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Japan's New History Texts Called Revisionist

by Suvendrini Kakuchi

Covering up Japan's wartime atrocities against countries it occupied
(IPS) TOKYO -- The Japanese government has earned the ire of its neighbors with a decision to authorize new textbooks that portray the country's colonization of Asia decades ago as a liberation movement.

South Korean Trade Minister Han Seung-soo told reporters that the move amounted to "reopening the old wound...and throwing cold water on the emerging good neighborly relationship" between the two countries.

South Korea has recalled its ambassador to Japan, and Korean consumers have initiated a boycott of Japanese goods. Chinese officials have also expressed indignation at the new junior high history text, announced by the education ministry on April 3.

The books, which have yet to be sold to the public, contain several changes that critics say cover up Japan's wartime atrocities against countries it occupied, and distort history.

Not surprisingly, the revised books have been met with bitterness in China and Korea, which already nurse long-standing suspicions of Tokyo and are considering joint action on the matter.

Reports of the textbooks' approval also do not sit well with other countries that Japan invaded, which include Indonesia and the Philippines.

But the authors remain defiant, arguing that every country has the right to interpret its own history and that Japan has been forced to bow to outside pressure and teach only the negative aspects of its past.

The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a 10,000-member group of top academics and politicians, says the new schoolbooks are aimed at fostering a love for Japan's culture and history in children and must be accepted by other countries.

"We will portray Japan and the Japanese with dignity and balance in the context of world history. Children who study from these textbooks will take pride in being Japanese and develop a sense of responsibility that will motivate them to make a contribution toward world peace and prosperity," says Tadae Takubo, dean of Kyorin University and one of the authors of the controversial books.

Revisions aimed at boosting Japan's pride again
Among the most glaring differences between the old and new versions of the textbooks is the wall of silence put on comfort women and the brutal 731 Unit of the Japanese Imperial Army, which used people during its occupation of northern China as guinea pigs for scientific experiments and the development of biological weapons.

Likewise, the new books add to portions of the old versions and now say that Japan also developed Korea after its annexation by Tokyo, by building roads, irrigation and other infrastructure.

Reference to the 1937 Nanjing massacre in China -- which remains a historical wound with Chinese people -- remains in the new textbooks. But they now have an additional line that questions the validity of sources about the massacre, a campaign of mass deaths and looting that many historical accounts say led to the death of 300,000 Chinese and the rape of 20,000 women.

The new textbooks also contain a boxed article describing an incident that took place in the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1927, during which Chinese nationalists attacked foreigners, including Japanese. This description serves to legitimize the Japanese use of force in subsequent years, critics say.

The education ministry follows a system where it accepts every year, after a screening process, textbooks that are provided by a host of publishing companies. Schools are then permitted to make their own choice of textbooks after discussion with teachers.

Thus, Takubo explains, the next step is encouraging public junior high schools to accept their revised history books.

His task seems easy these days: Takubo reports that four out of 10 prefectures have already accepted the revised versions for schools starting 2002.

"Despite international pressure, there is more local support than we imagined," says Takubo. "People are supporting us because they see the need to change Japanese youth who are restless, and have no goals. Children are reacting badly because they do not have confidence in their culture," he insists.

Indeed, student Mita's reaction to the current history textbook controversy may well be what authors like Takubo say they would like to change.

But already, social analysts warn that the youth's lack of interest in their country's history has deepened support for nationalist thrusts in Japan.

"The long economic recession, the country's negative aspects of globalization and consequent social turmoil has contributed to weaken the confidence of the Japanese and added to nationalist arguments," says Isao Ishiyama, head of the Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21, a citizens' group fighting for freedom of expression.

He points to another section of the upcoming textbooks that picture a Japanese politician landing on the Senkaku islands that are claimed by Japan, China and Malaysia -- a revision aimed at boosting Japan's pride again.

But Ishiyama says that far from boosting national pride, the new textbooks put the future of Japanese society at risk.

"By not accepting the negative aspects of Japan's past, we are moving toward a narrow nationalism. Instead we should be teaching our children the future is not based on national borders but belonging as global citizens, a far cry from the new textbooks that have just been passed in Japan."

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Albion Monitor April 16, 2001 (

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