'Barefoot Gen' comic stirs history controversy

By Linda Sieg and Leng Cheng

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The debate caught fire last week after domestic media reported that a school board superintendent in western Matsue City had asked primary and middle schools to take the comic off library shelves. Because of the manga’s graphic violence

Now this is what irritates me about the modern media. Last week the story was,

Yasunori Furukawa, deputy head of the Matsue education board. Copies of “Hadashi no Gen” (Barefoot Gen), an internationally renowned manga about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, have been pulled from school library shelves due to graphic descriptions of violence committed by Japanese troops. (Asahi Shimbun)

Now which is it? Did the school board superintendent specifically state that it was because of depictions of violence by Japanese troops? If it is that then yes, I agree that they're withdrawing it for the wrong reasons.

If, however, it was just a concern about excessive violence in the comic in general (especially in primary/elementary schools!) I'd say that it was entirely appropriate and justified.

Come on guys, some real reporting please!!

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a “masochistic” account of history that puts ...stress on the country’s wartime misdeeds

Germans have no problem with this sort of 'masochism'.

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"Besides its stark depiction of the aftermath of the bombing, the 10-volume manga graphically illustrates atrocities by Japanese soldiers in Asia". No sugar coating is necessary.

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Holy cow, last thing anyone needs is an uncomfortable truth.

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If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair. ~C. S. Lewis~

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I would prefer that facts are not purposely omitted in order to achieve a specific goal.

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Some of the best and most moving anecdotes about WW2 were composed by or about children. Now we have a situation where adults are attempting to deny children access to those works. I can't even begin to understand such twisted logic. It's too bad Keiji Nakazawa isn't alive to see this development, because if he were, he'd be able sketch a sequel in which a grown-up Gen travels to Matsue and rips those school bureaucrats a new you-know-what.

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They want it out of elementary and middle school libraries right? Perhaps some parents thought it too violent for smaller children.

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If, however, it was just a concern about excessive violence in the comic in general (especially in primary/elementary schools!) I'd say that it was entirely appropriate and justified.

Even if the true reason is excessive violence and not neo-nationalism, is there any chance that students today are not exposed to more graphic acts of violence on TV, the internet and in video games?

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to urge them to have basic manners and civility.

The point of the article was not that they have none, but that people refuse offers of help, not that no one ever helps anyone.

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New York Peace Film Festival: Great news for those in Japan! Anime film, "Barefoot Gen" is available to watch online until Aug. 31! Watch it now!

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Germans have no problem with this sort of 'masochism'.

Doesn't mean everyone else does, you know...

Well, I'm skeptical of any attempt to keep things out of eyes of children, but what the school is doing is well within Western zeitgeist. I mean, do American history books typically show lots of gory graphics of badly burned victims from their incendiary bombs or nukes? If not, is that because they are "whitewashing" history or is it because of a desire to not show graphic pictures to children? (Well, it'll probably be a bit of both but no one would criticize this decision).

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Well, I'm skeptical of any attempt to keep things out of eyes of children, but what the school is doing is well within Western zeitgeist. I mean, do American history books typically show lots of gory graphics of badly burned victims from their incendiary bombs or nukes? If not, is that because they are "whitewashing" history or is it because of a desire to not show graphic pictures to children?

Sadly this is most likely true, but as with many things, don't let America dictate what Japan should do. What are German elementary/junior high school materials like in terms of graphic representations of violence with regards to WW II and the Holocaust?

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I must agree the decision. I had been already mature enough to handle some scenes when it was released in 1973. But my cousins were still elementary school students. They were greatly affected from some explicit descriptions. If some kids or parents want them to read, they can buy this title at any book store. If any elementary students read this, if some one can digest what this is would be recommendable. But free access at the school library is not a good idea. I believe that is the bottom line for this decision.

