Kenzaburo Oe

Japan

Writer, Nobel Prize for Literature 1994

Samuel Fischer Guest Professorship for Literature 1999

Kenzaburo Oe Thesupermat CC-by-sa 30


When Kenzaburo Oe came to Berlin in 1999, he was somewhat astonished. The city seemed different from the descriptions by Alfred Döblin, Erich Kästner or Günter Grass he had read. "I find it very peaceful, at the same time economically rich and well looked after." Nor were the students as rebellious as he had expected. "After all, the Free University was a centre of the student movement," remembers the 1994 Japanese Nobel laureate in Literature, who committed himself to the causes of the environment and peace at an early stage in his career.

Where there is no hope, there is no change.
Kenzaburo Oe

Kenzaburo Oe only knew Germany from two short visits before he took up the Samuel Fischer Guest Professorship for Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin, which is also co-funded by the DAAD. At that time, the author of around 20 novels, numerous stories and essays acquainted students in Berlin with his works and gave them lectures on questions of Japanese society, culture and politics.

The man of letters believes that the Japanese can learn from the Germans how they took on responsibility for the war, especially in relations with their neighbouring countries. Born in 1935 on the island of Shikoku, the writer studied Romance languages in Tokyo, where he lives today. At the age of 23 he published his debut novel Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids. Six years later he became world-renowned with his novel A Personal Matter. An important factor in many of his works is his relationship with his mentally disabled son, who has developed into a composer via the language of music. The Japanese writer and his friend Günter Grass shared a strong commitment to society. In a profile published in 2015, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung described the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature as the "leftwing conscience of Japan". Although he no longer believes literature can bring about changes or even improve people, he nevertheless says: "Where there is no hope, there is no change." S. Fischer Verlag published Licht scheint auf mein Dach, a German translation of one of his earlier works, in 2014.