INSIGHT: Revising textbooks pillar of Abe’s education reform

March 02, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who champions discarding the nation’s “distorted” postwar education system, is leaving his conservative imprint on school textbooks with sovereignty assertions for islands also claimed by China and South Korea.

Abe’s education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, on Jan. 28 announced the revision of teacher practice manuals for school curriculum guidelines to underscore the government's position that the disputed Senkaku Islands and the Takeshima islets belong to Japan.

Social studies textbooks to be used in junior high schools from fiscal 2016, which will be compiled under the new manuals, are expected to state that the Senkakus in the East China Sea, also claimed by China, are under Japan’s effective control and that no territorial dispute exists.

The textbooks are also expected to proclaim that the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan are illegally occupied by South Korea.

The revision of manuals forms a pillar of education reform advocated by Abe, who has criticized the postwar education system for its "masochistic view of the nation’s history."

“Japan’s education has been distorted since the end of the war,” Abe has said. “Japan can never achieve true independence unless it casts off (the postwar education system).”

Shimomura, a close aide of Abe, met secretly with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the prime minister’s office on Dec. 26, a year after Abe formed his administration.

“There is no doubt that the Senkakus and Takeshima are integral parts of Japan’s territory,” Shimomura said. “We have to decide when to announce (the revision of manuals).”

The Senkakus have not been taken up in textbooks for both junior and senior high schools, and the Takeshima issue has not been clearly mentioned in senior high school textbooks, out of consideration to opposition from China and South Korea.

The revision had to be announced soon if changes are to be reflected in textbooks to be used in junior high schools from fiscal 2016, whose screening will start this spring.

The Foreign Ministry said the announcement should not come during China’s Lunar New Year festival, which ran from Jan. 31. Shimomura, Suga and Kishida agreed to make the announcement in the latter half of January.

Abe approved the announcement, and the government explained the policy to U.S. officials behind the scenes. Shimomura announced the revision Jan. 28 ahead of the Lunar New Year festival.

Abe made another important decision during the process.

The “neighboring country clause” in school textbook screening guidelines calls for paying due consideration to the way events in modern history involving neighboring Asian countries are described in terms of international understanding and cooperation.

Abe has long criticized the clause for creating “masochistic, biased” textbooks and increasing references to the 1937 Nanking Massacre and “comfort women,” a euphemism for Koreans and other women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops before and during World War II.

He pledged to review the clause during the campaign for the 2012 Lower House election, which returned his Liberal Democratic Party to power.

After he formed his Cabinet, however, Abe put that policy on hold to avoid antagonizing China and South Korea and stabilize his own administration.

In the LDP, Abe had a special party division on the textbook screening system, led by his aide Koichi Hagiuda, lower the priority given to the policy to review the neighboring country clause.

However, Abe effectively emasculated the clause by changing textbook descriptions through the revision of manuals and the strengthening of textbook screening guidelines.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Information on territorial issues will increase in newly approved high school textbooks starting in April 2014. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Information on territorial issues will increase in newly approved high school textbooks starting in April 2014. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Information on territorial issues will increase in newly approved high school textbooks starting in April 2014. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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