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Hadashi no Gen

‘Barefoot Gen’ pulled as anti-war images strike too close to home?

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The decision by the board of education of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, to limit students’ access to the manga series “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”) at school libraries continues to cause a stir. While some support the move, others say it disrespects the best-selling anti-war classic, which tells the story of a young boy who survives the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Meanwhile, it was reported Wednesday that a public library in Tottori Prefecture had also pulled the series from its shelves a few years ago over concerns about its graphic content.

Here are some questions and answers regarding “Hadashi no Gen” and the controversy surrounding it:

What’s the history of “Hadashi no Gen”?

The series, by the late Keiji Nakazawa, first appeared in Shukan Shonen Jump, a weekly comic magazine, in 1973. While most of the comics in the magazine depicted giant robots and other flights of fancy, “Hadashi no Gen” was the gut-wrenching survival story of a 6-year-old boy during and after the war, focusing on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

“Hadashi no Gen,” which concluded in 1985, has been translated into more than 20 languages and adapted into TV series, plays, feature movies and musicals.

Nakazawa himself was a hibakusha, having survived the 1945 Hiroshima bombing. He lost his father and two siblings that day.

“I still remember the weight I felt when I picked up my younger brother’s skull,” Nakazawa said during a speech in Tokyo in 2007. “My wish is that the readers of the book continue their efforts to create a world without war and nuclear weapons,” he added.

Nakazawa died of lung cancer last December.

Why did the Matsue board of education limit access to the series?

It began with a petition by city residents last August.

Although “Hadashi no Gen” offers an anti-war message, it also contains graphic drawings of the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army, including rapes and beheadings of Chinese.

Though the board’s decision was not unanimous, one member felt the series “escalates as it proceeds and starts to contain extremely violent sentences and graphics,” according to the transcript of one meeting.

“It may not be the proper way to describe it, but (“Hadashi no Gen”) could be considered an inappropriate book.”

Another member of the board disagreed, saying the manga “depicts the tragedy of war and importance of peace” and therefore should be available at anytime for anyone to read.

According to a Kyodo report, a majority of the 49 elementary and junior high school headmasters in Matsue told the board they thought “Hadashi no Gen” was appropriate for school libraries. Nevertheless, the board decided to remove the series from library shelves and curb student access to it.

What else about “Hadashi no Gen” is considered controversial?

Gen and other characters in the series are often critical of the Emperor, at times calling him “a murderer.”

They hold the late Emperor Hirohito responsible for the deaths of millions in Japan and across Asia. Gen at one point even goes so far as to say that if it weren’t for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Emperor and other leaders wouldn’t have ended a war already known to be lost.

Was this the author’s belief?

Criticizing the Emperor makes one an easy target of conservatives and right-wingers, but Nakazawa was known to make even bolder comments in real life.

“I wanted to jump on him, considering that he killed my father and did so many things to us,” Nakazawa said in an interview with Hiroshima City University in 2007 describing how he felt when Emperor Hirohito visited the city in 1947.

“I absolutely cannot tolerate the Imperial system. We need to question its existence,” he said.

How has the author’s family reacted to the controversy?

Nakazawa’s widow, Misayo, recently told the Saitama Shimbun that she was “surprised” by the actions taken by the Matsue board of education. The book was written “with utmost consideration to what should be read by the children,” she said, adding there “is no way to depict the war without any graphic images.”

How has Hiroshima reacted to Matsue’s decision?

Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki was quick to criticize the move, telling reporters Tuesday it is “unnecessary” to regulate “Hadashi no Gen” and the series “has been read by many people for a long period of time as a reference on the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.”

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui has also said that it is “important for the readers to witness the horrible drawings of atomic bombings and understand the need to prevent it from ever happening again.”

Meanwhile, since its launch on Aug. 16 on Change.org, over 17,000 supporters have signed an online petition to reinstate “Hadashi no Gen” in Matsue libraries.

What is likely to happen?

The city of Matsue may not backtrack on its decision but is scheduled to hold a meeting with the board Thursday.

Jiji reported Tuesday that the Matsue board of education may consider various options, including withdrawing the restriction to access the series, given the objections from various corners, quoting one of its board members, Nobuo Shimizu.

  • Whirled Peas

    Barefoot Gen is a wonderful manga. It is a deep and nuanced story of what it was like in Japan during the war. I’ve read only 2 out of the 4 volumes. The message is anti-war, but not presented in a dogmatic way. The message comes across in the depictions of the people and the spectrum of their responses to the conditions of war: courage, cowardice, compassion, selfishness, despair, and hope. Barefoot Gen would be a great educational tool for Japan’s social studies classes starting maybe in junior high school (around age 12). But, it would be best read with guidance from a teacher who could ask the student: “How would you react in that situation.” How do you think that character felt.” “Do you think that was right?” I do not think this manga is appropriate for young children. There is a lot of violence in the book and truly gruesome scenes (like beheadings, students stripped naked, skin slipping off bodies and live bodies infested with maggots), Some of the scenes are the stuff of nightmares — even for adults! But I’m not sure removing books from shelves is the answer. Maybe place the book in an age-appropriate section of the library.

  • John L. Odom

    It provide a good, fair and balanced message. It chould be available. censorship always fails in the long run.