Shukan NY Seikatsu/Kaoru Ishiguro

A memorial service was held in September for Japanese translator Donald Keene at Columbia University, where he previously taught.

Read the original story in Japanese at Shukan New York Seikatsu

Translated by Rebecca Suzuki

A memorial service for Donald Keene, famed scholar of Japanese literature who passed away in February at the age of 96, was held on Sept. 27 at Columbia University, where he studied as an undergraduate and also later taught. About 200 people were in attendance, including many former students and acquaintances who took to the podium to share stories and talk about his achievements.

“My father has been laid to rest under a cherry blossom tree,” Keene’s adoptive son and Shamisen musician Seiki Keene shared.

“He read every work of Japanese literature — he was such a hard worker,” said Carol Gluck, a professor of history at Columbia University. “I remember his smile and the sound of his laughter. He was very shy.”

Dr. Keene had connections to many Japanese writers too, like Yukio Mishima and Kobo Abe. He loved Japan above anything, and after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, he decided to relocate permanently to Japan and traded his citizenship for Japanese.

“I am so thankful that we were able to have such a beautiful memorial service for my father in the city he was raised with the people he cared most about,” said Seiki Keene, who had flown in from Japan for the service in New York. He also described Dr. Keene’s final moments. “My father took his last breath very peacefully, without any suffering.”

His grave stands underneath a double cherry blossom tree, which he loved. Seiki Keene thinks that his father requested his grave to be there so that he could partake in hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, every year.

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