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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kyojin Ohnishi


The Japanese novelist, Kyojin Ohnishi (1916-2014) died a few days ago, on March 12, at age 97 at his home in Saitama.

Ohnishi's first name was originally pronounced Norito, but he later changed the way the kanji were pronounced, to Kyojin. His most famous work as a novelist is Shinsei Kigeki (The Divine Comedy) that he spent no less than 20 years writing, between 1960 and 1980. The novel was published serially for 10 years in the Shin-Nihon Bungaku magazine, and then released in book form between 1978 and 1980.

The Divine Comedy reflected Ohnishi's experience of having been drafted into the army in 1942 to fight in the Pacific War. Ohnishi was left-wing in stance, and much of Shinsei Kigeki is said to have been based on opposition to the depiction of the army in the feted novelist Hiroshi Noma's Shinku Chitai (Zone of Emptiness), which Ohnishi considered lacking in that it failed to depict the capitalistic social class structure that permeated the Japanese army at the time of the Second World War.

Upon the end of the Second World War, Ohnishi and his old middle- and senior-high school friend, Nobuhito Miyazaki (1914-1992), began the literary magazine, Bunka Tembo.

Onishi published a total of eleven novels, as well as numerous essays. According to colleagues, his reputation in the Japanese literary world is "dense," "difficult," and without the wide appeal of better known, more modern authors. For example, on Amazon Japan Shinsei Kigeki is listed as out of stock, with only 8 second-hand copies on offer, and with no immediate plans to restock—and only 11 reviews.

Onishi made headlines in 1980 in regard to his hemophilic son, when he said that he wished he had known he had genes for hemophilia and had refrained from having children. He went on to assert that it was the "divine duty" of everyone in his situation to remain childless.

Onishi's works remain as a powerful voice of and a sturdy witness to the struggles that Japan went through throughout the 20th century to establish a modern identity.

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