Kenzaburō Ōe

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Kenzaburō Ōe
Ōe in 2012
Ōe in 2012
Native name
大江 健三郎
Born(1935-01-31)31 January 1935
Relatives (father-in-law)
  • Juzo Itami (brother-in-law)
  • Ōe at the Japanisches Kulturinstitut in Cologne
    on 11 April 2008

    Kenzaburō Ōe (大江 健三郎, Ōe Kenzaburō, 31 January 1935 – 3 March 2023) was a Japanese writer and a major figure in contemporary

    social non-conformism, and existentialism. Ōe was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature for creating "an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today".[1]

    Early life and education

    Ōe was born in

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, which had a formative influence on him.[3]

    Ōe received the first ten years of his education in local public schools.[4] He started school during the peak of militarism in Japan; in class, he was forced to pronounce his loyalty to Emperor Hirohito, who his teacher claimed was a god.[2] After the war, he realized he had been taught lies and felt betrayed. This sense of betrayal later appeared in his writing.[2]

    Ōe attended high school in

    Tokyo University with Professor Kazuo Watanabe, a specialist on François Rabelais.[3]


    Ōe began publishing stories in 1957, while still a student, strongly influenced by contemporary writing in France and the United States.[3] His first work to be published was "Lavish are the Dead", a short story set in Tokyo during the American occupation, which appeared in Bungakukai literary magazine.[5] His early works were set in his own university milieu.[6]

    In 1958, his short story "Shiiku" (飼育) was awarded the prestigious

    hermaphrodism, invincibility, and association with beginning and end.[7] The first two characteristics are present in these early stories, while the latter two features come to the fore in the 'idiot boy' stories which appeared after the birth of his son Hikari.[8]
    : 135 

    Between 1958 and 1961 Ōe published a series of works incorporating sexual metaphors for the occupation of Japan. He summarised the common theme of these stories as "the relationship of a foreigner as the big power [Z], a Japanese who is more or less placed in a humiliating position [X], and, sandwiched between the two, the third party [Y] (sometimes a prostitute who caters only to foreigners or an interpreter)".[9] In each of these works, the Japanese X is inactive, failing to take the initiative to resolve the situation and showing no psychological or spiritual development.[8]: 32  The graphically sexual nature of this group of stories prompted a critical outcry; Ōe said of the culmination of the series Our Times, "I personally like this novel [because] I do not think I will ever write another novel which is filled only with sexual words."[8]: 29 

    In 1961, Ōe's novellas Seventeen and The Death of a Political Youth were published in the Japanese literary magazine Bungakukai. Both were inspired by seventeen-year-old

    Tokyo University.[11]

    Ōe's next phase moved away from sexual content, shifting this time toward the violent fringes of society. The works which he published between 1961 and 1964 are influenced by

    anti-heroes whose position on the fringes of society allows them to make pointed criticisms of it.[8]: 47  Ōe's admission that Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is his favorite book can be said to find a context in this period.[12]

    Influence of Hikari

    Ōe credited his son Hikari for influencing his literary career. Ōe tried to give his son a "voice" through his writing. Several of Ōe's books feature a character based on his son.[13]

    In Ōe's 1964 book, A Personal Matter, the writer describes the psychological trauma involved in accepting his brain-damaged son into his life.[3] Hikari figures prominently in many of the books singled out for praise by the Nobel committee, and his life is the core of the first book published after Ōe was awarded the Nobel Prize. The 1996 book, A Healing Family, celebrates the small victories in Hikari's life.[14]

    Hikari was a strong influence on Father, Where are you Going?, Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, and The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away, three novels which rework the same premise—the father of a disabled son attempts to recreate the life of his own father, who shut himself away and died. The protagonist's ignorance of his father is compared to his son's inability to understand him; the lack of information about his father's story makes the task impossible to complete, but capable of endless repetition, and, "repetition becomes the fabric of the stories."[8]: 61 

    2006 to 2008

    In 2005, two retired Japanese military officers sued Ōe for

    libel for his 1970 book of essays, Okinawa Notes, in which he had written that members of the Japanese military had coerced masses of Okinawan civilians into committing suicide during the Allied invasion of the island in 1945. In March 2008, the Osaka District Court dismissed all charges against Ōe. In this ruling, Judge Toshimasa Fukami stated, "The military was deeply involved in the mass suicides". In a news conference following the trial, Ōe said, "The judge accurately read my writing."[15]

