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Abe drops Okinawa visit to focus on earthquake

Date Posted: 2007-07-20

A campaign visit to Okinawa by Shinzo Abe was abruptly canceled Monday to allow the Prime Minister to concentrate on disaster relief efforts following an earthquake in Niigata Prefecture.

The embattled Abe was to have visited Naha City to shore up House of Councilor incumbent Junshiro Nishime's reelection campaign. The Prime Minister’s popularity has dropped dangerously across the country, but perhaps nowhere more than in Okinawa, where his administration’s stance on textbook revisions has irritated citizens.

Abe has supported his Ministry of Education’s directive to revise school textbooks, removing references that Japanese soldiers were responsible for encouraging Okinawans to commit suicide during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, rather than surrender to Americans. The textbook decision angers Okinawans who see the move as tampering with history.

Opposition candidate Keiko Itokazu bluntly blames Abe for the move. “Shinzo Abe’s policy on this matter is wrong,” she says. “He and his government are trying to mock Okinawan people, and we will never give up on this matter.” Itokazu adds “If the Ministry of Education insists on cutting this fact from the textbooks, we should demand the prime minister step down.”

Even Nishime, the Liberal Democracy Party’s man now holding the House of Councilors seat, doesn’t agree with the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Education. “The involvement of the Japanese Military in the mass suicides should not be cut from the high school history books. They should remain in the books,” Nishime said at a Sunday rally. The Okinawa Prefecture Assembly has issued an unprecedented two resolutions expressing outrage at the Ministry decision, and local communities have also voted in favor of similar resolutions.

The Ministry of Education spokesman insists the changes are necessary because the current statements about the Japanese Imperial Army’s role in the suicides cannot be confirmed as fact. “We cannot be absolutely sure that civilians were ordered to commit suicide by the Japanese military, as no documents have been found,” the spokesman said. “Thus, it might not be true.”

Okinawans who survived the battle vividly recall the 1945 circumstances differently. Virtually every survivor has testified he or she witnessed the incidents that the Japanese soldiers gave the orders to villagers to commit suicide, and have repeatedly testified about their recollections. “Without such an order,” several elderly Okinawans said again this week, “those mass suicides would never have happened.”

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