In this country, debates over textbooks have been known to shake up a few school board meetings and, in extreme cases, even incite violence. But a disagreement over new history books recently authorized for use in Japan’s junior high schools next school year has escalated into an international incident.
Government officials in South Korea and China have expressed their anger over textbooks, produced by a group of nationalist historians in Japan, that suggest Japan’s military aggression before and during World War II had a positive impact on Southeast Asia.
South Korea’s ambassador to Japan was recalled last month to meet with officials of his government over how to respond to the controversial textbooks. That country’s lawmakers voted late last month to form a task force to compel Japanese officials to address the complaints. And China’s foreign minister, Tang Jiaxun, said last month that Japan’s refusal to reject the texts had hindered bilateral relations.
The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform produced one of the textbooks because of the “self- deprecating” tone of current Japanese history texts, according to a statement from the organization. “The Japanese are depicted as criminals on whose shoulders fate has placed the burden of atoning for their sins for generations to come,” it says.
Japanese officials agreed in January to screen that textbook, and subsequently made about 130 revisions before declaring it acceptable.
Japanese officials are defending their decision, saying the textbooks went through the appropriate review. Although the government has admitted its wartime atrocities and apologized for the suffering it caused its Asian neighbors, the government does not define specific historical perspectives or outlooks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fakudo said in a statement last month.
“During the process of the recent authorization of textbooks, various concerns have been expressed from neighboring countries,” he said. “However, the authorization process was carried out impartially.”
— Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2001 edition of Education Week as Foreign Exchange