    Ōe did not write much during the nearly two years (2006–2008) of his libel case. He began writing a new novel, which The New York Times reported would feature a character "based on his father," a staunch supporter of the imperial system who drowned in a flood during World War II.[16]


    Bannen Yoshikishu, his final novel, is the sixth in a series with the main character of Kogito Choko, who can be considered Ōe's literary alter ego. The novel is also in a sense a culmination of the I-novels that Ōe continued to write since his son was born mentally disabled in 1963. In the novel, Choko loses interest in the novel he had been writing when the

    Tohoku region on 11 March 2011. Instead, he begins writing about an age of catastrophe, as well as about the fact that he himself was approaching his late 70s.[17]


    In 1959 and 1960, Ōe participated in the

    U.S.-Japan Security Treaty as a member of a group of young writers, artists, and composers called the "Young Japan Society" (Wakai Nihon no Kai).
    Ōe at a 2013 antinuclear demonstration in Tokyo

    Ōe was involved with pacifist and anti-nuclear campaigns and wrote books regarding the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Hibakusha. After meeting prominent anti-nuclear activist Noam Chomsky at a Harvard degree ceremony, Ōe began his correspondence with Chomsky by sending him a copy of his Okinawa Notes. While also discussing Ōe's Okinawa Notes, Chomsky's reply included a story from his childhood. Chomsky wrote that when he first heard about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, he could not bear it being celebrated, and he went in the woods and sat alone until the evening.[20] Ōe later said in an interview, "I've always respected Chomsky, but I respected him even more after he told me that."[21]

    Following the 2011

    Article 9 of the Constitution, which forever renounces war.[24]

    Personal life and death

    Ōe married in February 1960. His wife, Yukari, was the daughter of film director Mansaku Itami and sister of film director Juzo Itami. The same year he met Mao Zedong on a trip to China. He also went to Russia and Europe the following year, visiting Sartre in Paris.[21][11]

    Ōe lived in Tokyo and had three children.[25] In 1963, his eldest son, Hikari, was born with a brain hernia.[26] Ōe initially struggled to accept his son's condition, which required surgery which would leave him with learning disabilities for life.[25] Hikari lived with Kenzaburō and Yukari until he was middle-aged, and often composed music in the same room where his father was writing.[25]

    Ōe died on 3 March 2023, at age 88.[25][27][26][5]


    Nobel Prize in Literature and Japan's Order of Culture

    In 1994 Ōe won the Nobel Prize in Literature and was named to receive Japan's Order of Culture. He refused the latter because it is bestowed by the Emperor. Ōe said, "I do not recognize any authority, any value, higher than democracy." Once again, he received threats.[2]

    Shortly after learning that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize, Ōe said that he was encouraged by the Swedish Academy's recognition of modern Japanese literature, and hoped that it would inspire other writers.[28] He told The New York Times that his writing was ultimately focused on "the dignity of human beings."[28]

    Major awards

    Eponymous literary prize

    In 2005, the

    Kenzaburō Ōe Prize was established by publisher Kodansha to promote Japanese literary novels internationally,[34] with the first prize awarded in 2007.[35] The winning work was selected solely by Ōe,[34] to be translated into English, French, or German, and published worldwide.[35]

    Selected works

    The number of Kenzaburō Ōe's works translated into English and other languages remains limited, so that much of his literary output is still only available in Japanese.[36] The few translations have often appeared after a marked lag in time.[37] Work of his has also been translated into Chinese, French, and German.[38]

    In a statistical overview of writings by and about Kenzaburō Ōe, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 700 works in 1,500+ publications in 28 languages and 27,000+ library holdings.[14]

    Year Japanese Title English Title Comments Ref.
    1957 死者の奢り
    Shisha no ogori
    Lavish Are The Dead Short story published in Bungakukai literary magazine [5]
    Kimyou na shigoto
    The Strange Work Short novel awarded May Festival Prize by University of Tokyo newspaper [39]
    "The Catch" / "Prize Stock" Short story awarded the Akutagawa prize. Published in English as "Prize Stock" in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1977) and as "The Catch" in "The Catch and Other War Stories" (Kodansha International 1981).

