Japan rejects professor's fight for freedom of speech

Richard Lloyd Parry

Tokyo

"What country does he think he comes from? He's a twisted Japanese," barked the man with the Rising Sun headband. "If he's as holy as Jesus Christ why doesn't he go to America and tell them about the massacre they carried out in Hiroshima?" On the other side of the road, next to the Supreme Court, was another group of demonstrators, with a different point of view. "He's a hero," said one old man. "So many Japanese of my generation refused to face up to the truth of what happened in the war. But thanks to the professor, no one can do that anymore."

Both had cause for satisfaction when the man in question walked out of the courtroom. Yesterday, the epic struggle of Professor Saburo Ienaga, who took on the Japanese government on the issue of school textbook censorship, came to the end in a mixture of victory and defeat.

"Almost no one wins a lawsuit against the government," Professor Ienaga once said. "I did not start this thinking I could win." But over the course of 32 years he has done more than anyone to highlight the issue of censorship and the way in which Japan's educators teach their own history.

It began in 1965 when Professor Ienaga, now a frail 83, brought a case against the Ministry of Education over a school textbook which he had written. All such texts must be screened by the ministry for factual errors and what it perceives as bias. In practice, according to the professor and his supporters, the process serves to eliminate from the education of children important historical facts highlighting the dark side of Japan's past, especially the atrocities perpetrated by its troops during wartime.

In three separate cases, fought to the bitter end over three decades, the professor has contested dozens of examples of this screening, and won only four. Four years ago, the ministry was judged to be wrong when it asked Professor Ienaga to alter a reference to the Nanking massacre, and to delete a reference to rapes perpetrated by Imperial soldiers on the startling grounds that "it is common throughout the world for troops to rape women during wartime". Yesterday, in a three-to-two ruling, the Supreme Court also acknowledged the existence of Unit 731, a notorious secret operation which infected Chinese prisoners with bubonic plague and dissected their bodies while they were still alive. For these victories, Professor Ienaga has won token damages of 400,000 yen (pounds 2,100).

But the court rejected his claim that textbook screening is itself unconstitutional, a violation of freedom of speech and education. Dozens of other examples of interference have over the years been upheld. The ministry's sensitivities are not limited to Japanese atrocities, but to implicit criticism of the Imperial family, and of government policies in general. A reference to the effects on forests of Japan's massive timber imports had to be watered down, and at one point the ministry seemed to be defending not just Japan's war conduct but war itself. The photograph of a mutilated war veteran with prostheses instead of arms and legs, conveyed, it complained, "an excessively negative impression of war".

Despite his partial defeat, in his ninth decade Professor Ienaga does not plan to begin any more legal battles. But the controversies over the textbooks is hotter than ever. In Yokohama, another author is in the midst of a similar case. Meanwhile, support is growing among conservative MPs and right-wing academics for a movement objecting to the "masochistic" history favoured by the professor. "This is the end of the professor's case, but the movement goes on," said Norifumi Tateishi, one of the professor's lawyers."The effort will be continued by supporters, textbook writers, teachers, students, publishers, academics."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy