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  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

Memorial Forum held for Prof. Donald Keene

(Japanese translation below)

By Hikari Tanaka

On Thursday, October 10, there was a memorial forum for Professor Donald Keene at Sapporo University, which was held by both Sapporo University and Hokkaido International School.

Professor Keene was a scholar of Japanese Literature at the University of Columbia and played an important role as a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world. Moreover, he acquired Japanese citizenship to live the rest of his life as a Japanese, though he was originally from the U.S. He passed away at the age of 96 on June 18, 2019.

“He was a serious minded, unassuming person when I read through some of his books,” said Barry Ratzliff, Dean of Hokkaido International School. “While he was modest and hard-working, I found that he was talkative and inquisitive as well.” Another speaker, Professor Shoji Mitarai of Sapporo University talked about Keene’s life while showing pictures and information in a slide presentation. One thing that Prof. Mitarai said was that Professor Keene had a wide circle of friends. For example, he made friends with Kobo Abe, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima and other famous Japanese novelists.

Keene first became interested in Japanese culture and literature when he found an ancient Japanese book called The Story of Genji, which had already been translated from Japanese into English by Arthur D. Waley. After reading the book he decided to study Japanese culture and literature. In 1953, he finally went abroad to Kyoto University, Japan for a year, and after returning to the U.S., he became an assistant professor at the University of Columbia and then later became a professor of the university.

Keene had a humorous personality as well. There is a good example showing his funny side. When he acquired Japanese citizenship, he needed a Japanese name. He came up with a unique name to make people laugh, according to The Sankei News. The unique name is written by using the Kanji 鬼怒鳴門, which is read as Keene Donald, not Donald Keene, because Japanese names should be read by the order of the last name first. The Kanji means “demon-angry-sound-gate.” It looks pretty weird but it was his favorite name.

When the forum finished, students who had come from Hokkaido International School had a discussion with Sapporo University students. The topic of the discussion was “What would you do to be a bridge to the world like Professor Keene?” The students split into teams and discussed the topic sharing their thoughts and opinions. At the end of the discussion, representatives from each team shared their unique and interesting ideas in front of everyone. After the discussion, they had a good time enjoying some refreshments like sandwiches and cakes.


田中 日香里

札幌大学と北海道インターナショナルスクールの共催による「追悼記念フォーラム 日本文化と文学を世界に伝えたドナルド・キーン」が、10月10日木曜日に札幌大学で開催された。キーン教授はコロンビア大学で日本文学者として教鞭をとる傍ら、日本の文学や文化を世界に広めるため、“橋渡し”的な存在としての役割も果たした。さらに、キーン教授は元々アメリカで生まれ育ったのにもかかわらず、晩年は日本人として過ごしたいと願い2011年の東日本大震災後に日本に移り住み、その後2019年6月18日に96歳でこの世を去った。






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