Petition Closed

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Book is behind bullying of mixed-race children (日本語の記事は下)


(By Joel Assogba - ジョエル・アソグバ)
Dear Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirofumi Hirano,

Positive image: Joel Assogba displays some of his multilingual children's books at a fair for Francophone authors in Ottawa last month. COURTESY OF JOEL ASSOGBA
My three beautiful children were all born in Japan and went to Japanese public schools. Their mother is a native Japanese of Japanese ethnic background, and I am a Canadian citizen of African background.

Since my children are light brown, they were often teased by other kids because of the color of their skin. The culprits were cruel, directing various racial slurs. Among others, "black and dirty as burdocks" was one of the terms that often came up.

But, when I once ran across and brought home a picture book, "Ninjin-san ga Akai Wake" ("The Reason the Carrot is Red") from the local library, my children got quite upset.

Written by renowned Japanese author of children's literature Miyoko Matsutani, the story unfolds like this: A carrot and a burdock ask a white radish (daikon) out to a bath. The burdock jumps in the water but soon hops out because the water is too hot; it remains black. The carrot stays in the hot water longer and turns red. The daikon cools the bath with some cold water and washes himself thoroughly, which turns him shining white.

At the end, the three stand beside each other to compare their color. The burdock is black and dirty because he did not wash his body properly; the daikon is white and beautiful because he did.

When I was talking about this story during one of my lectures on human rights issues at a PTA meeting in Fukuoka, one of the participants, a Japanese mother of an African-Japanese preschool boy, started crying and saying that her son was taunted, ridiculed and called "burdock" after his pre-school teacher read the aforementioned book to the class.

When the little boy returned home that day, he jumped into the bathtub, started washing his body and crying, "I hate my light brown skin, I hate the burdock, I'm dirty and I want to be like the white radish!" How can this child have a positive image of himself?

We all felt sad after hearing this story, because the book associates the color black with dirt. The story's underlying message is clear: "You'll be black and dirty like burdocks if you don't wash yourself well in the bath." So children with darker skin will be victimized by the message it conveys.

How can such a book still be in libraries and preschool classrooms in increasingly multiracial contemporary Japan?

I called the publisher, Doshinsha Publishing Co., and demanded the book be recalled, saying it was racist. The publisher disagreed. My demand to meet with Matsutani to discuss revising the portions of the book I considered objectionable was also rejected.

Yoichi Ikeda, the editor of the book published in 1989, told me over the phone that the story was the author's version of a Japanese folktale.

"Matsutani is not promoting racism, she was just handing down to Japanese children our rich culture," he said. "And anyway, there are not many black children in Japanese preschools."

Surprisingly, the book is quite popular and was even selected as one of the Japan School Library Association's "good picture books."

The author, editor and publisher, as well as Japanese educators who use the book, should face the fact that it insults many people in today's multiethnic society. It's important to have story characters with a positive image, so children who identify with them can develop high self-esteem.

"Gobo-san no Iro wa?" ("What Color Are Burdocks?") is my counterargument to Matsutani's picture book. The story goes: One sunny day, a group of children visits a farm and harvests daikon radishes, carrots and burdock. They put the muddy vegetables in a bath but find the burdocks are still black after washing.

The children take the "dirty burdocks" to the bath again. The burdocks get upset and jump out of the water, saying, "We are already clean. Black is our natural color."

Carrots and radishes join them, saying, "Yes, we are all clean," and they all sing and dance together. "Black is beautiful, white is Beautiful, red is beautiful — all the colors in the world are equally beautiful!"


Writer and illustrator Joel Assogba is a passionate public speaker and the author of "Gobo-san no Iro wa?" ("What Color Are Burdocks?") (Daddy Publishing, 2004). He lived in Japan from 1994 to 2011 and is now back in Ottawa with his Japanese spouse and their three children. He can be contacted at





しかし、私が地元の図書館で “にんじんさんがあかいわけ”を偶然見つけて借りて帰った時、子供達は非常に怒りました。








この本が黒い色と汚れを関連づけているせいで、私たちはみなこの話を聞いて悲しくなりました。この物語の根底にあるメッセージは明らかです:“お風呂に入ってよく体を洗わなかったら、ごぼうみたいに黒くて汚くなってしまうよ”ですから濃い色の肌を持つ子供達はそのメッセージが伝えるメッセージの犠牲となってしまうのです。現代の多民族化しつつある日本で、どうしてそのような本がいまだに図書館や幼稚園の学級にあるのでしょうか?私は出版元である株式会社童心社に電話をし、この本が人種差別であったと表明し、回収される事を求めました。出版元は同意しませんでした。私が考えるこの本の好ましくない部分について改訂する事を議論するために松谷氏と面会することもまた断られました。1989年に出版されたこの本の編集者である池田陽一氏は、この本が日本民話の作者の改作だった事を電話で話しました。“松谷氏は人種差別を助長しようとしているのではありません、ただ日本の子供達に我々の豊かな文化を語り継ごうとしていただけですし” 彼は言いました。“それに、日本の幼稚園に黒人の子がたくさんいるわけじゃないでしょう!”驚くべきことに、この本はかなり人気があり、全国学校図書館協議会の“よい絵本”の一つとして選出されたのです。






“にんじんさんがあかいわけ”について、そしてなぜ私が“ごぼうさんのいろは?”を考え出したのかについて、福岡の小学校で子供達とその親たちに話していた時に、一人の母親が立ち上がって私の発表を遮りました;“子供の前で私たちの大事な松谷先生の悪口を言うな、” 彼女は怒り狂って言いました、“あんたなんか外人で私たちの素晴らしい文化を何も分かってないくせに…”

校長先生が飛んできた時ですら彼女は全てをまだ言い終わっていませんでした;“子供達を洗脳するな、講演を止めなさい、じゃあ。” そして、親達は会場を後にし始め、先生達は児童に教室へ行くよう告げました。


悪口は嘘偽りや悪意ある意図を持って非難する事;名誉と名声のある人を攻撃することですが、批判は 何かもしくは誰かの長所と短所を判断する事についての分かりやすい(または理路整然とした)実践なのです。つまり、批判が妥当なものであるならば、それは何としても為されなければなりません。なぜならそれは私達が生きるためのより良い世界を作ることができる、唯一の方法だからです。

“ごぼうさんのいろは?” [ ジョエル・アソグバ、日英二ヶ国語、だD出版、ISBN 4-9900918-2-5、2004年11月、日本 ]は、松谷みよ子氏の絵本“にんじんさんがあかいわけ”に対する私の反論です。




Letter to
Doshinsha Publishing Co. (Japanese Publisher) Matsutani Miyoko and Ikeda Yoichi
Please, sign my petition to ban a popular but "racist" children's book; "Ninjin san ga ekai wake,' (written by the most famous Japanese folktale writer, Matsutani Miyoko).
The book portrait a black skinned character as one who doesn't like to take a bath, as a result he is black and dirty...
Thank you for your collaboration!