acclaimed Japanese author of A Personal Matter, The Silent Cry, A Quiet Life, Hiroshima Notes and A Healing Family. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Seventy years ago today, at 8:15 in the morning, the U.S. dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Destruction from the bomb was massive. Shock waves, radiation and heat rays took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing another 74,000. President Harry Truman announced the attack on Hiroshima in a nationally televised address on August 6, 1945. Today, as the sun came up in Hiroshima, tens of thousands began to gather in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park to commemorate the world’s first nuclear attack. We are joined by the acclaimed Japanese novelist and winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, Kenzaburo Oe, whose books address political and social issues, including nuclear weapons and nuclear power. "If Mr. Obama were to come to the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, what he could do is come together with the hibakusha, the survivors, and share that moment of silence, and also express considering the issue of nuclear weapons from the perspective of all humanity and how important nuclear abolition is from that perspective—I think, would be the most important thing, and the most important thing that any politician or representative could do at this time," says Oe, who has also spoken out in defense of Japan’s pacifist constitution, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed to amend in order to allow the country to send troops into conflict for the first time since World War II.
AMY GOODMAN: Seventy years ago today, at 8:15 in the morning, the U.S. dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Destruction from the bomb was massive. Shock waves, radiation and heat rays took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people. President Harry Truman announced the attack on Hiroshima in a nationally televised address August 6, 1945.
PRESIDENT HARRY TRUMAN: A short time ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, today, as the sun came up in Hiroshima, tens of thousands began to gather in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park to commemorate the world’s first nuclear attack. At 8:15 a.m., temple bells tolled as the solemn crowd observed a moment of silence.
AMY GOODMAN: Among those gathered for the memorial were the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, as well as survivors known as the hibakusha, or an atomic-bombed person. Their average age now is 80 years old. They listened as Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui called for nuclear weapons to be abolished.
MAYOR KAZUMI MATSUI: [translated] In order for us to live together, we need to end the use of all nuclear weapons—the ultimate in inhumane, pure evil. And the moment to get this done is now.
AMY GOODMAN: This year’s memorial comes just days before the scheduled restart of the first nuclear reactor in southern Japan to go back online since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed some 18,000 people and set off a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has pushed to revive Japan’s nuclear energy program despite major opposition. During his remarks at today’s memorial ceremony, Abe said Japan still had an important mission to promote nuclear disarmament at the U.N. General Assembly and to put it on the agenda for G7 meetings to be held in Hiroshima next year.
PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE: [translated] Japan intends to renew its efforts to bring about a world without nuclear weapons, with the cooperation of both the nuclear powers and the non-nuclear powers. And that resolve translates to us proposing a new draft resolution at the United Nations in the fall on nuclear disarmament.
AMY GOODMAN: The conservative Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has pushed to change Japan’s pacifist constitution to send troops into conflict for the first time since World War II. The new legislation is under debate in Parliament, was raised by Hiroshima bombing survivors who met with Abe today. Yukio Yoshioka, representative of the Hiroshima A-bomb survivors network, spoke.
YUKIO YOSHIOKA: [translated] The erosion of the constitution will change Japan into a nation that will go to war and bring upon us tragedy once more. We should not allow this nation to become one that repeats the mistakes of its past and does not let the souls of the atomic bomb victims rest in peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on this 70th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Japan, we turn to acclaimed Japanese novelist, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, Kenzaburo Oe, who has spoken out in defense of Japan’s pacifist constitution. He is now 80 years old and one of Japan’s most respected intellectuals and humanitarians. Among his books, A Personal Matter, The Silent Cry, A Quiet Life, Hiroshima Notes and A Healing Family. They address political and social issues, including nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
When Democracy Now! was in Japan last year, I sat down with him in the Tokyo offices of Iwanami, his publisher. I started by asking Kenzaburo Oe to explain a comment he made about Hiroshima in which he said, quote, "Hiroshima must be engraved in our memories: It’s a catastrophe even more dramatic than natural disasters, because it’s man-made. To repeat it, by showing the same disregard for human life in nuclear power stations, is the worst betrayal of the memory of the victims of Hiroshima."
KENZABURO OE: [translated] So, when I was a child at the age of 12 was when Japan was involved in the war, and this was of course at the end of the war, when Japan experienced the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time, what was a great shock to me, myself, but also my mother, our families, all the people at that time, was of course the atomic bomb. And at that time, this was a greater catastrophe than anything we had ever known. And so, the feeling of having to survive this, go beyond this and renew from this was great.
