Japan's shocking embrace of textbook "reforms"

tags: Japan, textbooks, Abe



In April 2012, a group of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) congressmen, calling themselves the Diet Members Group for Considering Japan’s Future and History Textbooks,1 met with officials from Japan’s Ministry of Education (hereafter MEXT) along with LDP Education and Technology Division members to view samples of the new high school textbooks that the Ministry had screened and authorized.

In order to be eligible for use at public and even private schools, Japanese textbooks must be compiled by private publishers in accordance with the National Curriculum Standards and then endorsed by a MEXT organ, the Textbook Approval and Research Council, and finally authorized by MEXT in accord with their Textbook Examination Standards. In the process, scrutiny by “textbook experts” and “specialists” “ensures that the textbooks are objective and impartial” (MOFA: undated).2 MEXT explains this process as follows:

The Textbook Approval and Research Council is an affiliation [sic] with MEXT and textbooks are examined on the basis of a report submitted by the Council. The regular and non-regular members of the Council are chosen from university professors and teachers of elementary, junior high and senior high schools and other educational institutions.

Each textbook for which an application for examination has been filed is studied by textbook experts prior to screening by the Council. When necessary for the examination of specialized issues, specialist members are appointed to serve on the Council to undertake a specialist investigation. Textbook experts are full-time officials of MEXT and are appointed based on university teaching experience and other relevant experience.

The Council undertakes a comprehensive screening of textbooks in which it considers the findings of textbook experts and specialist members, as well as the findings of its members. This mechanism ensures that the Council's screening process reflects the result [sic] of investigations undertaken by a large number of experts from various perspectives.

The textbook samples presented by the MEXT officials for the LDP members’ viewing had already been deemed compliant with the National Curriculum Standards and “objective and impartial” by the experts, specialists, and bureaucrats.3

At the meeting, Abe Shinzo, who became prime minister a few months later, took a dislike to one particular history textbook because it mentioned the forceful recruitment – described as “mobilization” in the textbook – of women to the Japanese military’s sanctioned brothels – described as “comfort women” – during the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945). Abe started grilling the MEXT officials; “When I was Prime Minister [in 2007], I made it clear in the Diet that there was no forceful recruitment of comfort women by the Imperial Japanese Military or by the Military Police. Since when has this official stance changed? Why did you ignore my official government statement?” (Kyoiku Saisei Mail NewsVol. 215, 2012/4/10; zakzak 2012/05/09).4 Other LDP members at the meeting, joined in: “Since when do you prioritize the opinions of the textbook experts over the Prime Minister’s?” (Saisei Kiko 2012/04/11)5

Close Abe ally Yagi Hidetsugu, a conservative academic and prolific author of neo-nationalist tracts, including works which denigrate Japan’s neighbors and assume that women would play a “natural” subservient position, also attended the meeting.6 Yagi drew the attention of participants to the mention of other acts of the Imperial Japanese Military in the newly approved history textbooks such as the Nanking Massacre and the Three-All Policy (“Kill all, loot all, destroy all”) during the Asia-Pacific War, fueling the LDP members’ rage. The assemblymen sharply criticized the Ministry officials; “For what country did you authorize these textbooks?” “There’s no love of country in these textbooks,” “It’s unthinkable to pass the [description of the] Three-All Policy without requesting a change,” and “Explain to us why you didn’t request the publishers to change these descriptions.” (Saisei Kiko 2012/04/11)

Yagi joined the chorus of denialism: “If the state authorization screening allows textbooks to become political propaganda pamphlets funded by tax money, the screening is not fulfilling its purpose.” He suggested that appointments of the Ministry’s Textbook Approval and Research Council, including the specialists and experts, should be “reconsidered.” He also urged that the National Curriculum Standards, issued by the Ministry, more minutely dictate textbook content so publishers cannot “willfully” add topics to their textbooks. Although these suggestions came from a member of a blatantly ideological private institution, the Ministry officials agreed to consider the suggestions and report back their deliberations to the LDP members. (Saisei Kiko 2012/04/11)

In retrospect, this intense grilling behind closed doors was the first sign of renewed attack on high school history textbooks by politicians and ideologues. ...



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