Japanese writer and Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oë dies 11:25 in Abroad , Culture & Media He became known for his socially critical work on post-World War II Japan and for books about life with an intellectually disabled child, both based on his own experiences.

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Kenzaburo Oe at a 2015 protest against Prime Minister Abe’s military plans
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Japanese writer and Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oë has passed away. He was 88. Oë wrote novels based on his childhood memories of the post-war occupation of Japan and on his life with a mentally handicapped son. He died on March 3, but his publisher has only now announced this.

In 1994, Oë was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the second Japanese writer after Yasunari Kawabata in 1968. The Swedish Academy praised him for his poetic writing style, with which he “created an imaginary world where life and myth merge and form a disturbing picture of the predicament in which humanity finds itself”.

His most poignant books are based on life with his son Hikari (1963), who was born with a brain defect. In 1964 Het Own Fate was published, in which he describes the gloom, the pain and the acceptance process of a father who is confronted with it. Characters inspired by his son appear in later books.

Hikari Oë has speech and reading difficulties, but developed into a composer. His music is performed and has been released on albums.

Social criticism

Oë’s books about the American occupation of Japan after World War II through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy caused great discomfort in the country. They include nuclear weapons, pacifism and other political, social and philosophical themes.

In 2005, he was sued for libel by two retired officers over a 1970 essay about the island of Okinawa, where a US base was established after the war. Oë wrote that members of the Japanese army had forced civilians on the island to commit suicide during the invasion of the Allies in 1945. The court dismissed the charge and stated that the army had indeed been closely involved in the suicides.

According to the Nobel Prize Committee, the post-war humiliation deeply affected him and colored his work. He himself called writing a way to expel demons. He remained socially and socially involved into old age. For example, he opposed Prime Minister Abe’s plans around 2015 to end Japan’s pacifist policy.

In 1958 Oë made his debut with the novella Keeping an Animal, in which he describes his childhood war memories. The story is about a country boy’s experiences with an American pilot shot down over his village. It earned him a prestigious Japanese debutant award, the Akutagawa Prize.


Oë was born into a traditional family as the third of seven children on January 31, 1935, in a village on the southern Japanese island of Shikoku. His family had lived there for hundreds of years and no one had ever left. The women of the Oë clan traditionally told stories and legends, which influenced him greatly. His father died in the war and his mother raised him with books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Wonderful Journey of Nils Holgersson, which made a great impression on him.

He left the village to study French literature at the University of Tokyo and started writing plays during that time. According to the Swedish Academy, his style was strongly influenced by Western writers such as Dante, Poe, Rabelais, Balzac, Eliot and Sartre.

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  • Abroad

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