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Japan’s new teaching guidelines damaging for future generations

Japanese education ministry’s move to issue new curriculum guidelines to teach students that China’s Diaoyu Islands and a group of disputed islets controlled by South Korea are “inherent” territories of Japan has riled the international community, and is further evidence of Japan’s continued efforts to whitewash history.

In an unprecedented move, the education ministry is now opting to state in its legally binding guidelines that China’s Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and the Takeshima islands in the Sea of Japan, known in South Korea as Dokdo, are “inherent” parts of Japanese territory.

In doing so, it threatens to severely warp historical facts and the minds of future generations here.

The controversial guidelines will be formally published in March and fully implemented for elementary schools from fiscal 2020 and for junior high schools in fiscal 2021. The most prominent revision was that Japan’s official position on the Diaoyu Islands is that there is “no dispute” over their sovereignty.

Ties between Japan and its closest neighbors have been particularly strained of late regarding Japan’s unrelenting effort to whitewash its history, not just in terms of its diplomatic and political stance on issues of history and territory, but also owing to its ardent push to institutionalize its wrongful agenda. The education ministry has repeatedly implemented the dilution of facts in its humanities textbooks such as downplaying the Nanjing massacre in line with the rightwing, revisionist agenda of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Nanjing Massacre

Abe has, on a number of occasions, stated that Japanese young people do not have to keep apologizing in the future for Japan’s atrocities committed before and during World War II, exposing his absolute reluctance to face up to history, and his dedication to delivering misguided and unsound messages to the younger generations here.

In March, 2016, the education ministry revised some passages of junior high school text books regarding Japan’s World War II barbarities, much to the consternation of the international community and historians, who have presented the truth of the matter on countless occasions and through numerous reputable outlets, including highly respected history books, journals and through international media.

Experts close to the textbook controversy have stated that Japan daring to dispute the facts of the Nanjing Massacre is nothing short of churlishness and a reflection of the current administration’s ever-right leaning ideology and obsessive fixation with trying to rewrite history. The Nanjing Massacre in 1937 saw the Imperial Japanese Army steamroll through the then capital of China and savagely murder as many as 300,000 civilians and unarmed combatants in one of the bloodiest, most barbaric campaigns known in history.

“Senior politicians and bureaucrats connected to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have publicly declared their skepticism or outright denial that the Nanjing Massacre ever occurred, and for those of us who speak with authority on matters of history and undertake our own independent studies to achieve the truth, while conversing with the best historical minds the globe over, such attitudes are disgusting,” pacific affairs research analyst, Laurent Sinclair, previously told Xinhua.

Whitewashing

“The events that occurred in 1937 involving the hundreds of thousands of lives lost at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army is one of the world’s most unforgivable tragedies, and the massacre was well documented by global media including the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Chicago Daily News and other respected outlets,” Sinclair said, adding that refuting the incident, the severity, or the numbers of civilians slaughtered is wholly undignified and a clear sign of Japan’s inherent inability to face up to its past.

In 2015, the education ministry announced it had authorized textbooks for use in junior high schools’ social studies classes that contained content that served to fan the flames of historical and territorial disharmony between Japan and its closest neighbors. Two years ago, as is still the case now, at the crux of the controversy is the textbooks’ content overtly toeing the rightwing, revisionist line of the current administration.

The approved textbooks reflected the government’s equivocal view that the contested islands are inherently Japan’s and the teachers who use them will now be under legal pressure to pass on the government’s misguided message.

“Territory-related descriptions in school textbooks have certainly been on the rise in the recent past and this is worrisome, as teachers are duty-bound to teach a prescribed curriculum even if it’s one that has been politicized by the government,” David McLellan, a professor emeritus of postgraduate Asian Studies formerly told Xinhua.

“Disputes over land or territory are nothing new in the world, but in terms of education, progressive countries tend to firstly concede there is in fact a dispute in the first place as a point of historical fact, and then present a balanced view of the situation to better inform the students, rather than dictate to them,” he said.

Political observers have highlighted further instances of, not just the whitewashing of historical acts of aggression and brutal behavior by Japan, but, again, the removal of Japan as the perpetrator. Previous content in the textbooks that stated, “... Japan’s acts of atrocity were condemned ...” have been entirely deleted from the latest editions.

On the land survey during Japan’s occupation of Korea, previous textbooks stated that the move was, “under the banner of modernizing Korea,” but subsequent books described the move as, “...with the purpose of modernization ...”

And the Imperial Japanese Army forcing Okinawans to commit mass suicide at the end of the Battle of Okinawa has been phrased in new textbooks as, “...many Okinawans falling into a hopeless situation of suicide ...” Education experts like Hidenori Fujita have stated that historical and geographical education here is rapidly going awry.

Militaristic connotations

The Kyoei University professor has said that textbooks here lack balance and fail to represent the feelings of unjustness from countries like China and South Korea, and are lacking in detail about the specific claims from non-Japanese parties regarding issues of territory and history.

In one such example, the Manchurian Incident was barely mentioned on one page in a textbook, and the Nanjing Massacre, “comfort women” issue and even the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are barely footnotes in the textbooks. Some experts speaking with authority on the matter have accused Abe of flaunting his revisionist, militaristic and imperialistic stance and in doing so mocking his detractors.

They also maintain the textbooks and the education ministry in particular are also forcing nationalism onto children by way of requiring them to “get familiar with the national anthem and flag ...” both of which have overt militaristic connotations.

“Of course subjects like mathematics and science are taught differently, particularly the former, as learning a particular formula will always lead to the same objective results. Put simply, one plus one will always equal two,” explained McLellan.

“But the social sciences are supposed to develop critical thinking and interpretation, not spoon feed children rewritten governmental indoctrination. This is hugely irresponsible and dangerous and not in the best interests of raising and educating children to become balanced global citizens,” said the expert.

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