Oe Kenzaburo

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ŌE Kenzaburō

Nationality: Japanese. Born: Ōse village, Shikoku island, 31 January 1935. Education: Tokyo University, 1954-59, B.A. in French literature 1959. Family: Married Itami Yukari in 1960; three children. Career: Traveled to China as member of Japan-China Literary Delegation, 1960; traveled to Eastern and Western Europe, 1961, United States, 1965, Australia and United States, 1968, and Southeast Asia, 1970; visiting professor, Collegio de México, Mexico City, 1976; freelance writer. Lives in Tokyo. Awards: May Festival prize, 1954; Akutagawa prize, 1958; Shinchōsha prize, 1964; Tanizaki prize, 1967; Noma prize, 1973; Osaragi Jirō award.


Short Stories

Shisha no Ogori [The Arrogance of the Dead]. 1958.

Miru mae ni Tobe [Leap Before You Look]. 1958.

Okurete kita seinen [The Youth Who Arrived Late]. 1962.

Sakebigoe [Outcries]. 1963.

Warera no kyōki o ikinobiru michi o oshieyo (novella). 1969; augmented edition, 1975; as "Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness," in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness: Four Short Novels, 1977.

Waganamida o nuguitamaū hi (novella). 1972; as "The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away," in Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, 1977.

Sora no kaibutsu Aguii. 1972; as "Aghwee the Sky Monster," inTeach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, 1977.

Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness: Four Short Novels (includes"Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness," "The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away," "Prize Stock," "Aghwee the Sky Monster"). 1977.

Gendai denkishū [Modern Tales of Wonder]. 1980.


Memushiri kouchi [Pluck the Flowers, Gun the Kids]. 1958; as Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, 1995.

Warera no jidai [Our Age]. 1959. Seinen no omei [The Young Man's Stigma]. 1959.

Kodoku na seinen no kyū ka. 1960.

Seiteki ningen [The Sexual Man]. 1963.

Nichijō seikatsu no bōken [Adventures of Everyday Life]. 1963.

Kojinteki na taiken. 1964; as A Personal Matter, 1968.

Man'nen gannen no futtobōru. 1967; as The Silent Cry, 1974.

Kōzui wa waga tamashii ni oyobi [The Flood Has Reached MySoul]. 2 vols., 1973.

Pinchiranna chōsho. 1976; as The Pinch-Runner Memoran-Ko Do dum, 1993.

Dōjidai gemu [The Game of Contemporaneity]. 1979.

"Ame no ki" o kiku onnatachi [Women Listening to "RainTree"]. 1982.

Atarashi hito yo mezameyo [Rouse Up O Young Men of the NewAge!]. 1983.

Natsukashii toshi e no tegami [Letters to the Lost Years]. 1986.

Chiryō no tō [Tower of Healing]. 1991.


Sekai no wakamonotachi. 1962.

Hiroshima nōto [Hiroshima Notes]. 1965.

Genshuku na tsunawatari [The Solemn Tightrope Walking]. 1965.

Zensakuhin [Collected Works]. 6 vols., 1966-67; 2nd series, 1977—.

Jizokusuru kokorozashi [Enduring Volition]. 1968.

Kowaremono to shite no ningen [Fragile Human]. 1970.

Okinawa nōto [Okinawa Notes]. 1970.

Kakujidai no sōzōryoku [The Imagination of the Nuclear Age]. 1970.

Genbakugo no ningen [Homo sapien After the A-Bomb]. 1971.

Kujira no shimetsusuru hi [The Day the Whales Shall Be Annihilated]. 1972.

Dōjidai to shite no sengo [Post-War as the Contemporaneity]. 1973.

Jōkyō e [Toward Situations]. 1974.

Bungaku nōto [Literary Notes]. 1974.

Kotoba ni yotte: Jyōkō/Bungaku [Via Words: Situations/Litera-Do ture]. 1976.

Shōsetsu no hōhō [The Method of a Novel]. 1978.

Ōe Kenzaburō dōjidaironshū [An Essay on the ContemporaryAge]. 10 vols., 1981.

Shomotsusekai no in'yu, with Yujiro Nakamura and MasaoYamaguchi. 1981.

Chū shin to shūen, with Yujiro Nakamura and Masao Yamaguchi. 1981.

Bunka no kasseika, with Yujiro Nakamura and Masao Yamaguchi. 1982.

Hiroshima kara Oiroshima e: '82 Yōroppa no hankaku heiwa undo O o miru. 1982.

Kaku no taika to "ningen" no koe [The Nuclear Conflagration and the Voice of "Man"]. 1982.

Ika ni ki o korosu ka [How to Kill a Tree]. 1984.

Nihon gendai no yumanisuto Watanabe Kazuo o yomu. 1984.

Ikikata no teigi: futatabi jokyo e. 1985.

Shōsetsu no takurami chi no tanoshimi. 1985.

Kaba ni kamareru. 1985.

M/T to mori no fushigi no monogatari. 1986.

Atarashii bungaku no tame no. 1988.

Kirupu no gundan. 1988.

Saigo no shōsetsu. 1988.

Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself: The Nobel Prize Speech and Other Lectures. 1995.

Editor, Itami Mansaku essei shu, by Mansaku Itami. 1971.

Editor, Atomic Aftermath: Short Stories About Hiroshima-Nagasaki. 1984; as The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath, 1985; as Fire from the Ashes: Short Stories About Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1985.


