The famed Japanese translator and researcher of Japanese literature, Dr. Donald Keene, died on February 24th, 2019 at the age of 96.
Born in 1922 to a Russian Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, he first encountered "The Tale of Genji" by Murasaki Shikibu, an 11th-century epic drama often described as the world's first novel, at a midtown bookshop and bought the translation for 49 cents. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Dr. Keene enlisted in the Navy, where he volunteered to study Japanese and began his formal education in the language at the University of California at Berkeley.
After the war, he resumed his study of Japanese literature and soon became one of the most prominent scholars of the subject. Over his career, he translated many of the most important works of Japanese literature, notably, "The Setting Sun" by Osamu Dazai, which to this day is often cited in the study of translation theories, where experts debated over whether his translation of "white tabi (Japanese style socks)" into "white gloves" was indeed mistranslation or domestication.
Post-retirement from Columbia University, he finally decided to move to Japan full-time and obtain citizenship. When northeast Japan was hit by the massive earthquake, he visited evacuees at shelters and spoke to the locals. Close friends and colleagues told news media that Dr. Keene continued his research and writing up until his death. We commemorate the achievement of the greatest scholar of Japanese literature. May he rest in peace.