Artist: Keiji Nakasawa
Date of Action: August 2013
Location: Matsue City, Japan
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion, Violence
Medium: Literature, Mixed Media
Confronting Bodies: Matsue City Superintendent of Schools
Description of Artwork: Barefoot Gen (Hadashi No Gen) is a 10-part manga series by author Keiji Nakasawa. The series was first printed in 1973. Barefoot Gen is a semi-autobiographical account of a Japanese experience of the events of WWII, in particular the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima in which the author's father and brother were killed. Nakasawa uses graphic depictions of death and violence in an expressed effort to pull back romanticized notions of warfare. Barefoot Gen is widely read and respected in Japan, and has been available as educational reading for school-age children since its original publication.
The Incident: In August 2013, Japanese media took note that Barefoot Gen had been removed from school libraries within the Matsue city school system. Journalistic investigation revealed the impetus for the district-wide removal to be the repeated efforts of a single complainant. The complainant in question was not even a resident of the prefecture of which Matsue City is a part.
The complainant in this case mounted a political opposition to the text, apparently claiming that Nakasawa's acclaimed work was “a ultra-leftist manga that perpetuated lies and instilled defeatist ideology in the minds of young Japanese.” Of course, the voice of one political dissenter was not enough to silence a work of graphic literature. The Matsue school board voted overwhelmingly to deny the complainants request for the removal of the work on political grounds.
Following the episode of complaint, however, the Matsue city superintendent of schools opted to remove the work from school libraries and cited its graphic violent content, rather than its perceived political leaning, as the reason for removal. Barefoot Gen has long been used as an educational text and has been available to students in classrooms across Japan since the time of its publication. At the news that Nakasawa's work had been removed, albeit for entirely unrelated reasons, the right-wing political complainant reportedly rejoiced.
Results of Incident: Less than a month after the removal of Barefoot Gen from school libraries within the Matsue city district, the district school board voted to overturn the orders of the superintendent and to reinstate the acclaimed work to school libraries.