Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe has won a major court battle over a book he wrote more than 30 years ago detailing how Japanese soldiers persuaded and sometimes forced Okinawan civilians to commit suicide rather than give themselves up in the closing days of the second world war.
The topic is a hugely sensitive issue on the southern Japan islands, where battles raged from late March through to June 1945, leaving more than 200,000 civilians and soldiers dead, and speeding the collapse of Japan’s defences. The US occupied Okinawa until 1972.
The ruling was also a high-profile setback for a vocal lobby among Japanese conservatives who have long sought to discredit or censure material documenting Japanese excesses during the war, including government-supported prostitution, the rape of the Chinese city of Nanking and other incidents.
In his book, Okinawa Notes, Oe chronicled accounts of group suicides on Okinawa, and alleged that Japanese soldiers persuaded, and at times coerced, civilians to kill themselves rather than face what they were told would be horrible atrocities if they gave themselves up to the invading US troops. Historians generally agree that hundreds of Okinawan civilians killed themselves under such circumstances, and there is a wealth of testimony from survivors and their relatives to back that up.