OSAKA — A library in Fukui Prefecture has become the latest flash point in the struggle over gender equality after it was learned that 150 books on women’s issues and gender studies were removed from the shelves.

Last week, it was discovered that the Fukui Prefectural Center for Lifelong Planning in the city of Fukui had removed the books in late March after receiving a complaint from a local resident that the books gave extreme views on gender.

Riyuko Sadaike, head of the center, said there was no political or ideological reason for removing the books. She claimed the books were removed for the staff to investigate if the complaint was valid.

“We concluded there was no basis for the complaint, and all 150 books were returned to their original positions Tuesday,” Sadaike said.

But upon hearing of the books’ removal, 45 people, including Harumi Kondaiji, a town assemblywoman for Tsuruga in the prefecture, filed a protest with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, claiming the removal violated freedom of expression.

She also said that not putting out books paid for with tax money was tantamount to a misuse of public funds.

When a member of the library’s management monitoring committee complained last November about the books, the library said they were necessary for public education and did not remove them, according to Kondaiji.

“However, at the end of March, they were just suddenly removed from public display,” the assemblywoman said.

Sadaike said last year’s complaint was the first the center had received in its nearly 11-year history. She admitted there were problems in the way the center handled the complaint, but would not explain the criteria the facility used to assess complaints.

Asked what would happen if the center received another complaint about the books, she said the library would discuss the most appropriate response to it.

One of the books removed was by prominent feminist scholar Chizuko Ueno.

“The Theater In The Skirt,” published in 1992, is a history of woman’s underwear in Japan and its role in celebrating or repressing women’s sexuality.

The writing is frank and peppered with sexually explicit language.

Ueno has long been a target of the rightwing not just for her vocal support of gender equality but for her criticism of the establishment, particularly her scathing assessment of the emperor system.

In the afterward of “The Theater In the Skirt,” she compares a pair of panties with the emperor system. She writes that the underwear and the emperor system both hide the obscene and in doing so they attempt to increase the value of the things they hide.

The incident at the Lifelong Planning center is just the most recent in a long battle between progressive groups promoting publicly funded information and education on gender issues and conservatives, who charge that the material erodes the foundations of the traditional family.

The fight began in 1999 with the enactment of a law requiring local governments to set up gender education centers.

Opponents include such prominent politicians as Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

The leading candidate to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the hawkish Abe has been cool to gender studies education.

Both the revisionist “Society for Textbook Reform” and local chapters of the Japan Conference have been conducting a sustained campaign against gender education and urge people to petition local centers to remove books they say are biased.

Feminist writer Mariko Mitsui has documented nearly a dozen cases of local governments that have opposed gender education in different ways, ranging from passing referendums that ban the use of “gender free,” the Japanese term for gender equality, to pushing for the elimination of educational material on gender issues deemed inappropriate by conservatives.

“It’s clear these efforts by local assemblies to attack gender studies are the result of a national movement with access to both money and organizational knowledge,” Mitsui said.

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