Japan’s Dokdo claim reminder of colonialism
Shimomura went on to state on March 26 in a meeting of the lower house of the Diet - a fortnight after Abe affirmed he would uphold the Kono and Murayama statements - that the Murayama Statement, which apologized for Japan’s wartime aggressions, “is not a unified government position.” He also implied that the statement was not endorsed by the cabinet.
When he served as deputy chief cabinet secretary in Abe’s first term as prime minister, Shimomura said it was possible that the Japanese army was “not involved” in the coercion of women into sexual slavery during wartime, backing similar remarks by Abe in 2007.
Last year, Shimomura said that the government needed to “review” its past apologies, then reassured Seoul and Beijing that the revision was not something they needed to worry about.
Abe’s right-wing government has so far been keen on revising its school textbooks to take on a more patriotic tone, which critics fear will drive Japan farther away from postwar pacifism and aggravate further tensions.
During his first term in office from 2006 to 2007, Abe pushed through Parliament the controversial Fundamental Education Reform Bill, which would make nurturing one’s “love of the country” an educational goal - a stark revision to Japan’s basic education policy, based on the U.S.-guided 1947 Fundamental Law of Education.
This historical revision and the promotion of nationalism are paired with Abe’s goals for the reinterpretation of the pacifist postwar Constitution, which would allow Japan the right to collective self-defense and would bolster its military presence in the region.
“This can be seen as a leveling up by the Japanese government to its territorial claims,” said Seo Jong-jin, a researcher with the Northeast Asian History Foundation, a Seoul-based historical research body, on the newly announced elementary school textbook revisions. “It appears there is pressure from the government to reflect the government’s policy into its education.”
Territorial claims in textbooks
The textbook revisions to include Japan’s claim over Dokdo are especially startling because they target Japanese children.
On Jan. 28, Japan revised its teaching manuals for middle and high school students to describe Dokdo and the Senkaku Islands as “integral parts” of Japan’s own territory. This revision will be applied to textbooks for middle and high school students starting from 2016.
These teaching manuals, though not legally binding, serve as guidelines for Japanese middle and high schools and are also used as a reference for textbook publishers. The Japanese government last revised its teaching manuals in 2008, which did not directly touch upon the Dokdo islets.
But this trend is a continuation of the trend in annual textbook authorizations since the revision of the 2008 middle school guidelines, and date back to nationalist textbook revision movements in the early 2000s, when territorial education was strengthened in Japan.
In July 2008, the Japanese Ministry of Education announced the implementation of a new supplementary education guideline on social studies textbooks laying claims to Dokdo for use at middle schools from the 2012 school year by teachers and publishers of textbooks. Similar textbooks screenings were made for high school social studies books, such as 21 out of 39 social studies textbooks claiming Dokdo was Japan’s territory in 2012.
At such times, the territorial claim by Japan prompted criticism from Seoul. Japan claims that Dokdo was fishing turf for Japan, and that the occupation of Dokdo by Korea is illegal under international law. In its textbooks, Japan also puts Dokdo on equal standing with the Southern Kuril Islands that it disputes with Russia. Dokdo maps and pictures are generally given more space in textbooks.
For Koreans, Japan’s continued territorial claim over Dokdo is yet another indication of its denial of Korean independence and sovereignty.
“We cannot forget that Japan is trying to logically crumble Korea’s claim over Dokdo abroad through its promotions domestically and abroad,” said Professor Yuji Hosaka of the Dokdo Research Institute at Sejong University. “They are intentionally trying to create a dispute over Dokdo.”
For this reason, Japan has proposed taking the issue to the International Court of Justice, where it may be able to garner the support of the United States and other countries through its lobbying efforts. Korea sees no need to raise the issue at the court, as it already holds sovereignty over the islets.
“Japan’s position has spread worldwide, and many people are convinced because they are vocal and state reasons,” Hosaka added. “So we have to make it clear that Japan is lying, including historically, such as under the 1905 Japanese government documents.”
