Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Images available online

Full text and illustrations of 'Chibikuro Sanbo' are available online.

Please click here to view the images and text and then go sign the petition.

The full text and story were made available online by Arudou Debito .

In the news...

Two articles were recently written in the LA Times and Chicago Tribune by Dan Wallace. The articles, "Once Shunned as Racist, Storybook Bestseller in Japan" (June 12, 2005) and "`Sambo' returns to bookracks in Japan" (June 13, 2005) mention the petition against the republication of the book.

Below is an excerpt from the "`Sambo' returns to bookracks in Japan" article by Wallace:

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.


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 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?"

Monday, May 30, 2005


On April 26, 2005, we received a response from 'inoue@zuiunsya.com'. I have doubts about the validity and authenticity of this response. I still thought it would beinteresting to post.

Our company recently revived the publication of the classic picture book The Story of Little Black Sambo. It was sold in Japan by Iwanami Shoten Publishers from 1953, and including the original version put out by the same publisher, it appeared in a total of forty-nine different editions until 1988, when it went out of print. Iwanami alone sold about 1.2 million copies of the book, and it became a best seller, read by a large number of adults as well as children.

The story goes as follows. A little boy named Sambo encounters some tigers in the jungle. Each time he is about to be eaten by one of them, he finds a clever way to outsmart the creature and escapes. In the end, the tigers fight among themselves and as they chase each other around a tree, turn into butter. Sambo asks his mother to make pancakes with the butter, and he and his family eat their fill. It is an amusing, imaginative tale.

One day a certain organization protested to Iwanami, saying the book was discriminatory towards black people. Without consulting the editorial staff, the company decided, in just four days. to stop publishing the book and suspended sales. The main reason for the protest was that the names of the characters were perceived to be discriminatory. In this way, the book disappeared from the bookstores without a word of explanation to the readers.

Are the names “Sambo” and “Jumbo and Mumbo,” the parents’ names, in fact discriminatory? In order to answer this question, let us first look at the circumstances under which the book was created. The author, Helen Bannerman (1862-1946), was an Englishwoman and lived for many years in India with her doctor husband. The Story of Little Black Sambo began as a hand-done version, which she made in 1898 to send to her children whom she had to leave behind at a summer retreat in the mountains. As soon as the book was published the following year, it became popular not only in England but worldwide.

Those who say the name Sambo is pejorative claim that it is not a common name in India and that it originates with the _expression “mumbo-jumbo.” In fact, the name Sambo is often found in northern India and Tibet and means “good” or “excellent,” an appropriate name for a boy who was able to find his way out of any predicament. His mother’s name Mumbo means “much” or “bountiful,” and Jumbo, his father’s name, means “gentle” or “great world.” They were both well thought out, wonderful names.

Critics also say that the people in the illustrations by Frank Dobias are too dark-skinned to be Indian. But it was his bold use of color and stylistic touch that left a strong impression on the readers. We could understand why so many people requested that his illustrations be used in the republication of the book.

For parents, it is only natural to want to read or give books to your own children that you yourself loved and had read to you as a child. We have made the republication of classics one of the cornerstones of our business. We find it meaningful to reexamine children’s books that have gone out of print for certain reasons and then republish those that are worthy of being handed down to future generations. Freedom of speech and of the press are protected, and the true spirit of the book will become clearer through the debate inspired by the book’s reappearance.

Of course, we understand that behind the suspension of the sales of The Story of Little Black Sambo was the global movement to end racial discrimination against black people. Because this book continued to be read worldwide into the 20th century, there was a tendency to associate it with the African-American struggle for equality, although it was written by an Englishwoman about an Indian protagonist. Certainly, severe prejudice against black people still exists, and it is our hope that racism will disappear as soon as possible from this world.

Nevertheless, seventeen years have passed since Iwanami Shoten Publishers put the book out of print, and we can all probably agree that social climate has improved dramatically since then. Racist attitudes are disappearing, and it is satisfying to see large numbers of black people playing an active role in various fields internationally. Can we honestly say that many of the children who read The Story of Little Black Sambo discriminate against black people because of the book’s influence? We should have more faith in the children of Japan.

Many complications arose during the process of reprinting this book, and much energy was expended. But we were encouraged by the voices of the many readers who looked forward to the event and as publishers, are thrilled to make the book available to them again. At the same time, we hope that one day there will be a time when books will no longer disappear from our bookstores for unacceptable reasons or without adequate discussion because of verbal “witch-hunting.”

NOTE: The formatting (bold and itallics) are the same as the e-mail message received (as a Word attachment). We do not have confirmation about this response from 'inoue@zuiunsya.com'

Monday, April 11, 2005

Update: Signatures and Editorial

As of today, we have 254 signatures. We will be sending the petition to Tomio Inoue/Zuiunsha within the next day.

L. Castle's Letter to the Editor (Daily Yomiuri) was published on March 19, 2005. View a copy here.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Petition Letter

Dear Mr. Tomio Inoue,

It is with great concern we learn that Zuiunsha is planning to re-release “Chibikuro Sambo” [Little Black Sambo] on April 15th, 2005. I strongly protest the publishing and marketing of this book. We are writing to demand that Zuiunsha stop the publishing and marketing of “Chibikuro Sambo”.

“Chibikuro Sambo” is a book that carries anti-Black overtones. The images and the title are racially offensive and reflect blatant anti-Black sentiments of a particular time period. The images are caricatures of and an insult to people of African descent in Japan and throughout the world. The title is of great concern. When the author, Helen Bannerman, chose this name for her character in the late 19th century, she did so in an era when it was considered acceptable to use racist terms to identify people who the majority believed to be inferior. Using the term "sambo" today is like pouring salt into the slowly healing wound of racism that is trying earnestly to heal. There are writers and publishers in the United States who have changed the story title. One such story is now titled 'Sam and the Tigers' by Julius Lester. The objection is not to the story, but to the title and images.

The previously published versions of “Chibikuro Sambo” received criticism from citizens groups. As a result, between 1988 and 1989, the picture book was taken out of print. The April 15, 2005 publishing and release of Chibikuro will be evidence of a negative sentiment toward the black race and will perpetuate ignorance in Japan.

In our view, Zuiunsha should apologize for accepting the responsibility of promoting racial stereotypes and thus prejudice against people of African descent/Black people. We are requesting that you educate your customers and audience in the history of African people throughout the Diaspora. If you insist on publishing and marketing the book, then we ask that you change the title and illustrations. We encourage you to use this as an opportunity to use a children's book to educate children about world affairs by including an insert or prologue. The insert and prologue can explain the troubled history of this story and why racism is a problem that even as Japanese people, they should be aware of and sensitive to. This action will give Zuiunsha the opportunity to share both a good story and a lesson about racism with young children, thereby sowing a seed of racial awareness in a generation of children who will certainly need that awareness in our increasingly global-minded world.

We respectfully await your prompt response.


The Undersigned




 「ちびくろさんぼ」(Little Black Sambo)は黒人に対する人種差別的な表現が多数含まれています。題名もイラストも特定人種に対して差別的で、過去のある時代に持たれていた黒人種差別の考えを伝えています。イラストは日本にいる黒人に対してだけではなく、世界中の黒人に対して侮辱的な風刺画となっています。題名のあり方も疑問です。作家であるヘレン・バンナーマンが主人公にこの名前つけた19世紀は、大衆が、より劣れていると思われる者に人種差別主義の呼びかけをすることが受け入れられていた時代でした。現在では、「Sambo」という言葉の使用は、解決に向かって治癒しようとしている人種差別の傷口に、塩を注ぎ入れていることと同じです。
アメリカには「Little Black Sambo」の題名もイラストも変えて出版している作者と出版会社もあり、Julius Lester作者の「Sam and the Tigers」はその一作です。瑞雲舎の「ちびくろさんぼ」に異議を申し立っているの作品の内容ではなく、題名とイラストにあります。

 ご存じの通り、以前日本国内で発行されていた、どの「Chibikuro Sambo」も、市民団体から批判を受けて、88~89年の間に絶版になりました。2005年4月15日の「ちびくろさんぼ」の復刊が行われば、黒人に対して否定的であることにつながり、日本での色々な差別を助長し、差別自体を認めることにつながります。

 瑞雲舎は、人種差別を助長する「ちびくろさんぼ」の復刊予定に対して、責任を持って謝罪するべきだと思います。どうしても「ちびくろさんぼ」を発行することであれば、題名とイラストの変更を強く要求します。これを機会にして、前書きか差し込みページを通して、子どもたちに世界情勢を伝えるような絵本になることを期待しています。その説明で「Little Black Sambo」に関わる問題点や人種差別について、日本人でも配慮しなければならないことを教える良い機会になります。子どもに良い話を伝え、人種差別問題に関心を寄せる機会も与えられます。国際理解教育が充実しつつある、現在の日本の子どもに、将来必要となる人種問題に配慮する態度を養うことにもなります。



The Undersigned

NOTE: This letter will be sent to Zuiunsha Publishing Company