Letter: Schoolbook version of Japanese history

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The Independent Online
Sir: In your leading article 'History as seen from Tokyo' (22 March) you made some sweeping assertions about textbooks in Japanese schools, criticising the system of authorisation and suggesting that there is a conscious policy to have textbooks misinform schoolchildren or keep them ignorant about the Second World War. I would appreciate the opportunity to put the record straight on this matter.

It is clearly admitted in Japanese textbooks that Japan colonised or occupied Korea, China and Southeast Asia. One textbook used in primary schools, for instance, gives an account of the war between Japan and China, what happened in Nanking and the forced migration of Korean and Chinese people, with photographs carrying such captions as 'Japanese army invading Nanking', 'Korean children being taught in Japanese' and 'Japanese army occupying a city in Southeast Asia'.

The Japanese government has stipulated that the modern history of Japan's relations with its neighbours be treated from the standpoint of international understanding and co-operation, and the Ministry of Education has made every effort to comply with this criterion by giving due substance and accuracy to its descriptions of events. As an illustration of its seriousness in this regard, in the course of the textbook authorisation process during the 1991 school year, the wording 'history of troubles inflicted' was changed to 'history of unbearable suffering inflicted' (on Japan's neighbours).

You referred in your editorial to the case brought by Mr Saburo Ienaga, the author of New Japanese History.

In fact, the draft textbook which he wrote in 1962 contained more than 300 mistakes and inappropriate expressions, of which he himself acknowledged about 100. Without regard for the book's value or otherwise as a work of research, it did not win authorisation because it was deemed unsuitable as a textbook to be used by schoolchildren.

The principle underlying decisions on textbook authorisation is that, since schoolchildren are in the process of development and therefore impressionable, it is particularly important that they be educated on the basis of accuracy, objectivity and neutrality.

Yours sincerely,



Japan Information and

Cultural Centre Counsellor

Embassy of Japan

London, W1

7 April