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'Enter,' not 'Invade': The Ministry and Text Selection

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According to a Ministry of Education publication, the "authorization of textbooks for school use in all elementary and secondary schools in Japan is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education."

In elementary schools, authorization of textbooks occurs every three years, with five books approved per subject area. In secondary school, the ministry annually approves a larger number, reflecting the wider range of prescribed subject areas.

But from thousands of applications from authors and publishers, the national government approves relatively few. The books are screened by 85 advisors (50 of whom are permanent staff members of the ministry) and hundreds of consulting reviewers; approved by the ministry's Textbook Authorization and Research Council; and disseminated to prefectural and municipal boards that decide which books to adopt.

This centralized process was instituted in 1963. Prior to that time, some prefectures had allowed individual teachers to decide which books to use, according to Masayuki Inoue, the deputy director of the textbook-administration division of the Ministry of Education.

A Matter of Degree

Books that win approval for use in the uniform national curriculum thus have a profound influence in shaping students' character and beliefs, say educators and the scholars who write them. And some believe that influence is too great.

The line between "state approval" and "censorship" can be an extremely fine one, says Sennosuke Fujii, the dean of the faculty of school education at Hiroshima University and the author of several history texts used in high schools. While acknowledging that a national curriculum and textbook-adoption system can be a means of guaranteeing that all students have access to the same body of knowledge, he argues that the the Japanese textbook-adoption process limits "academic freedom'' in some instances.

'Questions of Ideology'

In 1981, when Mr. Fujii completed his most recent textbook, the ministry suggested he make more than 50 changes, he says. Some of the changes were intended to clarify the text and eliminate errors but many involved "questions of ideology," according to Mr. Fujii.

Ministry officials were particularly concerned about the use of "enter" and "invade" in describing a nation's occupation of foreign territories, he says.

He had written that Britain "entered" Hong Kong and "invaded" India and Burma; that the Soviet Union "invaded" Poland; and that Japan "invaded" China. But the ministry, sensitive about the nation's role in Manchuria and China in the 1930's, contended that if Professor Fujii used the word "enter" to describe one instance of intrusion into foreign territory, it must be used to describe all instances, including Japan's occupation of China.

According to Mr. Inoue, the ministry official, the government in 1982 revised its policy on using the word "invasion" in an attempt to promote better ties with China and Korea. Now all books admit that Japan "invaded" those countries.

But the problem illustrates, the official acknowledges, a central dilemma in the national system of textbook selection: It breaks down in subject areas that are controversial. It is effective, he contends, "for all subjects except history," which he describes as loaded with "ideological conflict."

The Ienaga Case

The textbook-adoption system has faced court challenges from the beginning, although none has yet been successful.

The most notable case began in 1965 when a historian, Saburo Ienaga, filed suit against the ministry for allegedly censoring the contents of a revised edition of his senior-high history text, first published in 1953. The revised manuscript was criticized for "doubtful accuracy'' and "dubious content" in 323 places and ultimately was rejected by the ministry's certification council. Professor Ienaga filed a civil suit in Tokyo District Court against the ministry, seeking compensation for lost royalties and mental distress.

In 1970, the court held that the the textbook-review system must not infringe upon academic freedom and freedom of expression. But the court also ruled that the system was not unconstitutional; it becomes so only when the review panel substantively alters the content of books and interferes with the freedoms of author and publisher, the district judge ruled.

The damage suit was decided in 1974, when the court held that the state had a right to review textbooks and could not do so adequately without considering the content of a book. The court found that the purpose of certification was not to limit the ideas presented and did not result in censorship.

Mr. Ienaga's appeal is still dragging on in the courts. In a position paper filed last April with the Tokyo court, the Japanese government reaffirmed its position that present textbook-authorization system does not violate the constitution, which denounces any form of censorship. The government argued that the procedures for textbook authorization are based on the country's Basic Education Law and that its approval criteria are sanctioned by the law.

What Text Says 'Is Right'

Mr. Inoue, the ministry official, says new controversies over textbook adoption emerge annually not only because of the sensitive nature of the issues involved but also because the Japanese place such a high value on the written word.

"In Japan there is a very firm tradition that what the textbook says is right," he explains. "Teachers stick to the book. Article 21 of the education law says that textbooks should be used as the primary source of material for class. Some teachers do not realize that the law doesn't say that the textbook should be the only material."

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