Yokohama eyes wider use of nationalistic history text

Kyodo

Local governments this summer are picking out the textbooks that will be used in public junior high schools starting next spring, including history books that have been a source of contention among various circles.

Yokohama, with its population of 3.7 million making it the biggest city in Japan, became in 2009 the first city where a controversial history textbook by K.K. Jiyusha was adopted for some schools.

Jiyusha is a publishing house led by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, widely known in Japanese as Tsukurukai. The group’s members are known for their bent toward nationalistic views.

Eight of Yokohama’s 18 wards approved the textbook in 2009. This time, citywide adoption is being discussed, meaning at least 100,000 junior high students would be using it.

Proponents and opponents have been engaged in heated debate.

The authors say it is the first textbook in line with a new teaching guideline to be implemented next spring and fully reflects the 2006 revisions to the Fundamental Education Law that place importance on patriotism and respect for Japanese traditions and culture.

Nobukatsu Fujioka, the head of Tsukurukai, is optimistic about the textbook’s future.

“The Jiyusha version most closely adheres to the fundamental law and we believe the number of schools adopting it will grow,” Fujioka said.

Ikuhosha Publishing Inc., which has inherited another history textbook compiled under the leadership of Tsukurukai scholars from its parent, Fusosha Publishing Inc., is likewise confident that its textbook “is in line with the law.”

In October 2009, two months after the eight wards adopted the Jiyusha book, Yokohama decided on a plan to go citywide. Starting next school year, first-year students at all public junior high schools will be using the same books.

Over the next four years, a total of 100,000 students will be learning from the same material, a scale unseen in any other city, according to a Yokohama official.

As textbook decisions near, the city’s board of education has received around 200 petitions and opinions from various organizations since April.

On July 25, a group called the Yokohama Textbook Adoption Liaison Society presented signatures from around 100,000 people asking the city not to adopt the textbooks by Jiyusha and Ikuhosha.

The group says they “belittle the (spirit of) the Constitution and describe past wars in a positive light.”

A 52-year-old kindergarten teacher in Yokohama who has a daughter in junior high school signed the group’s petition.

“I feel the Jiyusha textbook is beautifying wars. I’m worried if children would be able to form a balanced judgment,” she said.

Proponents have also been filing petitions with the city, calling for adoption of the Jiyusha and Ikuhosha books that they say “are fit for growing awareness as a nation.”

Heated debate is also under way in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, and Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, where the Fusosha textbook has already been used.

In Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, some municipal assembly members belonging to a local conservative political group introduced a resolution to the assembly in June calling for textbooks most suited for achieving the goals of the Fundamental Education Law.

The resolution introduced by members belonging to the Osaka Ishin no Kai group led by Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto was adopted.

A local citizens’ group expressed caution about such a development, saying, “No particular textbooks should be adopted as a result of political actions.”

The Osaka Ishin no Kai group in June also had passed through the prefectural assembly an ordinance it sponsored obliging teachers to stand and sing the national anthem during school ceremonies.

According to the education ministry, a little less than 2 percent of junior high schools, including private institutions, currently use Jiyusha and Fusosha books.

Several more public schools in Tokyo as well as those in Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, and Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, recently decided to use the Ikuhosha version starting next spring.