[VIEWPOINT]Problem of historical awareness

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[VIEWPOINT]Problem of historical awareness

The Husosha edition of a middle school history textbook written mainly by the Society for a New History Textbook (also known as Tsukurukai) is said to have a provisional choice rate of around 0.4 per cent of middle schools in Japan. This is around 10 times more than the rate of 0.039 percent recorded four years ago, but is still far from the 10 percent mark that should be met for a book to make a profit.
The Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper, predicted that the choice rate would be less than 1 percent two weeks ago. It is a relief for both Korea and Japan that the actual rate turned out to be less than half that level.
The problem lies in how we evaluate the 0.4 percent choice rate. Should we celebrate it, saying that it is “the victory of the movements of both Korean and Japanese civic groups and conscientious forces” and “the defeat of the Japanese right wing?” Otherwise, are we going to decide that Japan has tilted to the right 10 times more, since the choice rate is roughly 10 times higher than four years ago?
The conclusion is that neither of the two is the right answer. The majority of Japanese citizens have a lot calmer attitude toward history than we think. The Japanese education committee of each region that decides which textbooks to use is made up of five members, and the committee members probably have made their decisions out of an honest feeling that they “don’t want to be pulled into any diplomatic or other trouble.”
However, since the establishment of Tsukurukai in 1997 and the start of a debate on history textbooks under its initiative, it is clear that Japanese citizens have become more interested in the problem of historical awareness. The Tsukurukai history textbooks are already bestsellers in bookstores. Of course they do not have enough power yet to be chosen as textbooks in most schools. It is because the conscience of educators’ organizations and mature civic awareness of people have a solid effect on Japanese society.
Tsukurukai is definitely an ultra-right-wing force. However, whether or not a textbook is chosen is not decided based on who the writer is but on the content of the book. In other words, although the ultra-right-wing force does not change, the choice rate of a textbook could go up if the content and the form of the book are revised.
We cannot narrow the gap of understanding if we do not first acknowledge that we can have different views on history. Advanced historical researchers of Korea, China and Japan worked jointly on history teaching material that started selling in the market this summer. The Japanese edition of the teaching material, called “History that Opens the Future,” says the Korean War started because “The North Korean People’s Army invaded the South with the goal of liberating the South.” Of course, the same teaching material’s Korean edition describes the origin of the war in a different way.
I am currently in Japan as a guest professor at the University of Tsukuba, and one thing that I realize now that I am living here again after 10 years is that nothing has changed since then. Everything is so much the same that it is frustrating. Japanese society is not dynamic and does not change everyday like Korean society does. There are many civic organizations in Japan, but there are none that have enough influence to handle hot pan-national issues.
Efforts to change Japanese society with passionate movements like a candlelight protest would not change anything in the end. When Japanese people are forced to make an extreme choice, most just keep their mouths shut and wait for the storm to pass.
What we need right now is to establish a network of cooperation between Korean and Japanese citizens through which we can solve problems with patience, and boost the steady research activities of specialists. Now is no longer a time when either the Korean or Japanese government can play the leading role in Korea-Japan relations.
It is anticipated that the Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will win more than half of the seats in the Japanese legislative election on Sept. 11. When this happens, the Korean press may once again clamor that Japan has tilted more to the right, and that there is a need to form an alliance among conscientious people in Japan and Korea. However, we must understand that ordinary Japanese people who voted for the Liberal Democratic Party are still against the prime minister’s worshipping at the Yasukuni shrine, and that their support of Mr. Koizumi only resulted from their desire for the privatization of Japan Post.

* The writer is a professor of Japanese relations at Hankook University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Cho Kyu-cheol
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