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

The Textbook Issue
IKEI Masaru  / Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University

August 2, 2001
China, South Korea, Taiwan and North Korea have demanded further revisions in a Japanese history textbook that has already passed the official inspection process. South Korea, both its government and mass media, has been especially vehement in the tone of its protest.

As is widely known, textbooks used in most countries of the world may be classified into the following categories: state-designated textbooks where the state selects a textbook which is then used throughout the country; unrestricted textbooks that are the opposite case where no limitations are imposed in writing, publishing and adopting a textbook; and officially inspected textbooks that are the intermediary case where a public organization checks the content and expressions prior to publication, and only those that pass the inspection process can be used. Before and during World War II, Japan used state-designated textbooks aimed at unifying public opinion, and it wasn't until 1949 that it adopted the official inspection system.

Since then, a legal case filed by Professor Ienaga Saburo of former Tokyo University of Education (present-day Tsukuba University), charging that official inspection of textbooks violates academic freedom and freedom of publication, and amounted to censorship prohibited by the Constitution, became the focus of national attention. Views are divided on this issue, as evidenced by a ruling in July 1970 that stated that official inspections were "unconstitutional because the right to education rests with the people," followed by another ruling in July 1974 which stated that "the right to education rests with the state" and approved state intervention in the content of education.

Also, describing history, especially regarding modern history when Japan was engaged in aggressive overseas expansion, is difficult. Should description be centered on past glory, or on the pains of the past? Should it emphasize actions by the rulers, or stress the plight of the victims? Should it express patriotism and dwell on contributions to national development, or be concerned mainly about resistance against authority and the establishment of individual rights?

In the past, Japan's history textbooks have met with "external pressures" on three occasions. The first was in June 1982, when newspapers reported that the country's social studies textbooks had been revised to replace "invasion" with "advance" in the official inspection process. This resulted in protests by China and South Korea, to which the then Chief Cabinet Secretary Miyazawa Kiichi responded by commenting that "the government will exercise its responsibility and make corrections," thus putting a diplomatic end to the issue. Later, it became apparent that news reports concerning the replacement of "invasion" by "advance" had been erroneous, but an article stipulating that Japan should be "sensitive towards neighboring countries" was added to the inspection standards, then onwards imposing a certain limit on the process.

The second occurred in 1986, when China and South Korea protested that the "New Edition Japanese History" textbook for high schools was reactionary, that it "distorts history" and "beautifies the war of invasion." As a result, the textbook underwent three stages of supra-legal revisions after passing the official inspection.

And the third occasion is the current one, centered on a history textbook submitted by the "Society to Make New History Textbooks," which was approved by the Ministry of Science and Education after the authors agreed to comply with 137 revisions ordered by the ministry. China and South Korea have demanded that this textbook and seven others be revised even further. The Sankei newspaper group, which published the textbook through an affiliated publisher, has been apparently conducting a campaign in the hopes of getting as many schools to adopt the textbook. Meanwhile, the Asahi newspaper group has taken the stance of criticizing such a move. Influenced in part by this rivalry, national opinion has been divided into two camps either advocating or opposing the textbook. And persistent demands from China and South Korea have invited a backlash among the Japanese, who criticize their move as intervention in internal affairs. Ironically, the "New History Textbook" has become a bestseller with 500,000 copies sold.

How should we deal with this issue? We need not respond to demands for further revisions. Rather, we should do our best to explain to China and South Korea the circumstances surrounding the official inspection system, while at the same time to patiently assure them that few schools would adopt the "New History Textbook," which is found somewhat wanting in terms of balance, and that they can count on the conscience of the Japanese people.

The writer is an Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

池井 優 / 青山学院大学教授

2001年 8月 2日








一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