TOKYO — While studying at Kyoto University, Donald Keene made time to travel to other parts of Japan. Headed to Ise City, Mie Prefecture.
Every 20 years, the shrine rebuilds its sacred structure and transfers its deity to a new sanctuary. Keen wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Edo period haiku poet Matsuo Basho. Basho Matsuo left for this shrine in 1689 for the renewal of the Shinto ritual. Basho was in Ogaki (now Gifu Prefecture) before his visit to Ise. An epic journey documented in Keane’s English translation of his major work, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Shikinen Sengu is usually held every 20 years, but this time it was extended to 24 years due to social turmoil after the war. Luckily, Keen was in Japan during the regular Shinto rituals at Ise Jingu. Below is a passage from his autobiography describing his experience at the ceremony.
In September 1953, I learned that the renewal of Ise Jingu, which normally takes place every 20 years, had been postponed due to the war and was scheduled to take place the following month. At the end of “Oku Basho no Hosomichi”, he said that he went to Ise to see this ceremony, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
I didn’t know how to get an invitation, so I went to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, the nearest major shrine, for advice. I met the chief priest and this led to the formation of a friendly relationship between him and his family that lasted throughout my stay in Kyoto. We went to Ise together in October.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Ise from the Isuzu River and the majestic trees that I saw for the first time. It had rained heavily the night before, but the water in the river was clear. I followed the other worshipers in washing my hands and mouth and approached the shrine building along the gravel road. I have visited other shrines, but this shrine has a special and sacred atmosphere, and I felt that it was completely different.
When I arrived at the Great Temple, I followed the others and dropped the coin into the wooden box. No, it was probably banknotes, not coins. At that time, there were only 5 or 10 yen coins, and 10 yen bills were more common than coins. I bowed my head and clapped my hands. I don’t remember what I prayed for. Couldn’t have been better than actually enjoying the peace and beauty of Ise.
The ceremony to rebuild the shrine didn’t take place until after dark, but people sat on mats and waited patiently. It was specified to choose either a crest or a haori. I don’t know if you would recognize it if you saw Robe Montante, but I know that the people around me who wear mostly plain clothes can’t afford such outfits. It was clear that Japan’s post-war reconstruction had progressed, but that was not yet reflected in the clothing.
When I waited for several hours, I was surprised to hear the voice of the speaker saying “Mr. Donald! Mr. Donald!”. I decided that the name being called must be my name and went to where the loudspeaker indicated. My seat was found among dignitaries, and I was to stand on the mat. When asked why he was called by his first name instead of his surname, he replied, “If you call me Keen, you might think I’m a Korean.” (Kean, pronounced in Japan, sounds like the common Korean surname, Kim.
[On Familiar Terms]
The shrine’s consideration of making special arrangements for Keane certainly sounds like something that was done immediately after World War II. rice field. In a series of Japanese essays he wrote in his later years, “Donald Keene’s Tokyo Shitamachi Diary,” Keane wrote, “It was only eight years after the war. It was a furoshiki with an arabesque pattern, but in a sacred atmosphere, no one uttered a word, and it was completely silent.”
In the darkness, the ceremony began with the faint sound of gagaku and the flames of torches. Slowly one torch merged with another as the procession descended the stone steps of the old shrine and onto the gravel road leading to the new shrine. The climax of the procession was when the deity was transferred to a new shrine inside a long silk canopy borne by a priest. As the canopy passed in front of the worshipers, they clapped their hands reverently, causing a wave of sound to travel laterally parallel to the procession, disappearing in some of the worshipers and being carried over to the next. I was. Of all the religious ceremonies I have seen in Japan, this one moved me the most.
[On Familiar Terms]
After his first experience, Keane participated in three Shikinen Sengu ceremonies in 1973, 1993, and 2013. In 1973, Keane was ushered into a seating area full of foreigners, including ambassadors, according to “Donald Keene’s Tokyo Downtown Diary.” To Japan. “I was disappointed because he wanted to share his time with the Japanese, but unlike 20 years ago, everyone in attendance was well-dressed,” he wrote. Regarding the 1993 ceremony, he said, “I attended with[Japanese writer]Ryotaro Shiba. The participants were absorbed in chatting, some were drinking alcohol, and others were being scolded by the staff.” It was disappointing that it seemed like the flip side of wealth, and the high principles the Japanese possessed had declined.” The special treatment he received as he became famous was similarly unwelcome. There is no doubt that
In August 2013, as part of the Shikinen Sengu ceremony, he also participated in the “Oshiraishi Mochi”, in which residents place white stones at the newly built shrine. He had already obtained Japanese citizenship and was celebrating his renewal as a Japanese citizen at Ise Jingu. At a time when the effects of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami were still lingering nationwide, Keene “prayed that the country would start anew like a new shrine and recover safely” (Donald Keane’s Tokyo Shitamachi”). Nikki”).
Aside from those involved with Ise Jingu, there should be no one other than Keane who has experienced the renewal ceremony for the first time in two years four times. His comment as a “watcher of Japanese society” who has witnessed the changing times is also on point. Even after young Keane’s fascination with rituals, his passion for ancient Shinto rituals remained unchanged throughout his life.
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The series navigates the past century by tracing the life of the late Donald Keene, who contributed to the advancement of Japanese culture and literature in the world. The serialization began in 2022, the 100th anniversary of Keane’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the Mainichi Shimbun.
(The 22nd in the series. The next installment, “Donald Keene’s Japan,” will be released on January 17.)
[Tadahiko Mori]Writer of My Diary, President of The Donald Keene Memorial Foundation
The original text of Donald Keene’s autobiography is used with permission from the Donald Keene Memorial Foundation. The Foundation’s website can be accessed at https://www.donaldkeene.org/.
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Donald Keane was born on June 18, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. He is a scholar of Japanese literature and professor emeritus at Columbia University. After completing postgraduate degrees at Columbia University and Cambridge University, he received a fellowship in 1953 to study at Kyoto University. Keen developed friendships with prominent Japanese writers such as Junichiro Tanizaki, Yasunari Kawabata, and Yukio Mishima. For more than half a century, Keane has traveled back and forth between the United States and Japan, studying Japanese literature and culture while communicating its charms to the world in English. His major publications include the multi-volume history of Japanese literature, The Hundred-Year Traveler, and The Emperor of Japan: The Meiji Era and His World, 1852-1912. In 2008, Keane received the Order of Culture from the Japanese government. The scholars acquired Japanese citizenship the year after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. He died on February 24, 2019 at the age of 96.