The Education Ministry is demanding less when it comes to schoolbooks but continues to stubbornly impose its views on such issues as national security, family values and war compensation, the 1997 textbook screening shows.

The results of the screening, unveiled by the Education Ministry on Tuesday, show that fewer “opinions” — or instructions to rewrite passages — were issued for second-year textbooks compared to the 1996 screening of first-year high school textbooks. The ministry reviews high school texts annually, one grade at a time.

The 314 second-year high school texts submitted for screening last year are intended for use in classrooms next spring. Each text averaged 24 opinions, down from 30 in 1996.

Of the 314, only one textbook — a calligraphy book — failed, on the grounds that it did not meet the ministry’s course of study.

In 1992, the first time second-year books were reviewed after the ministry simplified the screening system in 1989, as many as 15 failed.

The screening is conducted by ministry officials and the Textbook Authorization Research Council, which is made up of teachers and scholars appointed by the ministry. The screening process takes a full year, and textbooks for each grade level are screened every four years.

Local boards of education have the discretion to select textbooks for public schools in their districts from among those approved by the ministry. “Because this is the second round, with most of the textbooks submitted for screening being updated versions from the last round, fewer opinions were made,” said Hideto Tsukioka, director of the ministry’s textbook division.

This, however, does not necessarily mean there is less pressure to have the government’s views reflected in textbooks. Some critics argue that the current pass-or-fail screening system tends to make publishers to follow the ministry’s guidelines from the very beginning.

One Japanese history textbook, in its reference to the 1996 Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security, said Japan and the U.S. agreed “to extend the area covered by the security treaty from East Asia to the Middle East and Africa.”

The ministry, calling the phrase misleading, instructed that the part be revised to say that the two nations agreed “to change their security alliance to respond to the post-Cold War situation in the Asia-Pacific region.”

In a chapter on marriage in one homemaking textbook, the publisher originally included a section on diversified forms of marriage, such as “virtual marriage” without legal registration. After the ministry directed that the chapter be revised on the grounds that some parts were redundant, the publisher decided to drop the section on alternative marriage styles altogether.

Four homemaking textbooks failed in the 1996 screening, for reasons such as not following the ministry’s course of study on the subject. In the original draft of an ethics textbook, “reproductive health rights” were simply defined as the rights of women to choose to bear children to value their health and establish their decisive power.

But the ministry, saying the definition failed to mention that the issue has been widely debated, instructed that its final draft include the sentence: “The issue is controversial, as can be seen in the debate over abortion.”

“The government seemed to expect our textbook to have a conventional definition of how a family should be, despite the fact that today’s families are more diverse,” said Hiroiku Inadomi of Kairyudo Publishing Co., whose homemaking textbook failed last time but was approved this year after several parts were corrected in accordance with ministry instructions.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.