The people in Hiroshima who were forced to suffer the greatest sacrifice was the tens of thousands of people who were killed in an instant. However, there were, of course, many survivors. Following the end of the war and the bombing, for the five years following this, of course, Japan was under occupation, and so at that time it was not possible for the hibakusha, which is what we call the survivors of the atomic bombs, to create any kind of organization of their own. And five years following the bombings was when they were first able to create their own organization. And at that time, their lone slogan was to never allow this to be repeated, never to allow any more hibakusha to be created.
And so, the thing that I feel the most at this time, as we’re suffering from the disaster in Fukushima, is that we must follow the wishes and the will of the hibakusha, and not betray them. Of course, in the following 50 or more years since the end of the war, we have not created any more hibakusha or survivors of nuclear weapons, as such. Despite this fact, it is now after we are experiencing this nuclear power plant disaster, which was created by us, a self-made, man-made disaster, on such a great scale, this has led to so many new hibakusha, or people surviving this nuclear disaster. We have done what we promised following the war to never allow to be repeated, to never allow to happen again. And so, we, the Japanese people, I believe, have been responsible for the greatest betrayal to ourselves, even, betrayal to the Japanese people, by being responsible for this man-made nuclear power plant disaster.
AMY GOODMAN: You led a protest last year against nuclear power in Japan, yet the government today, the most conservative since World War II, is pushing for more nuclear power plants here in Japan.
KENZABURO OE: [translated] So, three years ago, the day after the disaster, the weeks after the disaster, I believe that all Japanese people were feeling a great regret. And the atmosphere in Japan here was almost the same as following the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of the war. And at that time, because of this atmosphere, the government at the time, which is the Democratic Party of Japan, with the agreement of the Japanese people, pledged to totally get rid of or decommission the more than 50 nuclear power plants here in Japan. However, the situation following the disaster, particularly in Fukushima, where so many people are suffering from this, has not changed at all. And the current atmosphere or attitude of the government now in Japan has totally changed. And the current government, which took over from the DPJ, the Liberal Democratic Party, which had long ruled Japan, the conservative government led by Prime Minister Abe, is not only having a totally different policy, but also it’s completely having no regret and no looking back on the nuclear power plant situation or also even on what happened to Japan, and is instead actually actively pushing this forward. And I’m very fearful now that actually all throughout Japan and through the Japanese people, the atmosphere which is now growing and increasing is a spreading of this Prime Minister Abe’s ideology and worldview.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet he was elected as prime minister.
KENZABURO OE: [translated] Yes, he has won in two elections until now. But, however, now, because he has the majority in both of the houses of the Japanese Parliament, it means he is, in essence, able to do anything, go forward anything. And the first thing he is also trying to do now is to revise the constitution, which was created democratically by the Japanese people following the loss in World War II and Hiroshima and Nagasaki experience.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what Article 9 is and the push to have it removed from the constitution.
KENZABURO OE: [translated] And so, first of all, at the time of the war, of course, Japan was an imperial dictatorship under the leadership of the emperor. However, the first thing that’s an important issue within this new constitution that was created after the war was deciding that the emperor would no longer have any political authority. And following this, the next important point in this new constitution was, of course, Article 9 of the constitution. This lays out that the Japanese people will never again wage war and will not accept war as a means to be used for the resolution of international conflicts. And furthering that also, the second important pillar is that Japan will also not maintain any war potential. However, this second pillar is becoming quite ambiguous, as you are maybe aware that Japan also has, of course, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, which fulfills the role of an army. And now, under the current Prime Minister Abe administration, Japan is moving toward actively participating in United States wars. And what I am now most fearful about is the unfortunately likely possibility under Prime Minister Abe that this second pillar of Article 9 will be in danger, but not only this, that even the first pillar, that Japan may actually, within the next year or two or three or four years, actually directly participate in war.
AMY GOODMAN: You write about the effect of the birth of your son, Hikari, on your family, on your work. He’s in your books—for example, in A Personal Matter. He was born in 1963 with a birth defect, a hole in his skull. Talk about how that influenced your work and your life.
KENZABURO OE: [translated] So when my oldest son was born, he was born with a mental—or disease. And so, at the time of his birth, when we were thinking or I was deciding what name to give him, because of the dark feelings that I was feeling as a young novelist at the time, I was considering giving him a name which would also resemble this darkness. I’m originally from Shikoku, which is an island in Japan that’s covered with deep forest. And when my mother came from Shikoku to our house in Tokyo, and she told me instead to call him Hikari, which in Japanese means "light." And I have been living with Hikari ever since then.
