Japan from the inside out

And now for a look at a Japanese textbook

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 9, 2009

ONE OF THE FLAWS inherent in giving the public sector responsibility for education is that school instruction can be too easily used as a vehicle for political indoctrination, regardless of the country or the political system. That problem is just as intractable in the democracies of the Anglosphere as it is in Northeast Asia, where the democratic is mixed with the despotic.

In this part of the world, Ground Zero for educational controversies is textbook content. For example, the modern history textbooks for second- and third-year high school students in South Korea now in use were developed and written during the administration of the late President Roh Moo-hyon, and several have been criticized for being sympathetic to North Korea. The previous post touches on the near-taboo in that country of allowing textbooks to mention that the 35-year Japanese colonization/occupation/merger with Korea also had, to a certain extent, a beneficial impact on the lives of the general public. Former South Korean Foreign Minister Han Sung-moo was stripped of his position as professor emeritus at Korea University for daring to write an article suggesting that an honest reappraisal of Japan-Korea relations during that period was in order.

There is also a long tradition in Japan of hijacking public school textbooks to indoctrinate the nation’s youth. During first half of the 20th century, texts were used to glorify militarism to such an extent that even word problems in arithmetic used examples of soldiers and tanks rather than apples and oranges to provide instruction.

Japan’s neighbors, particularly South Korea, have closely monitored the country’s textbooks during the postwar period. The Japanese treatment of events on the Korean Peninsula in history textbooks became an issue in South Korea starting in the early 1970s. Korean demands of Japanese publishers for the modification of schoolbooks came to a head in 1982. On 5 August that year, a South Korean committee organized to examine the Japanese history curriculum completed its analysis of 16 new textbooks. The committee published a Japanese-language booklet cataloguing its objections to 167 citations in 24 categories and distributed it in this country. Mindan (The Korean Residents Union in Japan, a group closer to the South than the North) handled distribution of the booklet in Japan through its affiliated organizations.

As a result, the government of then-Prime Minister Suzuki Zenko had the Ministry of Education revise its standards for textbook certification to add what has become known as the Neighboring Nation Clause, which is still in effect today. It states:

“Consideration from the perspective of international understanding and international cooperation is required for the treatment of modern and recent historical matters involving neighboring Asian countries.”

The adoption and application of this clause has not resulted in a lessening of overseas complaints about Japanese textbooks, however. Rather, the focus of the complaints has shifted to the treatment of such topics as the Nanjing Massacre and comfort women. Indeed, it has become apparent that some elements in South Korea will not be satisfied unless they share in the complete oversight of Japanese history textbook publication. One can imagine their response were groups in Japan to demand the same influence over South Korean history texts.

All the textbooks under fire from overseas were written when the Japanese government was under the control of the largely center-right Liberal Democratic Party. After decades of controversy, one might think that officials of the Democratic Party of Japan, which leads the coalition now in control of the government, would be wary of overtly political content in textbooks. But that is not the case. Said Acting DPJ President Koshi’ishi Azuma in January:

“It is not possible to be politically neutral in education…We will change education through politics.”

Though these sentiments come close to calling for a violation of Japanese law, Mr. Koshi’ishi has made several similar comments over the past year. He has made it clear that he thinks political indoctrination is one of the roles of education. What sort of indoctrination? The DPJ acting president has long been affiliated with the Japanese Teachers’ Union (see right sidebar for link). Many members of that union may be even more militant, left-wing, and anxious to eliminate real educational achievement than their brothers and sisters in the teachers’ unions in the Anglosphere.

Kadena no

The DPJ hasn’t been in control of the government long enough to replace or modify the primary textbooks currently in use in public schools. But their allies in the JTU have published their own supplemental textbooks for use in the home, which they advertised on their website until very recently. One was a text offered for parents to use with their primary school-aged children for the study of arithmetic. The Japanese language link to that text was still live until September last year. Since then, however, the JTU has reworked their website and removed the overtly radical sections, perhaps to prevent their use in the campaign for the lower house election that was held in August.

