Donald Keene
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Donald Keene
Donald Keene
Donald Keene.jpg
Donald Keene in his Tokyo home in 2002.
Donald Lawrence Keene

(1922-06-18)June 18, 1922
New York City, United States
DiedFebruary 24, 2019(2019-02-24) (aged 96)

Donald Lawrence Keene (June 18, 1922 - February 24, 2019) was an American-born Japanese scholar, historian, teacher, writer and translator of Japanese literature.[1][2] Keene was University Professor Emeritus and Shincho Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, where he taught for over fifty years. Soon after the 2011 T?hoku earthquake and tsunami, he retired from Columbia, moved to Japan permanently, and acquired citizenship under the name K?n Donarudo ( ?, "Donald Keene" in the Japanese name order).[3] This was also his poetic nom de plume (, gag?) and occasional nickname, spelled in the ateji form ?.[4][a]


Keene received a Bachelor's degree from Columbia University in 1942. He studied the Japanese language at the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School in Boulder, Colorado and in Berkeley, California,[5] and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific region during World War II.[3] Upon his discharge from the US Navy, he returned to Columbia where he earned a master's degree in 1947.

Keene studied for a year at Harvard University before transferring to Cambridge University where he earned a second master's and became a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge from 1948-1954, and a University Lecturer from 1949-1955. In the interim, in 1953,[6] he also studied at Kyoto University, and earned a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1949. Keene credits Ry?saku Tsunoda as a mentor during this period.[7]

While studying in the East Asian library at Columbia, a man whom Keene did not know invited him to dinner at the Chinese restaurant where Keene and Lee, a Chinese-American Columbia graduate student, ate every day. The man's name was Jack Kerr, and he had lived in Japan for several years and taught English in Taiwan. Kerr invited Keene to study Japanese in the summer to learn Japanese from a student he taught in Taiwan, for Kerr to have competition when learning Japanese. Their tutor was Inomata Tadashi, and they were taught elementary spoken Japanese and kanji.

While staying at Cambridge, after winning a fellowship for Americans to study in England, Keene went to meet Arthur Waley who was best known for his translation work in classical Chinese and Japanese literature. For Keene, Waley's translation of Chinese and Japanese literature was inspiring, even arousing in Keene the thought of becoming a second Waley.


Keene was a Japanologist who published about 25 books in English on Japanese topics, including both studies of Japanese literature and culture and translations of Japanese classical and modern literature, including a four-volume history of Japanese literature which has become the standard work.[8] Keene also published about 30 books in Japanese, some of which have been translated from English. He was president of the Donald Keene Foundation for Japanese Culture.

Soon after the 2011 T?hoku earthquake and tsunami, Keene retired from Columbia and moved to Japan with the intention of living out the remainder of his life there. He acquired Japanese citizenship, adopting the legal name K?n Donarudo ( ?). This required him to relinquish his American citizenship, as Japan does not permit dual citizenship.[3]

Keene was well known and respected in Japan[9] and his relocation there following the earthquake was widely lauded.[8]

On February 24, 2019, Keene died of cardiac arrest in Tokyo, aged 96.[10]

Personal life

Although Keene was not married, in 2013 he adopted shamisen player Seiki Uehara as a son.[11]

Selected works

In an overview of writings by and about Keene, OCLC/WorldCat lists roughly 600+ works in 1,400+ publications in 16 languages and 39,000+ library holdings.[12]

These lists are not finished; you can help resource by adding to them.

