Kōbō Abe Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207665-Abe.jpg Kb Abe Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Kb Abe (ahb-eh) was born on March 7, 1924, in Tokyo, Japan, during an interval when his Japanese father, a physician associated with the Manchurian School of Medicine in Mukden (later Shenyang), China, was in Japan on a research assignment. The family went to China shortly after the child was a year old. Abe remained in Mukden until he was sixteen. The experience of living outside his native country appears to have had a deep and lasting effect on Abe. The idea of one’s homeland, traditionally very deeply ingrained in the Japanese, seems to have scarcely existed for Abe, according to his own comment about his early years. As a matter of fact, official family documents show him to have registered as a native of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. It is true that he lived in Hokkaido for several years, but Tokyo was indisputably his birthplace. Thus, Tokyo, where he was born, Mukden, the principal place where he was reared, and Hokkaido, the place of his family’s origin, seemed to have little connection in the writer’s mind. Abe himself is said to have commented that he was a “man without a hometown.”

In 1941, Abe’s parents sent him to Tokyo for school and for military training. His academic achievements there were not particularly noteworthy. When World War II broke out, Abe had ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, he found fascism and militarism to be utterly repugnant; on the other hand, the sense of patriotism triggered within him a desire to be identified with defending his country. When the time approached for Abe to make important decisions regarding his higher education, Abe enrolled as a...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Kb (Kimifusa) Abe’s parents lived in Manchuria, China, where his father worked as a doctor, he was born in Tokyo in 1924 because his father had brought the family back to Japan in order to conduct some research. His mother, like his father, was from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, and she had written novels as a young woman. The young Abe and his mother moved to Hokkaido temporarily in 1931 to avoid the Japanese invasion of the Chinese mainland.

Both Manchuria and Hokkaido are important in that they represent the only frontier lands that many Japanese would ever have the opportunity to experience, and they were also the only places where the significance of “being Japanese” was not a given. Those living in these marginal places were not completely excluded nor were they wholly accepted by mainstream Japanese society. This fact is reflected in Abe’s writings, in which he portrays Manchuria as a bleak, flat, hostile place and Hokkaido as a land of promise, a Japanese “wild west.”

Though Abe grew up in a colonial setting, his school books were those issued by the Ministry of Education in Japan, so he had read textbook descriptions about the landscape of Japan with its mountains, rivers, and cherry blossoms, but in Manchuria, he knew only plains and no cherry trees. On occasions when he was scolded by teachers, he was told that “a child back home would never do such a thing,” reinforcing in Abe’s mind the fact that he was not a typical Japanese. Abe has commented on how he grew to doubt the significance of belonging to any nation or to any society.

In 1943, Abe entered medical school in Tokyo at the strong urging of his father, and although Abe took no pleasure in his studies, the training may have contributed to his ability to make precise descriptions and to look on situations and on people with emotional detachment. He remarked jokingly that he was allowed to graduate only on the condition that he never practice medicine. Abe began writing fiction upon his graduation from medical...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The son of a physician on the staff of the Manchurian School of Medicine in Mukden (now Shenyang, China), Kimifusa Abe was born in Tokyo, Japan, while his father was there on a research assignment. The circumstances of Abe’s early life and education suggest why he was especially predisposed to treat the issues of alienation and identity with clinical detachment as well as with verve and imagination. When Abe was barely a year old, the family returned to Mukden, where Abe lived until the age of sixteen. His early life and schooling, partly in Mukden and partly in Tokyo, took place during a turbulent period of social and political unrest in northern China. Japanese military occupation included the area where he lived. In due course, World War II broke out, and eventually Tokyo and the other main cities of Japan were devastated by bombs and fire. All of this was part of Abe’s direct experience. It is no wonder that his novels are dotted with references to warfare and human conflict.

Exempted from military service because of a respiratory illness, Abe stood apart from other young men of his age. Being forcibly separated from the place where he grew up by virtue of the Japanese defeat in the war, he became almost a displaced person in his own country. His birthplace was Tokyo, yet his youth had been spent mostly in Mukden. His official family residence was on the northern island of Hokkaid. Abe himself later said that he was a man without a homeland. After going back to Tokyo in 1941 for schooling and military training and traveling under wartime conditions several times between Japan and Manchuria, Abe eventually finished medical school in 1948. Deciding against medical practice, however, in favor of a writing career, Abe allied himself with a literary group led by Kiyoteru Hamada; the group was committed to the goal of fusing surrealistic techniques with Marxist ideology. Taking the pseudonym Kb Abe, he published works in an avant-garde, experimental style that quickly won praise from the younger generation of readers, who admired his short stories, novels, and plays that exposed the emptiness of life in modern society.