Shōhei Ōoka (大岡 昇平, Ōoka Shōhei, 6 March 1909 – 25
December 1988) was a Japanese novelist, literary critic, and
French literature who was active during the Shōwa
period of Japan. Ōoka belongs to the group of postwar writers whose
World War II
World War II experiences at home and abroad figure prominently in
their works. Over his lifetime, he contributed short stories and
critical essays to almost every literary magazine in Japan.
1 Early life
2 Literary career
3 See also
5 External links
Ōoka was born in Magome Ward of
Tokyo (now part of Shinjuku, Tokyo).
His parents were from Wakayama prefecture, and his father was a
stockbroker and his mother was a geisha. Raised to study literature
from early childhood, he mastered French while in high school. His
parents also hired the famed literary critic
Kobayashi Hideo to be his
tutor. Under Kobayashi's instruction, be became acquainted with poet
Nakahara Chūya, the critic Kawakami Tetsutaro, and other literary
figures. He entered
Kyoto Imperial University
Kyoto Imperial University School of Literature in
April 1929, graduating in March 1932.
After graduation, Ōoka became a journalist with the Kokumin Shimbun,
a pro-government newspaper, but quit after one year to devote himself
to the study and translate the works of the French writer, Stendhal,
and other European writers into Japanese. To support himself, he found
a job in 1938 with Teikoku Sansō, Franco-Japanese company based in
Kobe as a translator. In June 1943, he left Teikoku Sansō, and in
November of the same year obtained a position at Kawasaki Heavy
However, in 1944, Ōoka was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army,
given only three months of rudimentary training and sent to the front
Mindoro Island in the Philippines, where he served as his
battalion's communications technician until his battalion was routed
and numerous men killed. In January 1945, he was captured by the
American forces in the Philippine defeat and sent to a prisoner of war
camp on Leyte Island. Survival was very traumatic for Ōoka, who was
troubled that he, a middle-aged and unworthy soldier, had survived
when so many others had not. He returned to Japan at the end of the
year and lived at Akashi, Hyōgo.
It was not until his repatriation after the war's end that Ōoka began
his career as a writer. On the recommendation of his French tutor and
mentor Hideo Kobayashi, he published an autobiographical short-story
of his experiences as a prisoner of war entitled Furyoki (俘虜記,
"Taken Captive: A Japanese POW's Story", 1948), in three separate
parts between 1948 and 1951. Its publication, along with winning the
Yokomitsu Prize in 1949, encouraged him to take up writing as a
His next work, Musashino Fujin, (武蔵野夫人, "A Wife in
Musashino", 1950), is a psychological novel patterned after the works
His best-known novel, Nobi (野火, Fires on the Plain, 1951), was
also well received by critics, and won the prestigious Yomiuri
Literary Prize in 1951. Considered one of the most important novels of
the postwar period and based loosely on his own wartime experiences in
the Philippines, Nobi explores the meaning of human existence through
the struggle for survival of men who are driven by starvation to
cannibalism. It was subsequently made into a prize-winning film by
Ichikawa Kon in 1959, although the film substantially changes the
protagonist's relationship to the theme of cannibalism and
In 1958, Ōoka veered from his usual subjects and produced Kaei
(花影, "The Shade of Blossoms", 1958–1959), depicting an aging
naive nightclub hostess’s struggle and ultimate demise from the
destructive forces of desire and wealth in the decadent 1950s Ginza.
The setting had changed but the recurring themes had not. His
characters were still adrift and struggling for survival in an
inhospitable jungle. Kaei won both the Mainichi Cultural Award and the
Shinchosha Literary Prize in 1961.
Along with translations and fiction, Ōoka also devoted himself to
writing the critical biographies of
Nakahara Chuya and Tominaga Taro.
From 1953 to 1954, he was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at Yale
University. He was also a lecturer on
French literature at Meiji
University in Tokyo.
In the late 1960s, Ōoka revisited the subject of the
Pacific War and
the Japanese defeat in the
Philippines to produce the detailed
historical novel Reite senki (レイテ戦記, "A Record of the Battle
of Leyte", 1971). He compiled and researched an enormous amount of
information for three years in order to produce it. As with all his
writing, it looks at war critically from the perspective of a person
who, despite ethical reservations, was forced to serve. The novel won
the Mainichi Art Award.
Ōoka became a member of the
Japan Art Academy
Japan Art Academy in November 1971. In
January 1974, he published a biography on the poet, Nakahara Chūya,
which won the Noma Literary Prize. Ōoka was awarded the prestigious
Asahi Prize in January 1976. He was awarded the Mystery Writers of
Japan Award in March 1978.
Ōoka died in 1988 at the age of 79. His grave is at the Tama Cemetery
in the outskirts of Tokyo. He was posthumously awarded the Yomiuri
Literary Award in 1989 for a biography of Natsume Sōseki.
List of Japanese authors
The Second Generation of Postwar Writers
Ooka, Shohei. Fires on the Plain. Tuttle Publishing (2001).
Ooka, Shohei. Taken Captive: A Japanese POW's Story. Wiley (1996).
Ooka, Shohei. The Shade of Blossoms. University of Michigan Press
(1998). ISBN 0-939512-87-4
Ooka, Shohei. A Wife in Musashino. Center for Japanese Studies
University of Michigan (2004). ISBN 1-929280-28-9.
Stahl, David C. The Burdens of Survival: Ooka Shohei's Writings on the
Pacific War. University of Hawai'i Press (2003).
Shohei Ooka at J'Lit Books from Japan (in English)
Synopsis of A Wife in Musashino (Musashino Fujin) at JLPP (Japanese
Literature Publishing Project) (in English)
Synopsis of Taken Captive (Furyoki) at JLPP (Japanese Literature
Publishing Project) (in English)
ISNI: 0000 0000 8115 4458
BNF: cb12201777j (data)