Japan also disputes that “Usando,” next to Ulleung Island, is Dokdo. But Japanese documents have official records that recognize Usando as Dokdo.
Dokdo has gone by different names over the centuries, including Usando.
Korea’s position is that there is no territorial dispute in regard to Dokdo, as it is an integral part of Korean territory historically, geographically and under international law.
Currently, Dokdo falls under the jurisdiction of Ulleung County in North Gyeongsang, and can be seen from Ulleung Island with the naked eye on a clear day. It is located a mere 87 kilometers (54 miles) southeast of Ulleung Island. Some may call the Dokdo islets issue a territorial dispute, but to Korea, it is another sad reminder of its history of colonial rule under the Japanese government.
“Dokdo was the first Korean territory to fall victim to Japanese aggression,” Pyun Yung-tai, the minister of foreign affairs, said in 1954.
Following the Russo-Japanese War, in 1905, Japan clandestinely incorporated Dokdo as a part of its territory in a public notice from a provincial government. The Shimane Prefecture said that the islets were a no man’s land and would be placed under the jurisdiction of the Oki Islands, in Shimane. But Korea was not able to lodge a diplomatic protest because of the Japanese Protectorate Treaty of 1905. Japan also claimed sovereignty over Korea in 1910.
Japan claims that Dokdo is indisputably an inherent part of the territory of Japan based on historical facts and international law. It further claims that Korea is “illegally occupying” the islets and that Korea has “never demonstrated any clear basis for its claims that it had effective control over Takeshima prior to Japan’s effective control over Takeshima and reaffirmation of its territorial sovereignty in 1905.”
But numerous historical and official documents and maps over the centuries counter Japanese claims, including official Japanese documents and maps.
The Annals of King Sejong’s Reign from 1954 states that: “The islands of Usan [Dokdo] and Mureung [Ulleungdo] are located in the due east of the Hyeon [Uljin County],” in the geography section of the annals. It first says, “The two are not far from each other so that one is visible from the other on a clear day.”
Numerous Japanese official documents and maps have also shown that Dokdo is not Japanese land, including the Dajokan, or Grand Council of State, Order in 1877, which officially said in regard to “Takeshima [Ulleungdo] and the other island [Dokdo],” that “Japan has nothing to do with them.” There are other references, too, such as Japan’s Revised Complete Map of Japanese Lands and Roads (Kaisei Nippon Yochi Rotei Zenzu) from 1779.
But Japan changed its position last century, claiming Dokdo is terra nullius and said at first in a 1905 cabinet decision that “there is no credible evidence” of the island being occupied by another nation. By 1953, it began claiming that it has always been a part of its “inherent territory” in diplomatic correspondence.
Dokdo was returned to Korea after World War II ended, as shown in a 1946 Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers instruction note, which said that “Utsuryo [Ulleungdo] and Liancourt Rocks [Dokdo]” were excluded from the governmental and administrative jurisdiction of Japan.
The Cairo Declaration of December 1, 1943, the basic position of the Allied forces on Japan’s territorial boundaries after the end of World War II, stated that “Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed.”
Korea was liberated in 1945.
However, more than half a century since the end of colonial rule, Korea is faced with continued provocations, such as Japan’s continued promotion of its claims over Dokdo overseas, Shimane Prefecture celebrating its self-created “Takeshima Day” annually on Feb. 22 since 2005 and changes in textbooks to increase its territorial claims over an inherent Korean territory.
“Japan knows that Korea’s promotion in regards to issues with Japan is comparatively lacking, and that the Japanese are not that interested in the Dokdo issue or reading about the Korean perspective on this,” said Hosaka. “So they know that Japan can get away with unilaterally claiming that Korea is illegally occupying Dokdo and that it is Japan’s inherent territory. And the more they repeat this in their schools, the more they anger the Japanese people. Consequently, they raise the feeling that Korea is a bad country.”
He added that through its education, the government is able to ramp up the nationalist feelings that will help contribute to the constitutional revision to build up Japan’s military might.
