Thanks to the efforts of mass media, it has surfaced that the Matsue City board of education in Shimane Prefecture has severely limited students’ access to the 10-volume manga series “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”), a best-selling antiwar and antinuclear weapons classic. The board told the city’s elementary and junior high schools in December to remove the manga from library shelves and to require students to get permission from teachers to read it.
More than 1,200 citizens have protested the board’s decision by telephone and e-mail. The decision, which was actually made unilaterally by the board’s secretariat, is deplorable. The board should immediately rescind it. It should not forget that the decision has deprived students of an important chance of learning about the cruelty of war and the horrific nature of a nuclear attack.
In a similar development, it has come to light that the central library of Tottori City in adjacent Tottori Prefecture placed the Hadashi no Gen series in the library’s office two years ago. The series was removed from a shelf of children’ books following a complaint from a parent. It was returned to the shelf on Friday.
The series was drawn by the late Keiji Nakazawa, who died last December. He survived the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima but lost his father and two siblings that day. The series revolves around the experience of Gen Nakaoka, a 6-year-old boy, during and after World War II. It graphically depicts not only the harsh reality of the atomic bombing and the hardship in the years immediately after World War II but also atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army, such as the beheading of other Asians and rape. It also includes harsh criticism of the Emperor Showa, at times calling him a “murderer.” Hadashi no Gen was translated into about 20 languages including English, French, German, Russian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian and Indonesian. It was also adapted into a TV series, feature movies, plays and musicals, and has been used to teach peace education in schools.
According the Matsue board of education, in August 2012, a man sent a request to the city assembly asking that the series be removed from school library shelves, saying that its perception of history was wrong. Although the assembly turned down the request, the secretariat of the board accepted it and did not submit its decision to an open meeting of the board members.
Thirty-nine schools that possess the Hadashi no Gen series complied with the decision. Because the decision concerned the freedom of expression and people’s right to know, the head of the secretariat should be punished for carrying out this unilateral decision in a completely non-transparent manner.
Hiding the reality of war will greatly hinder the ability of Japanese citizens to learn about the nation’s 20th-century history and draw the right lessons from it, making it easier for them to be misled by politicians. This point is especially important because most Japanese political leaders are too young to have experienced the horrors of World War II. Yet some of them, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are actively working to gut Japan’s “defense-only defense” security posture.