OSAKA – The Osaka District Court rejected a damages suit Friday filed against Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe and his publisher by two plaintiffs who had claimed Oe wrongly stated in his book that Japanese soldiers ordered civilians in Okinawa to commit mass suicide and murder-suicide in 1945.
“It can be said the military was deeply involved in the mass suicides,” presiding Judge Toshimasa Fukami ruled, turning down the demand by the plaintiffs that Oe, 73, and Iwanami Shoten Publishers halt the publication of Oe’s 1970 essay, “Okinawa Notes,” and pay them ¥20 million in compensation.
Yutaka Umezawa, 91, a former garrison commander on Zamami Island in the Okinawa chain, and Hidekazu Akamatsu, the 75-year-old brother of another commander on nearby Tokashiki Island, said they will appeal the ruling to the Osaka High Court.
They argued in the suit filed in August 2005 that Umezawa and Akamatsu’s brother could be regarded as inhumane due to Oe’s descriptions about the Battle of Okinawa in the book, in which he said that an order from the garrison led to the mass suicides of civilians in March 1945.
The plaintiffs told the court that the military had not issued such an order, but Oe and the publisher claimed, based on testimony by Okinawa residents, that Japanese soldiers had handed grenades to local people, indicating the order was indeed issued.
Judge Fukami said, “It cannot be determined if the former garrison commander and others issued the order by themselves, but Mr. Oe has an adequate reason to believe so.”
The court recognized the military’s involvement in the mass suicides and murder-suicides, citing the testimony about the distribution of grenades for suicide by soldiers and the fact that mass suicides were not recorded on islands where the military was not stationed.
The court also said it is “fully presumable” that the garrison commanders were involved.
Oe welcomed the ruling, telling reporters in Osaka, “The presiding judge accurately read (my book).” Iwanami Shoten Publishers said, “We appreciate the survivors (of the mass suicides), who provided precious testimony.”
It was reported that the suit was behind the state’s instruction to authors and publishers of high school history textbooks to delete references to the military’s role in coercing civilians into committing mass suicide. The government’s move prompted a mass protest rally in Okinawa last September.
Friday’s ruling coincided with a memorial service for the victims of the mass suicides and murder-suicides on Tokashiki Island.
More than 300 residents on the island are said to have killed themselves around March 28, 1945, days after the U.S. forces landed on the small island.
Jitsuho Murata, 86, who represents a group of elderly islanders, many of them survivors of the killings, told a ceremony that the Osaka court ruling clearly shows “a defeat for the (Imperial) military, and a victory for (Okinawa) citizens.”
If the court had ruled against Oe, “the ruling would have meant Okinawa citizens killed themselves on their own will. This is something we can never tolerate,” Murata said.
Murata, himself a second lieutenant in the Imperial army, was on duty away from the island when his family committed murder-suicide with a hand grenade provided by the Japanese military. His younger sister was killed instantly, while his mother died slowly over months due to the wounds she suffered, according to Murata.
Oe won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994, the second Japanese novelist to do so following Yasunari Kawabata.