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For the second time in less than two years, a Japanese school board has removed Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen from school libraries.
The manga is a semi-fictional account of Nakazawa’s experiences during and after the bombing of Hiroshima, and in recent years it has come under attack from some conservatives because of its portrayal of postwar Japan.
In this case, Mayor Hiroyasu Chiyomatsu of Izumisano in Osaka Prefecture told the local school board that the books were problematic not because of the story but because they use outdated and possibly pejorative terms for poor, homeless or mentally ill people.
“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 head of the school board, Tatsuhiro Nakafuji, issued a directive in November telling schools to “move the manga from the library to the principal’s office so children cannot lay eyes on it.” Not all schools immediately complied, so in January they were instructed to turn over their copies to the board of education. The initial plan called for the board to return the books on March 20, once schools had come up with some way to provide “guidance” regarding the language in question.
Although the manga’s removal from Matsue City elementary and middle-school library shelves had drawn widespread criticism, Reuters reports the board claims the policy change is because of procedural problems with the way the previous directive was issued.
On Dec. 17, the schools superintendent ordered Barefoot Gen pulled, with students only permitted to read it with permission from a teacher, following a complaint about the book’s depiction of violence by Imperial Japanese Army troops (many Japanese nationalists deny troops committed any war crimes during World War II). However, the board insisted the decision was based strictly on the level of violence in the manga, and not on the political nature of the complaint.
Still, Reuters reports the outrage over the manga’s removal echoes increasing concerns about the conservative agenda of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s to reframe the nation’s wartime history “in less apologetic colors.”
Nakazawa’s widow Misayo told the Japanese media last week, when news of the restriction first circulated, that she was shocked by the move. “War is brutal,” she said. “It expresses that in pictures, and I want people to keep reading it.”
Nakazawa died in December at age 73.
As we reported Sunday, the school board of Matsue, Japan, has restricted students’ access to the manga Barefoot Gen, which is based on author Keiji Nakazawa’s own experiences during and after the bombing of Hiroshima. The book will remain in elementary and junior high school libraries, but only teachers can check it out — not students.
The official reason was the level of violence in the books, although the initial complaint about the book was that it depicted atrocities that the person who filed the complaint alleged had not happened.
This reminded Drama creator Raina Telgemeier of her own experience of being disturbed by the book as a child. As she said on her blog, “If you’ve ever seen me talk, you might know that Barefoot Gen is one of my seminal influences as a cartoonist, and I hold its creator Keiji Nakazawa in the highest regard.” And many years ago, she drew a short comic, Beginnings, about the effect that Barefoot Gen had on her nine-year-old self.
There’s a bit of the comic at right, but what’s cool is what happened after the book was banned: A Japanese father, who was unhappy about the banning, contacted Telgemeier and asked if he could translate Beginnings into Japanese, so his daughter could read it and share it with her friends. Telgemeier assented, and the translated version is now up on her website as well. There’s something wonderfully circular about that.
The school board in the Japanese city of Matsue has restricted student access to Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, the autobiographical story of a six-year-old boy who survived the Hiroshima bombing.
The board ruled that the book will remain in elementary and junior high school libraries but only teachers will have access to it; students will not be allowed to check it out.
Barefoot Gen, which originally ran in Shonen Jump, a magazine for teenage boys, is based on Nakazawa’s own experiences; he was seven years old and on his way to school when the bomb was dropped, and the adult who was walking with him was burned to death on the spot, and his father, brother and sister were killed when their burning house collapsed on them.
The Matsue school board made its decision last December, after a complaint was filed with them alleging “Children would gain a wrong perception of history because the work describes atrocities by Japanese troops that did not take place.” Many Japanese nationalists deny that Japanese troops were involved in the Rape of Nanking or committed war crimes during World War II, such as the events depicted in the book. Nonetheless, the school board said its decision was based strictly on the level of violence in the books and not on the political nature of the complaint.
Barefoot Gen has been acclaimed worldwide, and it is included in the Hiroshima Public Schools’ peace education curriculum for elementary school students, although there have been calls for it to be removed from schools there as well.
Manga | The widow of Barefoot Gen creator Keiji Nakazawa, has found 16 pages of penciled notes and sketches for a possible sequel to Nakazawa’s semi-autobiographical account of living through the Hiroshima bombing and its aftermath. Before he died in December, Nakazawa donated the first 16 pages of the projected volume to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum; this is the outline for the second set of pages. The new story would have taken Gen to Tokyo to become a manga creator, just as Nakazawa did in real life. [Anime News Network]
Comics | Glen Weldon, who writes about comics for National Public Radio, explains why he, as a gay man, won’t be reading Orson Scott Card’s issues of Adventures of Superman: “DC Comics has handed the keys to the ‘Champion of the Oppressed’ to a guy who has dedicated himself to oppress me, and my partner, and millions of people like us. It represents a fundamental misread of who the character is, and what he means. It is dispiriting. It is wearying. It is also, finally, not for me.” [NPR]
Legal | Both Warner Bros. and automobile customizer Mark Towle have filed for summary judgment in the studio’s 2011 copyright-infringement lawsuit against Towle, whose Gotham Garage sold several replicas of the Batmobile. Warner, the parent company of DC Comics, claims the design of the Batmobile is its intellectual property, while Towle argues that copyright law does not regard a “useful object,” such as a car, as a sculptural work and therefore the design can’t be copyrighted. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Crime | Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, are investigating the theft of 600 X-Men comics, dating back to the 1970s, from the communal storage area of an apartment building. [Journal Star]
Creators | Michael Cavna talks to cartoonist Richard Thompson in-depth about his Parkinson’s disease, its effect on his cartooning, and the brain surgery he had this year to combat it, and shows the cartoon Thompson drew during the surgery. The story includes an update on how Thompson has been doing since the surgery and interviews with other cartoonists, including a rare comment from Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, about Thompson’s work and his struggle against the illness. [Comic Riffs]
Publishing | The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed in 2011 after it published cartoons mocking Mohammed, has released a comic-book biography of the Muslim prophet. Editor Stephane Charbonnier, who has lived under police protection since the magazine first published the cartoons, says the biography is a properly researched educational work edited by Muslims: “I don’t think higher Muslim minds could find anything inappropriate.” [AFP]
Keiji Nakazawa, who lived through the bombing of Hiroshima as a child and wrote the internationally acclaimed Barefoot Gen about his experiences, died Dec. 19 of lung cancer. He was 73.
Nakazawa was 7 years old on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the bomb was dropped. As he recounted in his autobiography, he was walking to school and stopped to answer a question from an adult, when suddenly, in an instant, the whole world changed: “a pale light like the flash of a flashbulb camera, white at the center, engulfed me, a great ball of light with yellow and red mixed at its out edge.”
He was standing next to a concrete wall, so he was partially shielded from the blast, although he was covered in rubble, and a nail went through his cheek. The adult he had been speaking to was burned to death on the spot. There was more horror to come: His father, brother and sister were killed when their burning house collapsed on them. Nakazawa recounted these events, which his mother told him about later, in a 2007 interview: