Day Care Center in Tokorozawa, Saitama teaches toddlers “Little Black Sambo”, complete with the epithets


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Hi Blog.  Forwarding.  Disgraceful.  Suggest those concerned send the day-care center my Japanese-language parody of the book where the shoe is on the other foot.  Arudou Debito in Calgary


From: Mark Thompson
Date: 2010/2/18
Subject: Teaching Children the Words of Hate in Tokorozawa, Japan

Dear Debito, I would like to bring the following matter to your attention.

A daycare center named Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園), or Green Daycare Center, in Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture, located just 30 minutes by train from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo, has been teaching hate speech to three-year old children daily, despite the protests of the parents of at least one biracial child in the class.

Although technically a private institution, the parents were originally instructed by the city of Tokorozawa that their child would have attend daycare there.

During the two years that the child has attended the daycare center, the parents had never once voiced a single concern about the operation of the daycare center until much to the their shock, the daycare center based a play / musical to be performed on Saturday, February 27th, 2010, on the book Little Black Sambo:

This is the very same book that several Japanese publishing companies had stopped printing due to public outrage in 1988. When the book was reprinted by one rogue publisher in 2005, many residents of Japan–foreign and Japanese–signed a petition encouraging the publishing company to use a different title and illustrations for the book due to their offensive nature:

Unfortunately, now that the book Little Black Sambo has been republished and widely distributed in Japan, it is apparent that the book is now being taught at Japanese daycare centers and quite possibly preschools and elementary schools across the country as well. At least two additional volumes of the book have also been printed by the same rogue Japanese publishing company:

In addition, another publishing company has also decided to get in on the action and has also decided to republish another version of Little Black Sambo:

It is important to note that the book Little Black Sambo was written by a white English woman during India’s colonial period, and at a time when slavery was still quite common. Although the use of the word “slavery” was in decline at the time in India, the population was routinely subjected to debt bondage by the British instead.

Here is a quick translation of some of the frightening lyrics from the song the children are being taught to enjoy singing daily at the daycare center in Tokorozawa:

“Little Black Sambo, sambo, sambo
His face and hands are completely black
Even his butt is completely black”

In the original Japanese:


Obviously, that kind of speech should never be taught to children by teachers at a daycare center. Those words are more akin to what might be taught by a white supremacist group.

Apparently, the book they daycare center is using even comes complete with demeaning picaninny images:

Now every time the 3-year old biracial child sees a black person he starts using the racial slur and mentions their black skin. The parents now fear taking their own child out in public or overseas. As the child is of such a young age, it also is not effective for the parents to tell the child not to use those derogatory words outside of daycare, as the child will only use them more.

In an attempt to be as understanding of cultural differences, as it was possible that perhaps the daycare center teachers were just not aware of the problems with the book, the parents of the biracial child both wrote letters in Japanese explaining the history of the book, why the title was discriminatory, and mentioning that they thought that illustrations showing demeaning racial stereotypes were not appropriate for young children.

The parents even showed the teachers that the term “sambo” was offensive and derogatory, both in English and in Japanese:

Beside being used as a disparaging reference to black people, the English dictionary above makes it clear that the word is also used to refer to people of “mulatto ancestry,” in other words, the offspring of parents of different racial origin.

After doing a little research, the parents soon found that the term had been in use and deemed derogatory as far back as 1748, 150 years before the book Little Black Sambo was even written. In addition, the derogatory word “sambo” has been prohibited from being broadcasted on TV or radio in Japan (放送禁止用語), which was also explained to the daycare center.

This fact that the book contains offensive slurs shouldn’t even be considered news to anyone in Japan, when when Little Black Sambo was republished in Japan in 2005, the website of the Asahi News reported that the book was said to “discriminate against black people” and the article can still be found online:

In an attempt to help the daycare center out of a sticky situation, the parents of the biracial child even had the two following books sent by express mail and took them to the daycare center:

The Japanese translation of “Sam and the Tigers”:

The Japanese translation of “The Story of Little Babaji”:

Both books above are modern, politically-correct retellings of Little Black Sambo that would not cause offense.

