Naoya Makino 100106040

English 1121 Section 06 Mr. G. Pybus Langara College 16 April 2007

“A Father and His Son” is a biographical essay by David Remnick about Kenzaburo Oe, a Japanese writer who writes both fiction about Hikari—his severely brain-damaged son—and non fiction about changing the tradition in Japan. After Hikari’s birth, Oe, a Nobel Prize winner in Literature, realized the value of individuals, and he argues that the old emperor system creates too many conformists and too few individual thinkers. The second significant message of this essay is that it is important to speak out even if it is an unpopular opinion or if it goes against tradition because Oe worries that conforming may lead a serious consequence if no one speaks out. Oe appeals that the Japanese should examine the importance of individuals: he claims, “the handicapped are stigmatized more than in many countries” (114). Hikari, Oe’s disabled son, “saved” Oe’s life since Hikari helped Oe to realize the importance of individuals (111). Before Hikari was born, Oe was a traditional person who had obeyed the emperor: he had not had a strong “sense of identity” and he had been thinking about committing suicide (112). Hence, when Hikari was born severely brain-damaged, Oe “escaped from [his] baby” as Hikari was not typical (112). However, after seeing the miraculous growth of his son, he realizes that individuals are more important than conforming. Even though Hikari is not able to contribute to the country, now he grows very slowly, but certainly. In his fiction story titled “Aghwee the Sky Monster,” in

which parents attempt to kill their children, Oe tries to shock readers into examining the importance of individuals, especially handicapped children (114). As a result of Hikari’s birth, Oe sees the value of individuals. Besides the importance of individuals, it is also significant to appreciate individual opinions. As a result of the emperor’s centrality, Oe claims, there are too many conformists and not enough individual thinkers. After World War II, the emperor lost power and the parliamentary government gained power, reducing the office of emperor to a mere ceremonial function, but Oe asserts that the emperor’s “centrality in Japanese culture did not fully recede” (117). This means that the Japanese still conform like they did during the emperor’s reign. As an example of the emperor’s “centrality in Japanese culture,” according to Oe, there is informal censorship in Japan (117). In 1960, when he wrote about a teenage right wing fanatic who stabbed the leader of the socialist party, Oe was forced not to publish “Seventeen,” his comment on the event, because Oe and his publisher feared for the lives of their families and themselves (118). This example shows that instead of being allowed to express their individual opinions, the Japanese, like Oe, are forced to conform. Oe points out the importance of speaking out even if it is an unpopular opinion or goes against tradition. In fact, a discussion can be activated by many individual

opinions. This active discussion is especially important in politics. Oe goes on to say that “it is in politics … that Oe hopes for a Japanese exceptionalism” (121). He wants the Japanese to speak in their own way, without being influenced by other people, so the Japanese are able to discuss important decisions. For instance, the Japanese government has sent the Japanese Self-Defense Forces on foreign missions: Oe contends that the discussion was not enough because of too many conformists. If everyone conforms, a discussion would not be activated, so he is afraid that important topics, like sending Japanese Self-Defense Forces on foreign missions, would pass without enough arguments. Moreover, he claims that Japanese “empty” culture creates even more serious consequence. According to Oe, Japan is a “happy wasteland” (120): the younger generations are not interested in politics, and the mass-media-culture emphasizes “the flashy emptiness of a video game” (120). Due to the lack of engagements in politics and remaining within youth culture, the Japanese is less likely to speak and intellectualize their own thoughts. Thus, it is important that people should speak out without minding others. In summary, it is important to recognize the significance of individuals and to speak out instead of conforming. Oe comments on the debate about the principle of eternal peace that “to obliterate from the constitution the principle of eternal peace will

be nothing but an act of detrayal against the people of Asia and the victims of the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki”(121). In order to preserve the principle of eternal peace and not to repeat the same war, the people should speak their own thoughts.