    Made into a film in 1961 by

    Nagisa Oshima and in 2011 by the Cambodian director Rithy Panh

    1958 見るまえに跳べ
    Miru mae ni tobe
    Leap Before You Look Short story; title is a reference to W. H. Auden [43][44]
    Memushiri kouchi
    Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids One of his earliest novellas, translated in 1995 [45]
    1961 セヴンティーン
    Seventeen Short novel translated by Luk Van Haute in 1996. The sequel was so controversial that Ōe never allowed it to be republished. [46]
    1963 叫び声
    Outcries Untranslated [47]
    Seiteki ningen
    J (published title)

    Sexual Humans (literal translation)

    Short story translated by Luk Van Haute in 1996 [46]
    1964 空の怪物アグイー
    Sora no kaibutsu Aguī
    Aghwee the Sky Monster Short story translated by John Nathan. [48]
    Kojinteki na taiken
    A Personal Matter Awarded the Shinchosha Literary Prize. Translated by John Nathan. [49]
    1965 ヒロシマ・ノート
    Hiroshima nōto
    Hiroshima Notes Collection of essays translated by Toshi Yonezawa and edited by David L. Swain [50]
    1967 万延元年のフットボール
    Man'en gan'nen no futtobōru
    The Silent Cry (published title)

    Football in the Year 1860 (literal translation)

    Translated by John Bester [51][44]
    1969 われらの狂気を生き延びる道を教えよ
    Warera no kyōki wo ikinobiru michi wo oshieyo
    Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness Translated by John Nathan in 1977; title is a reference to W. H. Auden [52][44]
    1970 沖縄ノート
    Okinawa nōto
    Okinawa Notes Collection of essays that became the target of a defamation lawsuit filed in 2005 which was dismissed in 2008 [15]
    1972 鯨の死滅する日
    Kujira no shimetsu suru hi
    The Day the Whales Shall be Annihilated Collection of essays including "The Continuity of Norman Mailer" [48]
    Mizukara waga namida wo nuguitamau hi
    The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away Short novel parodying Yukio Mishima; translated by John Nathan and published in the volume Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness [44][53]
    1973 洪水はわが魂に及び
    Kōzui wa waga tamashii ni oyobi
    My Deluged Soul Awarded the 26th Noma Literary Prize. Work has also been referred to as The Waters Are Come in unto My Soul. [3][48][54]
    1976 ピンチランナー調書
    Pinchi ran'nā chōsho
    The Pinch Runner Memorandum Translated by Michiko N. Wilson and Michael K. Wilson [4]
    1979 同時代ゲーム
    Dōjidai gēmu
    The Game of Contemporaneity Untranslated [55]
    1982 「雨の木」を聴く女たち
    Rein tsurī wo kiku on'natachi
    Women Listening to the "Rain Tree" Collection of two short stories and three novellas. Awarded the 34th Yomiuri Literary Prize for novels. [56][57]
    1983 新しい人よ眼ざめよ
    Atarashii hito yo, mezameyo
    Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! Collection of seven short stories originally published in Gunzo and Shincho magazines between 1982 and 1983. The title is taken from the preface to the poem Milton by William Blake. Awarded the 10th Jiro Osaragi Prize. Translated by John Nathan. [58][59][60]
    1985 河馬に嚙まれる
    Kaba ni kamareru
    Bitten by a Hippopotamus Eight short stories, loosely linked [61]
    1986 M/Tと森のフシギの物語
    M/T to mori no fushigi no monogatari
    M/T and the Wonder of the Forest Title has also been translated as Strange Stories of M/T and the Forest [56][55]
    1987 懐かしい年への手紙
    Natsukashī toshi e no tegami
    Letters to the Time/Space of Fond Memories Autobiographical novel [62]
    1988 「最後の小説」
    Saigo no shōsetsu
    The Last Novel Collection of essays [4]
    1989 人生の親戚
    Jinsei no shinseki
    An Echo of Heaven (published title)

    Relatives of Life (literal translation)

