A Textbook Demonstration … In Japan

Japan’s history problem (歴史問題, rekishi mondai) is well-known in Asia, and it’s a common topic of discussion in Japanese political journals. Many are familiar with international criticism of Japan’s reckoning with its 20th century aggression, and the repeated approval by the Education Ministry of textbooks that underplay or gloss over the Nanjing Massacre and other incidents has been a cause for diplomatic and public protests in China since the 1980s.

Most recently, in April 2005, Beijing saw what media* reported to be the largest protest the city had seen since 1989. Anti-Japan demonstrations in 2005 began with an online petition against Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), but a quieter campaign was in the works calling for a boycott of Japanese businesses that they said supported a nationalist group in Japan known as the Committee to Make New History Textbooks (新しい歴史教科書を作る会, atarashii rekishi kyoukasho wo tsukuru kai)—Tsukurukai for short.

Then, a new edition of Tsukurukai‘s textbook was approved by the Education Ministry. This coincided with an shift in the rhetoric of both the Chinese government and demonstrators in Beijing and elsewhere. The highest estimates of how many attended the largest Beijing protest were around 20,000.

But, the Japanese textbook protest does not oppose denials of Japanese atrocities outside of Japan…

This week in Japan’s distant island prefecture of Okinawa, 110,000 people reportedly turned out to protest the removal of language from seven history textbooks. The passage in question has to do with whether a mass suicide by Okinawans occurred with “military coercion.” (Coercion is a key term these days in Japanese historical politics. Abe Shinzo tried to get himself out of trouble over his “comfort women” statements by squabbling over the definition of “coercion.”)

I have not studied the Okinawa incident in question, nor have I watched closely the politics behind this dispute, so I can’t speak to the facts. But here are some other places to look:

  • Ampontan has explored it at some length and his post includes background on the battle over the specific passages and language.
  • Shisaku has a comment (with photo) and links to a Canadian Press story
  • … which reports that this is the largest protest on Okinawa since the United States returned it to Japan in 1972. The runner up? “In 1995, 85,000 people took part in a rally following the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl there by three American servicemen, according to [Kyodo News].”

The size of demonstrations isn’t usually of great interest to me, but it certainly is useful to remember that Japanese textbooks don’t just rile Chinese and Koreans.

* This was mentioned in various places. Here’s one. Jiangtao Shi and Jane Cai, “Japanese Warned to Avoid Campuses; Embassy Urges Its Citizens to Stay Away after Call on Students to Protest in Beijing Today,” South China Morning Post, April 9, 2005.





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