Oe Kenzaburo

Oe Kenzaburo
Courtesy of Kyodo Photo Service

Born on the island of Shikoku in 1935, the son of a successful paper merchant, Nobel Prize-winning writer Oe grew up in an isolated, rural setting, his fertile imagination encouraged by his grandmother' retelling of legends and folk tales. He was an introverted, dreamy child, who excelled first at math and then at literature.

Realizing the potential shown by his high school studies, Oe moved to the mainland in 1954 to enter Tokyo University. His fiction was published first in student magazines, and soon drew the attention of the literary world outside. In 1958 his short story "Shiiku" (Prize Stock) won the Akutagawa Prize for Literature, and in the same year his first novel came out - "Memeshiri Kouchi" (Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids). Oe, following his graduation at the age of 23, plunged directly into a career as a full-time writer. In 1960 he married Yukari, the sister of film director and old high-school friend, Itami Juzo.

In the sixties Japan saw its new-found economic prosperity shaken by recurring student riots over the US-Japan defense treaty. Recording the atmosphere of nuclear paranoia following the Cuban missile crisis, Oe found himself under attack from both left and right-wingers for refusing to bow down to party dogma. The year 1963, however, was to bring a very personal tragedy; the couple's first son, Hikari, was born with a cerebral hernia - the surgery to save the infant's life resulted in irreversible brain damage.

The family's endurance of this adversity contributed to the intense novels "A Personal Matter" and "The Silent Cry," the latter acknowledged by many as the greatest postwar Japanese novel thus far. This was not just a personal matter for Oe, however; this awakened him to the rough treatment of the physically and mentally handicapped in a Japan which valued homogeneity and conformity and tended to ignore any exceptions.

Oe continued to write throughout the '70s and '80s, while giving the best care possible to Hikari (the name means light). His interests and influences diversified into many new fields, even science fiction, the one constant element being his support for the underprivileged and the maladjusted.

In 1994, Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, only the second postwar Japanese novelist to win it. In his acceptance speech, he portrayed Japan as a nation suffering from schizophrenia, refusing to acknowledge past and present problems. This, along with his turning down the Imperial Order of Culture award, led to more attacks from the right-wingers.

Following this furor, Oe shocked everyone once again when he announced that he was giving up writing fiction altogether. The main reason, he stated, was a feeling that he had been writing and lecturing on behalf of his son for so many years - and now his son had started a career as a composer, working first for NHK. Years of diligent care and attention had paid off, with Oe Hikari being able to express himself through music.

Whether he writes fiction again or not, Oe Kenzaburo's published works stand as a testament to what he has referred to, in his personal life, as "the exquisite healing power of art."

John Paul Catton

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

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