However, the daycare center said that they were not only already aware of the politically correct versions of the book, but has also refused to use them.

The daycare center’s excuse is that since all of the children have already learned the title Little Black Sambo, there will be no change in the title whatsoever. The staff have continued to teach the use of the discriminatory word “sambo” and encourage the children to enjoy using it.

In addition, at a meeting with one of the parents of the biracial child, the daycare center said that although they could not make any promises, they would “try” to change the lyrics of the song. However, it seems that additional lyrics were never actually taught and the biracial child and others in the school continue to use the hate speech filled one.

It appears that nothing has been done at all and that the daycare center is just trying to avoid the problem. Despite the parents’ protests, the daycare center still continues to use the racial slur in the presence of their biracial child and encourages the child’s classmates to enjoy singing the song which clearly contains hate speech.

Despite the daycare center’s claims, the fact is that there is no good excuse for racial discrimination.

It is shocking that a daycare center of all places, located just 30 minutes by train from downtown Tokyo, where the population includes a fair number of black people and numerous African Embassies, is teaching hate speech to small children. Tokorozawa’s sister cities include Decatur, Illinois in the United States (which has a 20% African American population), Changzhou in the People’s Republic of China and Anyang, Gyeonggi in South Korea. In addition, Tokorozawa is also the home of Columbia International School (コロンビアインターナショナルスクール) and several international dormitories for the international students of Waseda University:

As can be imagined, this has caused quite a lot of stress for the family with the biracial child. While understanding that this matter needs to be brought to the attention of the public, one of the parents of the biracial child has expressed concern for their family’s safety, and so wishes that the family not be further identified publicly.

Japanese society is based on shame and often slow to change. As a culture is appears that may Japanese people prefer to try to ignore problems and just hope they go away. Only by shaming organizations that discriminate and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of racial discrimination in Japan, will real change eventually come about.

Please take the time to contact the daycare center yourself, either in English or Japanese, and raise your concerns about the daycare center’s teaching of hate speech to young children. It will only take a minute of your time and contact information is provided below.

Midori Hoikuen (みどり保育園)

Tel: 04-2948-2613 (Monday to Saturday, 9 AM – 5 PM)
Fax: 04-2947-3924


Sayamagaoka 1-3003-52
Tokorozawa, Saitama 359-1161


Please also make your voice heard, by sending a carbon copy to Tokorozawa City Hall, Department of Daycare Services, which has been informed of this issue:


Thank you very much for your time. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.


Mark Thompson (

This message can be freely copied, distributed or published online. Please help raise awareness of racial discrimination.

25 comments on “Day Care Center in Tokorozawa, Saitama teaches toddlers “Little Black Sambo”, complete with the epithets

  • I am sending the below:



    It is noted above that the word was used as a racial term as far back as 1748. This is surely taken from the OED. However, it is not clear that those earliest citations are being used in a negative sense. Anyway, the relevant sense is the second one, which has a citation from 1704.

  • Yes, lets shame the heck out of them! Our children should never have to be subjected to bullying or teasing thanks to racial bias taught at such a young age! The children of Japan could very well be the ones who change the nation’s views on foreign issues if we don’t let them get corrupted first! Thank you for posting this. We must take action. I will spread the news.

  • Hey Kids! His Chin Chin is black too! And bigger than an elephant’t trunk! Don’t forget to teach that one to the little darlings!

  • This is what I sent them.

    Hello. I am Bryan . I am contacting you because I heard of your daycare’s practice of teaching your children the racist song “Little Black Sambo”. As a man who believes in racial equality, I cannot say enough how terrible and offending to me this is. The children you teach in your daycare may grow up to become the leaders of the free world, but not if they’re brainwashed early on that other members of the world are less then them. The reputation of your daycare has been stained in the eyes of the world and as long as you stay on the wrong side of history, this will be a stain that will never be cleaned.

