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Japanese Schoolbooks Anger S. Korea, China

Militaristic Past Is Seen as Whitewashed

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 6, 2005; Page A15

TOKYO, April 5 -- The Education Ministry on Tuesday approved a controversial new series of school textbooks that critics say whitewash Japan's militaristic past. The move ignited immediate outrage among some of the country's World War II-era victims.

The Chinese ambassador, Wang Yi, lodged a protest with Japan's Foreign Ministry, while officials in Beijing blamed a violent anti-Japanese protest there over the weekend on Japan's "irresponsible attitude" toward history.

South Korean boys rally by the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to protest Japan's approval of school history texts, which critics say ignore wartime aggression. (Kim Kyung Hoon -- Reuters)

Outrage was fiercest Tuesday in South Korea, where President Roh Moo Hyun has warned of a "diplomatic war" with Japan following Tokyo's reassertion of its claims to a small group of islands that are held by South Korea.

Japanese officials said they made changes to parts of the new textbooks to clarify points about Japan's colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. But South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lee Kyu Hyung, said the newly approved texts were still "far from sufficient when universal values and historic truth are taken into account."

The statements and counterstatements were the latest chapter in a decades-long feud between Japan and its neighbors over questions of the island's wartime guilt and responsibility. Critics, mostly in the two Koreas and China, contend that Japan has consistently denied its wartime aggression.

The outcry intensified in 2001 after the Education Ministry here approved a new junior high textbook that was drafted by a group of Japanese nationalists and that omitted key details about Japan's wartime atrocities. The book has since been adopted by a handful of Japanese schools.

On Tuesday, the Education Ministry approved a newer edition of the same text that critics say further distorts the past and portrays imperial Japan as a liberator rather than an occupier of its Asian neighbors. The text shuns the word "invasion," for instance, and leaves out critical accounts of events such as the Japanese army's massacre of civilians in Nanking, China, in 1937.

Other texts for the 2006 school year were toned down. The term "comfort women" -- a euphemism for wartime sex slaves, mostly from Korea and China -- disappeared from all eight junior high history books approved by the national government Tuesday. One book maintained a reference to wartime "comfort stations" for Japanese soldiers. In contrast, all 2001 editions of the books had specific references to the practice of sexual slavery, according to Japan's Kyodo news service.

The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which drafted the most controversial of the new books, hailed the approvals as in step with current thinking in Japan.

Some schoolbook publishers and government officials have argued that it is time to remove "self-deprecating" historical references. That argument has troubled Japan's neighbors because it comes at a time when Japan continues to move away from postwar pacifism and is considering changing its U.S.-drafted constitution, in which it renounced the right to maintain a military.

The government approved "the textbook that most faithfully reflects the goal . . . of deepening love towards our country's history," the society said in a statement.

In Seoul, a cluster of about 3,000 angry demonstrators picketed the Japanese Embassy and burned effigies of the Japanese ambassador. Authorities stopped one Korean man from stabbing himself in protest of the new texts.

"The Republic of Korea expresses regret over the fact that some of the 2006 Japanese middle school textbooks . . . still contain content that justifies and glorifies wrongs committed in the past," the South Korean Embassy in Japan said in a statement.

Such sentiments were echoed by people in Japan concerned about resurgent right-wing nationalism. Japanese opponents said on Tuesday that they would fight adoption of the texts by local school boards.

Calling for a "restraint from emotions," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi neither criticized nor applauded Tuesday's decision. The Education Ministry is headed by one of his most conservative cabinet members, Nariaki Nakayama.

Special correspondent Sachiko Sakamaki contributed to this report.

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