Controversy has been brewing after mention of a bakery in an elementary school ethics textbook was changed to a Japanese wagashi confectioner in response to suggestions from the education ministry that the publisher highlight “respect for tradition and culture.”
Bakeries are furious and are considering bringing the case to the government, saying they believe the maneuver to be a veiled slight, with the implication that confectioners are somehow a more valued part of Japanese tradition and culture.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is meanwhile striving to dispel speculation that it forced the curriculum change for ethics classes, which are scheduled to be elevated to an official elementary school subject with the 2018 academic year.
“Nichiyobi no Sanpomichi” (“Sunday Promenade”), a story published by Tokyo Shoseki Co. for an ethics textbook for first-graders, is at the center of the controversy.
The tale depicts a boy strolling through unfamiliar paths of his hometown with his grandfather, making fascinating discoveries along the way, including a bakery that emerges at the end of the story.
In seeking approval through the education ministry’s textbook screening process, Tokyo Shoseki said it nurtures among children respect for Japan’s tradition and culture and attitudes to love their country and hometown.
The ministry however said the story as a whole did not satisfy the requirements for “showing a fondness for traditions and culture of our country and hometowns” in the context of curriculum guidelines.
The ministry, which asked that the textbook be amended to reflect children’s affinity for Japan’s homeland, culture and life, requires ethics textbooks for early elementary grades to clear a checklist of 19 items, including “respect for regulations.”
The publisher subsequently changed the bakery in the story to a wagashi confectioner.
A ministry official in charge pointed out that the story merely describes “a routine walk,” without making reference to “our country and hometowns.”
“The bakery was not the culprit,” the official said. “Other parts could have been revised in accordance with curriculum guidelines.”
Since the screening results were made public March 24, online social networking sites have been flooded with comments such as “Bread is also an excellent culture in Japan.”
The ministry has received some 30 complaints after news reports indicated that the textbook was authorized because of the change. But the person in charge at the ministry said it was approved “as a whole” after the addition of a question asking children what they like about their hometown and country.
Unlike other textbooks, such as those for social studies, which are examined for each description, ethics textbooks are checked from the viewpoint of whether curriculum guidelines and screening standards are followed throughout.
Changes in textbooks are made by publishers at their own discretion, a senior education ministry official said.
Although Tokyo Shoseki resorted to an “easy” solution, “the screening system has no choice but to authorize textbooks that meet the standards,” the official said.
But Takao Nishikawa, 74, who heads a national cooperative of small and midsize bread manufacturers, said, “The fact that a bakery was changed to a wagashi confectioner is regrettable because we have been contributing to school lunches for many years.”
The cooperative is considering filing a complaint with the ministry.
For another elementary school textbook, Tokyo Shoseki made a change from “a middle-aged member” of a volunteer fire brigade to an “elderly member” because the ministry cited a lack of concern for senior citizens in the section dealing with “gratitude.”
Such superficial revisions are common because of issues with the textbook screening system, experts say.
After being notified of post-screening opinions, publishers are required to make necessary changes within 35 days and tend to minimize them in order to retain the number of pages.
“Publishers may well wish to avoid spending time and effort (on changes) under time constraints,” another senior ministry official said, explaining that publishers incur huge losses if their textbooks fail to pass the screening.
Tokyo Shoseki did not reply to a request for comment.
“The screening system implicitly requires publishers to surmise (the education ministry’s) intentions,” an editor at a textbook publisher said. The change by Tokyo Shoseki “was maybe a superficial response, but a desperate one.”