Yoko, Ota 1903(?)-1963

views updated

YOKO, Ota 1903(?)-1963

PERSONAL: Born c. 1903, in Hiroshima, Japan; died of a heart attack 1963; daughter of Tomi.

CAREER: Freelance journalist and novelist.


Ryuri no kishi (title means "Drifting Shores"), Oyamashoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1939.

Sakura no kuni, Asahi Shinbunsha (Tokyo, Japan), 1940.

Tansho, Oyama Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1941.

Mahiru no jonetsu, Tancho Shobo (Tokyo, Japan), 1947.

Hibana hirakazu, Manrikaku 1948.

Shikabane no machi, Chuo Koronsha (Tokyo, Japan), 1948, translated by Richard H. Minear as "City of Corpses" in Hiroshima: Three Witnesses, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.

Ningen ranru (title means "Human Rags"), Kawade Shobo (Tokyo, Japan), 1952.

Han-ningen (title means "Half-Human"), Dainihon'yubenkai Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1954.

Yunagi no machi to hito to: senkyukyaku gojusannen no jittai, Dainihon'yubenkai Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1955.

Hachijissai, Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1961.

Ota Yoko shu, Kodansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1969.

Ota Yoko, Horupushuppan (Tokyo, Japan), 1983.

Contributor to various Japanese periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: A native of Hiroshima, Japan, Ota Yoko was a rising author prior to World War II. Her career began in the 1920s with stories for local periodicals, for which she received national attention. Yoko moved on to longer literary forms in 1939 with her first novel, Ryuri no kishi. Japan's entry into World War II effectively halted Yoko's career, however, as life was disrupted by the Allied invasion.

Ironically, Yoko, who was living in Tokyo during the early war years, moved to Hiroshima, living with her mother and stepsister to escape U.S. air attacks. The home they occupied was about a mile from ground zero, where the atom bomb ultimately landed. On the morning of the U.S. bomb attack, Yoko and her family were at home, and following the attack they fled to Kujima, a town west of Hiroshima, to recover from minor injuries. By the end of August, Yoko had published an essay about the bombings.

Deeply moved by the resluting devastation, Yoko turned her life over to writing stories reflecting the effects of the atom bomb. The first of her postwar books, Shikabane no machi, was begun a month after the bombing and was released in 1948. A series of testimonials, the work describes an idyllic Hiroshima until the day the atom bomb hit. The book goes on to describe the experiences of victims and refugees, the surrender of Japan, and the famine that followed. Yoko puts herself into the narrative, describing how hearing the stories of others inspired her to continue to write. Her book "has generally been regarded as an impressively effective, which is to say comprehensive and ambiguous, record of the events it set out to describe," wrote Journal of Asian Studies contributor John Whittier Treat.

By 1951 Yoko was back in Tokyo, and had finished Ningen ranru, a fictional Hiroshima story. This novel takes readers through a year and a half with bombing survivors. Treat compared Ningen ranru to Yoko's pre-bombing novel, Ryuri no kishi. Both works, he commented, take on "the troubled relationships between men and women. The backdrop for those relationships, however, perverts them in ways that repeatedly draw the reader's attention to August 1945. It is hard to imagine a typical romance transferred, intact, to a wasted Hiroshima, and in fact it is this incongruity that gives Ningen ranru its peculiar effect."

With 1954's Han-ningen Yoko took a different turn, presenting a Hiroshima story with no identifiable bombing incidents. Using a fictional stand-in named Oda, the novel follows a famous writer at odds with Japan's medical establishment over an unidentifiable nervous disorder. Oda's deteriorating emotional state leads her to a hospital, where she encounters Hiroshima survivors whose physical and mental destruction represents the status of Japan's most desperate war victims.



Esashi Akiko, Ota Yoko Hyoden, Nami Shobo (Tokyo, Japan), 1971.

Nagaoka Hiroyoshi, Genbaku bungakushi, Fubaisha (Nagoya, Japan), 1973.


Journal of Asian Studies, February, 1989, John Whittier Treat, "Hiroshima and the Place of the Narrator," p. 29.