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Japanese politician pressures school principal about the use of history textbook explaining ‘comfort women’

By Nevin Thompson

On Friday, August 4, 2017, the topic of history textbooks took over Japanese Twitter. The phrase “why was this textbook selected” (教科書なぜ採択) briefly trended on Twitter after a local newspaper in Kobe in western Japan reported that a local politician and member of the government questioned how and why a prestigious middle school chose a new history textbook, prompting fears of political pressure over the education system. A subsequent hashtag also briefly trended, “they included descriptions of the ‘comfort women’” (#慰安婦の記述を残した).

In World War II, up to 200,000 women from more than ten countries across Asia were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army. These women were euphemistically called ianfu (‘comfort women’) in Japanese, and have long been a source of political controversy.

According to a story published on August 4 by the Kobe Shimbun, Moriyama Masahito, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who serves as a deputy justice minister and represents the affluent city of Nishinomiya to the east of Kobe, asked why Nada Middle School had chosen a textbook called “Studying Human History Together” (ともに学ぶ人間の歴史).

Moriyama Masahito asked Nada Middle School “Why was this textbook selected?” (Reported by Kobe Shimbun NEXT)

#they included descriptions of the ‘comfort women‘” Middle school history textbook “Studying Human History Together”, Manabisha (Schoolhouse) edition.

灘中に「教科書なぜ採択」盛山衆院議員ら問い合わせ(神戸新聞NEXT) – https://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20170804-00000001-kobenext-l28  唯一、 中学歴史教科書『ともに学ぶ人間の歴史』(「学び舎」出版)

Nada Middle School is affiliated and co-located with a prestigious high school in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, that routinely sends its graduates to top-ranking universities in Japan and abroad. In fact, Moriyama is a graduate of the school, and, as an “old boy”and member of the government, can be expected to wield considerable influence at the school.

As Kobe Shimbun observed:

On the Internet, worried voices wondered:  “Isn’t this political pressure?”

インターネット上でも「政治圧力ではないか」と問題視する声が上がっている

According to Kobe Shimbun, Moriyama had a problem with the fact the history textbook selected for Nada Middle School described the ‘comfort women’ issue. During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army had forced women in several Asian countries, known as ‘comfort women’, to work in military-run brothels.

comfort women

This picture taken on February 1, 2017 shows statues symbolising the so-called “comfort women” in a park in Shanghai. Photo AFP / Johannes Eisele.

However, the problem Moriyama and others have with the textbook is not that it mentions the ‘comfort women’ issue. Instead, according to the Kobe Shimbun article, the problem is that the textbook includes a short description of the Japanese government’s 1993 “Kono Statement.” In the Kono Statement, the Japanese government acknowledged that the Japanese army coerced women into working in brothels, but some conservative politicians and commentators in Japan such as Moriyama still dispute the Japanese government’s role.

According to Kobe Shimbun:

Nada Middle selected Gakubisha’s history textbook “Studying Human History Together” (ともに学ぶ人間の歴史). The textbook was written by current faculty and alumni of Nada High School, and includes details of the ‘comfort women’ issue that are not included in other (middle school) history textbooks. Then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei published regrets to former ‘comfort women’ in a document known as the Kono Statement.

At the same time, the current Japanese government’s position is that “there is no evidence of Japanese military or government coercion.”

同校が採択したのは、「学び舎(しゃ)」の歴史教科書「ともに学ぶ人間の歴史」。教科書は現役教員やOBらが執筆し、他社で記述がない慰安婦問題に言及。1993年に河野洋平官房長官(当時)が元慰安婦へのおわびと反省を表明した「河野談話」を載せ、併せて「軍や官憲によるいわゆる強制連行を直接示すような資料は発見されていない」と現在の政府見解も取り上げている。

Kobe Shimbun noted that Nada Middle School’s new textbook had been approved by Hyogo Prefectural Board of Education for use in schools, although Nada Middle School was the only school to use the textbook. Other observers have noted that, despite perceptions from outside of Japan and pressure from right-leaning politicians, Japanese history textbooks offer a rather dry chronology of events without much interpretive narrative.

Moriyama was not the only Japanese politician or alumnus of the school to complain about the textbook. Kobe Shimbun noted that a year ago, Wada Yuichiro, a member of the Hyogo Prefectural (state) Assembly representing a ward in Kobe, had also complained to the school principal, Wada Magohiro about the selection of the textbook. In a letter published onto the Internet (the full letter can be read here), the principal said he felt “unfairly pressured” (謂れのない圧力) from both politicians, as well as a letter-writing campaign protesting the textbooks that saw at least 200 postcards sent to the school.

comfort women protest 2011

Demonstrations demanding that Japan redress the comfort women problem are held weekly in front of the Japanese embassy in Korea in the presence of surviving comfort women. Photo: Claire Solery/Wikicommons.

According to Kobe Shimbun, both Moriyama and Wada have denied any connection to the letter-writing campaign, while Moriyama has stated he was simply making his feelings known as an “old boy,” rather than as a member of the government.

While criticisms over the selection of the textbook at Nada Middle School have been ongoing for about a year, Kobe Shimbun first reported on the controversy on August 4, shortly after Wada Magohiro published his letter. The Kobe Shimbun story quickly became a national story, getting picked up by Yahoo! News and other outlets, as well as on blogs and by Japanese Twitter users.

One Twitter user observed that the feud over textbooks at Nada Middle School comes at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is being hammered in opinion polls in part because of a shady land deal that benefited ultra-conservative and ultra-nationalist organization Moritomo Gakuen that teaches emperor worship.

Moriyama Masahito asked Nada Middle School “Why was this textbook selected?” (Reported by Kobe Shimbun NEXT)

I thought that ever since the Moritomo Gakuen issue the consensus has been that political intervention in education is undesirable???

灘中に「教科書なぜ採択」盛山衆院議員ら問い合わせ(神戸新聞NEXT) – Yahoo!ニュース 森友案件以降、政治的に好ましくない教育内容には介入して良いというコンセンサスが得られていたのではなかったか???

This article originally appeared on Global Voices.

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Japanese politician pressures school principal about the use of history textbook explaining ‘comfort women’