Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Breaking the impasse in textbook imbroglio
HANABUSA Masamich / Chairman of the English-Speaking Union of Japan

July 27, 2001
Most Japanese seem puzzled by the strong reactions shown by the Koreans against the new history textbook in question. The ROK government has suspended military visits, import of Japanese culture and exchanges of students and teachers. It is reported that the ROK government is further considering the formation of a common front with China and North Korea to accuse Japan on this issue in international fora. As measures in protest against a single textbook that has duly been approved by the Japanese government, they are too broad and disproportionate. There seems to exist an almost unbridgeable gulf between the Korean assessment of the importance of this issue and the general Japanese perception of the episode; the Japanese regard it as Korean interference in propriety of the history textbook, while the Koreans see in it a sign of the resurrection of pre-war values in Japan and are alarmed.

The Japanese government has made it clear that it entertains no intention of accepting further modifications of the textbook as demanded by the ROK government. Nor does it seem likely that the surge of strong public opinion in Japan would force the government to change this policy. The present situation is truly unfortunate. Under the circumstances, nevertheless, to leave the imbroglio to simmer would incur blame of irresponsible neglect. I believe that as many Japanese as possible should speak out on this matter, so that the Koreans may see the issue from more varied angles. The following is my personal effort to this end.

First, the Japanese system of textbook-approval. Japanese textbooks are neither state-designated nor laissez-faire; they are approved by the government through the kentei system, which is a unique Japanese mechanism to assure both propriety of the content of textbooks and variety among them. This system may not be flawless, but the average Japanese considers the kentei system an appropriate method to avoid the pre-war situation in which state-designated textbooks were used to impose regimented views on students. Local boards of education are to adopt one textbook for actual use from among several textbooks which have been approved by the authorities. This process is considered reasonable as long as the education boards take collective decision democratically, with each board member deciding which textbook is most desirable in light of his or her conscience without outside interference.

Second, the propriety of interference by foreign countries in history textbooks. There is no denying that if history textbooks used in a country are to be scrutinized by peoples of other countries, it so happens that they will find unpleasant descriptions there. Because history presents different faces to different peoples at different places. If this is accepted, the only ground on which a country can find faults with history textbooks of other countries is when the textbook in question inspires unwarranted hatred or sow adversarial sentiment against the country.

Third, the Japanese perception of pre-war history. At the time of the defeat in the last war, the Japanese did not seek responsibility of their own war leaders. There is no denying that the Tokyo Tribunal was a trial of the defeated by the victors. It is unfortunate that as a result the Japanese have yet to exonerate themselves from the past more than fifty years after the end of the war. Compared with the Germans, the ambiguous Japanese attitude often invites blame. I am of the view, however, that this is not because Japanese moral standards are lower than those of the Germans but because the circumstances leading to the war varied significantly between Japan and Germany. Hence Japan is still torn between the view which places full blame on Japan for what it did and the view which justifies a substantial part of Japanese deeds in light of the historical circumstances. These two extreme views are supported by only a small minority in Japan, with the majority of conscientious Japanese believing that Japanese pre-war deeds were partly unjustifiable and partly excusable. The crucial problem is the difficulty of drawing the line in between. With the passage of time, however, the boundary line in fact has been emerging gradually in Japan. More time will probably be required before there emerges a final judgement. It is clearly the conscience of the Japanese people that will lead the nation to a final judgement. In the meantime, external pressures are counterproductive for this process.

Fourth, the thread of Korean logic in their contention. Boldly speaking, leaving aside minor differences, the thrust of Korean criticism may be summarized as follows; the Japanese refusal to modify the history textbook in question means that Japan twists history, beautifies its inglorious past and before long will become militaristic. The Japanese have supported peaceful external policies for over half a century since the end of the last war under successive democratically chosen governments. It is clearly inconceivable for them that the Japanese majority will ever beautify the past and choose to go militaristic. Hence, in the eyes of ordinary Japanese, the Korean logic simply fails their reality check.

For these various reasons, although most Japanese are embarrassed by the hostile Korean attitude regarding the textbook issue, few would be inclined to accept Korean demands out of a sheer wish to avoid clashing with this important neighbor. Thus the "history textbook issue" remains stalled in an impasse. Real improvements in Japan-ROK relations will never be forthcoming, if we leave the issue unattended. Therefore, I wish to propose that Japan must somehow begin serious efforts to bring history perceptions among East Asian countries to converge within reasonable latitude. This is the effort that must be embarked upon sooner or later if peace is to be perpetuated in the region.

The first step that must be taken is to avoid offending neighbors. First of all, utmost encouragement must be made to create as many informal opportunities as possible for scholars of the region, so that, unaffected by political standpoints, they could exchange academic opinions in order to seek out such parts of history as requires an approach of mutual emotional restraints. In order to assure objectivity of the discussions, participation of scholars from third countries must be welcomed. Such efforts hopefully will calm down the heat of present tensions and prevent a further deterioration of the situation, although it may take a very long passage of time, probably in terms of decades, may be taken before these efforts lead to concrete results.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Italy and Chairman of the English-Speaking Union of Japan.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

英 正道 / 日本英語交流連盟会長

2001年 7月 27日





第四に韓国の主張を貫いて流れる論理自体について。細部についての意見は別にして、韓国の主張を大胆に要約すれば、 日本政府が問題の歴史教科書を改めさせないことは、日本が歴史をねじ曲げ、過去を美化し、ひいては日本が軍国化することを意味するというように見受けられる。戦後半世紀以上にわたり民主主義の下で平和外交を支持してきた日本人は、将来にわたって日本人の多数派が過去を美化して、軍国化する可能性は皆無と考えているであろう。したがって一般の日本人の目には韓国の論理は著しく現実味を欠くと映る。  



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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Breaking the impasse in textbook imbroglio