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Politically biased, sometimes inconsistent and ineffective, but otherwise reasonable.

This apparent contrariety roughly characterizes this year’s — and presumably every year’s — social studies textbook screening by the Education Ministry, a process that effectively censors what is taught to children. The ministry, for instance, has directed publishers to say in their textbooks that Japan has only two territorial disputes, even though three areas are actually claimed by other countries. Passages containing only criticism of Japan’s official development assistance were turned down, and only praise was accepted.

No matter how biased the results may seem, publishers have no choice. All textbooks for elementary, junior high and high schools must be screened and approved every four years.

This year, the ministry checked 365 textbooks on all subjects for high school and on June 26 unveiled 358 approved books to be used starting next spring. The ministry issued an average of 30 “opinions” per book before giving the green light.

The screening process is carried out by the Textbook Authorization Research Council and ministry officials. The council is made up of teachers and scholars appointed by the ministry. Here are examples of how social studies textbook drafts were altered through the screening process.

1) Territory

The screening results tend to be strongly biased toward the government. Instructions over territory bear out this tendency. The draft of a geography textbook says: “In the case of Japan, it has (territorial dispute) issues of the Northern Territories, the Takeshima islets and the Senkaku islands.”

But the ministry told the publisher: “Revise the descriptions because it is inappropriate to put the Senkaku issue in the same category with the Northern Territories and Takeshima.” The difference is that Japan does not control the first two territories, ministry officials say, citing the position stated in the Diet in 1995 by then Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.

The “Northern Territories,” four islands northeast of Hokkaido, are currently occupied by Russia. Takeshima, or Tok-do, in the Sea of Japan, is held by South Korea.

The Senkakus in the East China Sea are under Japan’s control, but the islands, called the Diaoyus by China, are also claimed by China and Taiwan. The approved text cites the first two territorial issues and says: “In addition, there are such problems as invasion of territorial waters as seen at the Senkaku Islands.”

2) ODA

A self-flattering attitude is evident in official development assistance issues. A draft says ODA includes Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers who are working actively in many countries. It adds, “But in financial assistance, much of it leads to Japan’s benefit with construction contracts, and some people doubt it really helps local poor people.”

The ministry’s opinion: “Revise the expressions to avoid misunderstanding in light of the current situation of Japan’s ODA.” The approved version has no criticism of Japanese ODA and praises the aid for producing good results in terms of construction of roads, dams and schools, and for helping protect the environment.

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