In a victory for free speech, the Matsue City school board overturned an order that banned renown anti-war manga Barefoot Gen from school libraries. Keiji Nakazawa’s celebrated series was removed from shelves after a complainant — one who does not even live in the prefecture where Matsue City is located — called the book an “ultra-leftist manga that perpetuated lies and instilled defeatist ideology in the minds of young Japanese.”
A report from Reuters describes more about the content that the complainant found offensive:
A classic made into movies and animated films, the comic has drawn criticism from Japanese ultra-conservatives. They also argue that the post-war education system teaches a “masochistic” account of history, putting too much stress on Japan’s wartime misdeeds.
In making the decision to restore the book to library shelves, the conversation seems to be less about the issues of free speech and more about procedure. From Reuters:
The board cited procedural problems with the way the directive was issued as the reason for Monday’s decision, and said that individual schools’ decisions on access should be respected, the official added.
A survey by the board had found only five out of 49 principals saw a need to restrict access to the comic, Kyodo news agency reported.
Barefoot Gen is a candid depiction of wartime Japan, focusing in particular on the events preceding, during, and the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. When reports surfaced that the book had been banned, many thought the challenge would have pertained to the graphic imagery. While the challenge did not focus on imagery, the decision to remove the book was indeed based on it. Translator and Japanese culture expert Dan Kanemitsu explains in his article for CBLDF:
The person’s petition was rejected by the Matsue board of education overwhelmingly, but superintendent reviewed the manga in question and decided to restrict access to Barefoot Gen because of its gruesome depictions of the chaos just before war ended and right after. The citizen who called for Barefoot Gen to be restricted reportedly rejoiced over this decision, since even though his logic was rejected, his call for restricting the book went forward nonetheless.
Barefoot Gen is considered a classic of children’s literature, not just in Japan, but globally. The book has been translated into dozens of languages, and the ban itself gained international attention. The restoration of the book to library shelves in Matsue City is a victory for free speech both locally and abroad.
CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein says, “We are gratified that the Matsue school board has reversed its earlier decision to restrict access to this important work and very pleased to see Barefoot Gen back where it belongs – on library shelves where everyone can be free to read it.”