Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel laureate whose intense novels and defiant politics challenged a modern Japanese culture that he found morally vacant and dangerously tilted toward the same mind-set that led to catastrophe in World War II, died on March 3. He was 88.
His publisher, Kodansha, announced the death on Monday. It did not specify a cause or say where he had died.
Mr. Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994 for creating what the Nobel committee called “an imagined world where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.”
Though he often said he wrote with only a Japanese audience in mind, Mr. Oe attracted an international readership in the 1960s with three works in particular: “Hiroshima Notes,” a collection of essays on the long-term consequences of the atomic bomb attacks; and the novels “A Personal Matter” and “The Silent Cry,” which had their genesis in a life-changing crisis for him and his wife, the birth of a son with a deformed cranium.
Politically, he was a prominent voice for a generation of dissidents who opposed arming Japan’s defense forces and advocated paying war reparations to China, Korea and other Asian neighbors. He was frequently vilified and occasionally threatened with death by elements on the right, as when he declined to receive Japan’s Order of Culture in 1994 because it was bestowed by the emperor. “I do not recognize any authority, any value, higher than democracy,” he said.
As if in validation of his objections to the country’s whitewashing of history, he was sued for defamation in 2005 for an essay he had written in 1970 asserting that Japanese officers had coerced hundreds of Okinawans near the end of World War II to commit suicide by telling them they would be 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 suit was seized upon by right-wing politicians who wanted references to the military’s involvement deleted from high school textbooks.
Mr. Oe was able to do little writing while the suit was in court, from 2006 to 2008, but the judge ultimately ruled in his favor: “The military was deeply involved in the mass suicides.”
A longer version of this obituary will be published later.