Tezuka Manga Museum Going Ahead Despite Protests

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

TAKARAZUKA, Hyogo — A mammoth museum here featuring the works of the late renowned cartoonist Osamu Tezuka is moving forward as planned, largely undeterred by continuing protests over the artist’s images of black people.

Local organizers hope the multimedia
Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, scheduled for completion by the summer of 1994, will put the city best known for its all-female revue on the map as a mecca for enthusiasts of the Japanese art of cartooning, or manga.

“We are quite honored to establish a museum here to proudly introduce such a world-class Japanese cartoonist (as Tezuka) — or should I say, a philosopher who passed his ideas on to posterity through the medium of manga,” said Minoru Yamashita, a planning director for the Takarazuka municipal government.

Tezuka, who died in 1989 at the age of 60, is considered the preeminent Japanese cartoonist of the postwar era, adored by fans and fellow artists alike as “Manga no Kamisama,” or God of Comics. Many look upon him as the Walt Disney of Japan.

More than anyone else, it was Tezuka and his popular children’s stories that helped raise the post-war manga craze to the 440 billion yen industry it is today. Many of his best-loved works, it is said, were inspired during the 20 years he lived in Takarazuka as a young man.

An estimated 150,000-plus pages of manga drawn by Tezuka in his lifetime will be featured on a rotating basis at the 1 billion yen museum, according to Yamashita.

In addition to numerous panels, posters and photos, the museum will also offer movie and video screenings of Tezuka’s legendary stories. Cartoon drawing and production classes for amateur artists will also be offered.

Now that the museum’s overall design plans have recently been completed, actual construction is to start in December. The museum will adjoin the Takarazuka Family Land amusement park, allowing access to visitors from both inside and outside the park.

Despite high expectations by organizers, however, the ambitious museum project and Tezuka’s legacy have not been without problems.

Far from revering Tezuka as an artistic demigod, protesters in both Japan and the United States are criticizing many of Tezuka’s most famous manga series for allegedly perpetrating negative stereotypes of black people.

The Association to Stop Racism Against Blacks, an Osaka-based group founded in 1988, has been spearheading the campaign. The 100-member international group has subsequently found support for its efforts in various sectors of the U.S. black community.

“We admit Tezuka displayed excellent qualities as a cartoonist,” said Toshiji Arita of the ASRAB. “But that’s exactly why we got so disappointed: Even Tezuka drew blacks with the same stereotypes held by all other Japanese people.”

American grassroots groups are now joining forces with the ASRAB through a letter-writing campaign to the Tokyo-based Tezuka Production Co. Ltd., seeking to discontinue sales of at least 20 Tezuka series containing caricatures of blacks viewed as derogatory.

Critics say they are targeting images of blacks as mindless servants to white people, as sexually uncontrollable beings or as jungle cannibals. Protesters point to the unfocused eyes, bulbous lips and generally animal-like features of blacks in Tezuka’s comics as reinforcing traditional stereotypes borrowed from America and Europe.

Singled out in the protests are such Tezuka classics as “Jungle Taitei” and “Tetsuwan Atomu” — known to western audiences as “Kimba the White Lion” and “Astro Boy,” respectively — as well as “Hi no Tori” (Phoenix) and “Shin Takarajima” (New Treasure Island). These four are among the most acclaimed of Tezuka’s works.

In response, the Japan Cartoonists Association and major Japanese publishers back up Tezuka Productions President Takayuki Matsutani in calling the protests “deplorable.” The Kodansha publishing house, for one, has decided to deal with the criticisms by inserting in all its new Tezuka manga editions a brief disclaimer informing readers that Tezuka did not intend to degrade blacks at the time he drew the comics.

The public outcry also has Takarazuka city officials concerned since those same manga series were slated for public display at the museum.

Early in the museum’s development, planning director Yamashita maintained that all of Tezuka’s cartoons would be presented regardless of the protests, saying, “We don’t dare avoid showing them.” He added that the cartoons could possibly be exhibited with a disclaimer.

But now, Yamashita confirms that the uproar has led museum organizers to completely withdraw from the exhibition any of Tezuka’s illustrations containing objectionable images of Africans and African Americans.

The matter is still under discussion among overseers of Tezuka’s estate, Yamashita said, but the massive museum project will go on as planned for now.