English Textbook Publisher Asks for Discretion in Portrayals of Teacher Character Ellen Baker
posted on by Eric Stimson
Last week we reported on the sudden online popularity of Ellen Baker, a young English teacher featured in the new edition of the Japanese English-language textbook New Horizon. Her cute appearance sparked a surge of interest on Twitter and pixiv, with fan art, doctored images and English songs.
As is usual for anything on the Internet, several of these portrayals played up Ms. Baker's sex appeal, leading to a nervous reaction from Denchūbō, her illustrator. On April 13, New Horizon's publisher, Tokyo Shoseki, released a statement of its own. It elaborated on its motivations for designing Ms. Baker in that way, claiming that "seeing a lively character in their textbooks would make every middle school student want to learn English more." It then went on to express its reservations about Ms. Baker's depictions: "If you wish to use the character in teaching materials, books, the Internet, etc., please complete the Japanese Association for the Copyrights of Textbook Publishers form. Please understand in advance that in cases that clearly deviate from the character's purpose, permission may not be granted."
Although the statement implies that Tokyo Shoseki is cracking down on fan art, its legal affairs head, Sadayuki Izawa, offered a different interpretation. "We're getting complaints about ignoring the abundant sexual depictions of the textbook character, so we thought of our social responsibility and took action." But when asked whether the publisher would ban fan art or tacitly accept it, he replied, "We are grateful for the reception of our textbook character. It's good that the characteristics of our textbook, which raises the children that will support the Japan of the future, have been recognized."