    Translated by Margaret Mitsutani [47]
    1990 治療塔
    Chiryō tō
    Towers of Healing Novel first serialized in Hermes magazine; first work of science fiction [63]
    Shizuka na seikatsu
    A Quiet Life Translated by Kunioki Yanagishita & William Wetherall [64]
    1991 治療塔惑星
    Chiryou tou wakusei
    Planet of the Healing Tower Science fiction novel paired with Chiryō tō [65]
    1992 僕が本当に若かった頃
    Boku ga hontō ni wakakatta koro
    When I Was Really Young Volume of nine vignettes, many of which refer to his previous works [66]
    1993 「救い主」が殴られるまで
    'Sukuinushi' ga nagurareru made
    Until the Savior Gets Beaten Part I of The Burning Green Tree Trilogy (燃えあがる緑の木 第一部, Moeagaru midori no ki – dai ichibu)
    1994 揺れ動く (ヴァシレーション)
    Yureugoku (Vashirēshon)
    Vacillation Part II of The Burning Green Tree Trilogy (燃えあがる緑の木 第二部, Moeagaru midori no ki – dai nibu) [56]
    1995 大いなる日に
    Ōinaru hi ni
    For the Day of Grandeur Part III of The Burning Green Tree Trilogy (燃えあがる緑の木 第三部, Moeagaru midori no ki – dai sanbu) [56]
    Aimai na Nihon no watashi
    Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself Nobel Prize acceptance speech; the title is a reference to Yasunari Kawabata's Nobel acceptance speech, "Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself". In 1995, nine lectures given by Ōe in the 1990s were published in the same volume with this title. [67][68]
    Kaifukusuru kazoku
    A Healing Family Collection of essays serialized from 1990 to 1995 in Sawarabi, a journal on rehabilitative medicine, with an afterword and drawings by Yukari Oe. Adapted and translated in 1996 by Stephen Snyder. [69]
    1999 宙返り
    Somersault Translated by Philip Gabriel [70]
    2000 取り替え子 (チェンジリング)
    Torikae ko (Chenjiringu)
    The Changeling
    Translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm [71]
    2001 「自分の木」の下で
    'Jibun no ki' no shita de
    Under One's Own Tree 16 essays reflecting on Ōe's childhood and experience as a novelist and father [72]
    2002 憂い顔の童子
    Urei gao no dōji
    Gloomy Faced Child Novel [73]
    2007 臈たしアナベル・リイ 総毛立ちつ身まかりつ
    Routashi Anaberu rī souke dachitu mimakaritu
    The Beautiful Annabel Lee was Chilled and Killed Winner of the 2008 Weishanhu Award for Best Foreign Novel in the 21st Century. [74]
    2009 水死
    Sui shi
    Death by Water Translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm [75]
    2013 晩年様式集(イン・レイト・スタイル)
    Bannen Youshiki shū (In Reito Sutairu)
    In Late Style Final work. Title is a reference to Edward Said's On Late Style. [76]