My personal opinion, Mr. Nakazawa did his best from his point of view but he is not a historian and his experience in this tragedy made him have some extreme point of view and many things even still today have not confirmed as a history were part of the story as a statement as a fact. When I read it, I had a strong sympathy for him but I did not like his comics. In other words some objective truth was used as a platform as the base to establish his subjective point of view to promote his readers mainly children. In fact I know quite many people would like to stop our emperor system and taking royal family out of the society are readers of this story and Nikyoso (Left wing teachers union) recommend this comic. Since I was a victim of them, this can be used as a brain wash process kit for kids. Until I got the age of 42, I could not sing our national anthem because how my teachers told me their point of view when I was between 6 and 12. That was not an education but a brain wash. I want to our children learn the fact but not someone's ISM.In this sense, I would not recommend this comic because this non fiction comic contain Mr. Nakazawa's about 90% objectivity and about 10% his strong subjective message is submerged inconspicuously.

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@ Chamkun

Nakazawa-San does not have to be a historian. He wrote the manga based on his experiences of the atom bomb and what he has witnessed personally during those times. I think the fact that this manga is unique in describing what actually happened during those times is commendable.

I think it is arguable whether this manga should be accessible to elementary school children considering its graphic nature. But I would also argue it should be available starting from classes where students start learning Japanese history.

As for brainwashing, re-writing history books to exclude what the Imperial Army actually did in WW2 is just another form of it, don't you think?

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What bothers me is why is this the only Manga thought to be good enough for libraries? because of the harsh antiwar material that depicted in graphic detail death. I would be concerned about showing my children that.

if the same children are allowed to view detailed war pictures showing dead soldiers to also demonstrate why war is usually not the way to go ( most serviceman will tell you that) then there may be a case.

but again i would be complaining as to why so much violence was being preached in school

but if there is only the manga with one view, no alternate media and no alternate view of events- well i am not sure if there is a case for complaining about the removal.

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imperial army are bad.

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So interesting that Abe's government has no qualms about censoring graphic cartoon depictions of past Japanese atrocities (with the disingenuous claim of protecting children's sensitivities), while at the same time refusing to implement laws banning violent, racist hate-speech. When asked about the recent spate of zaitokukai marches through ethnic Korean neighborhoods around Japan, in which the rightwing bullies call for the "massacre" or "expulsion" of Korean residents, Abe's comment was that such actions are "regrettable", but he thinks these matters are best left up to people's own "conscience".

Who do you suppose is hurt more, kids who choose to look at graphic depictions of historical events, or kids (and their parents) who are forced to endure racial abuse in their own communities and told to "die"?

You know what this government is about and where its headed. Freedom of expression only matters if its on the far right.

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I mean, do American history books typically show lots of gory graphics of badly burned victims from their incendiary bombs or nukes? 

Yes they do. I remember seeing videos showing large piles of Jewish bodies being dumped during the Holocaust as well as burn victims from the atomic bombs.

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Nakazawa-San does not have to be a historian.*

I would have agreed with you as long as he had only showed his experience. He has put some historical layers in his limited knowledge as if he had seen everything. If he had described it based on what he thinks,or what might be the case and that is clearly see from the readers as his personal point of view, it would be fine. I would have no problem with it. However, he described everything as a historical statement. I have an issue for that. That is why I said what I said in my opinion.

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When was this? Is it current?

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The writing is really on the wall here, people. One small act of denial after another... This is heading down a dark path for Japan, but at least these so-called leaders start showing what kind of country Japan really is.

What better way to educate kids than with cartoons? And what better way to get educated kids than to show them both good and bad sides of their own country? They will grow up to be open minded adults and... Oh, I forgot, that is not what Japan needs.

When are they gonna start burning books here?

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I hope that people are aware that only one district in shimane prefecture requested the removal.

Like many times JT doesn't supply the full details.

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Knox Harrington

One small act of denial after another...*

What is it?

both good and bad sides of their own country?