  • This is derived from a late Victorian era novel called “The Tale of Little Black Sambo” by an Edinburgh, Scotland, vicar’s wife. It was translated into Japanese as “Chibikuro Sambo”, and I remember a furore surrounding its removal from Japanese library shelves in 1995. It looks like the people who objected to its removal from libraries then have found a way to revive the publication in song.

  • Mark Thompson says:

    I would like to thank all of you who have sent a letter to the daycare center and City Hall expressing your concern about the teaching of racial epithets.

    @Mumei – Thank you for the reference to the term “sambo” in the Oxford English Dictionary. The family and I unfortunately did not have that reference available at the time of writing.

    @Joe – The family initially considered that the daycare center might just not have been aware of the derogatory terms, pickaninny images, and references to black skin in the book, ignorance if you will, after four polite letters in Japanese explaining the problem, one formal meeting, and several informal talks, despite having been made fully aware on numerous occasions of the racial problems associated with that language and the book, the daycare center refuses to stop. The family believes, as do I, that the intentional use of disparaging language against an ethnic group would indeed be “hate speech”, although your definition may differ.

    @Kimpatsu – The family was told that the song was not created by the daycare center itself, but was instead one of the older teachers had been taught in her childhood.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write the daycare center and Tokorozawa City Hall. Your assistance with this matter is greatly appreciated.

  • this is exactly why japan needs a anti-discrimination law.If there was already a law then we wouldnt even be having this conversation. hello japan its 2010, get with the damn program already. korea already passed a law 2 years ago

  • Once again we see the rubric of, “Whatever I remember from the good old days in Japan is ‘culture’, and therefore to be upheld and defended in the face of noise and pressure from ‘outside'”. People in Japan who had never eaten whale meat or heard of this song do so now as a matter of pride, because “outlanders” complain about it.

    Perhaps we need to revive the traditional practice of dumping post-menopausal females on “Obasuteyama”, the buying and selling of children as house servants and sex slaves, and other delightful examples of “Nippon no dento to bunka”?

    It is important to remember, though, in addressing this example of pig-ignorant backwardness that teaching children to label and judge people based on accidents of physique rather their words and deeds is an implicit goal of training (a better translation than “education” for “kyoiku”) in Japanese day care centers and schools. “Fatty”, “beanpole”, and “four-eyes” are encouraged as widely as “blackie” and “whitey”, if not always this explicitly, not only in the schoolyard, but the classroom, and on into the workplace and adult society here.

  • Many people in Japan sincerely believe that racism cannot take place unless there is a sincere emotion of “hate” wishing for the others’ destruction involved. I think these are the same people who would use the century-old excuse “this is distinction, not racism” (差別じゃない区別).
    Combine that with people who do not want to rid of old ways and expressions in the name of political correctness, and you end up with these stubborn people who do not want to admit that there might be a “racist feeling” hidden in their minds.

  • I gave them a call this morning to complain about the song. My Japanese isn’t very good, but as far as I understood it the other party seemed to think the song was okay because children so young do not understand racial discrimination. I said that they shouldn’t be teaching it!

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    I wonder how they would react to the old slanty-eyed chant “Chinese, Japanese, what are these, money please” chant from my experience 30-something years back. Would the “It’s culture I remember from my childhood” wash?

    — I remember “Me Chinese, me play joke…” Nasty stuff. Best forgotten and not replicated through to the next generation.

  • @Sure’nuff And Yes I do
    The risk of using such tactics is that they only see the racism in those posters and simply accuse you of being racist and sending them hate-filled images, completely ignoring the actual message that you are trying to deliver. I believe Arudou-san got similar responses too after posting the controversial “Little Yellow J*p” images.

    — Yes. But people anywhere can lack a sense of irony — and double that for Japan. Try it if you like, but as I said, chances are you are not going to reach people who just don’t understand bigotry.

