Peter Grilli

Peter Grilli

Peter Grilli is Senior Advisor and former President of the Japan Society of Boston and a well-known specialist on Japanese history and culture. Raised in Japan for most of his childhood,he earned B. and  M. degrees in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, and also studied at Waseda University and University of Tokyo in Japan. He was director of film, education, and performing arts at the Japan Society of New York in the 1970s and 1980s, and later headed the Japan Project for PBS. From 1996 to 2000, he was director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University. He has written extensively on Japan, and as a documentary filmmaker he wrote or co-produced several films.

Monday, 14 June 2021 16:57

MacArthur and Me

MacArthur and Me

I once met United States General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. I had seen him before, from a distance, when he was driving in and out of the gate of his big white house in Tokyo, or when he strode up the steps of the Dai-Ichi Building and disappeared inside those large heavy doors to his headquarters during the occupation of Japan after World War II. But this was the only time I met him face-to-face.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 23:10

The Legacy of Donald Richie

Donald Richie’s Reflections on Novelist, Yasunari Kawabata

by Peter Grilli

Whenever I think of Donald Richie’s early life in Tokyo, somehow the very first image that always springs to mind is of his rooftop conversation with Yasunari Kawabata.

It was a chilly morning in the early spring of 1947. Richie, the tall 23-year-old American GI journalist, dwarfed the frail Japanese novelist, who was older and far wiser, at more than twice his age. They stood high above Asakusa, gazing out over the ruins of a city that the older of the two knew intimately and the younger was just beginning to love.

Saturday, 21 December 2013 00:00

The Silence of the Sengu

Reflections on Time at the Grand Shrines of Ise

By Peter Grilli

Every 20 years, the Imperial Grand Shrines at Ise are totally rebuilt in a process known as the Shikinen Sengu that extends back to the eighth century or earlier. Though the origins of this custom may be shrouded in mythology, the faithful adherence to the principles of the Shikinen Sengu has resulted in the preservation of ancient Japanese architectural and ritual forms. As the ancestral shrines of the emperors of Japan, the shrines at Ise are the most sacred sanctuaries of Shinto and their design and physical form are considered the purest expression of Japanese aesthetic ideals. Dedicated to the Sun Goddess and the God of Agriculture, the shrine buildings house symbols of the deities’ spiritual presence. Occurring once every 20 years, the transfer of the sacred objects from the old to the new shrine built on an adjoining site is the single most important ritual of the Shinto faith. The 62nd Sengu took place at Ise in early October, first at the Inner Shrine (Naiku) on the evening of October 2 and three days later at the Outer Shrine (Geku). Peter Grilli, president of the Japan Society of Boston, was invited to attend the ceremony at the Inner Shrine, and he wrote these observations.

Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00

The Legacy of Donald Richie

DONALD RICHIE An Appreciation

by Peter Grilli

Written for the Memorial Gathering at International House of Japan, Tokyo (April 15, 2013)

As the world mourns “Donald Richie, the writer,” “Donald Richie, the renowned expert on Japanese cinema” and “Donald Richie, the insightful commentator on Japan,” I stand in awe of the deluge of affection and gratitude that has greeted the news of his death. One might well expect such a response from the community of specialists on film history or on Japan, the critics, historians and academic experts who had benefited for decades from his work. It could be no less, after all, since Richie had written so extensively on those subjects and is counted among the iconic giants of these fields of study. But the tributes, letters, essays, e-mails, blogs and tweets flowing from countless admirers who had never met him or heard him speak – people who knew him only from his writings – is nothing less than astonishing. “He changed my life” or “he opened my eyes to new worlds” are common themes. Or “he showed me how to see.”
Donald changed my own life in many ways... and, indeed, he showed me how to see. He has been a direct and continual influence on me since childhood, and I know he will remain so for the rest of my life. In every person’s life there are certain individuals – apart from the parents responsible for one’s very existence – who teach or shape or inspire, who mold or influence one’s consciousness in fundamental ways. Donald Richie was such a one for me: a mentor, a teacher, a role model, a friend, a beloved “uncle” unrelated by blood. I will always be in his debt.


Staff Continued

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