Why is Japan Upset About The Very Hungry Caterpillar?

There has been plenty of angry tweeting about The Very Hungry Caterpillar this week on Japanese Twitter. And about the Tokyo Olympics. I dissect some of the posts to see what’s happening…

The controversy started with this satirical comic in the Mainichi newspaper.

And continued with this blog post written by the Japanese publisher of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

6月5日毎日新聞朝刊の「経世済民術」という風刺漫画のコーナーに「エリック・カールさんを偲んで はらぺこIOC 食べまくる物語」と題してはらぺこあおむしに擬したバッハ会長以下IOCメンバーの似顔絵が掲げられました。「放映権」というリンゴをむさぼっている図です。

風刺の意図は明らかで、その意見については表現の自由の点から異議を申し立てる筋合いではありませんが、多くの子どもたちに愛されている絵本『はらぺこあおむし』の出版元として強い違和感を感じざるを得ませんでした。

『はらぺこあおむし』の楽しさは、あおむしのどこまでも健康的な食欲と、それに共感する子どもたち自身の「食べたい、成長したい」という欲求にあると思っています。金銭的な利権への欲望を風刺するにはまったく不適当と言わざるを得ません。

作者は多分ニュースでカールさん逝去の報を知り、「偲ぶ」という言い方をしていますが、おそらく絵本そのものを読んでいないのでしょう。もし読んだうえでこの風刺をあえて描こうとしたのだとしたら、満腹の末に美しい蝶に変身する結末をどのように考えられたのでしょうか。

風刺は引用する作品全体の意味を理解したうえでこそ力をもつのだと思います。今回の風刺漫画は作者と紙面に載せた編集者双方の不勉強、センスの無さを露呈したものでした。繰り返しますが、出版に携わるものとして、表現の自由、風刺画の重要さを信じるがゆえにこうしたお粗末さを本当に残念に思います。日本を代表する新聞の一つとしての猛省を求めたいと思います。

There has been plenty of angry tweeting about The Very Hungry Caterpillar this week on Japanese Twitter. And about the Tokyo Olympics. Here, I dissect some of the posts to see what’s happening…

 

On June 5, caricatures of (IOC President) Bach and other IOC members imitating the Very Hungry Caterpillar appeared in the Mainichi morning newspaper under the headline “In Memory of Eric Carle. The Very Hungry IOC – an all-consuming story”. The illustration shows those depicted munching on apples labelled “Television Broadcast Rights”.

 

The satirical intent of the picture is clear, and there is no reason to challenge the opinion from the point of view of freedom of expression, but as the publisher of the picture book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, which is loved by many children, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of discomfort. 

 

I believe the joy of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” lies in the Caterpillar’s appetite to eat healthy food, which resonates with children’s own desires to “eat and grow”. I can’t help but point out that it is completely unsuitable to be used as a vehicle for parodying the human desire for financial gain.

 

It is likely that the cartoonist heard of Carle’s death in the news and used the term “in memory of”, but I dare say he has never read the picture book itself. If the cartoonist had read it, and even then decided to draw the caricature, how would the caterpillar’s transformation into a beautiful butterfly, after eating it’s fill, figure into the drawer’s thinking?

 

I think that satire only takes on power after understanding the meaning of the whole work it is drawing from. This caricature reveals a lack of study and sensibility of both the cartoonist and the editor of the paper. I’m repeating myself, and I say this as someone who believes in the freedom of expression and the importance of the caricature, but as someone connected to publishing, I find such crudeness truly regrettable. As one of the leading papers in the nation, I call on the Mainichi to deeply reflect on this matter.

 

And continued with tweets like these

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Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).

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