Nobel Laureate and Japanese contemporary writer Kenzaburo Ōe has died at age 88.
Known for his compelling stories and essays that challenged post-war Japan, Ōe was announced to have died on March 3 by his publisher, Kondansha. As of this writing, no location or cause of death has been revealed.
Born in 1935 in the small village of Uchiko, Ōe was the third of seven children.
After the deaths of his grandmother and father, the young Ōe was heavily influenced by his mother, who encouraged him to read books like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.” He would go on to study French Literature at Tokyo University.
Making his literary debut in 1957, Ōe quickly was awarded with the prestigious Akutagawa prize for “The Catch.” However, the author’s popularity was not limited to Japan, as he quickly received international acclaim for “Hiroshima Notes,” a collection of essays detailing the lives of Hiroshima atomic bomb victims.
Ōe was heavily influenced by his childhood memories of Japan’s defeat during World War II.
Developing a fascination with democratic principles, the author would cater his writing to reflect his pacifism and critique of Japanese militarism.
Becoming a voice for dissidents and a prominent advocate for reparations by the Japanese government, Ōe adhered to his beliefs despite death threats and instances of physical assault by those affiliated with Japan’s right-wing organizations.
The contemporary author also faced a defamation lawsuit over his full-length essay “Okinawa Notes,” which details the mass suicide of Okinawans at the end of World War II due to the coercion of the Japanese military. Despite right-wing politicians’ desires to erase the role of the military in the historical incident, the judge would ultimately rule in favor of Ōe, stating: “The military was deeply involved in the mass suicides.”
However, Ōe faced a new challenge with the birth of his son, Hikari, in 1963. Born with a brain hernia and requiring surgery, Hikari inspired Ōe’s “Kojinteki-na taiken” (“A Personal Matter”), “A Silent Cry” and multiple other works.
“Everything I write begins with the personal,” the writer explained.
In 1994, Ōe’s works and efforts were recognized with the Nobel Prize in Literature.
As Japan’s second writer to claim the title, the Nobel Prize winner expressed that the award was a “total surprise” and that he was simply “a person who writes novels, and at the same time I’m a person who reads.”
Soon after Ōe’s award, he was given Japan’s Order of Culture. However, sticking to his morals and beliefs, the writer refused to accept the award as it was given by Japan’s Emperor. “I do not recognize any authority, any value, higher than democracy,”Ōe responded.
In the 21st century, Ōe further involved himself in pacifist and anti-nuclear campaigns. Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Ōe called on the “ethical responsibility” of Japan and former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to “halt plans to restart nuclear power plants and instead abandon nuclear energy.”
Ōe is survived by his wife, Yukari, his son Hikari and his two other children, Natsumiko and Sakurao.