Rightwing minister seeks to radically revamp education system

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Conservative education minister Hakubun Shimomura said he wants to fundamentally change Japan’s postwar school system to teach children about the nation’s historical traditions and culture.

Shimomura played a key role in drafting the Liberal Democratic Party’s rightwing policy platform for the Dec. 16 general election, which the LDP won by a landslide, and hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and LDP members view educational reform as high up on their to-do list.

In its campaign pledges, the LDP claimed that many textbooks used in Japanese schools take “a self-deprecating view of history” and vowed to revise the screening process, which stipulates the need to takes into account the feelings of neighboring parts of Asia when deciding on the content of such books.

During a recent interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets, the new education, culture, sports, science and technology minister cited the compassion and resilience displayed by the people of Tohoku after the March 2011 catastrophe that was broadcast worldwide, saying he feels this “Japanese spirit,” as he termed it, is missing in the rest of the nation.

“I am not saying that we need to go back to prewar (nationalism), but we need to teach our children the more than 2,000-year history of Japan’s wonderful traditions and culture,” he said.

“During the 67-year postwar period, I think the Japanese people (lost) certain qualities they used to have, such as diligence and consideration toward others — the Japanese spirit — and that is why I want to reform the country’s education system.”

Shimomura, a six-term Lower House lawmaker from Tokyo, has held a longtime interest in education, especially given his struggle to complete his schooling amid severe financial hardship after losing his father at age 9. He managed to attend high school and then college on a scholarship, and started to operate a cram school while studying at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo.

Shimomura is a close ally of Abe and served as his deputy chief Cabinet secretary in 2006, during the prime minister’s first term in office.

Like Abe, Shimomura is considered an ultraconservative and immediately after his appointment Friday he announced the new LDP-led government will exclude pro-North Korea high schools from the state tuition-free program.

The two also espouse similar rightwing views on historical issues, including the need to review the 1993 statement issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono recognizing Japan’s culpability over the Imperial army’s forcing of women and girls to serve as sex slaves at military brothels throughout Asia during the war.

The statement acknowledged the Imperial Japanese Army was “directly or indirectly involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations (brothels) and the transfer of ‘comfort women,’ ” as they are euphemistically called in Japan.

But some, including Shimomura and Abe, deny that these women were forcibly taken by the Imperial military’s troops to serve as comfort women.

Shimomura refused to comment on the issue Friday, explaining he thought it was inappropriate for him to discuss his “personal views” on the highly emotive issue in his capacity as education minister, but did briefly state that the government intends to look into the matter.

“The government has decided to study Japan’s interpretation of history, including the Kono Statement, and I would like to express my views during that process, if necessary,” he said.

The Abe Cabinet has meanwhile announced it intends to review the zero-nuclear power target introduced by the ousted Democratic Party of Japan administration, indirectly suggesting the nation’s reliance on atomic energy will be maintained despite the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, though to what extent remains unknown.

While stressing that safety comes first, Shimomura, whose opinion carries weight as the new science minister, said the government should restart reactors providing they have been approved as safe by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the atomic energy industry’s new watchdog. He added that the requirements of businesses must be considered in determining the future of nuclear power.

“If Japan finds itself losing its power supply, companies would quickly relocate their operations abroad and deindustrialization would rapidly spread — and Japan wouldn’t be able to revitalize its economy,” Shimomura stressed.

“We need to make sure the country doesn’t lose its electricity supply and comes up with the best mix, including the development of renewable and natural energies, . . . and a conclusion on the direction of nuclear power should arise during this process.”