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Campus Now

Midsummer Issue (Jul. 2013)

Message to the second century

Utilizing the strengths of university to approach healthcare for the elderly through a diverse partnership

Learning Japanese culture and cultivating foundation.
True global perspective lies ahead of it.

Donald Keene
Professor Emeritus of Columbia University, Scholar of Japanese literature

Keene moved to Japan permanently and acquired citizenship, as he “decided to live and die together with people” who were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. He finally became Japanese, “Kiin Donarudo”, in March 2012. We interviewed Keene, a scholar of Japanese literature and Japanese theater, concerning his connection with Waseda University and the globalization of Japan.

Mysterious connection with Waseda University

――We heard that you have a special affinity for Waseda University, as Ryusaku Tsunoda, a professor who gave strong impact on you at Colombia University, graduated from Waseda University. Please tell us your past interaction with Waseda University.

Waseda University and I have a mysterious connection. In 1940, when I was a student majoring in comparative literature at Columbia University, I took a course of Tsunoda, who graduated from Waseda University and studied under Shoyo Tsubouchi. He often told us of his experiences and his professors at Waseda. Therefore, I knew about Waseda more than any of the other universities in Japan and had an admiration. It was my honor to have received an honorary doctorate in 1998 and the Award for Distinguished Service to Art in 2012 from Waseda University. The only unfortunate thing is that Tsunoda could not make it to see me receiving such awards.

Tsunoda was specialized in Japanese intellectual history. In his class, he scribed the words of Japanese Confucian such as Sorai Ogyu and Jinsai Ito, who lived during the Tokugawa period, in classical Chinese texts and explained them. However, it was not easy for me to understand the Chinese characters and literal style language. As the course advanced, he understood my struggle and began teaching us in simple Japanese.

After World War II, I returned to Columbia University and learned many things from Tsunoda until he passed away.

――The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University boasts one of the world’s most prominent theatrical information materials, and Waseda University is one of the international hubs for theatrical study. We heard that you have specialized knowledge on the Japanese traditional performing art and close relations with the University’s theatrical arts professors.

At the award ceremony of the Award for Distinguished Service to Art (2012)
From the left, Bunzo Torigoe, Keene, and President Kaoru Kamata

I believe that the Theatre Museum of Waseda University has the largest number of books concerning theatrical arts. I have used it many times, and everyone kindly helped me find the needed materials. I have never seen a museum that has so many old materials on Japanese culture that I am looking for.

While I was studying at Kyoto University, I visited the Theatre Museum for the first time. I had an opportunity to come to Tokyo, and I came to Waseda at once. At that time, Director Shigetoshi Kawatake gave me the “History of Japanese Theater” in leather cover, and my interaction with professors of theatrical art at Waseda University such as Masakatsu Gunji and Toshio Kawatake began. I have an especially close relationship with Bunzo Torigoe. As I had connection with Cambridge University from my teaching experience there, I recommended him to them as a Japanese lecturer. During his stay in Cambridge, Torigoe found Japanese theatrical arts books that do not exist in Japan in the British Museum and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. One of them was performed in 2009 as a classic Joruri “Echigonokuni Kashiwazaki Kochihoingodenki” after it was originally written 300 years ago.

On a slightly different note, I think I am the first person who translated Joruri of Chikamatsu Monzaemon into English. This has helped Japanese literature to be known widely in the Western world. After I translated a drama of Yukio Mishima, I was asked by a British theater director to work with him for the performance of “Madame de Sade”, and it had a great success in 2009. I find joy and fulfillment in my work of research and translation as it spreads the culture of Japan to the world.

Understanding the culture of one’s own country builds a global perspective.

――Waseda University is focusing on the cultivation of global professionals. How do you think about the globalization of Japan?