So, in my book, which was published in the United States, we have this photograph of me with my son Hikari riding on the bicycle. And this child is now 50 years old this year. And I believe in these 50 years that I spent together living with Hikari, living with my child, he’s really taught me or made me realize that innocence is actually at the core of human nature, the core of humanity. And so, my son, this child, although he is not able to speak very much, every now and then sometimes he comes up with very important words, very important things that he shares with us. And I believe this really shows, or it’s very human in really showing the essential nature of human beings. And so, although I myself am perhaps quite a dark novelist, I believe that also my novels show a kind of trust in human beings. And this has come from my son.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about when Hikari first spoke?
KENZABURO OE: [translated] So, at the time when my son was born 50 years ago, medicine at the time, although he was born with a large almost sort of a lump formation on his head, the medicine at the time wasn’t able to see whether—nature or the situation of his brain at the time, whether it was actually—they were fearing that perhaps it was coming somewhat out of place, shall we say? After consulting many, many times with the doctors, we took the courage to actually have that opened up to be checked. And so, at the time, they opened up to check, and it seemed that the brain wasn’t in fact coming out of its place, as they had—but to cover that up, they put almost a plastic lid or a plastic cover on part of his head to repair the surgery, and that is how he has been living for the 50 years since then.
For the first 10 years of his life, he never responded at all to anything that we said. However, one day, we started to be able to hear the sounds of the call of a wild bird. And this was actually coming from the television. And this was the first time he actually showed response or attention to a particular sound, and he really followed this. He turned his face to the direction where he could hear the sound coming from. And so, because he was responding to the sound of the wild bird’s call coming from the television, it made me think that the sound which would be the signal which would be most close for him to respond to would be this kind of pitch and the quality of tone of this bird’s voice. And so I went and bought a recording of wild birds’ calls, and we were playing this in our room all day throughout the day. And he eventually learned to remember these bird calls. And so, this record which we bought and were playing all the time had all different kinds of birds’ calls, including nightingales and other kinds. And the way that the record would play, first you would hear the actual call of the bird, and then one second later it would be followed by a female announcer who would be saying the name. So first there would be the bird’s call, and then, following that, this voice coming on and saying, "Dove," for example. And this went for three hours.
And so, this continued for six months. And we had a summer home in the mountains, where we would go to spend time. Then we went there together with our son. One night, late at night, we could hear the voice or the call of the bird. And so, at that time, our son, who until then had been totally silent, after hearing this voice, he would say the name of the bird. And so, following this, my wife and I opened the windows of our home to wait and hear for the next bird call. And then, in the morning, we heard the same bird calling. And then again, our son said the name of the bird. "Uzura desu." "Uzura" is the name of the bird. And, of course, becoming morning, all of a sudden we started to be able to hear all different kinds of birds. And then, following this, my son, he would sit there and hear all of the different cries of the birds and repeat the name of each one, whether it was a crow or a dove. That was the biggest surprise in my life until this day.
And so, because he had learned to recognize the names of the voices of the birds and so on, we started to think how he could learn the names of other things. So, for example, we’d be drawing or writing together, and then I would hold the pen and say to him, "This is a pen." And then he would repeat, saying, "A pen." And this was the beginning our conversation with my son.
AMY GOODMAN: Acclaimed Japanese novelist, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, Kenzaburo Oe, one of Japan’s most respected intellectuals and humanitarians, describing his relationship with his son, whose music we’ll play for break.
AMY GOODMAN: A composition of Hikari Oe, the son of Kenzaburo Oe. Hikari is a composer now of classical music. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. On this 70th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we continue with my interview with the acclaimed Japanese novelist, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, Kenzaburo Oe, who has spoken out in defense of Japan’s pacifist constitution. He’s now 80 years old, one of Japan’s most respected intellectuals and humanitarians. I met with him in Tokyo at his publisher’s office and asked him about his book Okinawa Notes, where he wrote about the mass suicide of Okinawans.
KENZABURO OE: [translated] So I believe that following the war when I was 10 years old is when Japan became a democratic country. And I believe Japan at this time also became a pacifist country. However, at this time, the archipelago of islands known as Okinawa, which is quite a far distance away from the Japanese mainland, was separated from Japan. And at this time, the islands of Okinawa became a base for the United States. And this became perhaps not the largest, but one of the largest United States bases within Asia. And this is continuing until today.
