Tokyo Tower: Bye, Oe

Kenzaburo Oe, author and Nobel laureate, speaks against the Japanese government's nuclear policy during a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, on July 12, 2012. Oe died on March 3, 2023. "due to old age"its publisher Kodansha announced on March 13.

Kenzaburo Oe, author and Nobel laureate, speaks against the Japanese government’s nuclear policy during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on July 12, 2012. Oe died on March 3, 2023 “due to old age,” announced its publisher Kodansha on March 13.


One morning, from a bus in Tokyo, I spied a young man who was waiting for the traffic light to change, staring into the sky and hugging like a koala bear a small man with round glasses, whom I immediately recognized as the writer Kenzaburo. Hey.

Although on subsequent occasions I had the opportunity to see the recently deceased Nobel Prize winner at conferences or meetings, I treasure that image as the emblem of the parents of children with mental disabilities who assume their paternity with the same determination with which others undertake interoceanic explorations, trips to space or wars. (We recommend more columns by Gonzalo Robledo on Japan).

He knew of his son Hikari’s (Japanese for light) autistic condition, as the Japanese media reported on the boy’s unusual sensitivity to classical music and how his teacher had mistaken a composition of his for sheet music copied from Mozart. When Oe received the Nobel Prize in 1994, Hikari had already recorded his second CD. Much later I read the novel a personal matterstarring a man whose wife has just given birth to a child with brain disease.

At the moment of deciding the fate of the baby, Oe puts on the lips of its protagonist a phrase that illustrates how a writer can be able to open up to show his readers the most hidden parts of his being: “I only have two paths or I strangle it with my bare hands or I accept it and raise it.”

In daily life, Kenzaburo Oe practiced that caring civility of the average Japanese. The coloring and texture of his attire made one think of a Buddhist monk who had asked an English tailor to make him civil suits out of his cotton robes. His affability contrasted with a political ideology considered strident in a country very aware of good manners and a lover of consensus.

They called themselves anti-American, anti-war and anti-nuclear. His view of the Japanese imperial family was made clear when he called a prestigious cultural award unsuccessfully offered to him by Emperor Akihito incompatible with postwar democracy.

His prose was generally difficult and dark. Many Japanese marvel that this elusive and cryptic wealth of narrative could be translated into other languages. In his cultural baggage and his sources were the murals of Diego Rivera, one hundred years of solitudethe novels of Mario Vargas Llosa and the figure of Cervantes.

We have lost a friend of the Spanish-speaking culture and the most prominent spokesman for the, less and less, Japanese who lived through World War II, who advocate a pacifism that, like an obsolete fashion, is beginning to go out of season.

* Colombian journalist and documentarian based in Japan.

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