Zuiunsha's 2005 republication of "Little Black Sambo", Japanese version, excerpted text and illustrations
(Zuiunsha's also publishing "The Five Chinese Brothers", another anachronistic view of a foreign land that should stay a historical relic. Is it any wonder why China views Japan with mistrust?)
ONLINE PETITION （署名運動）YOU CAN SIGN PROTESTING THE PUBLICATION AT http://www.petitiononline.com/4NoSambo Author of the petition contactable at firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT'S THE ISSUE? Click to go to:
ENGLISH SECTION OF THIS WEBSITE
WITH ARTICLES AND COMMENTARY
Highlights of the Japanese version of Little Black Sambo, entitled "Chibi Kuro Sanbo":
EXCERPTS OF THE STORY FOLLOW
Happy with what you've just seen? If not, sign an online petition against the publication of this book by clicking here.
Author of the petition contactable here
"Sambo" returns to bookracks in Japan
By Bruce Wallace
Tribune newspapers: Los Angeles Times
Published in the Chicago Tribune June 13, 2005
TOKYO -- A writer's death can do wonders for pushing that back catalog. Less drastically, a few books acquire cachet by getting banned.
Which may help explain why a reissue of "Little Black Sambo," a turn-of-the-20th Century illustrated children's book with a reputation for racism, is back on the best-seller lists in Japan.
"Sambo" was a big favorite of Japanese families from the time it was introduced here in 1953 until it was yanked from bookstores in 1988 after a swift and effective anti-racism campaign. The rap against it in Japan echoed that in the West years earlier: Sambo was a long-standing racist term for American blacks, and illustrator Frank Dobias' portrayal of the main character, with his bulging white eyes and exaggerated lips, was deeply offensive.
In April, Zuiunsha, a small Tokyo publisher, bet there was still a market for a book that had charmed Japanese youngsters who as adults were unable to find it for their children.
The market agreed. Zuiunsha reportedly has sold 95,000 copies in two months since offering "Chibikuro Sambo." Despite being a child's read at a thin 16 pages, "Sambo" is among the top five adult fiction best sellers at major Tokyo book chains.
"Some people buy it out of nostalgia," explained Tomio Inoue, Zuiunsha's president, who in picking up the rights gambled he wouldn't face a backlash for breaking the informal ban.
So far, "Sambo" has returned to shelves with few objections in a country where blacks are rare. There has been one complaint published in an English-language newspaper, written by a black resident in Japan. An online petition against the publisher garnered 262 signatures.
That is a far cry from 1988, when a mostly American campaign drove the book off Japanese shelves.
At that time, Japan's go-go economy was perceived to be a threat to the United States. Japanese leaders feared the book was adding a culture war to the trade disputes.
Kazuo Mori, a psychologist at Shinshu University in Nagano, said most Japanese were surprised to learn that "Little Black Sambo" had racist overtones.
"It never occurred to us," he said. "It was just a story."
The original "Little Black Sambo" was published in 1899. Written by Helen Bannerman, a Scot living in India, it recounts the adventure of a supposedly Indian boy who is stalked by tigers and bargains for his life by surrendering his fine clothes.
But the tigers fight over who is the grandest among them, pursuing each other in frenzied circles until they dissolve into butter.
To its defenders, Sambo is heroic, and the story is a harmless fantasy.
"The Japanese people can be racist when it comes to Koreans living here," Mori said. "But racist against blacks?
"We have no experience in dealing with black people. Where would we get it from?"
Copyright ｩ 2005, Chicago Tribune
COMMENT FROM ARUDOU DEBITO: Interesting tack the article takes. It begs the question of whether or not black people actually live in Japan (they do), and, rare or not, whether or not their feelings count for anything (they should). As residents of Japan, regardless of numbers, people of African descent (not to mention their international children, many of whom are Japanese anyway) should not have to endure offensive terms such as "Sambo" just because they happened to be born with darker skin. Although not explicitly stated in the article, the undercurrent is incorrect: black people are not merely "guests" in this society which have to tolerate anything their "hosts" do.