And so, because of this, it is in one sense a reality or a fact that the presence of the United States bases here in Okinawa have meant that, in a sense, Japan has been protected from foreign invasions in this time, and also Japan is part of or within the United States’ nuclear umbrella. And so, it is also a reality that we Japanese are living under the peace constitution, and this is one aspect, but at the same time, we have this huge presence of United States bases in Okinawa, including the great military and also many U.S. soldiers. And so, it is a fact that while we, as Japan, are not maintaining a military or war potential ourselves, we do have this huge U.S. presence.
However, following the war, of course, Japan then went into the process of forming the peace treaty with the United States and its allies. And at that time, the Japanese people cut Okinawa off from the country of Japan. And Okinawa was placed under the political control of the United States. And this continued for many years, and following this, Okinawa was returned to Japan. However, during this time, the Okinawan people were not citizens of Japan. And even today, 70 percent of the United States’ bases which are positioned in Japan are in Okinawa. And so, my book, Okinawa Notes, what I was doing with this is interviewing many people from Okinawa to see what kind of discrimination from the mainland Japanese against the Okinawan people, and not only that, but of people from the same generation, the same youth as us.
And actually, just until last year, for many years I was going through a lawsuit, which has been brought about because of the Okinawa book. And this lawsuit was on the issue of including the—during the war in Japan at the time, when the Japanese army was fighting against the U.S. and its allies in Okinawa. And so, in my book, I write about, during the time of the war, the Japanese military—actually, I use the word "forcing" or "forced" citizens or the islanders of Okinawa to commit collective suicide—so, women, children, elderly people—so as not to be in the way as the battle between the United States and allies and Japan was coming forward. So I say they were forced in this way, because we look at the case of one particular island where 600 women, children and elderly people, under the instructions of the Japanese army, committed collective suicide. And until then, this forced mass suicide in Okinawa had been written in some history books, and at that time, it was first published in a history textbook. And this is when the nationalist movement against this started to become stronger. And so, at this time, as one of the writers who had been writing about these facts of this forced mass suicide in Okinawa, some former Japanese soldiers forced a lawsuit against me, saying that I was bringing dishonor to their name, or libel. However, after many long years struggling with this lawsuit, we were successful. And what pleases me about our success in the lawsuit is that this means that now the Japanese children are able to learn about what happened in Okinawa, and this is able to be now published in their textbooks.
AMY GOODMAN: The lawsuit, though it was beaten, is also expressed in Prime Minister Abe’s efforts to change textbooks, not only around the mass suicide, but around Japan’s role in the period leading up to and through World War II. Can you explain the role of Japan and what you feel needs to be told and what you feel is trying to be erased?
KENZABURO OE: [translated] So, in Japan, under the Meiji Restoration, you know, more than 150 years ago, was when the modernization process started to occur. And within this process of modernization, Japan became a large militaristic state. And there was this discrimination against Okinawa, as I mentioned. And following the war, with the creation of the new constitution, Japan started a new departure as a democratic state. However, despite this, under the current prime minister, Abe, Japan is now looking to become this kind of supra or superpower again, as well. And within this, it is trying to erase what Japan was responsible for domestically, in Okinawa and in the whole of Asia with Japan’s war of invasion. And so, although Japan is responsible for such tragedies all around, what we really need to be doing is remembering what happened, telling this to our children, conveying it to them, and ensuring that it is written in the history textbooks. But rather than this, the strong efforts now is trying to erase this. And at the center of this, responsible for this, I believe, is Prime Minister Abe.
I believe you are probably familiar with the issue of the so-called former comfort women, which was, at the time, Korea, in particular, had been annexed as part of Japan within colonialism. And so, the issue of the former so-called comfort women is when the Japanese imperial army took young women, particularly from Korea, but also from other places, and forced them to work sexually for Japanese soldiers, bringing them to the Japanese mainland and also to the battlefield. And, of course, the Japanese soldiers who returned, who came back from the war, all know about the existence of this comfort system. However, the Japanese people at the time did not speak of this, did not write of this. And years later, Japan and Korea built a treaty amongst the two countries. And at the time, the issue of the comfort women was not raised as an issue within this treaty. I believe this was the year 1961.
Actually, sorry, 26 years later, one Korean woman came out in the media to talk of her experiences and to say that she had been forced to work as a so-called comfort woman. And this news and movement started to spread throughout the whole of Korea. And three years later, finally, after they set the time, there was a cabinet minister called Kono. And Kono, at this time, made an official statement saying that Japan had forced these women into the comfort women system. However, the Japanese government, to this day, even now, refuses to officially recognize these comfort women or former military sexual slavery. And in Korea, the movement to call for formal recognition of these women and for an apology for these women continues to this day very strongly. And this is an international issue.
