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Friday, August 30, 2013 

What was the Japanese board of education's real reason for trying to censor Barefoot Gen as reading material?

There was recently a controversy in Japan over the education ministry's proposal to restrict the Barefoot Gen manga from being used as an educational book on the history of Japan's WW2 atrocities. The UK Telegraph said it was because of the graphic depictions of violence. But the Japan Times says it's also because of the political leanings, which condemn the country's past associations with fascism:
The Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, board of education is bent on covering up negative aspects of Japan’s wartime history, as evidenced by its decision to have local elementary and junior high schools curb student access to the longtime iconic anti-war manga “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”), experts said.

The manga series by the late Keiji Nakazawa depicts a Japanese boy who tries to get by in postwar Japan after surviving the 1945 A-bombing of Hiroshima. It also contains graphic drawings of atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army, including the rapes and beheadings of Chinese.

The five-member Matsue board of education discussed the curbs without reaching a decision Thursday, although it said 44 of 49 school principals it polled oppose having the series restricted. [...]

Manga commentator Jun Ishiko, who had been a friend of Nakazawa, said the depictions of cruelty in the series came under fire mainly from parents when the series was first published in 1973.

Ishiko also said there might be “a will to cover up Japan’s war crimes” behind the board’s request, noting the series depicts not only the atomic bombing but acts of aggression carried out by Japan.
While it's understandable if the violence in itself is considered unsuitable for children, it's unclear if the parents were offended by the violence in itself, or by the political standing the manga takes, condemning the Japanese Imperialists for their atrocities against Chinese civilians. I know that in postwar Japan, there have been some people who don't come to terms with the shame the former Imperialists brought upon them, and act like ignoramuses, but luckily, there is also a good number of folks who do recognize reality.

Fortunately, the board reversed its decision to censor access at schools. I will agree that, from a content suitability perspective, the questions of appropriateness for children are legitimate. Nakazawa's widow told the Asahi Shimbun she thinks the manga does have educational value, since he did his research, and:
She added that he was fully aware that he would come under heavy criticism for describing atrocities committed by Imperial Japanese troops. But that did not deter him from shedding light on what actually happened during the war.

"Barefoot Gen" does not dwell on battle scenes. When Nakazawa drew the panels in which the women were victimized, he inked the victims dark to hide their expressions. He decided on this approach after giving much thought on how far he could go with children as readers.
So while it's still a pretty graphic book, he did go in fully realizing why gore is a very tricky thing to show to children. Not knowing enough about this story, I just hope he didn't say the USA shouldn't have used the atomic bomb. Japan turned to fascism during WW2, so they reaped what they sowed, and the US felt it was the only way they could really deliver the message to the Imperialists to cease fire. I'm certainly glad Nakazawa did make clear that the crimes committed against Chinese during that period were an abomination. That's something all students of history in Japan should learn.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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