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  • Donald Keene Center opens in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture. His life and library can be seen, for a price.

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on October 23rd, 2013

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    Hi Blog.  Saw this interesting poster in, of all places, an elevator in Narita Airport last September:


    Yes, that’s our Donald Keene, currently aged 91, whose center last September 21 was opened up in Kashiwazaki (for those who unfamiliar with that part of Niigata Prefecture, K-town is in between Nagaoka and Joetsu; nice beach) in order to transmit “the excellence of Japanese literature” (watashi wa ninon bungaku no subarashisa o tsutaetai).

    This is an important event, as it counts as an established NJ legacy on the scale of Edwin Dun and of course Lafcadio Hearn/Koizumi Yakumo (both of whom have their lives immortalized in building form).

    Now, where has taken issue with Keene is with not with his scholarship or contributions to the field of Japanese studies (indeed admirable), but with his naturalization while publicly denigrating NJ.  As chronicled here and in the Japan Times, he himself made a big fuss about how he was becoming a Japanese citizen for selfless reasons, e.g., to “become one of them“, to show “solidarity with the Japanese people” in their time of great need, so that he might help victims of the Tohoku Disasters in some way.

    Fine.  But he also threw in all sorts of irrelevancies and nastiness, such as making himself out to be morally superior to other NJ residents (contrasting himself with those allegedly fleeing Japan like the mythical “Flyjin”, mentioning how he wasn’t committing crimes like they were — despite actual NJ crime trends).  It was a poor show of social science by a trained researcher.

    If he’s going to be mean, then he’s going to have his record scrutinized like everyone else.  So, despite his promises to “contribute to areas affected by the [Tohoku] disaster“, by now what has he done?  Put his Donald Keene Center in Tohoku to attract tourists?  Sorry, Kashiwazaki is quite far away from the disaster areas, and the Donald Keene Center website doesn’t even mention the events in Tohoku as any form of motivation.  Visited Tohoku like other NJ to help out with relief efforts?  Well, according to his English Wikipedia entry, he gave a speech in Sendai; thanks, but…  Or opening up his library for free to the public?  No, sorry, that’s not how business is done:


    Not sure where profits are going.  Again, no mention of contribution to disaster relief on the Center’s website.

    And of course, there is one very big contribution to Japan he could still yet make.  One very big open secret about douseiaisha in Japan is that even if they can’t get officially married (due to Japan’s koseki system), they can still adopt one another and establish inheritance rights.  That’s precisely what Keene did by naturalizing, getting his own koseki, and then adding his partner to it.  So in this worldwide wave of tolerance/reactionary intolerance towards gay marriage, gay rights is another issue Keene could use his influence to raise awareness about (and before you say he’s too old to do so, consider George Takei).  But no.

    Again, these are all a person’s life choices, and I will respect Keene’s.  Except for the fact that he doesn’t respect others’ life choices (he should read “Yes I Can” by Sammy Davis Jr., and learn something about not denigrating other minorities in his position to advance himself, and then pulling up ladders of opportunity behind him). He doesn’t seem to be keeping his public promises.  His pandering to stereotypes about NJ, plus public gestures of self-hugging while making a show of his apparent self-sacrifices, are disingenuous upon closer inspection.

    I’m not in the habit of paraphrasing Depeche Mode (I’m famously a proud fan of Duran Duran), but maybe it’s time to start.  A stanza of “Everything Counts” applies here:

    “All for himself, after all.”

    That is not the best legacy for immigrants and former NJ to leave behind.  Arudou Debito

    4 Responses to “Donald Keene Center opens in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture. His life and library can be seen, for a price.”

    1. Bob Says:

      Not sure how I feel about criticizing foreigners in retaliation for their criticizing foreigners. Isn’t the right thing to do, to say “Now Donald, that wasn’t very nice” and then move on to focus on the good? If we accept the premise, that is, that we are morally obliged to engage in free love among foreigners on the grounds that we are part of the same in-group.

      The other day I was in the police station for a lost item and the policeman pulled out a kanji one would need to write on a form that he said most Japanese people can’t write, which is why he keeps a printout of it at the desk he is at. “If you can write this one without looking at it, you’d be about the level of Donald Keene,” he quipped. Congratulations to Donald Keene and all of his accomplishments in life and literature, and for the awareness he has brought to Japanese people that foreigners can learn Japanese too.

      – Yes. But Keene clearly did this while denigrating others, in public. He made some very serious research mistakes, and hasn’t owned up to them. So others may focus on the good (and I have acknowledged the good as well), but I will remind people that he has some outstanding amends he needs to make before the clock runs out.

    2. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I know he opened his public library in the north Tokyo last year. So, he’s planning to extend his careen windshield elsewhere in Japan under the name of “public fund-raising entity. Sounds like private philanthropy business to me. Oh, here’s the best quote from his role model(Ayn Rand)’s SF epic. I can give to describe what kind of person he is.

      “Mr. Keene, what is it that the foulest bastards on earth denounce us for, among other things? Oh yes, for our motto of ‘Business as usual.’ Well—business as usual, Mr. Keene!”

      -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, Ch. 7(Mr. Keene is impersonating Mr. Ward :D )

      – Not sure I get the quote.

    3. Jim Di Griz Says:

      ‘he should read “Yes I Can” by Sammy Davis Jr., and learn something about not denigrating other minorities in his position to advance himself, and then pulling up ladders of opportunity behind him’.

      On that basis, shouldn’t he be the subject of a biography titled ‘No You Can’t’?
      After all, I can only assume that months of trying to get Tokyo University (or some such) to build a lovely new ‘Donald Keene Wing’ for their library to house his (donated at a price perhaps?) books fell through.

      I guess that Don’s ‘pay-per-view’ library (and the profits from the pockets of visitors- would love to see which universities are lining up to enforce compulsory trips for certain classes BTW) will be an inheritable cash cow?

      Shouldn’t Don have made a true altruistic gesture to the country he feels he is a part of ‘in his heart’, by donating his library to whatever university was most badly damaged by the tsunami or something? It seems a bit lame for an academic to charge people to see his book collection. Is there a ‘no touching’ rule?

    4. Jon Says:

      Sounds like a wonderful new library, and I wish Donald Keene all the best.

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