The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday overturned a lower court decision and denied a university professor compensation for the government’s screening of textbooks, which he said violated his constitutional freedom of expression.

Presiding Judge Motoaki Kitayama overturned the 1998 Yokohama District Court ruling that found two of four changes to a high school textbook demanded by education ministry officials were illegal and ordered the government to pay 200,000 yen in compensation.

Kitayama said the ministry’s screening system does not violate the Constitution and that the passages written by the professor were “not appropriate for high school students.” He also said the government’s demands for the four changes were “adequate and legal.”

In October 1992, the then Education Ministry found four points of contention in a modern history textbook for high school students penned by Nobuyoshi Takashima, a University of the Ryukyus professor.

Takashima at the time was a teacher of social studies at Tsukuba University High School in Tokyo.

Takashima, 60, had demanded that the government pay 1 million yen in compensation saying that the screening process is unconstitutional and that the procedure, in which the ministry orally notifies authors of phrases that it believes are problematic, itself is illegal.

The points in contention included a quote, taken from a series of 19-century philosopher Yukichi Fukuzawa’s philosophical treatises known as “Datsu-A-Ron” (“Departure from Asia”), that appeared in a passage explaining Japan’s historical tendencies to discriminate against other Asian people.

The quote is from a work of late Edo Period statesman Katsu Kaishu that reads, “Chosun (Korea) was in the past our teacher,” a remark which ministry officials said “only used one portion of the original text and thus cannot be properly understood.”

A passage by Takashima read, “some Southeast Asian nations said they would have liked their opinions on the (1991) dispatch of Self-Defense Force minesweepers to the Persian Gulf to have been heard,” which the ministry said was “too modest an attitude to take.”

The ministry also found problems with Takashima’s wording regarding “media reports upon the death of Emperor Showa” and “the control of the media by the multinational forces during the Gulf War.”

In April 1998, the Yokohama District Court followed an earlier ruling by the Supreme Court that the textbook screening process itself is constitutional.

However, the court ordered the government to pay 200,000 yen in compensation, saying that the ministry’s comments on Katsu’s writing “lacks sufficient understanding of Katsu’s theories” and that the reaction to the minesweeper dispatch sentence was based on “ambiguous screening standards.”

As such, in both instances the ministry overstepped the bounds allowed by the screening system and thus violated the law, the court said.

On the two other points, the court rejected the plaintiff’s demands, saying that the “author has misunderstood some of the facts.”

Takashima said he will appeal Wednesday’s ruling to the Supreme Court as the high court ruling was merely parroting the opinion of the government.

He is only the second person to file a suit over the textbook screening system, and the first to challenge a revised screening system introduced by the Education Ministry over a decade ago.

Saburo Ienaga, a former professor at the Tokyo University of Education, the predecessor of Tsukuba University, has been fighting a protracted legal battle since 1965 over the ministry’s screening of high school textbooks he authored on Japanese history.

Ienaga’s drawn-out legal fight against textbook screening prompted the government to review and revise its screening system in 1989.

Takashima’s suit was also the first ever filed with a high court to challenge the revised textbook screening system, which took effect in 1990.

In August 1997, more than three decades after Ienaga first filed suit, the Supreme Court ruled against his claim that the system used by the government to screen textbooks violates the Constitution.

The ruling, however, declared illegal ministry officials’ demand that a description of biological experiments on humans by the Japanese army in China during World War II be deleted.

Takashima, who was one of Ienaga’s pupils at the Tokyo University of Education, said the textbook screening in 1992 was illegal because it restricted freedom of expression.

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.