chance to ask him questions about literature.
Obviously a fun-loving person, the kanji characters Keene has chosen for his Japanese name—Kiin Donarudo—mean "roaring demon." The image definitely does not match his looks and persona, but it is actually rather like him to choose something incongruous like that.
After the March disaster, there was an exodus of foreigners from Japan. But the one person who really belongs here has come to us just at the right time, pushing his way against the fleeing horde.
In the next world, Murasaki Shikibu, Matsuo Basho, Kawabata and Mishima must be taking a break from their writing now and rejoicing over the change Keene has made in the 90th year of his life.
Welcome, Mr. Keene.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 10
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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