History in Japan’s textbooks gets government makeover

Kyodo, JIJI

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.

  • Liars N. Fools

    The imposition of the point of view of Nippon Kaigi operating through the Abe Shinzo administration and Shimomura Hakubun represents one of the newest aspects of the closing of the Japanese mind. This is the imposition of orthodoxy and the crowding out of diversity.

    If Japan wishes to become an intellectual Galapogos, this surely is the path to choose to follow.

    This is very sad.

  • timefox

    There are the right wing and the left wing in the case that Japanese territorial problem is put on a textbook. It’s natural behavior as Japan.

    I think Japanese Government should investigate a human traffic during wartime deeply. Many wars also happened the Pacific War after a while, and a great deal of refugees were born. Human traffic traders and a proprietor in a bawdy house should be judged.

    • R0ninX3ph

      timefox, it is extremely difficult to understand what exactly you are rambling on about here. I don’t want to attack you about your English ability, because at least you are trying to use English, but sometimes your sentences just scream of the same weird grammatical choices that Google translate makes when translating non-standard Japanese.

      What does “Many wars also happened the Pacific War after a while, and a great deal of refugees were born.” mean? Also, what is a “bawdy house”? If you are referring to a “brothel” then you should use that word, instead of scrambling through your Japanese to English dictionary and choosing the first word that pops up (or again.. using google translate and thinking it is correct).

      • YagiZaru

        Yes, he has errors, but if you are open to understanding of you know a little about Japan, then he’s not hard to understand his main points. He did well enough:

        He feels that the slavery and forced prostitution issues during wartime in World War II (the Pacific War) have not been taken care of and should be less controversial than the territorial issues, which distract everyone with their partisanship.

      • Guest

        I can guarantee he doesn’t think the forced prostitution issues have “not been taken care of”, because on numerous other times he has made it quite clear on other articles, that the women were NOT forced, and he keeps harping on about them being “professional prostitutes”.

      • YagiZaru

        **What does “Many wars also happened the Pacific War after a while, and a great deal of refugees were born.” mean?**

        There were many battles in the Pacific theater of WWII, which lasted for a long time, and the result is many, many refugees came out of it.

        **Also, what is a “bawdy house”?**

        Dude. Use your imagination. This is a slightly dated euphemism, and common throughout English literature. While I can sympathize with your confusion, criticizing him for not choosing the exact specific word out of a thesaurus that you would use is not only ridiculous, in this case it makes you look mean.

        Reward what is successful in an effort, and encourage improvement when you can; don’t beat him over the head with his own broken leg bone while screaming “run faster!!”. You actually recommended he *not* use a dictionary OR an online translator for reference or advice? What should he do, sprinkle letters on the ground and just happen to pick up the ones that make perfect sense? I presume you just wrote hurriedly, without forethought, but still. It does look silly. You’re on a Japanese site. There are people here from all over the world, and many of us bravely struggle with expressing ourselves in another language on a daily basis.

        Yes, it was imperfect and non-fluent, but it communicates his concern clearly. He did well enough.

      • R0ninX3ph

        I can guarantee he doesn’t think the forced prostitution issues have “not been taken care of”, because on numerous other times he has made it quite clear on other articles, that the women were NOT forced, and he keeps harping on about them being “professional prostitutes”.

        Also, I didn’t write hurriedly, I wrote purposefully antagonistically because literally any time any subject like this comes up, timefox and the other net uyoku posters pop their head in and spout the same rubbish. They aren’t here for discussion, they are here to spout their tired rhetoric at people.

        I come here to converse with people and discuss things, timefox et al do not, they do not want conversation about issues, they just want to keep pushing their right wing agenda towards anyone who will listen.

        You may not agree with me, but go through any number of articles here on JTimes regarding topics like “Comfort Women” “Territorial Disputes” “Racial Discrimination” and you will see the same names popping up with the same inane comments on nearly every single article.

      • bravesfandevotee

        Actually many of the prostitutes in places like Soapland receive a paycheck same for the women who you can hire through publications to come to your house. These places have to pay taxes. Now if you come a pond with pimps (in Japan usually women). I would stay away from that.

      • R0ninX3ph

        Except we aren’t talking about prostitutes in modern Japan, we are talking about “Comfort women” before and during World War 2.

        Even if we were talking about modern prostitution, just receiving a paycheck does not make someone not a slave. If the women employed in places like Soapland are “employed” there due to some kind of debt to the organised crime owners, they very likely cannot just freely leave their job. That makes it slavery.

        But, we’re not talking about that and this article itself isn’t about that anyway.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Abe’s looking forward to a big crop of mushrooms in the future.

  • grumium

    the coming of prince kajaku

  • SlightlyDisappointed0

    Excuse me, but when saying China, are we talking about the People’s Republic of China? The one that even glossess over historical events like Mongol invasions on their textbooks for the sake of image, and which for years has been presenting the Tanaka Memorandum (a forgery on par with the Protocols of Zion) to their students claiming it was an actual document of the ~evil~ Japanese imperialists?
    I don’t think, in light of this, that any serious response is necessary.

  • Michael Eamon Osborne

    I thought this was well written. In order for Japan to move forward in keeping with the times on a global playing field, the Government needed to step in & take responsibility by addressing their own issues first, over “who owned what” ie: 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.” >>> He saw this!