Kenzaburō Ōe, Nobel Prize-winning writer who witnessed Hiroshima, dies
by Stefano Vecchia

The writer, who was 88, in 1994 was the second Japanese to receive the prestigious literature award. After the Fukushima accident, he campaigned for the closure of nuclear power plants. His work captured the inner tragedies of today's men and women.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Japanese publisher Kodansha announced this morning the death of Japanese writer Kenzaburō Ōe, 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, who passed away on 3 March from old age.

His long and prolific career was marked by several prestigious awards, including a Nobel Prize for Literature, the second awarded to a Japanese writer after Yasunari Kawabata in 1968.

His work was influenced by two specific situations, namely the Second World War (which ended on 14 August 1945 with Japan’s surrender when he was 10 years old), and his son’s learning disabilities. Hikari Ōe, 59, is now a well-known composer.

Kenzaburō Ōe’s works have been recurrently inspired by the fears aroused by the war, which marked his memory, starting – as he put it– from not being able to show the loyalty and spirit of sacrifice then required in Japan even from the youngest, but also from the experience of the atomic bombs dropped on his country.

The war is reflected in some of his books, such as Hiroshima Notes released in 1965 and Okinawa Notes in 1970.

His own suffering and that of his compatriots during the war and its consequences, permeates many of his writings and is the basis of his pacifist and anti-nuclear commitment.

After the accident of the reactors at the Fukushima-2 plant in 2011, he promoted a campaign that called for the closure of nuclear plants, garnering millions of signatures.

“To repeat the error by exhibiting, through the construction of nuclear reactors, the same disrespect for human life is the worst possible betrayal of the memory of Hiroshima's (atomic bombing) victims," Ōe wrote in an article in The New Yorker, 10 days after the cooling systems at the plant malfunctioned, as a result of a tsunami sparked by a major earthquake on 11 March 2011.

Ōe has also published more introspective, autobiographical works, beginning with A Personal Matter in 1964, with the description of a man unable to accept the birth of a brain-damaged son in a family in crisis.

Ōe's long and prolific career began in 1957 – when he was still a student of French literature at the University of Tokyo – with the publication of The Catch, a stark vision of the fate of an African-American aviator captured in a Japanese village, earning him the Akutagawa Prize the following year at the age of 23.

For the world, The Silent Cry published in Japan in 1967 and subsequently translated into many languages, became his disruptive business card.

It shows the traits that inspired the Nobel Committee that awarded him the 1994 Prize, for its “poetic force [that] creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.”