The Japanese government is poised to announce the results of a review of junior high school history textbooks that are expected to anger its regional neighbors, just as a surge of goodwill reached Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami there. The textbooks repeat various Japanese claims to the territories of its neighbors, including Korea's Dokdo islets, the Kuril Islands, which are held by Russia, and the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, over which Tokyo is in a dispute with Beijing. The awkward timing of the announcement has raised many eyebrows, but Japan says it is all part of due process.
◆ The Wheels of Government
The Japanese government has apparently asked the Korean government through unofficial channels to "understand" the review process. Tokyo says the textbook review is part of a process that has happened like clockwork every four years for the last 60 years, from official notification to editing, review, school selection and distribution. It says the schedule was announced a year ago and is not a matter the government can interfere with at will.
Japan's neighbors are unlikely to accept the excuse. They see the review as part of a long, stealthy process that started in 2000, when the nationalist-minded Liberal Democratic Party was in power and decided to pursue legal changes that would stress patriotism in education. The party took the view that educational policies were creating a sense of defeatism among students by putting the blame for the Pacific War squarely on Japan.
Academics and civic groups protested, fearing a revival of militaristic education, but six years later then-prime minister Shinzo Abe quietly pushed the legal changes through. The new education law puts renewed focus on patriotism and authorizes government intervention in determining the content of school textbooks.
◆ Official Policy
Guidelines for teachers and other instructional handbooks published by the Education Ministry in 2008 and 2009 call for Japan's claims to Dokdo to be made clear to pupils. The first result of the changes was a review of elementary textbooks in March last year that stated the claims, and now junior high school textbooks have followed and high school textbooks are up next year.
That could be explained as the long reach of a rightwing government now out of power, but in April, the 2011 edition of Japan's Diplomatic Blue Book will be unveiled, and that is almost certain to describe Dokdo as part of Japanese territory. Japan's Defense White Paper, set for release around July, is also expected to contain the same reference.
That is why critics suspect that the territorial claims are not merely resurfacing at this time of devastation because the wheels of government grind on inexorably, but are directly related to Tokyo's official diplomatic stance.