Critical Studies:

"Circles of Shame: 'Sheep' by Ōe Kenzaburō" by Frederick Richter, in Studies in Short Fiction 11, 1974; in The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature, 1978, and Oe Kenzaburo and Contemporary Japanese Literature, 1986, both by Hisaaki Yamanouchi; "The 'Mad' World of Ōe Kenzaburō" by Iwamoto Yoshio, in Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 14 (1), 1979; "Toward a Phenomenology of Ōe Kenzaburō: Self, World, and the Intermediating Microcosm" by Earl Jackson, Jr., in Transactions of the International Conference of Orientalists in Japan 25, 1980; "Ō e's Obsessive Metaphor, Mori the Idiot Son: Toward the Imagination of Satire, Regeneration, and Grotesque Realism" by Michiko N. Wilson, in Journal of Japanese Studies 7 (1), 1981; "Kenzaburo Oe: A New World of Imagination" by Yoshida Sanroku, in Comparative Literature Studies 22 (1), 1985; The Marginal World of Oe Kenzaburo: A Study in Themes and Techniques by Michiko N. Wilson, 1986; in Off Center by Miyoshi Masao, 1991; Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo by Susan J. Napier, 1991; The Music of Light: The Extraordinary Story of Hikari and Kenzaburō Ōe by Lindsley Cameron, 1998.

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Ōe Kenzaburō, arguably Japan's most important contemporary writer and the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, is known for his short stories and novels celebrating the marginal and the oppressed, often written in violent opposition to a central establishment. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that Ōe was born in a mountain village of Shikoku, the smallest and still the most rural of Japan's four major islands. Although he now lives in Tokyo, the village in the valley and the forest surrounding it have continued to empower Ōe's fictional imagination. Works highlighting a rural background range from his early so-called pastoral fiction, such as his 1958 Akutagawa Prize-winning story "Prize Stock and the Catch" ("Shiiku"), to his nostalgic 1986 novel Natsukashii toshi e no tegami (Letters to the Lost Years). While his pastoral works were largely realistic in their treatment of the village and the valley, Ōe's later fiction increasingly began to attach a mythological significance to these places. In The Silent Cry (Man'nen gannen no futtobōru), two urban brothers return to their village in the mountains to forge new lives. The older brother searches for a "thatched hut," a retreat from the world, while the younger brother mixes village history and legends to anoint himself leader over the increasingly apathetic villagers.

The possibilities inherent in rural folk legends became increasingly important in Ōe's fiction in the 1970s and 1980s, leading to his controversial novel Dōjidai gemu (The Game of Contemporaneity), which describes the opposition of a hidden mountain village toward what the people call the Greater Japanese Empire. Dōjidai gemu offers the inspiration of the folklore and legends of the village as a substitute to what Ōe considers to be the pernicious influence of the elitist myths of the Japanese emperor system.

In fact, Ōe's strong opposition to the emperor system has been another important element in his writing, often combined with the events of the summer of 1945 when Japan acknowledged defeat and the Allied occupation began. Ōe's Japanese critics have pointed to 1945 as a watershed year in the young writer's life, creating a bifurcation in his personal ideology between the "patriotic boy" who had loved the emperor and the "democratic boy" who believed in the liberal principles fostered by the occupation. Many of his early works show this bifurcation.

Perhaps Ōe's most fascinating fictional comment on the emperor system is his brilliant novella "The Day He Himself Shall Wipe My Tears Away" ("Waganamida o nuguitamaū hi"). Inspired bȳ e's fellow novelist and personal bête noire Mishima Yukio, the novella is a savage attack on both the emperor system and the insane romanticism that lay behind Mishima's death. At the same time, however, the novella betrays a certain empathy toward that very romanticism, suggesting that traces of the patriotic boy still remain in Ōe's personality, even though he is a committed left-wing humanist. The emperor-oriented suicide of Ōe's portraits of romantic protagonists, lost in dreams of violence or escape, are among his most effective. Perhaps his most successful characterization of this sort is contained in his bildungsroman A Personal Matter (Kojinteki na taiken) . A darkly humorous yet extraordinarily affecting account of a young man's struggle to come to terms with having fathered a brain-damaged child, A Personal Matter contains strongly autobiographical elements. But Bird, as the young father is called, is ultimately far more than Ōe's alter ego. A dreamer who initially wants only to escape his marriage and travel to Africa, Bird grows up in the course of the book through a series of grotesque and memorable encounters that range from the erotic to the comic. A Personal Matter is one of Ōe's funniest and most moving novels, and its hero, irritating and self-pitying though he may be, is one of the most brilliantly realized characters in modern Japanese fiction.

The theme of father and brain-damaged son has remained an important element in Ōe's fiction, from the surreal fantasy "Aghwee the Sky Monster" (" Sora no kaibutsu Aguii "), in which a father is unable to overcome his guilt for having murdered his brain-damaged baby, to the carnivalesque epic The Pinch-Runner Memorandum (Pinchiranna chōsho), in which a father and idiot son lead an army of marginals and grotesques against the Japanese establishment.

Ōe's later work has continued to mine these themes, although the tone has become increasingly elegiac rather than angry. His 1991 science fiction novel Chiryō no tō (Tower of Healing) is set in a dystopian future in which a hidden valley exists as a final escape, thus combining one of his favorite themes with a new departure. All of Ōe's fiction, however, is simultaneously politically controversial and highly imaginative.

—Susan J. Napier

See the essay on "Aghwee the Sky Monster."