The meaning of globalization Japanese say includes an element of being able to speak a foreign language. However, once Japanese people go overseas, they tend to gather among Japanese, shying away from foreigners. Even if they can understand a foreign language or no matter how much they know about, for example, the history of the British royal family, it does not mean that they are truly global. They must first learn a very simple fact: Foreigners are all the same human beings. And they should learn more about the Japanese culture. I feel that those who do not know about their own country’s culture are dull as if they do not belong to any country. There are many people in foreign countries who are interested in Japanese culture such as Kabuki. During a conversation with them, if they find that you do not know much about your own culture, they will have a lower opinion of you.

Modern Japanese students often seem as if they are not interested in Japanese literature. I love Japanese literature, and it makes me very sad that many Japanese are not paying attention to it. It seems to me that some people want to have an international understanding based on the sacrifice of the opportunities to learn about Japanese culture such as literature, theater plays, music and art. It is a misconception. In the real world, only a limited number of people use the specialized “international” knowledge such as international economics and international politics. I believe they should rather read Basho Matsuo.

――In your opinion, what should students do to acquire a global perspective?

As a scholar of Japanese literature, I would say that they should learn about the culture of Japan and build the knowledge that will become their foundation. They just need to build up their world culture on top of it. I believe that is globalization in a true sense. These days, Japanese culture is often highly valued overseas. For example, “The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari)”, which triggered my pursuit to study Japanese literature, is translated in various languages and loved by people around the world. I hope Japanese people also enjoy it as a novel. If the original language is difficult, the modern Japanese version is also available. Teachers should also provide not just the grammatical explanations to prepare for examinations but also teach the students pleasure of literary works, for example, by asking the students about their impressions on Murasaki (Murasaki no ue) and Lady Rokujo (Rokujo Miyasudokoro). Otherwise, it will not be culture and it will be useless.

It is only during the school days including high school days when people can intensively read books. I hope students will read classical literature to deepen their scholarship. For example, it is ideal that they read Shakespeare based on the understanding of Chikamatsu Monzaemon and think of common and different points between them. Some people may feel that they have knowledge on foreign culture just by watching foreign plays or movies. However, that is not academic learning. A good study should be difficult and requires thinking with one’s own brain. Fortunately, Japanese literature study is an active area of research at Waseda. I hope the scholars continue their research and disseminate their study results to the world.

――At last, please tell us your future dreams.

I am blessed. I could meet with wonderful Japanese friends and have a healthy life even at the age of 90. My work is recognized, and I received various awards. Therefore, I am not giving too much thought about my future. Anyway, my immediate goal is to complete the study of Takuboku Ishikawa that I am currently working on. I want to uncover his mysteries such as, as a person who was born in a country side of North Eastern Japan, how he reached his thought that can be still applicable to modern times, where he obtained his affluent Japanese vocabulary and ability to read English, and how he could judge the quality of paintings without hesitation.

Donald Keene
Professor Emeritus of Columbia University, Scholar of Japanese literature

Born in New York in 1922. A scholar of Japanese literature and culture and literary critic as well as Professor Emeritus of Columbia University. Entered into Columbia University at the age of 16. In 1940, came across “The Tale of Genji” translated by Arthur Waley, which triggered him to study Japanese literature. During World War II, learned Japanese at the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School and served as an official interpreter. During and after the War, studied at Columbia University and earned a doctoral degree. After studying at Cambridge University, came to Japan in 1953 to study at Kyoto University. After returning to the USA, taught Japanese literature at Columbia University. Created opportunities to enhance international reputation of Japanese literature as he translated classical Japanese literature into English and introduced it to the world. Became a Person of Cultural Merit in 2004 and received the Order of Culture in 2008.

“Donald Keene Exhibition”, an exhibition to commemorate the Distinguished Service to Art Award, Waseda University.

From May 21st to August 4th, the “Donald Keene Exhibition” was held in the Special Exhibition Room in honor of Nakamura Utaemon VI on the first floor of the Theatre Museum.
Please refer to “Holding exhibitions on art and history”