Scores of copies of Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl" kept in public libraries across Tokyo have been vandalised, officials said Friday, sparking alarm amid a rightward shift in Japan's politics.
Pages in at least 250 copies of the diary, or publications containing biographies on Anne Frank, Nazi persecution of Jews and related materials have been torn, the council of public libraries in the capital said.
More than a dozen books have also been damaged at libraries in two other nearby areas, media reported.
"We have complaints from five of (Tokyo's 23) wards so far but I don't yet know exactly how many libraries are affected," Satomi Murata, the head of the council, told AFP. "We don't know why this happened or who did it."
"Each book had 10-20 pages torn out, leaving it unusable," said Kaori Shiba, the archives director at the central library in Shinjuku ward, where 39 books were vandalised at three libraries.
Toshihiro Obayashi, deputy director of the central library in the Suginami area, said 119 books have been damaged at 11 of its 13 public libraries, adding nothing like this had ever happened before.
"Each and every book that comes up under the index of Anne Frank has been damaged at our library," Obayashi said.
Several books with titles including the word "Holocaust" were among 41 books vandalised at nine libraries in Tokyo's Nerima area.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the US-based international Jewish rights group, said on its website it was shocked and concerned.
"The geographic scope of these incidents strongly suggest an organised effort to denigrate the memory of the most famous of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the World War II Holocaust," Abraham Cooper, the centre's associate dean, said in a statement.
"Only people imbued with bigotry and hatred would seek to destroy Anne's historic words of courage, hope and love in the face of impending doom," Cooper added. "We are calling on Japanese authorities to step up efforts to identify and deal with the perpetrators of this hate campaign."
The diary, written by a Jewish girl who lived in Amsterdam during the time of the Holocaust, was added to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's Memory of the World Register in 2009.
Anne Frank, a German Jew born in Frankfurt in 1929, documented her family's experiences hiding in concealed rooms during the German occupation of the Netherlands where they settled in 1933.
They were caught and sent to Nazi concentration camps. Anne and her sister died of typhus in 1945.
Yasumi Iwakami, a freelance journalist who writes on social causes in Japan, tweeted there had been sporadic "delusional" arguments even among the Japanese about the existence of a Jewish conspiracy surrounding the Holocaust.
"But violence has not presented itself to this extent before," he said, calling the incidents the "advent of crude anti-Semitism."
The spree comes amid criticism of a rightwards shift in Japanese politics under nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with a recent volley of provocative comments about Japan's wartime past that have sparked accusations of revisionism by China and South Korea.
Largely homogenous Japan does not have a very big Jewish community, with the vast majority of people believing in an admixture of imported Buddhism and indigenous Shintoism.
In 1995, a Japanese physician was censured by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Israeli embassy for writing in a domestic monthly magazine that the gas chambers Nazis used to exterminate Jews in concentration camps did not exist.
The publisher of the magazine "Marco Polo" discontinued its publication and fired its editor.