Then, in 2007—of course, I probably don’t need to explain this to you, but the U.S. Congress released a statement about this, or a resolution. And this resolution called upon Japan to recognize the fact that Japan had been responsible for forcing these women into sexual slavery, and calling on the Japanese prime minister to officially recognize this fact. And the third point which really reminds me of the democratic education which we experienced as young children under the United States, and what really moved me about the resolution from the U.S. Congress, was that it also said that Japan should write about this issue in its textbooks and should teach its children about this issue. I really, deeply from the heart, agree with this. However, the Abe administration refuses to even acknowledge this issue, to acknowledge that these comfort women existed.
And now, we are also seeing the situation where Japan and Korea are experiencing a conflict over territory, over what Korea refers to as the island of Dokdo, about whether this island belongs to Japan or Korea. And I believe that this issue should be dealt with by international legal mechanisms, to look at the different sides of this and how to deal with this issue. Japan refuses to take this to an international legal mechanism for resolution, and Korea is also not doing this. But the reason for Korea refusing to do this is because Japan is still refusing to face up or to recognize its past history, to recognize the comfort women. And so, this is the response for this failure of Japan to deal with its historical recognition issues. And actually, in the two years since the Abe government has come into place, there has been no official leaders meeting between the Korean president and the Japanese prime minister. And also, the same can be said for Japan and China. So, because these issues of the historical recognition and Japan’s failure to deal with its war past are still there, this is meaning that we are having a kind of international relations in this region here which is almost unthinkable in different parts of the world, because of this lack of dealing with the past.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve talked about Japanese imperialism. I’d like to ask you now about the United States dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
KENZABURO OE: [translated] First of all, I believe the fact that human beings created nuclear weapons is a crime of all humanity. However, I am also aware of the fact that it was said within the time of World War II that Nazi Germany was trying to perhaps develop nuclear weapons, and so the U.S., France and the United Kingdom were trying to develop these before Germany could get that far. And so, the United States and the Allied forces did create their atomic bombs. And Nazi Germany was not successful in building nuclear weapons. And in actual fact, nuclear weapons were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where many people were. I do believe that Japan also bears responsibility for World War II. This war, which so many large powers were involved in, caused great suffering for people all over the world, including people of Japan and especially people of Asia. And it is a reality that within this immense war, nuclear weapons were created and in reality used.
And so, when we consider from the perspective the 21st century and the global situation now, I believe that it was a great mistake that nuclear weapons were created. And I believe it’s extremely necessary to abolish all nuclear weapons for the purpose of the whole of humanity and the future of all of humanity. And so, within this overall situation, I have long been active in calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
However, of course, it is also a fact the United States did drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I believe that this is something that humanity should not be proud of. However, while remembering this, we also need to, at the same time, remember what Japan and what Nazi Germany was responsible for during the war also, and when we are recording history, ensure that we record both of these realities together. And so, I believe if we’re looking at a concrete program to really rid the world of nuclear weapons, and if we consider we’ll have to achieve this, for example, by the mid-21st century, and we consider this kind of future that we might have, where for the first time humanity could be freed from nuclear weapons, and when you sincerely deny the past nuclear war and aggression, and create a new real kind of nuclear weapon-free world, I believe that what we as Japanese people can do for this is ensure that we do not participate in the nuclear regime that we have now. And this is something which I have been long appealing for and also working toward.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of the Hiroshima peace ceremony that takes place every year in Hiroshima on August 6, the day the bomb was dropped in 1945, and the significance of U.S. officials going to that ceremony, and what you would like to hear from U.S. officials?
KENZABURO OE: [translated] I believe that the fundamental purpose of the memorial service which is held, which of course has the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombing, at the center, is the message to never again create more hibakusha. And it is the hibakusha, the survivors, who are at the center of this ceremony, who have always been at the center of this ceremony, both literally but also of course spiritually. And so, I am also active in participating together with the survivors, the hibakusha, to go to these kind of gatherings and to also consider how we can call for a world free of nuclear weapons.
