Arama They Didn't

11:59 am - 04/11/2012

Book is Behind Bullying of Mixed-race Children

News photo

Opinion/Editorial/Letter posted on JapanTimes' website:

Dear Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirofumi Hirano,

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 Send your comments on this issue and Hotline to Nagatacho submissions of 500-700 words to



I thought this was really interesting. It's an interesting perspective on light-skin standards of normality ( and to some extent beauty) and it helps demonstrates how expansive that norm is across the world. How many other POC here have experienced this or are at least aware of the "scrubbing the 'dirt' off your skin in hopes of being lighter" within your respective communities? This stuff is bananas. Also, I have no idea about these tags...

winds_daichi 11th-Apr-2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
I'm just shocked at this type of thing still going on in 2012. Really?

I just remembered this story about when I was in my Japanese I class back in high school. My sister and I was the only two African-Americans taking the course. Then, out of nowhere, this guy comes and tells us "Aren't you in the wrong class? African Ethics is in college." I got up and slapped the shit out of him. Kicked out of class, but my pride was still intact. He never said anything to me or my sister except for hi or if he needed something translated.

This article just breaks my heart. Kids need to be taught self-confidence and love for themselves. Books like that just makes them feel like their in the bottom of the barrel and it leaves them emotionally open for bullies. I wish I could just help out somehow. T.T
atarashiiyoake 11th-Apr-2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
Ugh, how did he not get reprimanded for being such a racist douche?
winds_daichi 11th-Apr-2012 11:40 pm (UTC)
For the simple fact, I live in the South.
fukkthedumbshyt 12th-Apr-2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
You'd be surprised this stuff teachers let slide. In my Pan-African English course (mind you we are talking about UNIVERSITY) a white student said it was okay what happened to Native Americans because they had something we wanted....true flipping story.
sogep 11th-Apr-2012 09:45 pm (UTC)
that's fucking disgusting. i'm sorry you had to deal with that douchebag :(
winds_daichi 11th-Apr-2012 11:41 pm (UTC)
It's fine. The last time I heard about him he was in jail for assault. Did not shock me.
uledy 11th-Apr-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
Sorry you had to endure that. It never ceases to amaze me how dumbfounded people are when I, as a Black woman, speak Korean or Japanese. It's as if people can't see us outside the context of the US, participating in anything "outside" our own culture.

Whenever I went out in Japan and interacted with Japanese people there was always the assumption that I didn't know Japanese. At first I assumed it was because I was foreign, but I started noticing a pattern whenever I went out with my White friends. Japanese people would ALWAYS defer to them when speaking in Japanese. There was always this assumption that my education, cultural diversity, whatever, what lacking and that I was INCAPABLE of conversing with them but that my White companions naturally would be able to...
winds_daichi 11th-Apr-2012 11:46 pm (UTC)
OMG!~ My Japanese friend and I were JUST talking about that. She was telling me that she finds it completely stupid that most of the Japanese still think that way today. It really just goes to show how the media and personal opinions play a HUGE part in stereotyping and racism in their society. I don't care what people say, racism is everywhere. We can't avoid it.

OMG!~ When I first started telling my friends that I was into Asian guys, they gave me a blank fucking stare and asked me was I crazy. Like, they made it seem like Black women like me, couldn't date outside our circle. Luckily though, I did find an African-American man who was interested in the same things I were. 3 years and a baby later and we still watch Bleach every night together. I just hate it when we're labeled. >.<; Bugs the shit out of me.
uledy 12th-Apr-2012 12:06 am (UTC)
AH~~! To everything you've just said~! And your Bleach watching partner and baby~~! And you're from the South. You're perfect!

at tvN Taxi recording on 120327

I find it VERY difficult to date Asian men. I have no idea if it's because of their racially/culturally motivated hesitations or because of the barriers I create based off of the racially/culturally motivated hesitations I assume and perceive them to have... I find it equally as difficult to find a Black man who shares similar interests. It's incredibly awkward when I go on dates and they want to about [insert American pop culture reference] and I have no idea what they're talking about. And then they ask me what's new with me and I'm like... "Erm, They're making "Chushingura" into a Hollywood movie and it enrages me..." For someone reason, people feel that having these interests negates my "Blackness" and makes it really difficult for me to be myself. *sigh*

I'm so happy you've found someone though <3 That's so lovely! How did y'all meet?
winds_daichi 13th-Apr-2012 05:24 am (UTC)
We're high school sweethearts. I didn't know he watched anime until a night we were all hanging out and Bleach came on and he said "Yes! I love this show." That won my heart. XD

Yes!!!!! I'm from Louisiana. I currently live in Alabama. Just a Southern girl at heart.

My sis has the same problem. For some reason, it's extremely difficult to find an Asian man, but it's far to difficult to date a Black guy. She just can't find some common ground in the two. It's just hard out there these days with these picky assholes. But, がんばれね!~ There is someone for everyone out there.
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winds_daichi 12th-Apr-2012 12:02 am (UTC)
THAT SHOCKED THE SHIT OUT OF ME! He just came from the middle of nowhere one day and asked me to translate his homework. At first, I did say hell no. But, my friend HIGHLY and STUBBORNLY convinced me to translate his article. >.<; Turning the other cheek hurts,y'all. I was hoping he felt stupid for mixing up his verbs . As I was checking it though, my pride was filling up. I won in the end. LOL
inutrasha94 21st-Apr-2012 12:05 am (UTC)
Hell YES! I freaking love you for doing that to him. I wish I had confidence enough to do that if someone said the same kind of thing to me.

It's terrible children feel that way.. I really have a hard time believing things like this happen NOW. I just thought the human race grew up enough to not being complete douche-bags, especially to children.
kazu_kumaguro 23rd-Apr-2012 11:33 am (UTC)
if that happened to me I might probably just blankly said, "no?" lmao (something similar happened to me).
I guess I'm slow in things like this (thanks god it's uni because if i'm in high school I might get bullied for being slow and asian).

I just read your comments, I'm an east asian by race preferring east asian guys, I don't think other race is worse or better than east asians though, I just feel more... familiar? like automatically think might be easier to communicate (even though actually, not really).
I guess to some extent I'm pretty racist lol.
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