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Ministry passes the buck on textbooks

Date Posted: 2007-10-05

Seemingly shaken by the power of Saturday’s massive Okinawa demonstration demanding history textbook changes be reversed, Japan’s education minister opened the door to permit original descriptions of mass suicides during the Battle of Okinawa to be reinstated.

Kisaburo Tokai, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports and Science, appeared to bow to pressure applied by more than 110,000 Okinawans who rallied last weekend to let Tokyo know of their anger. Tokai’s education ministry in March ordered textbook publishers to remove language describing how Japanese soldiers provided Okinawans hand grenades, and ordered them to use the grenades to commit group suicides rather than be captured by American soldiers during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Speaking with reporters in Tokyo Tuesday, Tokai didn’t make his decision simple, or clear. He described how the original language could be brought back to history textbooks, but put the responsibility onto the publishers’ shoulders to request corrections. Saying “we are ready to reconsider textbook changes authorized by the research council’s opinion,” the education minister noted there are no other books in print that describe Japanese soldiers committed the acts of giving grenades to citizens and telling them to use them.

The education ministry order effectively removed all references to Imperial Japanese Army involvement in mass suicides during the Spring 1945 battle. Okinawan survivors of that battle have repeatedly described publicly that the orders for mass suicides came from Japanese soldiers, noting that the hand grenades could never have been obtained by Okinawans except from the Japanese military.

Textbook publishers are reacting unhappily to Tokai’s new statements, charging it isn’t their responsibility to make changes to history. The education ministry wants the publishers to request changes back to the original language, instead of simply telling them to make them. “Without the education ministry’s opinion, from our side there’s no need to apply the correction,” one publisher says. “The ministry should tell us to make the corrections, and we shouldn’t have to do it from our side.”

Three of the five textbook publishers said the public outcry and large demonstration “was kind of a shock for us. We do think carefully”, and get the message, said a publisher. “We are ready to correct our textbooks, and will apply to the ministry.”

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