The Matsue City board of education in Shimane Prefecture on Aug. 26 withdrew its earlier decision to severely limit access to the 10-volume manga series “Hadashi no Gen” (“Barefoot Gen”), a best-selling antiwar and anti-nuclear weapons classic. The board said that individual elementary and junior high schools can return the series to their library shelves. The decision to do so was left to the judgment of each school.
Unfortunately, the board cited only a procedural reason for rescinding its decision and failed to express regret over violating children’s right to read books. Deplorably, the head of the board’s secretariat, who unilaterally made the original decision to remove “Hadashi no Gen” from school library shelves and require students to get teachers’ permission to read it, was not punished at all.
The series was drawn by the late Keiji Nakazawa, a survivor the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima who died last December. The main character, Gen Nakaoka, a 6-year-old boy, goes through various experiences during and after World War II. The series graphically depicts not only the harsh reality of the atomic bombing and the hardship in the immediate postwar years 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.”
In August 2012, a man sent a request to the Matsue City assembly asking that the series be removed from school library shelves, saying that its perception of history was wrong. The secretariat of the board decided in December 2012 to remove the series from school library shelves on the grounds that its depiction of atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army was too violent, without letting the five board members know about the decision. The secretariat conveyed the decision to the city’s elementary and junior schools on Dec. 17 and again on Jan. 9-10.
The five board members decided on Aug. 26 to withdraw the December 2012 decision on the grounds that the secretariat made the decision without consulting the board members. Regrettably it did not touch on the issue of whether it is correct for an organization with public power to limit student access to books.
How can the cruelty of war be conveyed without truthful description? Society must give children a chance to think deeply about war and other serious issues by allowing them unhindered access to relevant literature in school and giving them guidance to help them understand what they are reading. Limiting access to information deprives children of the ability to think critically.