Okinawans lobby in Tokyo for textbook changes

by Akemi Nakamura

A group of 167 political leaders and activists from Okinawa urged the central government Tuesday to retract the education ministry’s instruction to publishers to remove references to the military’s role in forcing civilians to commit mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa.

To gain support, they visited Tokyo on Monday and Tuesday for meetings with senior lawmakers of both the ruling and opposition camps.

They also asked five publishers of high school history textbooks to reinstate the deleted references and demanded the education ministry retract its instruction.

“I had a better impression about the education ministry’s attitude (toward our demand) than last time,” said Toshinobu Nakazato, chairman of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, noting that a Liberal Democratic Party senior member and a vice education minister told him the ministry may need to instruct the ministry panel to screen textbooks again if it made a wrong decision.

About 10 local officials and representatives of citizens’ groups, including Nakazato, filed a similar request with the education ministry about two weeks ago, after tens of thousands of people staged a rally in Okinawa in late September.

“We’ll continue to protest until our demands are met,” he said. “Ten years from now, those who experienced the war (will be fewer). . . . We want (the government) to take measures to prevent this (confusion) from happening again.”

But it is uncertain whether they will achieve their goal.

Education minister Kisaburo Tokai said earlier this month that if publishers apply for permission to state that the military ordered the mass suicide in Okinawa in the closing days of the war, the ministry may screen the books again.

However, he has also said that if he decides it is necessary to rescind the March instruction, it may be taken as political intervention into the textbook screening system.

Textbooks are screened by a government panel comprised of academics and schoolteachers. If the panel judges there are errors and inappropriate descriptions in the drafts, the ministry orders publishers to correct them.

The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which has compiled a controversial history textbook for junior high school students since 2001, argues that the descriptions should not be changed, insisting that the military did not force people in Okinawa to commit suicide. The members are known for having nationalistic views of history.

The group said on its Web site Oct. 4 that demanding the ministry to change the descriptions would amount to political intervention, which would undermine the textbook screening system.