And I believe that the participation of representatives, of politicians or diplomats from large countries who do possess nuclear weapons at the ceremony in Hiroshima has a very significant meaning. And so, the ceremony, which is held in Hiroshima, having U.S., for example, embassy officials or its government officials there, and of course also from other countries, has a huge meaning in terms of showing the current nuclear regime which is still existing in the world and remembering how inhumane nuclear weapons are. And this is a really important part for our movement. And so, within my position as an individual citizen of Japan, I believe that the presence or attendance of U.S. politicians at this ceremony holds a very important meaning, or it’s very important.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you like to hear President Obama apologize for the droppings of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
KENZABURO OE: [translated] I am not seeking an apology, whether from the president or from any kind of person, in regards to this issue. And I believe the fact that humanity did create these nuclear weapons is a crime that all of humanity is responsible for. And I believe this is an issue of a much greater scale than any individual politician could make an apology for. I believe that it would have great meaning if Obama, for example, was to come to Hiroshima and hear the experiences or the testimony of the survivors. But I don’t believe that what we should be seeing here is an apology from someone on behalf of the United States’ people for dropping the bomb.
So I believe that if Mr. Obama were to come to the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, what he could do is come together with the hibakusha, the survivors, and share that moment of silence, and also express considering the issue of nuclear weapons from the perspective of all humanity and how important nuclear abolition is from that perspective—I think, would be the most important thing, and the most important thing that any politician or representative could do at this time. I believe that the issue or the experience of nuclear weapons is something too large for any individual to apologize for, and it’s the responsibility of all humanity to take on board. So rather than an apology, I believe that what’s important is to call for an expression of the will and the dedication to create a world free of nuclear weapons. And so, if any influential U.S. politicians, or, for example, even French, were to come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is what I would like to hear.
AMY GOODMAN: You write about your mother’s friend surviving the bombing of Hiroshima but witnessing two children there vaporized in the blink of an eye. "'I just felt outraged,' she told my mother, weeping," you wrote. And you go on to say, "Even though I didn’t fully grasp its import at the time, I feel that hearing that horrifying story (along with the word outrage, which put down deep, abiding roots in my heart) is what impelled me to become a writer. But I’m haunted by the thought that, ultimately, I was never able to write a 'big novel' about the people who experienced the bombings and the subsequent 50-plus years of the nuclear age that I’ve lived through—and I think now that writing that novel is the only thing I ever really wanted to do." Are you writing it?
KENZABURO OE: [translated] No, no, I haven’t. As a novelist, I believe that this is actually my greatest regret. Although I have never once written a sentence which would be in support of nuclear weapons or the regime around them, I have never been able to write this novel. In Japan, there are many novelists who have actually written great novels about hibakusha—for example, the female writer Kyoko Hayashi—and spending many years thinking about the experience of hibakusha to create these powerful novels. However, I, in myself, do not have this capacity. And this is something which I feel as a longtime—as my longest regret and perhaps one of the largest shames of my life. And I believe that when I die, although maybe there will be many things which I will feel shame for, I believe that this will be one of the greatest amongst them, not being able to perhaps write one powerful novel about one individual hibakusha survivor. And although I have several hibakusha who are friends, not having been able to do this, despite respecting such great novels which are achieving this, and I believe that this will be my greatest self-disappointment and also shame when I pass.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about regret, but what are you most proud of? What do you want to be remembered for?
KENZABURO OE: [translated] I don’t think I’ve really thought of anything in particular as being proud of, as such, personally. But the other day, I was also thinking, well, I do believe that, you know, my life had meaning. And so, in regards to my son, Hikari, in our home, actually, on the first floor, we have the living room, and his room is just next door to that. And so, when he was able to wake up himself and go to the bathroom himself when he needed to in the middle of the night, and he can return to his bed, and he can lie down by himself, but he’s not able to actually bring the covers up on himself. If he wakes up in the night and goes to the bathroom and comes back, he can lay down, and he can go back to sleep by himself, but he’ll be laying there without a blanket on him for the whole night. However, as long as we are living together, because I am perhaps also working late into the night, so when he goes to the bathroom at maybe 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, and he comes back to his own room, and so I go into his room, and I bring the covers up over him and put him to bed. And so, until he was about 10 years old, he would sleep actually by his mother. And so, since then, it’s been 40 years since he’s been sleeping in his own room. And so, whenever I am in Japan, even if I’m traveling within the country, I’m always sure to be home at night so I can, every night, tuck my son into bed like this. And I’ve been doing this for 40 years. That’s one of the things I personally am proud of within my life.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. I spoke to him in January 2014 in his publisher’s offices in Tokyo, Japan. Special thanks to Meri Joyce for translating and to our Democracy Now! team—John Hamilton, Sam Alcoff, Pedro Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Dávila, Denis Moynihan and Neil Shibata. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a moment.