ABES is too strict for students

Japan : New school books annoy the neighbors

When Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Japan at the beginning of March, she addressed not only energy policy and trade relations, but also the common war past of both countries: “There was a great willingness in Germany to call things by their names,” said the Chancellor during a discussion with students and professors in Tokyo. Without mentioning it, it became clear what Merkel meant: In Japan, one should speak more openly about events up to 1945 in order not to make oneself unpopular in the East Asian region.

An old topic comes up again

In Japan, on the other hand, there are occasional complaints that the country's neighbors have not forgiven the country for the aggressions of World War II to this day. But this is also due to the fact that Japan is going its own way in dealing with the past. A controversial example of this is education policy, which has been repeatedly criticized by China and South Korea, which were once violently subjugated by Tokyo, and which has always been a burden on relations between these countries. Now there is new cause for excitement: The new history books for middle school students introduced at the beginning of the week, in which the representation of the Second World War has been revised in particular.
An old topic tears up again. The Chinese news agency Xinhua described the steps as revisionist and the government of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as “increasingly right-leaning”. Kwang-Il Noh, spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said: "If you pass on twisted territorial views to the next generation, the risk of making past mistakes again increases." But there is also criticism in Japan. Hidenori Fujita, professor at Kyoei University, told the public broadcaster NHK, “Social issues are complex and allow more than one view. It doesn't help to mention just one point of view. ”The new textbooks, however, relied almost exclusively on the controversial view of the Japanese government.

The issue of forced prostitution

The new books, which are to be used from the coming school year, often mention Japan's territorial claims to areas that other countries also consider to be their property. These include the Senkaku archipelago, which Japan administers but also claims China and Taiwan, and the South Korean-controlled Takeshima islands, which the Tokyo government regards as Japanese. The Nanking massacre, in which, according to Chinese figures, Japanese soldiers killed around 300,000 Chinese in 1937, should continue to be described as an "incident" rather than a massacre.

In addition, passages were deleted in which, among other things, a former "comfort woman" reported on her experience in the war. The so-called "comfort women" were forced prostitutes in the Japanese colonies, especially in Korea, who served Japanese soldiers. The new book now says that, strictly speaking, there is no hard evidence that the comfort women were coercion. Affected women have been protesting in front of the Japanese embassy in South Korea every week for years in order to obtain clearer official recognition from Japan.

Conservatives are gaining influence

The new textbooks are the first revisions since new guidelines came into effect last year. However, it is not the first time that the country has recently reconsidered its education policy with reference to the war past. It is important to the right-wing conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not to let historiography be dictated too much from the outside. Since he took office at the end of 2012, books that critically deal with Japan's role in World War II have also been removed from the educational canon. One of the best-known examples of this is the pacifist manga classic "Hadashi no Gen" (German version: Barefoot Gen), which is set in Hiroshima after the fall of the atomic bomb.

Conservative historians have regained influence in Japan. And the criticism from Beijing and Seoul does not go down well in Tokyo. The cabinet secretary of the government, Yoshihide Suga, emphasized that all the contents of the books had been examined by experts, without political intentions and true to national teaching guidelines. In addition, nothing has changed in the Japanese attitude towards territorial issues. Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura also said that children must have correct knowledge about their country and its territory in order to live in a global world. Shimomura would also like to speak to his colleagues from Korea and China on this subject. If they still want to listen.

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