Works in English

Original Publication Translation(s)
The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu's Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance (Taylor's Foreign Pr, 1951)
The Japanese Discovery of Europe: Honda Toshiaki and other discoverers 1720-1952 (Routledge and K. Paul, 1952) (, 1957). Jp trans. & ?

nihonjin no seiyou hakken (?, 1968). Jp trans. ? [?trans of 2nd ed]

Japanese Literature an Introduction for Western Readers (Grove Pr, June 1, 1955)
Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology (Grove Pr, June 1, 1956)
Living Japan (Doubleday, 1959) ? (, 1973). Jp trans. &

ikiteiru nihon Revised edition published as ? (?, 2002). Jp trans. ? [?mistake. ?Separate work]

Major Plays of Chikamatsu (Columbia University Press, January 1, 1961)
Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu (Columbia University Press, June 1, 1961)
Donald Keene, Kaneko Hiroshi (photography) & Jun'ichir? Tanizaki (introduction), Bunraku: The Art of the Japanese Puppet Theatre (kodansha International, 1965) (, 1966). Jp trans. ?


Japanese Discovery of Europe, 1720-1830. Revised/2nd ed. (Stanford University Press, June 1, 1969)
The Manyoushu (Columbia University Press, 1969)
Twenty Plays of the Noh Theatre (Columbia University Press, June 1, 1970)
War-Wasted Asia: letters, 1945-46 (Kodansha International, 1975) ? (, 2006). Jp trans. ?.

kinou no senchi kara

World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867 (Henry Holt & Co, October 1, 1976)

Second book in the "A History of Japanese Literature" series

, 2 vols. (, 1976-77). Jp trans.

nihon bungakushi kinseihen

Landscapes and Portraits: Appreciations of Japanese culture (Kodansha International, 1978)
Meeting with Japan (, 1979) ? (, 1972). Jp trans.

nihon tono deai

Some Japanese Portraits (Kodansha Amer Inc, March 1, 1978/9) (?, 1975). Jp trans.

nihon bungaku sanpo

Travels in Japan (Gakuseisha, 1981) ? (, 1980). Jp trans. 


Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era; Fiction (Holt Rinehart & Winston, April 1, 1984)

Third book in the "A History of Japanese Literature" series

* Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era; Poetry, Drama, Criticism (Holt Rinehart & Winston, April 1, 1984)

Fourth book in the "A History of Japanese Literature" series

Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era (Henry Holt & Co, September 1, 1987)
The Pleasures of Japanese Literature (Columbia University Press, October 1, 1988; ISBN 0-231-06736-4) (JICC, 1992). Jp trans.

koten no tanoshimi Later published by , 2000.

Donald Keene with Herbert E. Plutschow, Introducing Kyoto (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1989)
Travelers of a Hundred Ages: The Japanese As Revealed Through 1,000 Years of Diaries (Diane Pub Co, June 1, 1989) (?, 1984 and 1988). Jp trans. ?

hyakudai no kakaku: nikkini miru nihonjin Later published by Asahi, 2011 and 2012. [?trans of revised edition]

Modern Japanese Novels and the West (Umi Research Pr, July 1, 1989)
No and Bunraku: Two Forms of Japanese Theatre (Columbia University Press, December 1, 1990) (, 2001). Jp trans. & ?

noh, bunraku, kabuki

Appreciations of Japanese Culture (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1991)
Donald Keene with Ooka Makoto, The Colors of Poetry: Essays in Classic Japanese Verse (Katydid Books, May 1, 1991)
Travelers of a Hundred Ages (Henry Holt & Co, August 1, 1992)
Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century (Henry Holt & Co, June 1, 1993)

First book in the "A History of Japanese Literature" series

On Familiar Terms: A Journey Across Cultures (Kodansha Amer Inc, January 1, 1994)

Reworking of the 1990-1992 Japanese newspaper column.

(?, 1993). Jp trans.

kono hitosuji ni tsunagarite

Modern Japanese Diaries: The Japanese at Home and Abroad As Revealed Through Their Diaries (Henry Holt & Co, March 1, 1995)

Later published by Columbia University Press, 1999 [?revised edition] Japanese edition published first.

