Scholars from Japan, South Korea and China warned against a resurgence of nationalism in Japan when they gathered at a symposium on history textbooks and related issues this week in Tokyo.

Satoshi Uesugi, a lecturer at Kansai University and secretary general of the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan’s War Responsibility, told the gathering that a group of nationalist historians who compiled a contentious history textbook in 2001 and others established a new organization in January to lobby for revision of the Fundamental Law of Education.

An advisory panel to the education ministry is currently working on a report on possible amendments to the law that may include suggestions to add, among other things, a focus on patriotism and respect for the nation’s traditional culture as important matters to be taught at schools. The final report is expected to be submitted to the ministry before the end of March.

“The group is trying to revise the law so they can build a basis for changing school curriculum into a more reactionary one and pave the way for full government control of school education content and teachers,” Uesugi told the “Forum on History and Peace in East Asia,” which opened Thursday at Waseda University.

Uesugi added that the nationalist group, the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, is collaborating with other nationalists and religious organizations, including Shinto and new religions, in pushing for the law revision.

Sumio Obinata, a Waseda University professor on Japanese history, said that the disputed history textbook approved by the ministry was selected only by a few local governments, but that overall, textbooks that carry detailed accounts of Japan’s wartime atrocities have seen a sharp decline in use.

More and more local governments are selecting textbooks that gloss over Japan’s war culpability amid the continuing textbook controversy, Obinata said, noting how some texts merely say “the Sino-Japanese war (of 1937-1945) broke out” without pointing out that Japan started the conflict without a formal declaration of war.

Seo Joong Seok, professor of history at Sung Kyun Kwan University in South Korea and a corepresentative of a South Korean group working to “correct” Japanese textbooks, expressed concern about Japanese public opinion toward North Korea. He said that opinion tended to focus on the suffering of the Japanese who were abducted to the North by Pyongyang’s agents and rarely took into account the serious damage the Korean people suffered under Japan’s past occupation and colonial rule.

“The public opinion and view on the (abductee) incident reflect an insurmountable gap that exists between Japanese and people in East Asia in the recognition of history,” Seo said.

The three-day symposium, which opened Thursday, was organized by an association of Japanese citizens’ groups, including Peace Boat, the Memorial Hall of Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders in China, and the South Korean group working to correct Japan’s history texts.

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