  • This story made me wander down to the library at the private high school I teach at here in Sapporo….and guess what I found on the shelves? This book. Told the librarian and she was pretty embarrassed that it was still in the library. Isn’t there anymore.

  • Sure’nuff And Yes I do says:

    @Graham and debito,

    [These] Japanese have let their close-mindedness nudge them into second/third place in Asia, if they are willing to let that happen to maintain their “ideals” I’m afraid nothing any group of NJ does or says will make a blind bit of difference.

    As Hellen Keller said a CENTURY ago

    “The highest result of education is tolerance.”

    I’m sure many of us have had some experience of the Japanese education system.

  • Well, to summarize their arguments briefly, they kentanakachan blog and some readers think all of the comments quoted from this website have been made by anti-Japan, Japan-hating Caucasians. Although “sambo” has a long history of being a racial epithet in English, in Japanese, it carries no such meaning. It is simply a name, once translated, no different than Bob, Dick, or Jane. Furthermore, Japanese have no consciousness of racial descrimination. All they see when they look at the illustrations are cute images of a child with black skin.

    All that aside, what does everyone think of this argument – If Japan is to accept globalization and stop having children read, sing, or be exposed to the word “sambo”, then by the same token, should not the Western world stop using “China” to refer to the Middle Kingdom? The idea is that since “shina”, where eventually English got “China” and “Sino” from, is seen as an outdated, possible racial epithet in Japan, shouldn’t it be removed from English, German, etc. as well?


  • AET,

    I was feeling the vibe to agree with you, until I went back to my Philosophy in college days.

    NO ABSOLUTELY NOT! You know sambo is racist and so do I, and so the Japanese I have talked to. This school is indoctrinating racism no matter the “cultural relativism” you wish to spin on it.

    Lets put the shoe on the other foot and go back to the “Little Nippy Skippy” books by Margaret O’Hare in the 1940s and see how fast Japanese would be screaming racism and xenophobia against the USA in the 21st Century, and “Little Nippy Skippy” was before Tokyo Rose.

    The point is that these children are being indoctrinated and not taught, and if you cannot see the difference then all the worse for you.

  • Perhaps I was not being clear. It’s not my argument Dan Rea, it’s in the kentanakachan blog.

    As far as I know, there hasn’t been a movement for the removal of “China” from the English language by people of Chinese heritage in the English speaking world. However, epithets like “Chinaman”, “Chink”, and “Coolie” have become unacceptable. Why? Because people were being insulted, marginalized and worse by the use of those words.

    The aforementioned bloggers are clearly missing the point you just made – sambo, regardless of the lack of intent of the pre-school teachers, is hurtful and racist in and of itself. Furthermore, the biracial child and his/her parents have done everything they could (politely) to avoid an awful situation, but have been rebuffed.

    Regardless, I think we should be not so quick to demonize the teachers at the school. I spoke with a few Japanese friends of mine about the book, and none of them had any idea of the ugly history behind “Sambo”. But once we talked about it, they agreed that such words and images led to prejudice.

    Accusing the teachers of being racist will yield few, if any, positive results. Think about how defensive and angry some Caucasians get when they’re called racists. I see the same behavior going on here. “We’re not racist! You’re racist for calling us racist!”

    I hope people will continue to write to the school in support of the parents, but I think little more can be done. Any further action will probably only strengthen the school’s resolve to do whatever it pleases, in defiance of “outside” influence. I only hope that as the number of biracial, multiracial, and ethnically non-Japanese kids grows in Japan, current prejudices will start being challenged – not just by those kids and their parents, but their classmates, neighbors, and friends as well.

    — Oh, there’s still more that can be done. Think outside of the box.

  • The unrevised, English version of the book (complete with original illustrations) is currently on sale in Junkudo bookshop in Ikebukuro. Planning to make a complaint next week.


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