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. The board, whose head has deemed the manga graphically violent, will meet again Monday.
The board’s secretariat asked for the restriction in December, but it wasn’t until last week that public debate over the issue surfaced. The board has said the request was made independently by the secretariat.
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.
Cartoonist Mayumi Kurata said there are no other works like “Barefoot Gen” that tell of the fear and tragedy of war and of the nuclear bombs.
Kurata said she thinks the Japanese people have become more constrained when it comes to talking about the Emperor and the Imperial family, noting the series refers to Emperor Hirohito’s war responsibilities.
Freelance journalist Takao Saito said the Matsue board’s stance reflects the U.S.-biased state policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura said there is no problem with the Matsue board’s decision to restrict the manga at schools.
Shimomura said he looked at the images deemed radical in the series, reckoning some people may think students cannot understand such depictions properly.
Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai said the series should be available at libraries and questioned the rationale behind placing the manga on closed shelves.
The Tottori City Library moved the series to the manga corner from the library office in response to a clamor from students’ parents.