Yet with books like LBS, these anachronistic images of "jet blacks and gollywogs" are being instilled at the elementary school level. The issue here is not "excuse the innocent Japanese for their sins due to the rarity of domestic races", but rather "empathize with your neighbors--because that's what they are--even if they are people of differences; especially in the media".
Take the argument made to its logical outcome: Do a lot of people have to be offended before something becomes offensive? What is the threshold that would satisfy the reporter? Little Black Sambo as a book and as an image has a long historical record of being offensive, worldwide--doesn't that count? Oh, but claiming that apparently would be bullying Japan, now, wouldn't it? In the grand tradition of hypersensitive American campaigners utilizing US-Japan trade frictions. Nothing like geopolitics to confuse victim status.
So now I guess it's okay to bring back the old inflatable "gollywog hugging dolls" (dakko-chan) that were hanging on people's arms in Japan until the mid-1980's--with grass skirts, agape eyes, inner-tube lips, and huge Numidian-cook earrings. Photo of one at:
Yet Dakko-chans exist now, in a different, more modern incarnation. See
Clearly things can evolve into much milder forms suitable for a modern, multicultural society, where you can keep the cute without pandering to racist stereotype.
Even Little Black Sambo itself overseas has evolved overseas into a milder version entitled "Sam and the Tigers". There was no need for Zuiunsha to rejuvenate the book in this form. Or to do the same to Chinese by republishing 1938's "Five Chinese Brothers" (Shina no go-nin kyoudai--using the offensive term "Shina", with slanted-eyed coolies in pigtail and hand-tucked sleeves.) See cover at:
How about developing a tack like this in the article, instead of merely exonerating a whole society's incipient racial stereotyping due to presumed innocence and geopolitics?
One last thing: the article's tack towards the petition. I too signed it--signature 263--yet the insinuation is that the number of people protesting, black or not, is insignificant or inconsequential. Add to the petition yourself if you like at
Maybe that will make it newsworthy and the book qualify as offensive.
Again, see the book for yourself and decide whether or not the images encourage racial stereotyping:
Time for me to get my pens out and draw. "Chibi Kiiro Jappu". I'm serious. Time to put the shoe on the other foot.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
June 14, 2005
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Wednesday June 15, 2005
Seventeen years after it was removed from bookshops for its racist content, the children's story Little Black Sambo has made a comeback in Japan.
The tale of Sambo, a boy who uses his wits to survive after being stalked by tigers, was a hit in Japan when it was first published here in 1953.
In 1988, Japanese booksellers agreed to remove it from their shelves after a US-led campaign against its racist language and imagery.
Last April, Zuiunsha, a small publisher in Tokyo, decided to reissue the book - under its Japanese title Chibikuro Sambo - reckoning that today's children would be as enchanted by the book as their parents were.
The gamble has paid off. About 100,000 copies of the 30-page book have been sold in the past two months and it has made it into the top five on the adult fiction bestsellers' lists at big bookshops in the capital.
The publisher brushed aside claims that it was cashing in on a work that many consider racist, with its depictions of Sambo - a derogatory word for black people - with bulging eyes and exaggerated lips.
In the late 1890s Helen Bannerman, a Scot, wrote Little Black Sambo for her children while they were living in India.
"Times have changed since the book was removed," Zuiunsha's president, Tomio Inoue, told the Guardian. "Black people are more prominent in politics and entertainment, so I don't think this book can be blamed for supporting racial stereotypes. We certainly had no intention of insulting black people.
"Sambo is a brave boy who gets his reward at the end of the story. He fights the tigers using his brain so that he won't get eaten. It's an exciting story and children love it. I hope people will see it the same way."
Few protests have been voiced in Japan, which has a very small black community, although an online campaign against the book attracted messages from a few people, mainly Americans. "We have replied to all of them in English explaining our position and have heard nothing back, so I think they understand," Mr Inoue said.
Meanwhile, the Japanese cosmetics maker Mandom said yesterday it had stopped showing a TV commercial after complaints that it was racist. In the advert, for face blotting paper, several black people wipe the sweat from their brows while a chimpanzee wearing an afro wig imitates them.
"We are very sorry and apologise to viewers and other people who felt offended," a company spokesman said.