September’s issue of Philiosophie magazine has an interview with the Japanese author, Kenzaburô ôe who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994.
It’s a fascinating and striking article. He has been a controversial figure in Japan because of the subject matter of his novels, one of which challenges the official version of what happened in Okinawa at the end of the Second World War. Officially, 100,000 Okinawans committed suicide claiming loyalty to the Emperor rather than be over-run by the invading Americans. Kenzaburô says this is a lie. He says the Imperial Army massacred the Okinawans and they died called for their mothers, not swearing loyalty to the Emperor.
He has also shone a clear light on the reality of life for those who survived the blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Telling their stories shows how these particular bombs didn’t just kill and wound when they were dropped, but continue to damage those who survived right into the present day.
It’s no surprise then to read that since Fukushima he actively campaigns for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan.
A big part of the story of his life is the birth of his son in 1963. Hikari was born with a severe brain defect and his parents had to decide to either let him die, or have an operation which would likely leave him severely mentally handicapped. They chose the latter. In addition to his severe handicap he has autism and he didn’t speak until he was six.
His first words were actually a sentence. The family was walking in the forest and at the sound of a particular bird call, Hikari said, in exactly the same way a radio presenter of a nature documentary would, “that is the call of the (such an such bird)” – and it was! After that his parents started buying bird song CDs and Hikari learned them all. They moved on to music, playing him Bach and Mozart, and were astonished to find, as he got older, that he could transcribe into musical notation perfectly any piece of music after hearing it just once. More than that, he went on to compose his own music.
Kenzaburô says his son has never expressed any emotion but his music is deeply emotional. His first CD sold 400,000 copies in Japan.
Kenzaburô’s daily life is spent in his study reading and writing, while his son sits by him listening to, and writing, music.
A remarkable man.
Right at the end of the interview he says of creative work that it is important to find your own voice, or your own style – to be careful not to “get lost in the universal”.
I like that a lot. Too often we lose our singular uniqueness by trying to be accepted, or to fit in, or to be popular. Isn’t it more important to be the one unique person who only we can be?