Sakyo Komatsu (1931-2011)

Nippon 2007 GoH Sakyo Komatsu died July 26 at the age of 80. Pneumonia was the cause of death.

Komatsu was born in Osaka. He studied Italian literature at Kyoto University. After graduating he worked as a magazine reporter and a writer for stand-up comedy acts. His first SF story came out in 1962.

Japan Sinks, published in Japanese in 1973 and in translated into English in 1976 is Komatsu’s best-known title worldwide. Edward Lipsett’s tribute on the Nippon 2007 website analyzes some of the uniquely Japanese qualities of the novel:

While most English SF presents a problem, rises to a climax and resolves the problem, a great deal of Japanese SF ends after only the first two elements, leaving the reader with a chewy nugget rather than a marshmallow to melt away as passing fun.  In “Japan Sinks,” for example, there is no resolution…  the title of the book reveals the climax, and the story is in the interpersonal relations and descriptions of how Japan tries to cope with the end of its world.  And we never do find out if Japan was successful in its efforts, as the story ends with boat people watching the steaming waves that have swallowed their homeland.  Science fiction is a vehicle for Komatsu, a means of illuminating different and often hidden aspects of the Japanese worldview or culture and stimulating us to think. 

John Hertz’ Nippon 2007 report described a special Komatsu exhibit featuring twelve novels and thirteen shorter stories, with notes in English and Japanese, posters, and color reproductions of book covers. Komatsu’s Japan Sinks was humorously referenced during opening ceremonies by another GoH, Yoshitaka Amano, when he reminded the audience that the convention site was built on landfill — “This used to be sea, so Yokohama is suitable.”

1 thought on “Sakyo Komatsu (1931-2011)

  1. I noted some twenty years ago that Japanese sf anime had a unique grasp of the apocalyptic — which makes sense when you realize that Japan is the only nation on Earth which has been bombed with nuclear weapons.

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