Japan’s textbook revisions precede changes to its ‘peace’ Constitution

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Japan’s textbook revisions precede changes to its ‘peace’ Constitution


Left: A Japanese social studies textbook that passed the Japanese education ministry’s screening of high school textbooks in 2012, which claims that Dokdo, Korea’s easternmost islets, are Japan’s territory. [JoongAng Ilbo]Right: A Japanese history textbook from 1924 shows a 1905 map that shows “Jukdo” another name for Dokdo, as “Joseon [Korean] territory.” [NEWSIS]

Japan’s education ministry revealed last month that it will significantly step up Japan’s territorial claims to the Dokdo islets in the East Sea in elementary school textbooks, raising concern and alarm here that young Japanese children are now the target of nationalist propaganda that promotes ill feelings toward Korea.

The Dokdo islets, which Japan calls Takeshima, are effectively controlled by Seoul. Korean civilians reside there and the area is patrolled by Korean police squads.

More than 1.2 million people have visited Dokdo since the islets opened to tourism in 2005.

Starting in 2015, virtually all textbooks for fifth- and sixth-graders approved by a Japanese committee will assert that Dokdo is Japan’s “inherent territory,” the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced on April 4.

Six textbooks from four publishers approved by the textbook review committee included explicit statements saying that “Takeshima is Japan’s inherent territory,” and that Korea is “illegally occupying” the islets. Two other textbooks also expressed that message through maps.

Additionally, the textbooks upped Japan’s claims to the Senkaku Islands - known as Diaoyu by Beijing - which it disputes with China.

One textbook even deleted a reference to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, jointly hosted by Korea and Japan, to make room for its territorial claim over Dokdo.

But textbook revisionism and Japan’s censorship of historical events in its education system is nothing new. The Japanese government has made several attempts before to manipulate or cover up accounts of its past wartime aggressions.

It has also glossed over several sensitive issues, such as the Japanese Imperial Army’s forced recruitment of Korean women and girls into military brothels during World War II, as well the Nanking Massacre (1937-38), during which China estimates at least 300,000 of its citizens were killed by Japanese forces.

Currently, there is concern that the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has become increasingly adamant in promoting a boosted sense of nationalism in its education system, distorting historical facts.

Japan’s last elementary textbook evaluation process in 2010 only approved one out of five textbooks that included a specific reference to Japan’s territorial claim to Dokdo, and that book was used by less than a tenth of fifth- and sixth-graders.

Similarly, no mention was made of the Japanese military’s forced recruitment of Asian “comfort women” during World War II in the new elementary school textbooks.

The Korean government last month strongly denounced Japan’s plan to significantly step up its claims to the Dokdo islets in the East Sea in school textbooks and warned against the Japanese government enforcing a curriculum “that distorts and denies Japan’s history of imperialism and plunder.”

The spokesman for the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Abe vowed at the National Diet that he would uphold previous cabinets’ historical perspectives, apologizing for its war aggressions and referring to the 1993 Kono Statement and the 1995 Murayama Statement.

But Hakubun Shimomura, Japan’s minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, declared with the announcement of the new textbook authorizations that it was “natural” for Japan to teach its students about its indigenous territory, echoing remarks he made earlier when the revisions were under discussion.

A year ago, in a speech to the Japanese Diet on April 10, 2013, Education Minister Shimomura said that Japan needs to “record an interpretation of history in our textbooks that encourages pride in Japan.” He responded to Kyoko Nishikawa, a Liberal Democratic Party representative in the lower house of the Diet, who criticized references to comfort women in school textbooks as “a damaging view of history.”

The education minister’s remark added to concerns in Seoul and Beijing that Japan planned to whitewash its history of aggression and invasion and glorify its military past in its education system.

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.

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

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