Ministry wants flag, anthem promoted in textbooks

by Mayumi Negishi

Social studies textbooks must help instill respect for the Hinomaru flag and the “Kimigayo” de facto national anthem among the nation’s children, according to the results of last year’s textbook screening released Thursday by the Education Ministry.

The 1998 screening, which covered textbooks for elementary school and third-year high school classes, issued fewer “opinions” or change requests, but stubbornly continued to push publishers to go further to instill respect for national symbols.

In the screening of sixth- grade social studies textbooks, the ministry requested that two of the five publishers change their texts’ references to the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo.”

One change was made in a text dialogue involving three students — Masao, Haruko and Tadao — about national flags and anthems in general and use of the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” at the Olympics when Japan wins a gold medal.

The original text, which mentions that flags stand for a nation’s culture, history and independence, was judged “inadequate” in its “obligation to teach sixth-graders to respect national flags and anthems, including the Hinomaru and ‘Kimigayo,’” as stipulated in the ministry’s current teaching guidelines, which went into effect in 1992.

The edited version includes an additional comment by a fourth student, Kaoru, saying, “It’s important for independent nations to respect one another, so it’s also important to respect the flags and national anthems, which serve as national symbols.”

Because the ministry does not make specific instructions on how to edit the textbooks, publishers bear the burden of interpreting what the ministry calls its “opinions.”

Kenji Sato, an editor at Osaka Shoseki, publisher of the textbook, said that while abiding by such opinions is not a prerequisite for final ministry approval, publishers feel pressured to change their texts in accordance with the requests.

“All I can say is that when we’re told that a text does not meet with the standards set in the teaching guidelines, well, what else can we do?” he asked.

While the change requests stopped short of explicitly calling for respect for the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo,” Tadaomi Matsumura, an officer at the All Japan Teachers’ Union, finds the trend disturbing in light of the government’s decision to seek legislation designating the two as official national symbols.

“(The changes) are part of the ministry’s extreme preoccupation with forcing respect for the flag,” Matsumura said. “It won’t stop at just raising the flag at graduation ceremonies.

“And the new teaching guidelines (effective in 2002) are telling teachers to make even greater efforts to press forward the ministry’s views on the flag and anthem,” he said.

The teachers union has long opposed official recognition of the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” because of their association with Japan’s wartime militarism.

The screening process requires a painstaking effort on the part of bureaucrats and appointed educators, who comb textbooks line by line to double-check facts. The yearlong process is conducted annually, with books for each grade level screened every four years.

In 1998, 299 textbooks were first examined by 46 ministry officials and 418 examiners — ministry-appointed teachers and university professors — before they were submitted to the Textbook Authorization Research Council, an advisory body to the education minister made up of 85 teachers and scholars.

In this round, the ministry issued an average of 10 opinions per elementary school text and 20 per high school book, compared with 16 and 32 in the previous screening for the same grade levels in 1994.

Only two books failed the screening — a high-school math book that contained too many factual errors and an English reader whose publisher failed to submit a revised draft in time.

Despite the apparent leniency, the ministry still toes the government line when it comes to war history.

In a sixth-grade text referring to Japan’s colonization of Korea, the phrase “young women were sent to factories and the battlefront” was criticized as “hard to understand.”

The ministry suggested that the text, if it is referring to comfort women, not be included. In the revised text, the words “and the battlefront” were cut.

The drafts and final editions of the textbooks will be displayed at eight locations nationwide through Sept. 1, beginning today at Kyokasho Kenkyu Center in Tokyo’s Koto Ward.