The Blue-Eyed Tarokaja: A Donald Keene Anthology (Columbia University Press, June 1, 1996). Editor. J. Thomas Rimer

aoi me no taroukaja

On Familiar Terms: To Japan and Back, a Lifetime Across Cultures (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1996)
- Living in Two Countries (Kodansha International, 1999). Jp trans.

English and Japanese bilingual text

Donald Keene with Anne Nishimura & Frederic A. Sharf, Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Woodblock Prints from the Meija Era, 1868-1912 (Museum of Fine Arts Boston, May 1, 2001)
Sources of Japanese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600 compiled by Donalde Keen, Wm. Theodore De Bary, George Tanabe and Paul Varley (Columbia University Press, May 1, 2001)
Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 (Columbia University Press, April 1, 2002) ? (, 2001). Jp trans. .

meiji tennou Also published in 4 volumes, 2007.

Donald Keene with Lee Bruschke-Johnson & Ann Yonemura, Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints from the Anne Van Biema Collection (University of Washington Pr, September 1, 2002)
Five Modern Japanese Novelists (Columbia University Press, December 1, 2002) - (, 2005). Jp trans. ?

omoide no sakkatachi: Tanizaki, Kawabata, Mishima, Abe, Shiba

Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion: The Creation of the Soul of Japan (Columbia University Press, November 1, 2003) (, 2008). Jp trans. .

Yoshimasa to ginkakuji

Frog In The Well: Portraits of Japan by Watanabe Kazan 1793-1841 (Asia Perspectives),(Columbia Univ. Press, 2006) ? (, 2007). Jp trans.

Watanabe Kazan

Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan. (Columbia University Press, 2008) 20 (, 2007)

watashi to 20 seiki no kuronikaru Later published as ? (, 2011). Jp trans. ? Un Occidental En Japon (Nocturna Ediciones, 2011). Es trans. José Pazó Espinosa

So Lovely A Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers (Columbia University Press, 2010) ? (?, 2009). Jp trans. ?

nihonjin no sensou: sakka no nikki wo yomu

The Winter Sun Shines In: A Life of Masaoka Shiki (Columbia University Press, 2013) ? (, 2012). Jp trans.

Masaoka Shiki

Works in Japanese

(?, 1963). Jp trans. ?


(, 1972)

nihon no sakka

Kobo Abe and Donald Keene, (?,1973)

hangekiteki ningen. In conversation with Kobo Abe

Ooka Shouhei and Donald Keene, ? (, 1973)

higashi to nishi no haza made'. In conversation with Ooka Shouhei

Tokuoka Takao and Donald Keene, ? ? (, 1973)
. Column in Asahi Weekly ?, 8th Jan 1957 - 26th Sept 1975

Donarudo Kiin no nihonbungaku sanpo

(, 1977)

Later published as watashi no sukina rekoodo

? (?, 1977)

nihonbungaku wo yomu

(, 1979)

nihongo no miryoku. A collection of conversation.

(, 1979) [?trans]

nihon wo rikaisuru made

(?, 1979)

nihonbungaku no nakahe

(, 1980). Jp trans. .

ongaku no deai to yorokobi Later published by 1992.

? (, 1981) Jp trans.

tsuisaki no utagoe

(, 1981)

watashi no nihonbungaku shouyou

(?, 1983)

nihonjin no shitsumon

. Column in the Asahi Evening News, 4th Jul 1983 - 13th Apr 1984.

hyakudai no kakaku: nikki nimiru nihonjin

Ryotaro Shiba and Donald Keene, (?, 1972, 1984)

nihonjin to nihonbunka: conversations with Ryotaro Shiba Later published as ? (, 1992) sakai no naka no nihon: juurokuseiki made sakanobattemiru. In conversation with Ryotaro Shiba.

