Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel laureate and critic of post-war Japan, dies aged 88

Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel laureate whose intense novels and defiant politics challenged a modern Japanese culture he saw as morally empty and dangerously inclined to the same mindset that led to catastrophe in World War II, died March 3. He was 88 years old.

His publisher Kodansha announced the death on Monday. No cause was given or said where he had died.

Mr. Oe was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature for creating what the Nobel Committee described as “an imaginary world in which life and myth coalesce into a disturbing picture of human predicament”.

Although he often said he was only writing for Japanese audiences, Mr. Oe attracted an international readership in the 1960s with three works in particular: Hiroshima Notes, a collection of essays on the long-term aftermath of the atomic bombings; and the novels A Personal Matter and The Silent Cry, which originated in a life-changing crisis for him and his wife, the birth of a son with a deformed skull.

Politically, he was a prominent voice for a generation of dissidents who opposed arming the Japanese Defense Forces and advocated paying war reparations to China, Korea and other Asian neighbors. He was frequently slandered by the right and occasionally threatened with death, for example when he rejected the Japanese cultural order in 1994 because it had been bestowed on him by the emperor. “I recognize no authority, no value higher than democracy,” he said.

As if to vindicate his objections to the whitewashing of the country’s history, he was sued for defamation in 2005 for writing an essay in 1970 alleging that near the end of World War II, Japanese officers forced hundreds of Okinawans to commit suicide by telling them they would being raped, tortured and murdered by advancing American troops. The plaintiffs were a 91-year-old war veteran and surviving relatives of another veteran, but the lawsuit was seized by right-wing politicians who wanted references to military involvement removed from school textbooks.

Mr Oe was able to write little during the 2006-08 court action, but the judge eventually ruled in his favour: “The military was heavily implicated in the mass suicides.”

A longer version of this obituary will be published later. Kenzaburo Oe, Nobel laureate and critic of post-war Japan, dies aged 88

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