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UC Berkeley Press Release

Professor emeritus Donald Shively, expert on Japanese life and cultures, dies

– Donald Howard Shively, considered one of the founding fathers in the post-war development of Japanese studies in the United States, died Saturday, Aug. 13, at age 84 from complications of Shy-Drager syndrome. He was in a nursing facility near his Berkeley home.

Donald Shively
Donald Shively

Shively, an authority on Japanese urban life and popular culture during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), was decorated by the Japanese government in 1982 with the Order of the Rising Sun.

His now classic work on kabuki drama began with a translation and study of "The Love Suicide at Amijima," a domestic tragedy by Chikamatsu Monzaemon about a paper merchant torn between family obligation and his passion for a young prostitute.

In scrupulous and stylish analyses of Tokugawa culture, Shively also addressed censorship and satire, legal history, urban administration, commercial publishing and the society of licensed brothels.

Much of his work explored the subversion of shogunal law - against luxurious consumption, erotic art, fomenting scandal and dishonoring the elite - by resourceful writers and a rising bourgeoisie. His panoramic essays captured the life of city dwellers who resisted official regulation with new freedoms that created one of the world's most vibrant urban cultures.

The son of American missionaries, Shively was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1921. He attended the Canadian Academy, a school in Kobe. He graduated from Harvard University in the Class of 1944.

During World War II, Shively served as a Japanese language officer in the Marine Corps, rising to the rank of major and earning the Bronze Star Medal.

He earned his master's degree at Harvard in 1947 and his Ph.D. there in 1951.

After his doctoral training and election to the Society of Fellows at Harvard, Shively held professorial appointments at UC Berkeley from 1950-1962, at Stanford University from 1962-1964, and at Harvard from 1964-1983. In 1983, he returned to UC Berkeley, teaching as a professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and working as head of the East Asian Library until retiring in 1992.

At the East Asian Library, Shively directed the conservation and cataloguing of the Mitsui Collection of early Japanese printed books and maps, the largest such collection outside Japan.

The Mutsui Collection is the most important holding and the core of the rare book collection at the East Asian Library, said Peter Zhou, the library's director.

"It's rare to find a man of his status with expertise on the academic front, and a devotion to the library work," Zhou said.

Shively was chair of the Center for Japanese Studies at UC Berkeley from 1958-1960, chaired the Department of Asian Languages at Stanford from 1962-1964, and chaired the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard from 1977-1981.

He also was director at Harvard of the Japan Institute, now the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies. He was a member of the National Commission for UNESCO from1958-1960 and chaired the U.S. delegation to the Commission for U.S.-Japan Cultural and Educational Exchange from 1969-1971.

Shively edited the Journal of Asian Studies from 1955-1959 and the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies from 1975-1983.

Susan Matisoff, a UC Berkeley professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, recalled that when she was an undergraduate, there was little academic material written in English about Japan, and that her professor assigned everything that Shively wrote.

One of his early articles, "Bosho, The Man and The Plant," was a witty piece playing off the Japanese word for banana and the pen name of a popular Japanese poet. Matisoff said she was so impressed by it that she decided to study with Shively. Unfortunately, just months before she arrived at UC Berkeley, he had taken another position across the bay.

But Shively later returned, and they became colleagues and friends. Matisoff recalled that he was very supportive of younger scholars, often behind the scenes. "He had a way of being quiet about things, but there were all kinds of things going on in this silence," she said.

His wife, Mary Elizabeth Berry, a professor of Japanese history at UC Berkeley, recalled him as a "brilliant tennis player, and an even more brilliant, if merciless, punster who loved women, his children, his students, old jazz, hikes in the Sierra, banana plants, Japanese pots and Kyoto noodles."

In addition to his wife, Shively is survived by sons Kent Raacke Shively of Seattle and Evan Raacke Shively of Marshall, Calif.; daughters Anne Shively Berry and Catherine Shively Berry of Berkeley; sisters Mary Pursel of Honolulu and Alice Bunce of Virginia; and three grandchildren. His eldest son, Bruce King Shively, died in 2003. Shively's marriages to Emily Mary King and Ilse Dorothea Raacke ended in divorce.

The family plans a private memorial gathering for relatives and close friends.