Donald Keene Remembered for Decades of Friendship on Tokyo Shopping Street; Exhibit Features Shopkeepers’ Quotes about Late Scholar

The Japan News
Keiko Yukawa shows a card with a store owner’s quote about Donald Keene on Saturday.

An exhibit titled “My Neighbor Keene Sensei,” featuring memorable quotes from store owners and others about Donald Keene, has opened in the Shimofuri Ginza shopping street, where Keene used to shop on a daily basis. Keene lived in a nearby apartment in Nishigahara, Kita Ward, overlooking the Kyu Furukawa Garden, for 45 years until his death in 2019. He kept up a warm, quiet exchange with the people of the shopping street for decades.

The exhibition is organized by Kita Ward. Last August, four students from Kanagawa University’s Faculty of Business Administration visited each store on the shopping street and collected quotes from the store owners and other locals. The quotes are displayed at the exhibit in the form of omikuji fortunes. Visitors draw a number and receive a corresponding quote card. On each card, there is a question about Keene and the response locals gave in recalling him. All the fortunes are daikichi (great luck), and there are no regular or bad luck cards as most Japanese shrines have. But the words on the cards, numbered from 1 to 60, are all different. It shows just how many memories are packed into the shopping street.

Card No. 28 asks, “What kind of things did he buy?” The reply: “For tea, he bought Darjeeling.” No. 14 asks about the impression the store owner had of Keene, and the response is: “Keene’s teeth were very strong.” This quote is from a butcher, and it reminds one of how Keene ate steak until very late in life.

“We conducted the survey to see whether Donald Keene could be a resource for the community,” said the university’s Prof. Keiko Yukawa, who led the survey. She added, “We found that everyone remembers Mr. Keene well and is proud of him, even though it has been five years since he passed away.” Many people described him as modest, she said. She felt that Keene was integrated into the local community through his daily life, and that the people in the shopping street still cherish his memory.

Takasuke Ishikura, a Kokugakuin University lecturer and Kita Ward cultural policy advisor who worked on the survey with Yukawa, said, “Words poured out of people on the street as if we had turned on the tap. The memory of Mr. Keene still lives on in the community.”

In the exhibition space, photos taken during the survey hang from the ceiling, and there is also a capsule dispenser created by students using a 3D printer. The capsules contain key rings made from recycled plastic dividers, and on the key rings are Keene’s portrait, the name of a store, and the store’s products, drawn using a laser printer. However, due to the small quantity, visitors are only allowed to look.

The exhibition is being held at an event space on the shopping street from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through May 26. Admission is free.