City tells schools to pull 'Barefoot Gen' manga from libraries

March 20, 2014


IZUMISANO, Osaka Prefecture--A famed manga depicting the miseries of war centered around the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima has again been singled out by a local government.

The Izumisano board of education asked municipal elementary and junior high schools to remove their copies of "Hadashi no Gen" (Barefoot Gen) from library shelves.

The request was made after Izumisano Mayor Hiroyasu Chiyomatsu said he found some of the terminology in the manga to be discriminatory.

"Rather than the overall content of the manga, I thought the problem was with certain discriminatory expressions," Chiyomatsu said. "Because the city of Izumisano as a whole has emphasized human rights education, I told the board of education that there may be a need to provide individual guidance to those students who read the manga."

The manga series created by Keiji Nakazawa, based on his own experience as a survivor of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima, has been translated into 20 or so languages.

In 2012, a citizen asked the Matsue municipal assembly in Shimane Prefecture to have municipal elementary and junior high schools remove the manga on the grounds that it could teach children an incorrect version of history. Although that request was rejected, the Matsue board of education ordered schools to limit access to "Barefoot Gen" because of extreme expressions of violence. That move was met with wide criticism that forced the board to retract its earlier order.

After the controversy in Matsue came to light in August 2013, Chiyomatsu said he read the manga series and became concerned because of the use of terms now considered pejorative in referring to people who are mentally unstable, poor or homeless.

However, Masahiro Usaki, a professor of constitutional law at Dokkyo University Law School, said the move in Izumisano went beyond human rights education and could lead to suppression of free speech.

"Because any work is influenced by the time in which it was created, it is wrong to prohibit access of the entire work just because there may be some problems from a contemporary standpoint," Usaki said. "If banning the reading of an entire work based only on some parts of the manga was allowed, that would lead to suppression of free speech."

According to officials of the Izumisano board of education and school principals, in November 2013, Tatsuhiro Nakafuji, the head of the board of education, told a number of elementary and junior high schools, "The mayor has found problems with 'Gen.' I want you to move the manga from the library to the principal's office so children cannot lay eyes on it."

In January, eight elementary schools and five junior high schools were instructed to hand over their copies of the manga to the board of education. The board was set to return the copies on March 20 after asking the schools to provide some form of guidance regarding the discriminatory expressions.

On Jan. 23, the association of school principals in Izumisano submitted a request to Nakafuji asking for a retraction of the instruction to collect the manga and calling for the return of the manga to the respective schools. The association said not allowing children to read the manga based on a specific ideology or value system was a grave violation of the rights of the children.

"I regret having cooperated with the collecting of the manga even if it was because of an instruction from the head of the education board," one principal said. "Why was only 'Gen' targeted when there are other works that also contain discriminatory terms? I can only believe they were deliberately setting their sights on 'Gen.' "

Nakafuji said, "While the decision by the board of education to limit access cannot be said to be desirable, it is a fact that inappropriate terms were found. There will be a need for some sort of guidance, even if it is physically difficult to conduct individual guidance as the mayor has called for."

Chiyomatsu was elected to his first term as Izumisano mayor in April 2011.

Since becoming mayor, he has expressed strong interest in educational administration. The municipal government has passed an ordinance obligating teachers to stand for the singing of "Kimigayo," Japan's national anthem, at school events.

Although there are passages in "Barefoot Gen" that criticize Kimigayo and the emperor system in Japan, Chiyomatsu said he did not consider those passages to be problematic.

(This article was written by Seiichi Nishimi, a senior staff writer, and Ryuta Kuratomi.)

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The cover of the first volume in the "Hadashi no Gen" (Barefoot Gen) manga series (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The cover of the first volume in the "Hadashi no Gen" (Barefoot Gen) manga series (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • The cover of the first volume in the "Hadashi no Gen" (Barefoot Gen) manga series (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • A page from "Hadashi no Gen" (Barefoot Gen) contains terms considered discriminatory by the mayor of Izumisano. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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