Taketomi Town’s prerogative

Invoking a provision of the Local Autonomy Law, the education ministry has instructed the Okinawa prefectural board of education to make the board of education of Taketomi Town, in the Yaeyama Islands area, change its decision to not adopt a right-leaning civics textbook for junior high schools. This is a blatant attempt by the central government to impose the use of a particular textbook on a municipality. The Taketomi board of education had made its decision on the strength of the law on local education administration that stipulates that the power to select school textbooks lies with each board of education. As such, it did nothing wrong. The education ministry should respect the board’s decision, which reflected the will of local citizens.

In August 2011, a school textbook selection council for the Yaeyama Islands area chose a textbook compiled by Ikuhosha Co. as the junior high civics textbook for the area’s three municipalities. The selection council’s textbook researchers actually did not recommend the Ikuhosha textbook but once their negative views of the textbook became clear, the council head changed the council’s rule to allow it to select unrecommended textbooks. The Ishigaki City and Yonakuni Town boards of education accepted the selection by the council, which includes education administrators and educators from the three municipalities.

The Ikuhosha textbook reflects a conservative perspective. For example, it downplays the importance of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, fails to mention Okinawans’ burden under the heavy U.S. military presence and praises nuclear power. Because of this, the Taketomi board of education opted for a textbook by Tokyo Shoseki Co. Rather than try to force the Taketomi board of education to adopt the Ikuhosha texbook, the education ministry’s first obligation should have been to investigate whether the council’s sudden rule change was legitimate.

To justify its heavy-handed effort to force the Taketomi board of education to toe the line, the education ministry cites the law on the free distribution of public school textbooks, which states that the same school textbook should be adopted by municipalities within a defined textbook selection zone. But this stipulation is to ensure convenience and efficiency in the purchasing and distribution of textbooks by the central government. The education ministry should not put convenience and efficiency above a board of education’s educational considerations. But even so, Taketomi Town distributed copies of the Tokyo Shoseki textbook using money donated by townspeople. Thus it has not caused any problems for the central government.

Ryukyu Shimpo, an Okinawan newspaper, pointed out that under the law on local education administration, the central government may call for overturning a local board decision when the right to receive an education is clearly violated. As this is not the situation in Taketomi, it is clear that the ministry has cherry-picked the provision of the Local Autonomy Law to justify issuing its instruction to the Okinawa prefectural board of education.

The ministry reportedly plans to file a lawsuit to have a court confirm an illegal action by Taketomi Town if it does not change its decision. If the ministry files the lawsuit, people concerned across Japan should provide the town with financial and moral support.

  • Charlie Sommers

    Textbooks should lean neither left or right. They should simply present facts.