Founded in 1986 at Columbia University, the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture is named in honor of Professor Donald Keene, internationally renowned scholar, Columbia University teacher, and interpreter of Japanese literature and culture to the West. The Center is dedicated to advancing the understanding of Japan and its culture in the United States through university instruction, research, and public education. In addition, the Center seeks to encourage study of the interrelationships among the cultures of Japan, other Asian countries, Europe, and the United States.
The Donald Keene Center arranges and hosts numerous events throughout the academic year, inviting leading Japanese and non-Japanese scholars, writers, artists, performers, and other Japan specialists to Columbia University. Its many informal lectures and discussions permit casual interaction with prominent Japanese cultural figures, and its more formal lectures provide one of the few settings for introducing such figures to the American public. In recent years, the Center has hosted such diverse speakers as poet and literary critic Ooka Makoto, writer and photographer Fosco Maraini, Nobel prize winning author Oe Kenzaburo, distinguished architect Taniguchi Yoshio, noted film historian Donald Richie, composer Takemitsu Toru, Noh actors Kanze Hideo and Umewaka Rokuro, and the late novelist Shiba Ryotaro. The Donald Keene Center also organizes major international conferences and symposia on various aspects of Japanese culture. In April 1996, the Abe Kobo Commemorative Symposium explored the literary and artistic contributions of one of Japan's most esteemed modern writers. In October 1997, the International Chikamatsu Symposium brought many dramatists, theater specialists, and leading Japanese scholars, filmmakers, critics, and performers to examine the life and work of Japan's great 18th-century playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
In addition to scholarly lectures, discussions, and symposia, the Center organizes a wide variety of cultural performances and exhibitions. These range from film series and art exhibits to musical performances, theatrical workshops, and lecture-demonstrations by leading artists, performers, writers, and scholars. Nearly all programs are open to the general public.
In recognition of its first decade of contributions to intellectual and cultural exchange between Japan and the United States, the Japan Foundation awarded the Donald Keene Center its Special Award for 1996.