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Start brushing up on your kanji to prepare for the annual Japanese Language Proficiency Test, this year taking place on Sunday, December 3 throughout the country. Passing the coveted ikkyu (level one) is considered the ultimate mark of achievement for a non-native speaker, indicating a comprehensive level of fluency and a guaranteed boost on a resume. Those who want to take the test must apply in advance by September 5, and application forms can be picked up for ¥500 at many bookstores (see www.jees.or.jp for a complete list). Results will be announced mid-February.

For more information, call the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services at 03-5454-5577. NU

776: Tokyo Fiancee
774: Japanís Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity
772: Sparkling Rain: and other fiction from Japan of women who love women
768: Population Decline and Ageing in Japanóthe Social Consequences
766: The Diving Pool
764: Showa Japan: the Post-War Golden Age and Its Troubled Legacy
762: Exhibit C
760: Art Space Tokyo
758: Bar Flower: My Decadently Destructive Days and Nights as a Tokyo Nightclub Hostess
756: Lala Pipo
754: The Erotic Odes
752: Travels in the East
748: Translucent Tree
746: Japanese for Daydreamers
744: Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide
742: Tokyo Guidebooks
740: America & Other Poems
738: Losing Kei
736: Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White
734: A Wild Haruki Chase: Reading Murakami Around the World
732: Unbeaten Tracks in Japan
730: Noon Elusive and other stories
728: Midori by Moonlight
726: From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor: Who Was Responsible?
724: Erotic Haiku
722: Vibrator & Sayonara, Dream-eater
720: Love Poem to Tofu & Other Poems: Poetry & Calligraphic art
718-719: A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics
717: The Astro Boy Essays
714: Mrs Fergusonís Tea-Set, Japan and the Second World War: The Global Consequences following Germanyís sinking of the SS Automedon in 1940
712: Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman
710: Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom
708: Urayasu Tekkin Kazoku
706: Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangsterís Daughter
704: The Swordless Samurai: Leadership Wisdom of Japanís 16th-Century Legend Toyotomi Hideyoshi
702: Tokyo Year Zero
700: Japonisme: Cultural Crossings between Japan and the West
698: The Pillowbook of Dr. Jazz
696: Kamakura
694: 69
692: Border Town: A Novel
690: A Diplomat in Japan
688: Glory In A Line: A Life of Foujita, the Artist Caught Between East and West
686: Crossfire
684: Japan-ness in Architecture
682: Nectar Fragments
680: Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan
678: Shutting Out the Sun
676: The Passion of Phineas Gage & Selected Poems
674: Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne
672: Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US
670: Autobiography of a Geisha
668: Japanese Portraits: Pictures of Different People
666: Bedtime Eyes
665: Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822
664: Skin Museum
662: The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film
660: The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan
658: Last of the Red Hot Poppas
656: Lost Girls and Love Hotels
654: In the Pool
650: Wrong About Japan
648: Japan Modern: New Ideas for Contemporary Living
646: The Couch Potatoís Guide to Japan: Inside the World of Japanese TV
644: My Handís Tired & My Heart Aches: Letters from Japan 1995-2005
643: Kamikaze Diaries
642: The Blue-Eyed Salaryman
640: Certainty
638: Modern Japanese House
636: Native American in the Land of the Shogun
634: The Reindeer People
632: Undercurrents: Episodes from a Life on the Edge
630: The Snake that Bowed
628: The Black Lizard & The Beast In The Shadows: Two Classics of Suspense and Detection
624: Inside and Other Short Fiction: Japanese Women by Japanese Women
622: Modern Asian Living
620: Japanese in Mangaland
618: Do You Know What it means to Miss New Orleans?
616: A.A. Gill is away
612: JRock, Ink.
610: Toppamono: Outlaw, Radical, SuspectóMy Life in Japanís Underworld
608: Mao: The Unknown Story
606: Japan Houses
604: A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
602: Sai Kon Tan: 100 All-time Precious Proverbs
600: Shadow Family
598: Dr. Noguchi’s Journey: A Life of Medical Search and Discovery 596: Oh Pure and Radiant Heart
594: Inspired Shapes: Contemporary Designs for Japan’s Ancient Crafts
592: Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game
590: The Japanese Spa: A Guide to Japan’s Finest Ryokan and Onsen
588: Chibikuro Sambo
586: The Yasukuni Swords: Rare Weapons of Japan 1933-1945, Japan’s 21st Century Vision
584: Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers, The Stadium: Architecture for the New Global Culture
582: Snakes and Earrings, The Very Small Home