How do we know it.Sometimes knowing good and bad is not clear. The history is not like a Disney movie. We should teach the fact for the both side good and bad.If that what you meant, yes, I agree with you. But my point is let kids decide their own idea based on the fact information we teach.They may not know their answer till they get adult but give them a time to think before they jump to a conclusion. Then if some of them dislike the emperor would be fine as a democratic society. However, how Mr.Nakazawa described the emperor is leading kids to hate the emperor.I know a man who does not like the emperor system. When I had a discussion with him long time ago, he said when he was a kid, he read this comic and how Nakazawa blames the emperor greatly affected him. He did not deny the effect of the comic. Nakazawa concluded the answer for kids after showing enough his own horrible experiences. That experience part and his relationship with his family and his life using Gen as a character on be half of him would have been good enough.Why he has to preach his subjective feeling to kids?I would have enjoyed much more if he had shown me his life experiences.

Nakazawa dislikes the emperor very strongly and he concluded the cause of his and all people's suffering is essentially comes from the emperor. We do not have enough evidence to let him say that yet. Knowing a history takes time. Today, still historians are keep finding some new evidences what was happening then. Accumulation of those small evidences will let us know if really the Showa emperor was a ultimate war criminal or not. It is a small scene but in his comic, he concluded that. I can feel from his hate for the emperor the way he described the emperor. We should not teach or hand down hate to kids. Teaching good things and bad things as a fact of a history.I would say, Yes, but not Nakazawa's emotion and opinion about emperor, I will say No for that. There is a fine line.

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They can replace the comics with white-washed comics of how Japan helped stabilize the Korean Peninsula, gave modern education to Taiwan (that's why they love us!!), and how they are the victims of their own aggression... oops! WHAT aggression?

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Remember that this was a question of gore, not of what the Japanese did or didn't do. I personally think junior high kids are OK for this manga (which I have a copy of here), but I wouldn't want to show it to elementary school kids, especially my own. Would you show Platoon and Full Metal Jacket to elementary school kids? I wouldn't- not because I want to hide what America did there, but because I don't think they are ready for that level of blood and violence. (Rated R for violence.) They will be ready for that stuff a bit later in their lives, and probably should see it. But for a school library with kids as young as 6 years old, I do see their point. And they're not banning the books. Kids can see them if they ask.

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Hmmm maybe the manga is way too violent for that age or maybe they just wouldn't understand it, and they wouldn't examine it; yet again, to really impress a person one has to teach them (or shock them with it) whilst young. I was never a fan of horror but my parents never ever hid war from me. Dad especially made sure that I watch famous war films and get to know about what happened during WWII. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy it and especially some pictures (actually real photos) still haunt me to this day, and there were many nights were I couldn't sleep because I couldn't understand why there was so much hate going on but he made sure that I wouldn't close my eyes and ears to the cries of the innocent. I also learned that my sleepless nights are nothing compared to what the victims passed through, or what my grandparents experienced living the war themselves.

You see humans, when confronted with the shocking, crude, graphic, violent truth, usually prefer to close their eyes and disassociate themselves from it. Now, as an adult, I wouldn't watch a war film because I became one of the humans above; I don't want anything to disturb my comfort and my feeling of safety.

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I completely agree with you. But I do think WITH ONE'S PARENTS is important here. Watching gruesome war scenes with one's family when the family thinks it's a good time for that particular child is a good thing. But running across a manga in a school library without parents around to explain or comfort, or without maybe even the reading abilities to see what the the visuals are depicting (6 years old facing kanji) might not be the best for a certain child.

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I agree with you Sunny. Yep, there has to be an adult close by to explain exactly what is going on. But aren't libraries in Japan overlooked in classes or am I hoping for too much? At our schools when we were kids we were always accompanied by teachers and I do remember a certain incident when I stumbled into a book/biography which could be described as violent and the librarian teacher the moment she saw it in my hands made sure I start reading it with her there (She even phoned my parents about it. Eventually at my school they made a section with books that could be a bit too much for us to handle, which was always 'guarded'. I.e we could read them but not alone; at least not until we show that we understand what the book is about).

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Qamar- not sure on that one. I haven't been around school libraries here while in use by kids. That would certainly make a big difference. Anyone know if teachers or librarians are around and attentive to students' needs when students are using libraries here?

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I wonder if Abe-san agrees with this ? After all, he's the one who wants to re-write history, saying no Japanese atrocities were ever committed, so surely he will want to keep these manga to show the children how Japanese people suffered at the hands of the enemy... ?