Those eliminated sections can still be found floating around in the Internet ether, however, and here’s a link to one of the chapters in that arithmetic text. The lesson in this chapter is how to calculate the number or amount of something in a defined unit, i.e., population density per square kilometer. The introduction to the chapter says the following:

“In this chapter, we will use the multiplication and division methods we learned to study the American military base at Kadena and Kadena-cho in Okinawa. This will also include a study of geography, history, and peace. So let’s enjoy those parts of the lesson as we broaden our knowledge of multiplication and division.”

The Kadena Air Force Base is the home of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th wing and a hub for American air power in the Pacific. It is not located solely in Kadena-cho, but also covers parts of Chatan-cho and Okinawa City. Okinawans have long been involved in efforts to either move the base or restrict night flights due to the noise. The Hatoyama administration has recently gotten stuck in a controversy over another base at Futenma, squeezed from one side by the Japanese Left, members of its own coalition, and Okinawa residents, and squeezed from the other side by the U.S. government.

The first two questions in the JTU text contain explanations of how to calculate population density. Here is Question 3.

“The town of Kadena-cho is in the center of the main island of Okinawa Prefecture, which is the southernmost part of Japan. As of 1 October 2003, the population of the town was 13,766, and its area was 15 square kilometers. Let’s use what we’ve learned in the first two questions to calculate the town’s population density.”

The answer is 918 people per square kilometer.

There follows a box insert with a smiley face that says:

“It’s easy to understand from the answers to Questions 2 and 3 that Kadena-cho is much more crowded than the rest of Japan. But the real population density of Kadena-cho is very different. Why is that? The answer is related to historical and social factors. We’ll uncover that secret in Chapter 2.”

Here’s the big secret in Chapter 2:

There is a place in Kadena-cho that the residents are absolutely not allowed to enter. Do you know where that is?
The American military base at Kadena.

Next comes a boxed note called “Mini-Knowledge 1”:

“There is land in the town surrounded by a fence. That’s the Kadena base that came up in the answer. This land belongs to the people of Kadena, but it’s been decided that they cannot freely enter this land. The residents require a passport to enter. If they try to enter without permission, the American military police will arrest them.”

Subsequent questions and answers reveal that the base occupies 83% of the town’s area, which is used as the basis for the calculation of the town’s real population density of 5,398 people per square kilometer.

Finally, the boxed note of “Mini-Knowledge 2” has this instruction for the children:

“Fifty-nine years ago, the residents could freely enter or leave any part of Kadena-cho. But many American soldiers invaded Okinawa in April 1945 during the Second World War (here, literally the Pacific War), and occupied Kadena-cho. After the war, all the residents were held at far-away concentration camps, and the Americans arbitrarily installed a fence around the area to create a large military base (That’s the Kadena Base!)
The war has been over for 59 years now, but the land has not been returned to the people, and they still can’t enter that area. The Pacific War occurred a long time ago, so now most people probably think we are a peaceful nation. But we can’t say that the war in Okinawa is over at all.
What would you think if the town where you lived were like Kadena?”

Whether or not the Kadena base should be moved, or whether the population density of the town is intolerable, is not the point. Rather, it is that the JTU, which wants all American forces out of Japan, has eagerly adopted the educational practices of Imperial Japan—and China and North Korea—and uses textbooks for the political indoctrination of children.

It is clear that when the JTU complains about politics in Japanese schools, their real concern is not whether politics may have crept into the instruction, but rather the nature of that political instruction itself.

For an even greater irony, note again this section: “The war has been over for 59 years now…The Pacific War occurred a long time ago, so now most people probably think we are a peaceful nation.”

I could have written that passage myself (and in fact have written many like it at this site). Yet JTU members are the first in the country to get enuretic at the mere idea that Japanese troops should be equipped with defensive weapons and sent overseas to participate in UN peacekeeping missions. If anyone dares suggest that Article 9 of the Constitution should be amended to allow for legitimate self-defense, the laundry bill from their soiled underwear rivals the GNP of a minor island nation in the South Pacific.

