TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese school board on Monday scrapped curbs on children's access to an iconic anti-war comic, following criticism from those who saw the move as part of a trend to whitewash the country's wartime misdeeds.

The furor over the bid to limit access to the late Keiji Nakazawa's "Barefoot Gen" manga has echoed worries about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative agenda to recast Japan's wartime history in less apologetic colors.

"The decision was to return to the situation before December 17, 2012," an official of Matsue City, in western Japan, said by telephone, referring to the date of a directive by the superintendent of the school board at the time.

The superintendent had instructed elementary and middle schools to take the manga off library shelves and not allow students to read it without a teacher's permission.

The board cited procedural problems with the way the directive was issued as the reason for Monday's decision, and said that individual schools' decisions on access should be respected, the official added.

A survey by the board had found only five out of 49 principals saw a need to restrict access to the comic, Kyodo news agency reported.

Nakazawa's manga, "Barefoot Gen", is based on the author's own experience of the August 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and tells of the struggle of a boy whose father and siblings were killed.

Published over a dozen years from 1973 and translated into some 20 languages, the comic includes harsh criticism of the late Emperor Hirohito in whose name Japan fought World War Two.

Besides its stark depiction of the aftermath of the bombing, the 10-volume manga illustrates atrocities by Japanese soldiers in Asia - drawings some thought were too graphic for children.

A classic made into movies and animated films, the comic has drawn criticism from Japanese ultra-conservatives. They also argue that the post-war education system teaches a "masochistic" account of history, putting too much stress on Japan's wartime misdeeds.

Nakazawa's widow, Misayo, last week expressed shock that children's access to the work was being curbed.

"War is brutal," Misayo, 70, told the Japanese media. "It expresses that in pictures, and I want people to keep reading it." The author died last December at age 73.

Manga run the gamut from cute to violent and pornographic, and many adult Japanese vividly recall the stark impact of reading "Barefoot Gen" as children.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)