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Adam Goodwin claimed it was purely by chance that he came across the Web site of a Japanese citizens’ group publishing a picture booklet on Japan’s war-contingency legislation and its perceived significance.

Moved, Goodwin, a Canadian freelance translator who resides in Yokohama, offered to translate the work into English for free when a major publisher decided to run a hardcover edition.

“War is the most undemocratic institution today,” he said. “The book presents this fact so simply that even a child can understand (it).”

Goodwin is one of more than 20 people who took part in compiling the hardcover version of “What Happens Before War?” Published last month by Magazine House Co., the book illustrates in plain words a prewar scenario based on the war-contingency legislation that the Diet enacted in June.

“What Happens Before War?” was initially published privately in booklet form in June by the group Ribbon-Project to raise public awareness of the legislation, which at the time was still being deliberated in the Diet. The legislation spells out steps the government and public may be required to take if the nation is attacked.

Members of the group, which tried to thwart the legislation, exchanged more than 100 e-mails a day for two weeks before they came up with the final version of the text.

But group members, who include lawyers, academics and novelists, were surprised when the first 5,000 booklets, selling for 300 yen each, sold out in about 10 days.

“People heard about the booklet by word of mouth,” said group member Kazuhiro Imamura, an assistant professor of Japanese language at Hitotsubashi University. “Some people bought hundreds of copies to hand out at gatherings.”

Surprisingly for a private publication, 33,000 copies of the booklet were sold before Magazine House began printing a hardcover version with the English translation on the side.

Magazine House published 100,000 copies with additional pages of commentary and explanations of the laws mentioned in the text.

For example, the text in the original booklet says: “Schools will start teaching what good citizens must and must not do.” The corresponding page in the hardcover version explains that Article 43 of the new citizen protection law stipulates that the government will “educate” the public on the measures it takes.

By adding the reference, “we wanted to show that what is written in the book is not a fabricated story,” said Motomi Murota, another group member. “Readers can check the legislation as they read through it.”

Imamura also said the English text was added to better inform non-Japanese residents in Japan about what could happen if Japan comes under attack.

“We also wanted foreigners to know that there are people in Japan trying to change the situation,” Imamura said.

The group said it is considering translating the book into Chinese and Korean as well.

Although Ribbon-Project members say they are glad the book has sold well, they hope more younger people and those not particularly involved in the antiwar movement read it.

“I hope the book will give people an opportunity to think and talk about war,” said Yasumichi Inoue, who provided the illustrations for the book.

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