Education minister Kisaburo Tokai indicated Tuesday his ministry may let history textbook publishers continue saying the army forced civilians to commit mass suicide during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.
The ministry had issued orders in March to strike such references, prompting a massive public outcry in Okinawa.
“If textbook publishers apply for revisions (to retain the references), we may screen them again,” Tokai said, adding he has ordered the ministry to deal with the issue and try to soothe Okinawa’s outrage.
Responding to Tokai’s statement, some publishers already started preparing to revise their textbooks to reinsert the references on the army’s role in the mass suicides, sources said.
The furor stems from the ministry’s regular textbook screening process in March, in which it told publishers of high school history texts to rewrite references suggesting the embattled Imperial army forced or told civilians to kill themselves and their loved ones with hand grenades supplied by the military.
Okinawa’s anger spilled over Saturday when 110,000 people staged a protest rally in Ginowan, demanding the ministry retract its instruction to the publishers.
A statement adopted at the rally said, “It is an undeniable fact that the mass suicides would not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military and any deletion or revision of (the description) is a denial and distortion of testimony by many people who survived the incidents.”
The rally was the largest in Okinawa since the prefecture was returned to Japan by the United States in 1972, according to organizers. Okinawa was the only inhabited part of Japan that experienced ground fighting during World War II.
Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told reporters he will visit Tokyo on Wednesday and directly demand that the government make the retraction.
“The ministry appears to be changing its attitude now,” Nakaima said. “I want to visit Tokyo as soon as possible and convey our stance to the government.”
Although Tokai said he wants to quell Okinawa’s anger, he earlier indicated it would be difficult to retract the instruction because it would be perceived as “intervention by politics into textbook screenings.”
But he did not comment on whether politics played a role in the ministry’s March instruction that publishers rewrite references on the mass suicides and mass murder-suicides of civilians in Okinawa.
The solution is likely to center on “voluntary steps” by textbook publishers to reinsert the references in question — a face-saving solution for the education ministry.
Several publishers have begun consultations with textbook authors and will file applications as early as this month to make revisions once they have decided on the new descriptions, the sources said.
The publishers said they are hoping to be able to begin work on printing the new textbooks in November as they will be used in the academic year starting next April.
In a related move, Tetsuo Saito, policy chief of New Komeito, the ruling coalition ally of the Liberal Democratic Party, and other lawmakers paid a call on Tokai on Tuesday to ask the education ministry to retract its March instruction.
Four opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) — agreed to present a joint draft resolution to the Diet demanding a review of the textbook screening process itself.