Kenzabur e (oh-ay) was born in 1935 in the village of se on the island of Shikoku, Japan, the smallest and most isolated of the four main islands. The third son of seven children, he was six when Japan entered fully into World War II. On August 6, 1945, when e was ten years old, the United States Army dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito for the first time spoke on the radio in a “human voice,” announcing the unconditional surrender of Japan. This event was a defining moment in e’s life. Up until then, he had been taught, like all Japanese schoolchildren, to fear the emperor as a god and to promise to die for him if he were asked. Every day his turn came to be called to the front of the classroom and be asked: “What would you do if the emperor commanded you to die?” Trembling, e would reply, “I would die, Sir. I would cut open my belly and die.” So the truth of the emperor’s divinity, as e had been taught it, was declared a lie. He felt betrayed, and his anger became his motivation as a writer as he witnessed the suffering of many Japanese people who were affected by the war.
In 1954, e entered Tokyo University, where he majored in French literature. While there, he published his first story in the student newspaper and received the May Festival Prize for it. e’s first commercially published story, “Shisha no ogori” (1957; “Lavish the Dead,” 1965), missed the coveted Akutagawa Prize by one vote, but he did win that prize the following year for his acclaimed story “Shiiku” (1958; “The Catch,” 1966). e was a brilliant student of language and philosophy, but he kept to himself. Withdrawn by nature and ashamed of his provincial accent and his stutter, he remained a loner. He lived in a rooming house near the campus, where at night he set about pursuing his writing career in earnest.
e’s first novel, Memushiri kouchi (1958; Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, 1995), reflects his provincial background...
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