“What we fear here [in the building up of tensions], is what Japan is holding as its target. Through this fear-mongering, Japan can raise the notion that it can’t do anything about the illegal occupation of its territory because it doesn’t have a standing army.
“This sentiment then can be used to promote its rights to collective self-defense. And Japan is trying to instill this notion from a very early age, because to amend the constitution, more than 50 percent of the people must consent. So, through student education, the Dokdo issue is being used to this end, to sway the public.”
“There needs to be efforts toward closing the gap between historical understanding,” Seo said, “to help promote Japan’s understanding of why Dokdo is Korean territory.”
Seo said this could include joint historical studies between academics and civilians to promote mutual understanding and exchange on historical views.
History revised in Japan’s textbooks
Japanese textbook revision dates back to the years after World War II, when accounts of Japanese aggression were watered down. The Japanese nationalists believe that changes in the education system are a means to build up the country’s sense of national pride eroded after the war.
However, the Japanese government itself declared after international backlash in the 1980s that it would be more mindful of historical revisions regarding its revisionist history textbooks.
The 1982 textbook screening process in Japan was met with fierce criticism from China and Korea after the education ministry insisted on revising history textbooks to whitewash its wartime atrocities. Specifically, in reference to the Japanese army’s invasion of victim nations, such as China, it wrote that it “advanced into” them, rather than writing of its “aggression inside” them.
It also called for the “March First Independence Movement,” the Korean resistance movement in 1919 against oppressive Japanese colonial rule, to be changed to an “uprising among the Korean people.”
On Aug. 26, 1982, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kiichi Miyazawa said that the Japanese government and people are “deeply aware of the fact that acts by our country in the past caused tremendous suffering and damage to the peoples of Asian countries, including the Republic of Korea and China, and have followed the path of a pacifist state with remorse and determination that such acts must never be repeated.”
The statement said Japan took into consideration criticism from Korea and China on historical descriptions in Japanese textbooks.
“From the perspective of building friendship and goodwill with neighboring countries, Japan will pay due attention to these criticisms and make corrections at the government’s responsibility,” his statement said.
It added that the government will revise the Guideline for Textbook Authorization after discussions in the Textbook Authorization and Research Council to give consideration to these factors.
The most widely used Japanese textbooks in the late 1990s contained references to the Nanking Massacre, anti-Japanese resistance movements in Korea, the comfort women issue, and Unit 731, the notorious government organization responsible for conducting medical experiments on prisoners of war.
These were issues raised in a series of lawsuits against the Japanese Ministry of Education since 1965 by a prominent Japanese historian, Ienaga Saburo, who filed three suits over the decades alleging that the process of textbook approval was unconstitutional and illegal. His history textbooks were rejected by the ministry for including too many dark details of World War II.
But textbook revisionism became a greater concern in early 2000, when a group of conservatives keen on promoting a nationalistic view of the past formed the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which issued a controversial history textbook - which was one out of eight middle school history textbooks authorized in 2001 by the education ministry.
The book downplayed many of Japan’s war crimes during World War II such as the Nanking massacre or the Imperial Army’s policy of forceful mobilization of comfort women. It also highlighted territorial claims to Dokdo and Senkaku. However, the textbook was not extensively used in schools. Another version of the right-wing textbook was published in 2005, which likewise made similar skewed historical statements, especially in reference to China.
“In regard to issues such as Japan’s colonial invasion or the comfort women issue, there should be different viewpoints presented in textbooks,” said Seo. “But these issues are not included in elementary textbooks and not touched up a whole lot in middle school textbooks. But in the future, there will likely be even less mention of Japan’s invasion - and already, the comfort women issue is difficult to find in middle school textbooks and will continue to decrease in content and be lacking in the future. And we’ve come to the point where territorial issues will be featured more prominently.
“Educating the youth, who are the future generation, in this manner, teaching that Korea is ‘illegal occupying’ the territory will have a harmful effect on building Korean and Japanese relations in the future.”
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]