Photo/IllutrationProminent Japanese scholar Donald Keene in Tokyo's Kita Ward in 2013 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Prominent Japanese literature scholar Donald Keene, who introduced a slew of classic Japanese works to a worldwide audience, died of heart failure at a Tokyo hospital on Feb. 24.

He was 96.

Keene, professor emeritus at Columbia University in New York and the winner of the Japanese Order of Culture in 2008, the first non-Japanese to be selected, is survived by Seiki Keene, his adopted son.

A funeral service will be held with only his relatives attending. A public memorial service is planned for a later date.

Keene was born in New York in 1922. After graduating from Columbia University, he attended the U.S. Navy’s Japanese language school following war breaking out between Japan and the United States in December 1941.

Keene served as an intelligence officer for the U.S. military in Hawaii and Okinawa, translating Japanese soldiers’ diaries and interpreting for Japanese POWs.

After World War II, he continued his study of Japanese literature at Harvard University and Cambridge University.

In the 1950s, he began compiling an anthology of Japanese literature while studying at Kyoto University, paving the way for Japanese literature to be introduced to the world through his translation work.

The works he translated include the 14th-century classic “Essays in Idleness” by Yoshida Kenko, and novels by contemporary authors such as Kobo Abe and Yukio Mishima.

He also remained close to Japanese literary giants--Junichiro Tanizaki and Yasunari Kawabata, a Nobel laureate of literature.

Keene traveled between Japan and the United States for decades.

But he decided to settle in Japan after acquiring Japanese nationality following the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March 2011 that hit the northeastern Tohoku region.

He visited disaster-affected regions to encourage residents.

After settling in Japan, Keene published critical biographies of poets Masaoka Shiki and Ishikawa Takuboku.