NORMAN WADDELL born in Washington, D.C. in 1940, was attracted to Japan by the works of the legendary D.T. Suzuki and his protégée R. H. Blyth, taught at Otani University for over thirty years, and was editor of the Eastern Buddhist Journal for several decades. He has published more than a dozen books on Japanese Zen Buddhism by at least six different publishers, and according to Counterpoint ‘he is considered one of the finest translators of sacred texts of our time”.  Almost single handedly he has introduced the life and works of Hakuin to the West.

A select group of WiK members were able to enjoy a stimulating evening with Norman, in fine form despite his recent heart tremors. He regaled us with some extraordinary stories about his writings, research and discoveries made over the years. One particular tale concerned R.H. Blyth, who had a most remarkable spell in Japan prior, during and after the war which is little known about.  Norman however has obtained access to some very revealing letters, and if ever there was a great story for a book this seemed a surefire winner. Members of the group eagerly urged him to write it.

There were also some fascinating stories about 18th century Kyoto, particularly the tea seller Baisao who though poor (he could sometimes not even afford to buy tea to sell) was the centre of much attention by prominent figures of the time.  Several portraits of him exist, some by leading artists such as Ito Jakuchu and Ike no Taiga. Norman is not only familiar with the portraits, but had discovered why those of Jakuchu lacked the typical inscription of others.

Norman now spends some of his retirement time looking at Yahoo auctions, where seemingly precious documents or pictures often come up.  But how to tell if they are genuine? Besides his own investigations aided by magnifying glass, Norman has a brother-in-law with the special skills needed in such cases.  He told us too of his friendship with an enormously wealthy American who has a collection of Japanese art, particularly of Ito Jakuchu.

For his very entertaining stories and good humour, WiK is very grateful to Norman for his robust performance when heart flutters had put his presence in doubt. We hope to have a rerun at some point because of the interest in hearing him speak. Meanwhile, we wish him a steady heartbeat throughout the coming years, and we very much look forward to his forthcoming books.  Particularly that one on R.H. Blyth!

The 77 year old Norman Waddell in the foreground was in fine form at WiK’s first dinner talk of this financial year. Amongst the audience was a shakuhachi master,  a tea expert, a researcher on elements in Japan, a garden expert, a Shinto enthusiast, and two Shakespeare scholars, all gathered to hear one of the world’s leading Zen translators. For WiK a typical Kyoto night out!