Yokohama recalls texts describing 1923 ‘massacre’ of Koreans


The stir caused by a textbook’s descriptions of the mass lynching of Koreans following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake has prompted Yokohama’s board of education to order schools to collect the books from students.

In an unprecedented move, the board ordered municipal junior high schools to recall the 2012 edition of the book, a supplementary text, saying the use of the word “massacre” “can cause a misunderstanding.” The term has also been criticized by some historians.

Immediately after the Sept. 1, 1923, earthquake in the Kanto region, unconfirmed rumors spread that Koreans were rioting and committing acts of sabotage. Based on the rumors, the army, police and vigilantes killed many Koreans, as well as Chinese and Japanese mistaken for Koreans. It’s unclear because of the chaos how many were killed, but it’s thought the slayings topped 6,000 in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture alone.

Previous editions of the text, titled “Wakaru Yokohama” (“Understanding Yokohama”) and edited by the board, said “some members of the vigilante corps killed Koreans.” The book was first published in 2009.

However, the edition distributed in May 2012 states that “the military, the police and vigilante groups persecuted and massacred Koreans.” It also shows a picture of a cenotaph erected by Japanese as an expression of apology.

The revised entry made media headlines at home as well as in South Korea and China.

In July 2012, a municipal assembly member from the Liberal Democratic Party took up the issue during a session, saying: “It could affect historical concepts in our country and diplomatic relations. It is not a matter only for Yokohama.”

The board of education’s chairman at the time pledged to revise the edition and recall the books already distributed.

The board later reprimanded the person in charge of the revision, criticizing the decision-making process as inappropriate. The 2013 edition reinstated the description and a recall was begun of the 2012 version.

The board also twice instructed school principals to collect all the books and ask students who did not obey their reasons why.

On Wednesday, historians submitted a petition to Yokohama asking that the decision to recall the books be reversed.

  • Ron NJ

    I want to act surprised by this, but at this point that’s really difficult.

    • R0ninX3ph

      I am interested as to why it was okay for the 2009 version to say that Koreans were killed by some members of the vigilante corp, but the word “massacre” is going too far? Surely if they killed them unprovoked and the Koreans were unarmed, thats precisely what it was… A massacre…

      • Kazuhisa Nakatani

        maybe it’s because the japanese word “虐殺 (gyakusatsu/massacre)” is usually used in the context of military operations.

        the definition of “虐殺” is almost same as that of the english word “massacre”, but usage and implication is not.

      • No, 虐殺 is not only for military operation, why do you drag such a weird interpretation into this?
        There’s no such definition or implication or context of 虐殺.
        虐殺 is just 虐殺, no special definition in Japanese like you’re saying.
        Don’t fool all of readers including native Japanese like me, I’m watching you not to mess around.

      • Kazuhisa Nakatani

        Do not jump the gun. I did NOT have a slightest intention to justify the move taken by Yokohama board of education. To be honest, I strongly oppose the revisionist point of view like PM Shinzo Abe and his supporters play with.

        > 虐殺 is just 虐殺, no special definition in Japanese

        Yes, exactory. As I explained, the definition of “虐殺” is the same as that of English word “massacre.” But just google “日本 虐殺”, and you will notice that vast majority of the search results involve the Japanese government or military, or both.

        It is a fact that the word “虐殺” in the context of Japanese modern history, quite frequently , refers to the atrocities committed by imperial Japanese army.

        To answer R0ninX3ph’s question, using the word “虐殺/massacre” is not “going too far.” But, unfortunately, it may have offered the revisionists in power an excuse to accuse the educational material.

        These days, like it or not, you have to be tactful to help students to learn historical facts.

      • Thank you for your reply.
        Jump the gun is not in my vocabulary, sorry, I’m not an English native just as I put on my profile, then I don’t understand what you want me not to do, or if you actually have that right of me.
        I’m a Japanese native, no occasion of going out of Japan, I can’t count the number of Japanese books I’ve ever read, everything in my life has been done in Japanese, for entire my life.
        And I say, 虐殺 is a word not appropriate to explain as “虐殺(gyakusatsu/massacre)is usually used in the context of military operations”, it just gave no native Japanese people prejudice, wrong infomation.
        “the definition of “虐殺” is almost same as that of the english word “massacre”, but usage and implication is not” is also not sounding appropriate, but “brutal murder” would be.
        Massacre is near “大虐殺”.
        Internet search result is not a thing to rely on or account for the meaning of the word, and also not justifying your explanation, it’s just a quibble.
        The word was already there before internet happened.
        I’ve been pretty much taking care when I explain about language Japanese, beside you don’t.
        You’re careless.
        And you don’t even admit your carelessness but making an excuse, after you’ve been pointed it out.
        What if I haven’t said an objection on this time, how he or she might have taken it to be?
        You might as well be discreet on posting if you’re keep doing it such irresponsibly.

      • It is as the article says, that they took a word “massacre” to be serious, or much disturbing, “killing” might be not so much.
        And also as the article tells, “In an unprecedented move”, we’re now hijacked by right wingers, militarists, from few years ago.
        And 虐殺 is not containing such a meaning, as someone says, not a usage only for military activity.

  • Harmel Guram

    Instead of seeing it s an opportunity to help students learn and understand human history from a social perspective, the Japanese authorities attempt to suppress the truth. A plain and simple mental problem exists with the politicians that are responsible for such censorship while uyoku right wing nationalists continue to publicly call for the murder of Koreans in Japan with absolute impunity. Frightening and shameful are the only words to describe such despicable behaviour.

    • Agree with you, and I’m ashamed of what our country’s doing as this article tells.
      I’ve almost given up recently, to stop or prevent us from going to make a war again, or defeated again.
      Current situation is such worse.
      And my last hope is, that Japanese right wingers, militarists, do like Western people very much, beside detesting Asian neighbors, therefore rejection or rebuff from Western people would be most effective I assume.
      Since a voice like mine is already coming up with few, and dim.

  • JimmyJM

    “Massacre – the unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a number of human beings….”. I think 6000 killed in Kanagawa and Tokyo alone qualifies as a massacre. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese (to name a few) do not teach their children history per se, only their government’s version of it. Children should be free and encouraged to learn history from different sources so they can form their own opinion of specific events.

    • Excuse me, how are you so confident of saying “Chinese, Korean, and Japanese (to name a few) do not teach their children history per se” even I’ve no idea what per se means.
      I admit it for Japanese education not being enough as you say, why do you drag China and Korea at the same time?
      And how did you know about both of them so precise?
      Did your libetarian mind give you a tip?
      You might as well be more discreet when there’re supposed to be few to rebut you about it, as long as I’m not entitled to do it instead of Chinese or Korean people, otherwise it would be unfair to them, you may say it on their forum, it’ll be fair.

  • wangkon936

    Japanese “sanitation” of it’s history continues.

  • williamsheen

    I know this article is from some time ago but knowing some Japanese people truly do want to atone (or at least not whitewash) for their history makes be feel a lot better. As a Korean, i appeal to my fellow Koreans to stay your wrath, it is counter-productive, in the end the righteous Japanese will change Japan, not outsiders.