(, 1986)

sukoshi mimi no itakunaru hanashi

(Asahi, 1987) [?trans. ]

futatsu no bokoku ni ikite [Living in two countries]

. Column in the Asahi Evening News, 7th Jan 1990 - 9th Feb 1992.

kono hitosushi ni tsunagarite

(?, 1990)

koden wo tanoshimu: watashi no nihonbungaku

? (?, 1990)

nihonjin no biishiki

? ? (Asahi, 1992)

koe no nokori: watashi no bundankouyuuroku [Remaining voices: Record of my literary circle]

Yukio Mishima & Donald Keene (editor), ? 97? (, 1998)

Mishima Yukio mihappyoushokan 97 letters addressed to Donald Keene

(?, 2000) [?trans]

nihongo no bi [The beauty of Japanese]

? (?, 2003).

meijiennnou wo kataru [Stories of the Emperor Meiji]. Based on a series of lectures.

(?, 2003)

nihonbungaku ha sekai no kakebashi

Jakucho Setouchi, Donald Keene & Shunsuke Tsurumi, ? ? (?, 2004)

doujidai wo ikite wasureenu hitobito

? (, 2005/2010)

watashi no daijina basho

(?15?)(, 2011)

donarudo kiin chosakushou (zen-15gan). The collected works of Donald Keene (15 volumes) [excluding The history of Japanese literature]

Donald Keene & Koike Masayuki, (?, 2011)

senjou no Eroica shinfonii: watashi ga keikenshita nichibeiikusa

Donald Keene and Setouchi Jakuchou, ? (, 2012)
- (PHP, 2013)

watashi ga nihonjin ni natta riyuu - nihongo ni miserarete

Translation of the History of Japanese literature series


  • History of Japanese literature: Modern era, published in 8 volumes, (, 1984-1992). Jp trans. ?, ? & ?
  • History of Japanese literature, including modern era and pre-modern era, published in 18 volumes (, 1994-1997). Jp trans for Pre-modern
  • History of Japanese literature: Modern era, published in 9 volumes, 2011-2012 (, 2011-2012). Editor.


Includes critical commentary

  • Yoshida Kenk?, Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko (Columbia University Press, June 1, 1967)
  • Mishima Yukio, Five Modern Noh Plays - Including: Madame de Sade (Tuttle, 1967)
  • Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers, a Puppet Play (Columbia University Press, April 1, 1971)
  • Mishima Yukio, After the Banquet (Random House Inc, January 1, 1973)
  • Abe Kobo The man who turned into a stick: three related plays (Columbia University Press, 1975). Original text published by Tokyo University Press.
  • Dazai Osamu, The Setting Sun (Tuttle, 1981)
  •  , The tale of the shining Princess (Metropolitan Museum of Art and Viking Press, 1981)
  • Abe Kobo, Friends: a play (Tuttle, 1986)
  • Abe Kobo, Three Plays (Columbia University Press, February 1, 1997)
  • Matsuo Bash?, The Narrow Road to Oku (Kodansha Amer Inc, April 1, 1997)
  • Kawabata Yasunari, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Kodansha Amer Inc, September 1, 1998)
  • Yamamoto Yuzo, One Hundred Sacks of Rice: A Stage Play (Nagaoka City Kome Hyappyo Foundation, 1998)
  • Miyata Masayuki (illustrations), Donald Keene (essay), H. Mack Horton [En trans], ? - The Tale of Genji (Kodansha International, 2001). Bilingual illustrated text with essay.
  • Donald Keene & Oda Makoto, The Breaking Jewel, Keene, Donald (trans) (Columbia University Press, March 1, 2003)


  • Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Grove Pr, March 1, 1960)
  • The Old Woman, the Wife, and the Archer: Three Modern Japanese Short Novels (Viking Press, 1961)
  • Anthology of Chinese Literature: From the 14th Century to the Present Day (co-editor with Cyril Birch) (Grove Pr, June 1, 1987)
  • Love Songs from the Man'Yoshu (Kodansha Amer Inc, August 1, 2000)
  • Modern Japanese Literature from 1868 to the Present Day (Grove Pr, January 31, 1994)

