National / Social Issues

Manga artist Hasumi stirs outrage again with new book slammed as racist

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

After gaining the spotlight at home and abroad a few months ago over a controversial manga illustration denigrating a Syrian refugee girl, artist Toshiko Hasumi seemingly remains unrepentant.

On Monday, anti-racism campaigners criticized the release of Hasumi’s latest book featuring a series of what they called “racist” cartoons, including the one that portrayed a girl from Syria pretending to be a refugee so she can “luxuriate at the expense of someone else.”

The illustration, based on a photo of a real-life girl at a refugee settlement in Lebanon taken by Canadian photographer and filmmaker Jonathan Hyams, spurred an online outcry, forcing Hasumi to take it down from her Facebook site at the request of Hyams in early October. The version in the book was tweaked, with the girl looking a few years older.

The book, titled “Soda Nanmin Shiyo!” (“Let’s Become a Refugee!”) after a catchphrase used in the refugee illustration, consists of a variety of Hasumi’s cartoons that activists say mock non-Japanese minorities, including refugees and Zainichi ethnic Korean residents in Japan, with the aim of instigating racism and xenophobia. Some of the images, they said, are based on falsehoods.

“This book is a crime. It’s an attack on our civil society,” Shin Sugok, who co-heads the Tokyo-based anti-racism organization Norikoe Net, told a news conference Monday. She added she hopes the book, published Saturday, will go out of print as soon as possible.

One cartoon portrays an ethnic Korean woman boasting with a smirk that she will never be deported even if she commits a crime and nobody will know her real name if she gets arrested because she goes by a Japanese alias anyway.

Another cartoon features a Korean woman thinking that “playing the victim of discrimination” has made her life significantly easier, because she can take advantage of other people’s kindness and easily qualify for welfare benefits.

Asked whether Hasumi’s works can be construed as satire, Shin said: “A satire is supposed to be a dig at authorities, or those in power. But all her works do is bully the weak based on fallacies.”

Contacted Tuesday by The Japan Times, Hasumi said the activists are sabotaging her business by “labeling” her work racist. She called their criticism “groundless.”

Yu Iwashita, a representative of BookLovers Against Racism (BLAR), an organization established in 2014 to counter the prevalence of anti-Korean books, called during Monday’s press conference for the publishing industry and bookstores nationwide to reconsider distributing and selling the book.

Iwashita also charged the book’s publisher, Tokyo-based Seirindo, with having a notorious track record of circulating racist books like Hasumi’s.

Prior to the publication of the book, BLAR initiated an online campaign on the Change.org site urging the publishing industry “not to contribute” to the book’s dissemination of hatred and discrimination against non-Japanese. As of noon Tuesday, it had garnered more than 8,000 signatures.