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Japan tries to change U.S. textbooks

Jan 13,2015
A U.S. publisher recently denied Tokyo’s request for it to delete a passage saying that women were “forcibly recruited” by the Japanese military during World War II to work as sex slaves from textbooks used in California public high schools, the Japanese media reported Monday.

At the end of last year, the Japanese Foreign Ministry made a formal request to a U.S. publisher to delete the euphemism “comfort women” from the latest edition of a world history textbook used by some local high schools in the state of California, claiming it was not true, reported the Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun Monday.

The request was denied by the American publishing giant McGraw-Hill Education.

The textbook “Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past” contains text that says: “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women aged 14 to 20 to serve in military brothels, called ‘comfort houses.’”

The textbook, written by Jerry Bentley and Herbert Ziegler, also describes how some comfort women were killed by Japanese soldiers while trying to escape.

In November, Japan’s Foreign Ministry through its consulate in New York asked McGraw-Hill to change the depiction of comfort women, claiming it was inaccurate, and arranged a meeting with the publishers to make a formal request.

However, McGraw-Hill responded it would not change the current description because it was “based on historical facts” written by scholars of history, the Sankei reported.

Seoul has been concerned about Japan’s move toward a revisionist history, which has added to the deterioration of the two countries’ diplomatic relations over recent years.

Tokyo’s resolving of the comfort women issue is considered a vital step in improving diplomatic ties between Japan and Korea at a time when the two sides should be gearing for a future-oriented relationship.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of normalization of bilateral ties.

In her New Year’s press conference Monday, President Park Geun-hye emphasized that because the comfort women victims are elderly, if the issue is not resolved quickly, “this will become a heavy historical burden for Japan as well as on Korea-Japan relations.”

She added that while there is “no reason not to hold a summit” with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “there remains difficulties because certain conditions have to be met to enable a meaningful summit that can take even one step forward.”

Despite the Japanese and Korean foreign ministries holding director-general meetings to try to resolve the issue of wartime sexual slavery nearly every month since last April, Park said it was “regrettable that conditions have not been sufficiently met yet.”

The Japanese government instead recently approved the request of a Tokyo-based publisher to revise content about the comfort women in textbooks it publishes for high schools.

Media reported on Friday that the Education Ministry in December accepted publisher Suken Shuppan’s request to delete content about “comfort women” and women being “forcibly taken away” from three Japanese high school textbooks to be used in the new school year starting in April.

The decision prompted a complaint from the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in a statement Friday called the Japanese Education Ministry’s approval “a frontal challenge to what [Japan] itself has promised through the [1993] Kono Statement and what the international community has requested through the United Nations Commission on Human Rights report.”

The move was also lambasted by Taiwan.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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