Donald Keene on Books to Help You Understand Japan

Donald KeeneDonald Keene, most recently the author of So Lovely a Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers, was recently on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to discuss Japanese books that reveals insights into the nation’s people and character.

Keene also discusses how Shinto and Buddhist beliefs inform Japanese attitudes and responses to past catastrophes and the more recent devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear threat:

As for the Japanese and their courage, I think courage is something that comes to the Japanese very easily. It is the basic element in their—in a child’s education. And it’s not a foolhardy courage – or shouldn’t be a foolhardy courage, but it is an expression of sincerity, which is among the most important of the Japanese desiderata, to be someone—to be truly truthful, sincere. This is what Japanese—perhaps under the influence of Shinto—religion, thought of as most important virtue.

Here is Keene’s suggested reading list:

* Man’yoshu, the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry, collected some time after A.D. 759.

* The Tale of Genji, the 11th century Japanese classic written by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu

* The Narrow Roads to Oku, haiku by Matsuo Basho

* Chushingura, originally a puppet play by Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Shoraku and Namiki Senryu

* The Makioka Sisters, a modern Japanese novel written by Junichiro Tanizaki

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