After debate that focused more on procedure than on free expression, a ban placed on anti-war manga Barefoot Gen was lifted recently in Japan, once again allowing the return of the book to school libraries in Matsue City. Unfortunately, controversy still exists regarding the book and its place in Japanese society.
Dan Kanemitsu, CBLDF contributor, translator, and Japanese culture expert, has written several pieces detailing the banning of the acclaimed manga. He updated his blog recently with examples of radical conclusions reached as the debate drew to a close.
The Sankei Shinbun newspaper featured an editorial critiquing the depictions of violence inflicted on Chinese civilians at the hands of Japanese soldiers, claiming that it instills “acceptance for the atomic bombing” within the minds of those reading the book. Kanemitsu explains:
True, Barefoot Gen does talk about war crime conducted by Japanese soldiers, however that subject does not come up until the story progresses considerably, as in multiple volumes worth of narrative. Barefoot Gen starts off with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in the first volume. Talk about brutality of the Japanese soldiers does not come up until the war has ended and a lively debate rages well into the turmoil of the post-war debacle of Japan.
The Sankei Shinbun editorial went on to claim that teachers incorporating Barefoot Gen into their curriculum harbored a secret pacifist agenda (because that’s a bad thing?), and they forced their students to read the manga. Kanemitsu explains how this point isn’t just completely unrelated to the reasons restrictions were placed on the book; it’s also entirely incorrect:
Even when the restrictions were in place, teachers could select the books as reading material for children, so this argument is completely beside the point.
In addition to the illogical Sankei Shinbun editorial, deputy prime minister Taro Aso weighed in with his point of view on the banning of the book by stating “Barefoot Gen should not be banned, but there are manga for adults that should be banned.” Kanemitsu provided some context regarding the deputy prime minister, who is known for making loaded and outright offensive statements:
Deputy prime minister Aso is known as a fan of many manga, but it appears that he does not really appreciate how all works should be protected equally, and this is exactly the reason why it is dangerous to talk about a work’s worth as a condition for protecting its right to exist.
Kanemitsu closed his post with an insightful reminder about the importance of separating personal preferences from influencing the rights of expression all creators are entitled to:
Freedom of expression is not an earned privilege. Whether or not you agree is not grounds for limiting one’s speech, especially in the case of fiction.
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Casey Gilly is a comics journalist and cat enthusiast living in Oakland, CA, where she eats tacos and plays ukulele.