I saw a news report that Donald Keene had been granted Japanese citizenship, and thought I’d write a bit on that topic. Dr. Keene has definitely been one of the more interesting Japan-bilingual foreigners during the 20th century, and he’s led an amazing life. A university student fascinated with Japan and kanji characters in 1938, after Pearl Harbor he joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to China to serve as an intelligence officer, translating diaries of Japanese soldiers, which made him aware of the human side of the enemy. In the 1950s Japan’s literary world began flourishing, and Dr. Keene was able to help it gain popularity in the West by translating some of the most important works into English while hanging out with the likes of Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata and Dazai Osamu. In the aftermath of the terrible earthquake last March 11, Dr. Keene announced his intention to immigrate to Japan forever, a fitting final chapter to an amazing career with Japan.
Donald Keene has been a friend to Japan for six decades.