I first read excerpts from Donald Richie’s journals in The Donald Richie Reader (2001). I thought that the collects bits and pieces from his writings were enough to get a picture of Richie’s Japan, but I realize that I am interested in reading more of his works. I recently saw an interesting quote from the journals somewhere (“Life here means never taking life for granted.”) along with the fact that he died this year in February, compelled me to read his journals. I know Richie primarily through his essays on different aspects of Japanese life and film. The journals are a fascinating look at life in Japan since the Occupation when Richie first arrived in 1947 where he recounts the devastation and poverty of postwar Japan. There are many observations about youth culture, the economy, the changing of Tokyo, and reflections of the economy in the number of homeless people in the parks. He seems particularly cognizant of the homeless since it was a story about a homeless man living under a bridge that started his journalistic career and becomes a theme he often returns to.
It seems that one of his loves is classical music and through that interest he met such famous composers as Fumio Hayasaka and Toru Takemitsu. Hayasaka was Akira Kurosawa’s main composer and he brought a young Richie onto the set of Stray Dog. Takemitsu worked with most of the best directors of the golden age of Japanese cinema and was a lifelong friend of Richie. Richie knows most of the people associated with the golden age of Japanese film and the new wave. Aside from championing Ozu and Kurosawa, he was friends with Toshiro Mifune, Nagisa Oshima, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Junzo Itami, Chisu Ryu, Susumu Hani and Sachiko Hidari among others. He was also friends with many of the many Japanologists and foreign experts on the country: Edward Seidensticker, Karel Van Wolfen, Ian Buruma, Alex Kerr, Allan Booth, and several others as well. He had friendships with literary giants Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima. In particular his close friendship with Mishima was interesting to hear Richie’s impressions of the writer. His writing reputation resulted in introductions from many cultural figures throughout the world that made their way to Japan. Perhaps they can be put into groups of those he liked and respected (Igor Stravinsky, Rudolf Arnheim, Lincoln Kirstein, Marguite Yourcenar, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Bratigan, Richard Avedon, Stephen Spender, Romola Nijinsky, Angus Wilson, Paul Schrader, Francis Ford Coppola, Susan Sontag, etc.) and those he didn’t (Truman Capote, Alberto Morovia, Philip Johnson, Sacheverall Sitwell, etc.).
Richie was quite frank when it came to sex and his interest in it, however, he does not like to be labeled a homosexual sine he finds the term limiting, but it is clear that he clearly favored sex with men over women and had several long term relationships with younger men and was even married to a woman for a short period of time. He enjoyed cruising parks for action, live sex shows, dohan kissaten (public sex coffee shops—only in Japan), porno theaters, and discussing sex with friends. There is quite a lot of it at some points in his journal. Even though he doesn’t explicitly say it, I think this easy access to sex is one of the reasons he stayed in Japan. That being said, he is quite precise about what it is that he likes about Japan, he admits that he didn't fall in love with Japan, rather that he finds it a fascinating and interesting place where he maintains outsider status and is not expected to be a member of Japanese society and can live outside it. He admits that there are other places that he has fallen in love with, Morocco and Greece, but in Japan he lives in a kind of limbo. He equates this limbo with his existence in Japan as being a mirror where Japanese culture reflects his American culture. Near the end of the journals he often talks about his oncoming death, but he wasn't to die for another nine years—it makes me wonder if there any other journals or writings forthcoming. This journal suggests to me that it will be worthwhile to track down some of his other writings and The Inland Sea is at the top of that list.