Honorary degrees

Keene was awarded various honorary doctorates, from:

Awards and commendations

  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 1961
  • Kikuchi Kan Prize (Kikuchi Kan Sh? Society for the Advancement of Japanese Culture), 1962.[13]
  • Van Ameringen Distinguished Book Award, 1967
  • Kokusai Shuppan Bunka Sh? Taish?, 1969
  • Kokusai Shuppan Bunka Sh?, 1971
  • Yamagata Banto Prize (Yamagata Bant? Sh?), 1983
  • The Japan Foundation Award (Kokusai K?ry? Kikin Sh?), 1983
  • Yomiuri Literary Prize (Yomiuri Bungaku Sh?), 1985 (Keene was the first non-Japanese to receive this prize, for a book of literary criticism (Travellers of a Hundred Ages) in Japanese)
  • Award for Excellence (Graduate Faculties Alumni of Columbia University), 1985
  • Nihon Bungaku Taish?, 1985
  • Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University named in Keene's honour, 1986
  • T?ky?-to Bunka Sh?, 1987
  • NBCC (The National Book Critics Circle) Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement in Publishing, 1990
  • The Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (Fukuoka Ajia Bunka Sh?), 1991
  • Nihon H?s? Ky?kai (NHK) H?s? Bunka Sh?, 1993
  • Inoue Yasushi Bunka Sh? (Inoue Yasushi Kinen Bunka Zaidan), 1995
  • The Distinguished Achievement Award (from The Tokyo American Club) (for the lifetime achievements and unique contribution to international relations), 1995
  • Award of Honor (from The Japan Society of Northern California), 1996
  • Asahi Prize, 1997
  • Mainichi Shuppan Bunka Sh? (The Mainichi Newspapers), 2002
  • The PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, 2003
  • Ango Award (from Niigata, Niigata), 2010

National honors and decorations



  • Person of Cultural Merit (Bunka K?r?sha) (Japanese Government), 2002 (Keene was the third non-Japanese person to be designated "an individual of distinguished cultural service" by the Japanese government)
  • Freedom of (meiyo kumin) Kita ward, Tokyo, 2006


  1. ^ Glossed as ()() or k?n do narudo; is usually pronounced kinu, as in Kinugawa River, and as naruto, as in the Naruto Strait, which are both well-known place names, yielding the reading kinu naruto. A further twist is that ? can also be read as do, corresponding to the Do- in Donald.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "Japanese literature scholar Donald Keene dies at 96". The Japan Times. Tokyo. February 24, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Fackler, Martin (November 2, 2012). "Lifelong Scholar of the Japanese Becomes One of Them". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2014-11-10.
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Cary, Otis and Donald Keene. War-wasted Asia: Letters, 1945-46. Kodansha International, 1975. ISBN 9780870112577 p13
  6. ^ Donald Keene. "Donald Keene reflects on 70-year Japan experience" Japan Times. January 1, 2015
  7. ^ Arita, Eriko. "Keene: A life lived true to the words," Japan Times. September 6, 2009; retrieved 2012-11-18.
  8. ^ a b "Lunch with the FT: Donald Keene", by David Pilling, Financial Times, 28 Oct 2011. (Archive link)
  9. ^ "Famed Japan scholar Donald Keene dies at 96". Kyodo News. 24 February 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  10. ^ Reiji Yoshida. "Donald Keene, lauded scholar of Japanese literature, dies at 96", Japan Times. February 24, 2019
  11. ^ "Keene adopts shamisen player as son". The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 2018.
  12. ^ WorldCat Identities Archived December 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine: Keene, Donald; retrieved 2012-11-1.
  13. ^ "Professor Gets Prize; Keene of Columbia Cited for Work in Japanese Letters," New York Times. March 5, 1962.
  14. ^ "Donald Keene, 7 others win Order of Culture," Yomiuri Shimbun. October 29, 2008.[dead link]

External links

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