[OUTLOOK]Japan's Reluctance to Change Course

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[OUTLOOK]Japan's Reluctance to Change Course

History Textbook Controversy Fundamentally Rises From Japan Being a Small-minded Nation

On February 21, the Asian regional preparatory meeting in Tehran for the World Conference Against Racism, which is chaired by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, adopted a draft declaration. A passage from the declaration reads that states, which pursued colonialism or any other forms of occupation or rule over a foreign country, slavery, slave-trade, racist policies or acts of racial discrimination, such as racial purification, should assume full responsibilities and provide adequate reparation.

The foreign minister of South Africa, the host country for this year's World Conference Against Racism, was also quoted as saying that many problems of racism are rooted in the legacy of colonialism. Although it is uncertain whether the declaration will be officially adopted at the World Conference in September due to protests from Japan, we should take careful note of this momentous development because a world organization has presented a concrete philosophy for coexistence as it sums up the 20th century.

Those who fail to read the flow of history might see the proposal for compensation only from the viewpoint of national interests. They will cringe at the huge sums of money called for to compensate for colonialism, and also at the prospect of surrendering the deceitful logic of colonialism as legitimate rule.

The flow of world history is eschewing hegemonism and moving toward coexistence. Examples abound: the creation of regional communities, such as the European Union, a greater respect for human rights, the establishment of a new value system that pursues environment-friendly technologies.

The small-minded, however, fail to see that repentant acts for colonialism and severing ties with imperialism is a short cut to being reborn as a part of the new world order. They fail to see that it will mean clearing away the confusion in seeking national development and starting a journey toward the path of coexistence. Unfortuna-tely, we are witnessing small-mindedness on the part of the Japanese in yet another controversy over Japan's history textbooks. The organization going by the name Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform is ostensibly at fault.

When this organization was inaugurated in Tokyo in the late 1996, I wrote an article titled "Great Textbook Rebellion by Japanese Conservative Forces" in a Korean monthly in early 1997. In the article, I said that the organization did not spring up overnight to represent minority ultra-rightists but that it has a history and enjoys a certain level of popular support.

I also claimed their attacks were only just beginning, emphasizing that the organization's growth was prompted by conservative forces and by an invisible "fabrication of madness." Yoshinori Kobayashi, a cartoonist and key member of the organization, even said, "If you rewrite the textbooks, you rewrite social trends. I think of textbooks as the symbol." As I recall his remarks, it seems to me that Japan's small-mindedness has not gone away.

When China and Korea lodged official protests during the 1982 controversy, accusing Japan of distorting its past militarism in history textbooks, Japan adopted the so-called "Asian neighbors" clause, which promised to reconsider its review standards for textbooks and to see to it that they were modified in response to the complaints of their Asian neighbors. Even so, Japanese government officials, including Ichiro Okawa, could not resist calling Korea and China's protests ludicrous.

When the second textbook flap rose in 1986, the Japanese government officially expressed regrets but Education Minister Masayuki Fujio said that Korea willingly accepted Japanese colonization and that Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910 was legitimate. In the latest controversy, Hosei Norota, chairman of the Japanese House of Representatives Budget Committee, said that Japan liberated other Asian countries from Western colonial powers and helped them attain prosperity.

The State of Japan officially expressed regrets, promised changes, and adopted the "neighbors" clause as a solution to the textbook uproar, but this is just a tactic that changes constantly to suit the circumstances. We only need to consider the pronouncements of its government officials, which mirror Japan's true feelings, to see that the nation remains fundamentally small-minded.

This is not to say we should confront Japan's nationalism bordering on insanity with our own madness. I am pointing to the need to reason with a neighbor and steer it toward a philosophy for coexistence within a larger framework. We have to respond strongly to the recent textbook dispute, out of genuine concern for our neighbor.


The writer is a professor of archival studies at Myongji University.


by Kim Ik-han

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