    See also


    1. ^ "Oe, Pamuk: World needs imagination" Archived 31 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine,; 18 May 2008.
    2. ^ .
    3. ^ a b c d e f g "Kenzburo Oe – Biographical". The Nobel Prize. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
    4. ^
      JSTOR 41401647
    5. ^ a b c d Benoza, Kathleen (13 March 2023). "Nobel-winning Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe dies at 88". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 13 March 2023.
    6. ^ .
    7. ^ Oe, Kenzaburo (1978). Shōsetsu no hōhō (The Method of a Novel) (in Japanese). Tokyo: Iwanami. p. 197.
    8. ^ .
    9. ^ Ōe, Ōe Kenzaburō Zensakuhin, Vol. 2 (Supplement No. 3). p. 16.
    10. .
    11. ^ a b c Jaggi, Maya (5 February 2005). "Profile: Kenzaburo Oë". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
    12. ^ Theroux, Paul. "Speaking of Books: Creative Dissertating; Creative Dissertating",, 8 February 1970.
    13. ^ Sobsey, Richard Archived 1 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine. "Hikari Finds His Voice," Archived 6 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), produced by Compassionate Healthcare Network (CHN). July 1995.
    14. ^ a b "WorldCat Identities". OCLC. 9 March 2023. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
    15. ^ a b Onishi, Norimitsu (29 March 2008). "Japanese Court Rejects Defamation Lawsuit Against Nobel Laureate". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    16. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu (17 May 2008). "The Saturday Profile: Released From Rigors of a Trial, a Nobel Laureate's Ink Flows Freely". New York Times. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
    17. ^ "Oe's latest novel offers glimmer of hope in a world beset by catastrophe". Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
    18. .
    19. .
    20. ^ Oe, K., & Chomsky, N. (2002). An Exchange on Current Affairs. World Literature Today,76(2), 29. doi:10.2307/40157257, 29 April 2019
    21. ^
      ISSN 0031-2037
      . Retrieved 16 March 2023.
    22. ^ "Nobel laureate Oe urges nation to end reliance on nuclear power". The Japan Times. 8 September 2011.
    23. ^ Archived 10 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine Mainichi Daily News, 15 September 2013, "Some 8,000 March in Tokyo Against Restart of Any Nuclear Power Plants" (accessed 10 November 2013)
    24. ^ Archived 9 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine Asahi Shumbun, 18 May 2013, "Writer Oe calls for stopping moves to revise Constitution" (accessed 9 November 2013)
    25. ^ a b c d Lewis, Daniel (13 March 2023). "Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel Laureate and Critic of Postwar Japan, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 13 March 2023.
    26. ^ a b "Nobel prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe dies". BBC News. 13 March 2023. Archived from the original on 13 March 2023.
    27. ^ Cain, Sian (13 March 2023). "Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel prize-winning Japanese writer, dies aged 88". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 13 March 2023.
    28. ^
      ISSN 0362-4331
      . Retrieved 16 March 2023.
    29. ^ Wilson, Michiko Niikuni. "Kenzaburo Oe: Laughing Prophet and Soulful Healer". The Nobel Prize. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
    30. ^ a b c d e "Authors – Kenzaburo Oe". Grove Atlantic. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
    31. ^ Fowler, Edward (1988). The Rhetoric of Confession. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 295.
    32. ISSN 0362-4331
      . Retrieved 16 March 2023.
    33. ^ "Novelist Oe inducted into France's Legion of Honor. – Free Online Library". Retrieved 28 January 2016.
    34. ^ a b "Kodansha creates Kenzaburo Oe literary award". The Japan Times. 6 October 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
    35. ^ a b "大江健三郎賞". Kodansha (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 17 May 2007.
    36. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Kenzaburo Ōe". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015.
    37. ISSN 0261-3077
      . Retrieved 16 March 2023.
    38. ^ "Embracing Foreign Literature – Beijing Review". Retrieved 16 March 2023.
    39. ^ a b "Nobel-winning anti-war author Kenzaburo Oe dies at 88". Asahi Shimbun. 13 March 2023. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
    40. ^ "Kenzburo Oe – Bibliography". The Nobel Prize. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
    41. EBSCOHost
    42. ^ "[Review] The Catch". Variety. 20 November 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2023.
    43. S2CID 144812230
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    44. ^ .
    45. . Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    46. ^ – via ProQuest.
    47. ^ .
    48. ^ .
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    50. .
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    54. ^ "洪水はわが魂に及び". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    55. ^
      JSTOR 42800128
    56. ^ .
    57. ^ "「雨の木」を聴く女たち". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    58. ^ "新しい人よ眼ざめよ". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    59. ^ Thwaite, Anthony (28 July 2002). "Eternity in an hour". The Telegraph.
    60. JSTOR 25007957
    61. ^ Nishi, Kinya (Summer 2022). "The Dialectics of Realist Imagination: Adorno's Aesthetics and Contemporary Japanese Fiction" (PDF). Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics. 45 (2): 85–96.
    62. JSTOR 40144480
    63. .
    64. ^ Morley, John David (17 November 1996). "Her Brother's Keeper". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    65. JSTOR 4241102
    66. .
    67. ^ "あいまいな日本の私". Kotobank (in Japanese). Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    68. JSTOR 20635813
    69. .
    70. .
    71. ^ Tayler, Christopher (12 June 2010). "[Review] The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    72. ^ Ashby, Janet (14 October 2001). "Kenzaburo Oe: Bridging the generation gap". The Japan Times. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    73. JSTOR 42800231
    74. ^ Jing, Xiaolei (13 February 2009). "Embracing Foreign Literature". Beijing Review. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    75. ^ Hong, Terry (6 October 2015). "'Death by Water' takes readers on a wild ride of epic proportions". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
    76. ^ Pons, Philippe (21 May 2015). "Kenzaburô Oe : « L'âge n'apporte pas la sérénité »". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 15 March 2023.


    Further reading

    External links