Chibikuro Sambo
by Helen Bannerman, translated by Mitsuyoshi Natsuya, with illustrations by Frank Dobias (Zuiunsha, ¥1,000)

Little Black Sambo, or Chibikuro Sambo in Japanese, is back on store shelves in Japan for the first time in 17 years. Actually, it’s not on the store shelves because the reprint has proven so popular that it’s almost impossible to get hold of a copy.

Probably the most controversial children’s book of all time, Little Black Sambo tells the charming story of how a young boy fends off a succession of hungry tigers by feeding them his fancy new clothes piece by piece, eventually triumphing when the selfish tigers chase each other around a tree and melt into butter, which Sambo and his parents, Mumbo and Jumbo, pour over a huge stack of pancakes. Mmm, mmm—just like Aunt Jemima used to make.

The book was pulled in 1988 after protests both in the US and at home (Nagano Olympic bid officials, anxious to appear cosmopolitan, even sent letters urging parents to burn their copies). But now, tiny publishing company Zuiunsha is reprinting the story in a glossy new hardcover with the same illustrations and translation that were used in the original 1953 version, which was published by Iwanami Shoten.

Little Black Sambo has always had its supporters, even if their strongest response to the racism charges was that British author Helen Bannerman was just a naive old sweetie no more racist than any other turn-of-century British colonial in India.
Certainly, Bannerman was no Hitler, and the substance of her story is respectful: Sambo is the hero of the tale and his parents are nothing but wonderful, loving people. In fact, the book is almost universally considered not only charming, but also a bona fide classic of children’s literature, vividly illustrated, written to a beat, and with a cracking ending.

The Japanese reaction has been largely sentimental; Chibikuro Sambo sold over 1.2 million copies here before it was pulled, and it still arouses nostalgia—natsukashii! You don’t find that many people in Japan who think it’s a racist book. Then again, you don’t find that many black people in Japan either.

That Bannerman and illustrator Frank Dobias portrayed their young protagonist as black even though he was clearly in India (there are no tigers in Africa, to my knowledge) is one of the clearest indications that Bannerman’s attitude, if not antagonistically racist, was at best unintentionally condescending. After all, it’s not as though she made the name up; a century ago, sambo was a moniker for all non-whites—Indians, blacks, Southeast Asians. One imagines they all looked somewhat the same, as it were.

In the June edition of Bungei Shunju, Zuiunsha’s Tomio Inoue takes the whole “racist vs. insensitive” discussion to a new level, saying that it’s OK to reprint the story since “in the world today, there aren’t feelings of discrimination toward black people because we see them active in many areas and having a positive impact on many people… I think we need to have more faith in the children of Japan.”

Inoue claims that Sambo was a common name in northern India meaning “excellent,” and he describes Dobias’ golliwog-like depictions of the supposedly Indian child as a “bold use of color.” In the US, where the book is also in print and has been a regular bestseller, illustrator Fred Marcellino apparently solved the debate with The Story of Little Babaji, in which he changed the names of the characters to Babaji, Mamaji and Papaji. But the Japanese version keeps the original names and illustrations. And while an online petition protesting the Japanese reprint has sprung up, it has only garnered a few hundred signatures, many from abroad.

In a country where the black population remains small, it seems that many Japanese don’t care that sambo is considered to be as offensive as “darky” or “pickaninny.” In the two months since it was published, Chibikuro Sambo has already reportedly sold over 100,000 copies.
Roy Mustang

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