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FightingViking: Actually this manga is full of explicit illustrations of violence done by Japanese in Asia, in addition to horrific results of the atomic bomb. It is left-wing, so it's NOT what Abe likes. It is the type of literature that says "We did these horrible things in Asia, and then suffered horribly in return. Let's never get involved in war again, and never do bad things to other people. It comes back to us double strength."

The only problem is that while the author wrote (drew) about what happened to him in Hiroshima, the scenes in Asia are fictional. Sure, Japanese did stuff LIKE that then. But it would be more powerful if the Asia bits had been based on fact (event for event), not a ton of violence "that is said to have been done by the Japanese" all stuck together. There are enough true events and episodes to take from- and that would have been unarguable and just as powerful. Just an aside.

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Thank you ! I haven't actually seen these manga so didn't really know what I was talking about I guess !

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An English excerpt from Barefoot Gen is prominently featured in Fredrik Schodt's wonderful work "Manga, Manga!" which is sold by Although published in the early 1980s it remains the definitive work on Japanese comics and is highly recommended.

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Oh great. One of the truly seminal works of Japanese manga is being banned for all the WRONG reasons like all those attempts to ban the Harry Potter books here in the USA. (shaking head)

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I don't remember anything like that when I was in elementary school... When and where???

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Maybe the children of Japan will understand better why the A-bombs were dropped.That's why they survived.It was the only way to stop their military aggression, before everybody got murdered., even all Japanese.Japan's military trained even the youngest children of Japan to kill during that time, if Japan would be invaded. They said we will fight until the last men is standing. I wonder if there would be a Japan today? It would not hurt to tell the children how it really was, and that such barbaric atrocities should never happen again. Teach them to live in harmony and peace and let's hope that they learn from it. George Santanyana reminds us that the lessons of history are invaluable"Those who forget the past, are condemned to repeat it". As long as it will be taught in a honest way and not be glorified, which the Japanese government is very good at right now. A very good example is Germany, the younger generation is not proud about their past. Japanese children are not aware about the truth, and what happened during WW2.

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@Jbird: I don't necessarily remember such grim pictures in my elementary history books but I do remember several books about it in my library. Books about the bombings and books about the holocaust. A lot of scary pictures in there. I went to school in NC.

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Children shouldnt be teach about arcrymes before 18yo

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History repeating again?

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As a kid in Poland, I was very confused by stories of holocaust. In preschool, unable to really understand what had happened, we did childish reenactments that disrespected the victims ("I'll be the Nazi and you'll be the Jew"). When adults got angry, it only added to the confusion. I think there's a right and wrong age to learn about war crimes. It might depend on the individual, but a child who can read, should be allowed to read.

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**>from those who fear the move is part of a trend to whitewash the country’s wartime past. How is 'Truth & Accurate' education whitewash?? Not Teaching the 'whole truth' is a crime in itself, hiding history even worse than the actual 'Past acts'. I am sure the truth will be once again hidden from students one way or another.

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It is silly. A school can tell children not to read, but they can read mangas in home. Also, they can watch same same violent TV movies with their parents. Remember Sazae-san, Ijiwaru Basan comic books? Very old people maybe remember Norakuro? In USA, Batman, Superman, etc reruns are all over on many channles all day long. No one complain violence contents. Schools have more serious problems than checking mangas when teachers could be enjoying reruns of manga movies and also collecting manga books.

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Oh great. One of the truly seminal works of Japanese manga is being banned for all the WRONG reasons

It's not being banned.

a school board superintendent in western Matsue City had asked primary and middle schools to take the comic off library shelves.

The article doesn't even say if it has actually been taken off the shelves. It's one school in one town, and they want it out of the elementary school. Considering it has depictions of rape and atomic bombing victims, I think it's a little much for that age group.

Does this issue really warrant comment after comment about the entire nation trying to hide something?

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It is not easy to prohibit any books to read. Children can read any books in their home. Parents the ones who protested this rule. I'd bet parents read and glad they don;y have to explain histories they don;t know.

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