–The Asahi Shimbun, April 2
EDITORIAL: Textbook screening provision is testament to Japan’s maturity
How should sensitive issues concerning modern and contemporary history and territorial disputes be taught at school? This question is debated almost annually at this time of the year, when the results of the education ministry’s screening of school textbooks are announced.
The question is particularly relevant this year because it was the first textbook screening since the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power. During its campaign for the December Lower House election, the LDP promised to review a provision requiring the government to pay consideration to Japan’s past relations with neighboring countries when screening school textbooks.
The stipulation is part of the screening standards. It calls for “necessary consideration from the viewpoint of international understanding and cooperation” in dealing with topics concerning Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbors in modern and contemporary history.
Critics argue that this regulation makes it easier for foreign countries to interfere with the content of Japanese school textbooks and helps create textbooks with “self-deprecating and biased” content.
Indeed, we inevitably feel uncomfortable when our own school textbooks are criticized by other countries.
But there is no denying the importance of teaching children both light and dark sides of history and thereby helping them develop respect for other countries, not just in Asia but all over the world.
Rather than as part of the screening standards, the stipulation in question has been serving as a declaration of our country’s commitment to seeking international cooperation and teaching history in an objective manner without lapsing into self-righteousness.
This stipulation reflects Japan’s soul-searching about its militarist education before and during World War II. Abolishing this proviso would send neighboring countries the message that we will stop considering their feelings.
In addition, it is hard to claim that Japanese school textbooks are written in a way dictated by other countries because of this stipulation.
This year, for instance, a passage saying that the Senkaku Islands, the source of a bitter territorial dispute between Japan and China, belong to Okinawa Prefecture was added to descriptions in a textbook after the education ministry urged the publisher to make it clear that the islands are Japanese territory.
In recent years, both China and South Korea have repeatedly protested descriptions concerning territorial issues in Japanese textbooks. But the education ministry has not sought changes in the criticized descriptions in response to their protests.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology says that, to the best of its knowledge, the last time it issued a screening instruction based on the provision was in fiscal 1991, and there has since not been a single case to this day.
The stipulation was established more than three decades ago after China filed a protest against a reported revision to textbook descriptions concerning Japan’s war with China during the screening in fiscal 1981.
At that time, many Japanese media, including The Asahi Shimbun, reported that Japan’s “invasion of north China” had been changed to Japan’s “advance to north China.”
Behind the argument for reviewing the provision are the views that there was actually no such change and that the rule was born out of a misunderstanding of fact.
News media should regret their false reports. But the ministry has acknowledged that there were actually cases in which the word “invasion” in textbook descriptions of Japan’s wartime acts was changed to “inroads” or “advance” as a result of screening in that and other years.
It would be unfair to say the decision to establish the provision was based on a mistaken judgment.
If misguided protests are made over Japanese textbooks, the government can simply dismiss them by providing detailed explanations based on accepted academic theories.
If Japan acts as a calm and mature nation, Japanese children will grow to be proud of their country in due course.