Go to Meeting Minutes [  September 12, 2004   ]

Memorial Resolution
(June 23, 1914 – January 26, 2002)

Scholar, translator, and gardenmaker extraordinaire, Kenneth K. Yasuda died on January 26, 2002, in Lakeland, Florida, where he had been living with his daughter Naomi and her family. He was a creative and convivial figure, and the visible evidence of his creativity remains with us here in Indiana as well as in Hawaii and Japan.

Ken Yasuda was born on June 23, 1914, in Auburn, California. He entered the University of Washington in 1938, but his studies were interrupted when he was interned at a relocation camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After earning his B.A. in 1945, he moved to Columbia University, then entered the University of Tokyo, where in 1956 he received a doctorate in Japanese literature. His dissertation at Tôdai was on the seventeen-syllable poetic form known as haiku, and it quickly became a popular best seller. After the war his knowledge of Japanese enabled him to serve variously as the State Department’s chief court interpreter for the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, as a program officer in the Asia Foundation’s Japan office, and as a lecturer in comparative literature at Tokyo Women’s College.

Scholarship was his lifework. The chief area of Professor Yasuda’s research was nô drama, Japan’s classic theatrical form. His great achievement is the magisterial volume Masterworks of the Nô Theater, published in 1989 by Indiana University Press.

Professor Yasuda’s translations aroused controversy because he chose to mimic the Japanese syllable scheme in English, using the same number of syllables in each language. While the lines of his translations may seem prolix owing to his syllable requirement, when performed in English the plays follow the beat of the dance and accompanying music from the original. In his Masterworks of the Nô Theater, he added a new play in English along with seventeen classical Japanese plays. The new one is his own composition, written in homage to Martin Luther King, Jr., with allusions to Ralph Waldo Emerson and other American poets. It is one of the very few nô plays in English, and a successful one in terms of rhythm and image.

Haiku was another of Professor Yasuda’s research specialties. Here again the translations follow his rule of syllabic concordance. His book The Japanese Haiku (Tuttle, 1957) brought a wide range of these short poems to readers of English.

Outside the classroom, Ken Yasuda was known for designing rock gardens in the Japanese dry-landscape style, something he did in both America and Japan. In 1963 he created the Urasenke Tea Ceremony School garden in Honolulu. Turning his attention to Japan, in 1972 he built the Kasaoka Tenri Church gardens near Okayama. To the Indiana University community his best-known landscape is probably the Karakuen garden, part of Katherine Noyes Canada’s estate in Bloomington (1981). The one and one-half acre Canada garden has been preserved for the public’s benefit.

Professor Yasuda joined the Indiana University faculty in 1966 and was named full professor in 1974. His time was divided between the Program in Comparative Literature and the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures (East Asian Languages and Cultures since 1975). Ken Yasuda’s teaching had a spontaneous quality that appealed to both undergraduates and graduate students, while his Zen-style presence at faculty meetings reminded us that wisdom demands patience. In 1974 the government of Japan decorated him with the Order of the Sacred Treasure (Zuihôshô).

On the occasion of his retirement from IU in 1984, Professor Yasuda’s colleagues saluted him with one of his own haiku, written under the sobriquet Shôson (formed by combining the second parts of the pen-names of two favorite haiku poets, Bashô and Buson). In the poem he muses about the future:

Again Ken Yasuda awaits the wind. His friends and admirers are sure a “second gust” will carry him on. His accomplishments as a scholar and teacher give him respect all over the world. His wife, Connie, passed away shortly after his retirement, and they are survived by their three children, Naomi, Ken Jr., and Ted.

Sumie A. Jones
George M. Wilson