Schools remove famed manga due to ‘brutal’ portrayal of Japanese troops

August 17, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

MATSUE--Copies of “Hadashi no Gen” (Barefoot Gen), an internationally renowned manga about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, have been pulled from school library shelves here due to graphic descriptions of violence committed by Japanese troops.

The city’s education board decided last December that children should not be allowed to freely check out “Hadashi no Gen” at the libraries of public elementary and junior high schools. But teachers can still use them as education materials.

“We are not going to remove the manga because it is an invaluable piece,” said Yasunori Furukawa, deputy head of the education board. “But we understand that it contains portions that warrant consideration as appropriate reading material for children.”

The board’s decision stems from the complaint of one citizen who said the manga described actions that were never committed by Japanese troops during the war.

Misayo Nakazawa, the widow of “Hadashi no Gen” creator Keiji Nakazawa, expressed dismay over the decision.

“It is incredible and I am saddened,” said Misayo, 70. “I am afraid that board members do not grasp the tragedy and pain that the war and the atomic bombing brought on.”

Nakazawa started the manga series in the Weekly Shonen Jump comic magazine in 1973. The story following the protagonist, Gen Nakaoka, was based on Nakazawa’s personal experiences of the 1945 atomic bombing.

He was 6 years old when the bomb exploded, killing his father, two sisters and a brother.

Published in book form, the 10-volume manga has sold more than 6.5 million copies and was translated into 20 languages.

Nakazawa died of lung cancer last December at the age of 73.

The work has been widely used as a tool to show the carnage caused by the nuclear blast. The Japanese government offered copies of the English-language version to signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to drum up support for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.

The city of Hiroshima adopted the manga in fiscal 2012 as a material for peace education.

But officials of the Matsue board of education found problems with the depictions of Imperial Japanese Army troops beheading and stabbing people in other Asian countries during the war. They decided these portrayals were too graphic for children.

At a meeting last December, the officials instructed principals to remove the copies from library shelves.

About 80 percent of Matsue’s 35 public elementary schools and 17 public junior high schools have copies of “Hadashi no Gen.”

In August last year, a Matsue citizen filed a petition with the municipal assembly to remove the copies from elementary and junior high schools.

“Children would gain a wrong perception of history because the work describes atrocities by Japanese troops that did not take place,” the citizen argued.

The education committee in the city assembly examined the matter last December. Committee members unanimously agreed that the assembly was not the right place to decide on the petition.

However, the education board took up the issue after several committee members said the manga contains text and illustrations that are extremely graphic, and that the board of education should take proper steps at its own discretion.

Misayo Nakazawa said her husband had insisted that he must share with children accounts of the miseries of the war and the atomic bombing to prevent a recurrence.

“I softened the depictions somewhat for children, but the brutality that actually took place went way beyond what was portrayed,” Misayo quoted her husband as saying.

Tomoko Watanabe, who represents the nonprofit peace group ANT-Hiroshima, said children should be allowed to read the manga without any restrictions.

“The work does describe brutal scenes, but children are intrinsically able to get to the essence of the story--that people should live despite the difficulties,” said Watanabe, 59. “We must trust the children and let them read as they want to.”

(This article was written by Hidekazu Fujiie and Hajimu Takeda.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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The cover of Volume 5 of "Hadashi no Gen" (Provided by a reader)

The cover of Volume 5 of "Hadashi no Gen" (Provided by a reader)

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  • The cover of Volume 5 of "Hadashi no Gen" (Provided by a reader)

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