Donald Lawrence Keene, a famed American scholar who has specialized in Japanese literature all his life, visited a cultural facility in Niigata prefecture recently to view an exhibition of his writings and other related works – some of which he said went back so far that they had slipped from his memory. Keene is a “Japanologist” – that is, a scholar who has devoted his career in studying Japan’s language, culture, history, and literature – who has published around 25 books in English on Japanese topics, including both studies of Japanese literature and culture and translations of Japanese classical and modern literature. Keene has also published about 30 books in Japanese (some translated from English).
The Donald Keene exhibition at the Saito Family Summer Villa (Kyu Saitoke Bettei) in Niigata features around 200 of the scholars documents and works, including an English translation of “The Tale of Genji” that inspired Keene to start researching Japanese literature at the age of 18 and writings relating to dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon and haiku master Matsuo Basho. It also features items such as fans and hanging scrolls that Keene collected over the years, among other artworks.
Keene, already 91 years of age, appeared delighted with the exhibition of his works that spanned decades and transcended national borders. “There are even some items I can’t remember, but the works are displayed well,” he said. Recently, the scholar was in the news because of an “adult adoption” – a practice fairly common in Japan – that Keene made. He had adopted a 62 year old musician – Seiki Uehara, who was a shamisen player in the Bunraku-za puppet theater. The exhibition of Keene’s works, sponsored by organizations including a Donald Keene research group in Niigata, runs through Dec. 15.