Hello BT’ers! It’s been a while since I posted (due to the birth of my son, Sho (勝), but I wanted to share, with the writer’s permission, an email that I received:
Dear Black Tokyo,
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 pickaninny 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)
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 (MarkThompson1970@gmail.com)
This message can be freely copied, distributed or published online. Please help raise awareness of racial discrimination.
What is your opinion, is there any harm on having kindergartner’s perform Little Black Sambo at daycare center?