Let’s be frank: This attitude is nothing less than an expression of the utmost contempt for their fellow countrymen. It is as if they think Japan is a nation of violent, abusive alcoholics that would fall off the wagon and start another rampage throughout East Asia if allowed a snack of one liqueur-flavored confection.

Or is it that they pine for a political alignment with North Korea and China, assuming they can stomach the market reforms of today’s China?

You think I exaggerate? Mr. Koshi’ishi was a member of the JTU when Makieda Motofumi was chairman. Mr. Makieda is the author of チュチェの国朝鮮を訪ねて (Visiting Joseon, the Country of Juche), in which he praised the North Korean educational system. It contains this passage:

“There are no thieves in this country. Thievery occurs in those places where there is a prejudice toward wealth. There is no need for thievery in this country. Since there is no thievery and no murder, there are also no police. There are only public safety personnel standing at the corners and intersections to direct traffic and deal with any injuries.”

He’s also written:

“After my visit to North Korea, whenever I’m asked whom I think is the most respected person in the world, I immediately bring up the name of Chairman Kim Il-sung. That’s because I have met him personally. I believe that he is loved by the people of his country, and is worthy to be revered by them as a father….Kim Jong-il is the duplicate of his father, and he can be trusted without reservation.”

Makieda Motofumi received a medal from North Korea in 1991.

He is also president of the Japan-China Skilled Workers Exchange Center of Japan, which he established in 1986. Mr. Makieda visited China in that capacity in 2007. He has also served as the Chairman of the Japan Committee for Supporting the Independent and Peaceful Reunification of Korea. As the head of that organization, he has said that “to promote Japan-DPRK friendship it is important for Japan to liquidate its past and establish good-neighbor and friendly relations with the DPRK”, according to the North Korean news agency.

One Japanese proverb that corresponds to the English language “Birds of a feather…” is Shu ni majiwareba akaku naru, or “Mix with vermillion and turn red.” Perhaps that’s even more appropriate in this case.

It should be no mystery why the members of the JTU become incensed when they are required to stand and sing the national anthem twice a year at school functions.

Neither should it be a mystery why many Japanese held their nose when they cast their vote for the DPJ in the lower house election. The only real mystery is why the South Koreans and Chinese get upset about history education in Japan when the classrooms are infested with people such as these.

Let’s hope the damage can be kept to a minimum during the DPJ’s turn at the helm.

Meanwhile, in the West, Roy Thomas in his book Japan: The Blighted Blossom, called Mr. Makieda “a liberal and humanist” who views education “as a force for social change”.

Thanks to Aki for the link and the info.

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4 Responses to “And now for a look at a Japanese textbook”

  1. KokuRyu said

    The real irony here is that, as every teacher knows, history textbooks are not particularly accurate or efficient tools for transmitting knowledge.

  2. The text book seems to leave out some interesting facts.

    Like the amount of money that the base and its personnel bring to the area. Or the fact that a US presence there means that the Japanese government is free to not spend money on a military. Or the fact that Okinawa never really belonged to Japan to in the first place, but was its own separate group of people. Or that the base is there thanks to a treaty signed by the Japanese government.


  3. Robert Meurant said

    Textbook sheds light on Khmer Rouge era

  4. Bob said

    “Like the amount of money that the base and its personnel bring to the area.”

    Yes, much of it straight from the Japanese taxpayer.

    “Or the fact that a US presence there means that the Japanese government is free to not spend money on a military.”

    Where does that 40 some billion dollars go? And how does Japan pay for those ships and planes that it does maintain?

    “Or the fact that Okinawa never really belonged to Japan to in the first place, but was its own separate group of people.”

    Well, you might be able to string that argument along until 1879, but all the Okinawans who reply to opinion polls saying that they are Japanese, and the Okinawan reversion movement pre-1972 would probably have a hard time agreeing with you there.

    “Or that the base is there thanks to a treaty signed by the Japanese government.”

    ooo, you got me there. But which treaty are you talking about? The one that Japan signed while it had no control over its sovereignty, or the one where its pro-U.S. leader kicked everybody who disagreed with its ratification out of the legislative chamber?


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