I first met Donald Richie in the early summer of 1998, at the book launch of The Broken Bridge (from Stone Bridge Press), a compilation of short stories from expat writers living in Japan. Of course, I knew who he was already. Who didn’t?
I only had a brief chance to speak to him, but at least I can say I’ve had the experience. Why was it such a big deal? Because Donald Richie is perhaps the last person who has seen everything.
Donald Richie is the man who came here at the end of the war, and stayed. He saw Japan through the post-war reconstruction, the Tokyo Olympics, the first Oil Shock, the Bubble Days, the beginnings of the current recession, the Kobe disaster, the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attack, the 3/11 crisis – anything I’ve forgotten?
Richie was a consummate writer who leaves behind a number of books, both journalism and fiction, that capture the essence of Japan and its culture. He was a personal friend of Akira Kurosawa, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, and most of the other names who spring to mind when the subject of Japanese literature comes up. In fact, he was one of the last people to see Yukio Mishima alive; Mishima introduced a “protege” of his to Richie and made some parting cryptic remarks – and the rest is history.
To those of us who remain, our duty is to remember Donald Richie and carry on in his name. What does that mean? Well to me, that means –
to tell it how it is,
to remember the things that the Japanese want us to forget,
and not to lower our standards to suit the godawful puerile whims of current pop-culture.
Donald Richie, Excalibur salutes you.