Junior high school textbooks approved for use starting in April 2016 contain heavier references to ongoing territorial disputes with China and South Korea. Most textbook publishers have nearly doubled their coverage of the subjects and in both cases present the government’s official position.
Other publishers, meanwhile, are omitting mention of contentious historical issues — apparently for fear of a backlash — in a break with the long-standing practice of presenting diverse viewpoints. The issue of women and girls forced to work at wartime military brothels got a mention by only one textbook publisher.
The latest screenings, whose results were announced Monday, were the first to be conducted since the government revised textbook screening guidelines in January 2014. The guidelines now require textbooks to reflect the government’s position on history and territorial issues.
Accordingly, all social studies textbooks that passed the education ministry’s screenings this time contain references to both the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China, and the Takeshima islets, which are controlled by South Korea and claimed by Japan.
Textbooks compiled by private-sector publishers require the approval of the education ministry before they can be used in schools.
In the new textbooks, some publishers give detailed information about the disputed islands, including their precise location, the history of Japan’s administration and what kinds of fish can be caught in waters nearby.
But the government’s textbook screening committee was divided on how some books presented the issues, according to a member who sat through the screenings. One member argued that students would not be convinced by the government’s official line that “no territorial dispute exists on the Senkakus.”
But an education ministry official in charge of the screening process insisted that the government view must be clearly stated, which discouraged deep debate by the committee, the member said.
“South Korea, for example, rigorously teaches its students that Takeshima islets are its own,” an education ministry official said. “We are merely trying to counter such moves.”
An editor at a textbook publisher said the company had no choice but to follow the government line.
“The guidelines on school textbooks say in the strongest terms that we are supposed to ‘accurately point out that the government is protesting the South Korean position on the (Takeshima) issue,’ ” the editor said. “In order to pass the screenings, the textbooks have to be written around the government’s view.”
Other industry sources said they can’t afford to fail the screenings and thus lose business, as the textbook market continues to shrink along with the nation’s declining population. School textbooks are renewed every four years, and if the publishers fail to get their books approved by the government, they must wait another four years to regain the contracts.
Publishers consider their descriptions of territorial issues as playing a pivotal role in the government’s decisions on whether to adopt their textbooks or not.
In the latest screenings, many requests for modifications were made to descriptions of historical facts despite those passages having cleared previous screenings unchallenged.
For example, in a section explaining government policies in the Meiji Period, the phrase “expropriation of land from the (indigenous) Ainu people” was changed to “giving land to the Ainu people.”
“It is true some (Ainu) people lost land, but the Meiji government made efforts to protect the Ainu population,” said a ministry official, adding that they decided to demand higher standards of accuracy this time around.
As a result, descriptions have become somewhat standardized among the publishers. Six out of seven textbooks ended up playing down the Japanese wartime military’s involvement in the mass suicides among Okinawans in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, saying the locals were “driven into suicides.”
A publisher explained why it “corrected” the original phrase “forced into suicides” by saying not all deaths were forced by the Imperial Japanese forces.
Meanwhile, on the contentious issue of “comfort women,” or women and girls who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II, only one publisher — a new entrant in the textbook market — addressed the subject.
There has been fierce criticism from some corners of society of an overly “masochistic” view of history by those who address the matter head-on.
Other opinions that led to modifications of textbook descriptions included the addition of a sentence explaining the government’s position that interstate compensation regarding Japanese militarism before and during World War II, and all other related issues, have been resolved.
The added sentence follows a description of the 1995 statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressing “deep remorse” and a “heartfelt apology” for the suffering, mostly in Asia, caused by Japan’s wartime “colonial rule” and “aggression.”
The latest screenings, the second conducted under new curriculum guidelines calling for a shift away from yutori pressure-free education, resulted in thicker textbooks for all subjects.
As the screenings were the first conducted for junior high school textbooks since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region, many newly approved textbooks cover the twin disasters.
There were 58 textbooks that included descriptions of the natural disasters, with 35 also discussing the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant. Science textbooks included detailed explanations of radiation.