Hiding the reality of war

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.

  • Revelation

    These ridiculous attempts at keeping the Japanese in the dark regarding their past won’t help the people. The best thing to do is realize their past, accept it, and move forward. Many Germans have done this and now have respect for it. Japan values honor- Won’t they do the honorable thing by learning from Germany’s example?

    • What did Germany do? They banned all kinds of symbolism from their past because it made them uncomfortable. What is being done here is in line with Germany’s policy, not against it.

      • Revelation

        Most Germans today acknowledge their WWII atrocities and post WWII have not taken back their apologies or shown signs of slipping back into Nazi attitudes. Japan is doing just the opposite. Wake up Japan, it’s a new century.

      • You mean the Nazi attitude of banning books and symbolism out of a fear of the feelings they might arouse in citizens?

        There’s plenty of that going on in Germany. That what is banned is mostly Nazi symbolism and literature doesn’t change the premise: that the state can justify censorship. If it’s okay to do it in one area for one reason, they will do it in another area for another reason, just a matter of time.

    • Surely you have noticed that this editorial condemning the actions of a local bureaucrat, although written in English, is appearing in a Japanese newspaper?

      And that his/her actions caused a flood of protests by the local citizens (who would be… Japanese!)?

      Perhaps you haven’t been watching any Japanese news programs, news/talk shows, or reading Japanese newspapers since this story broke, so allow me to point out the actions of this Matsue BoE bureaucrat have been well covered, and always portrayed in a negative light.

      “The Japanese”, by and large, with admittedly a few sad examples notable for being outside the norm, do realize their past, accept it, and have moved forward. To imply that somehow they have not, based on the actions of one individual (egged on by a second individual, granted, but that is still a grand total of two) is as offensive as if I were to state that clearly, based on the actions of CSR-Team in Afghanistan in 2006, the Germans have not progressed one bit since 1945.

      • Revelation

        True, some Japanese are more open minded than others, but in truth the majority of Japanese either understand little of their WWII past thanks to their government’s efforts trying to hide the darker parts of it, or know of it but refuse to acknowledge what Imperial Japan did was wrong. The nationalists’ brainwashing over the years is exactly why we have this article to begin with. Germans have at least progressed by making formal apologies and standing by them, but Japan? No, they would rather worsen relations with other nations for the sake of expanding their boundaries instead of tending to more important issues at hand.

      • Apparently you missed the follow-up, so allow me:


        Over 1,200 local citizens, almost all of the Matsue school principals, national mass media, the Tottori governor himself – ALL of these people protested this one bureaucrat’s unilateral pulling of the book.

        And now it has been overturned.

        So much for “nationalist brainwashing”.

        “they would rather worsen relations with other nations for the sake of expanding their boundaries”

        I believe you are confusing “Japan” with “China”. Or perhaps with “Korea”.

      • Revelation

        Korea has every right to fight for THEIR land- Japan only cared about the Dokdo islets when they realized what wealth they could get out of its natural resources. In the case of China, yes, China could refrain from provoking Japan.
        Now, that article is good news. Nevertheless, you’re not looking at the big picture. I never said ALL Japanese are victims of nationalist brainwashing, but many are and will remain so unless the government changes their attitude completely. If could literally toss hundreds of links to you demonstrating examples of how blinded Japan is in their nationalist/right wing mindest, but I would be wasting my time. You can easily find sources everywhere if you look up articles pertaining to Yasukuni, ministers Abe and Koizumi, and mayor Toru Hashimoto. Korea and China would not be so against Japan if they did not start all this nonsense; remember that.

  • “Thanks to the efforts of mass media”

    Pat yourself on the back why don’t you…and then don’t bring up the countless number of times when there was no effort or courage to be found, when there needed to be.

    Also please observe that nowhere in this article is the word “censorship”, and instead all of this mess is opposed due to some claimed benefit. Who knew that rights were so malleable? Defending the series on those terms would involve an uncomfortable examination of other books that are not allowed, and the content of the curriculum, particularly in “social studies” — so, best to avoid making it an issue of principle and stick to politicizing and shaming.