Asian Anger Still Simmers over Japanese History Views ; on the Anniversary of Japan's Surrender, a Shrine Visit and New Book Draw More Protests

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Japan marked the 56th anniversary of its surrender at the end of World War II yesterday. The commemorations came amid increasing regional tensions over how the country views its historical place in Asia during the first half of the 20th century.

Two days after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited a controversial Shinto shrine dedicated to Japan's war dead - including 14 convicted war criminals, whose memory is an affront to many of Japan's neighbors - five members of his cabinet and some 120 lawmakers visited the shrine on the date he had avoided in hopes of quelling a regional outcry.

While the visit nonetheless sparked protests from China, South Korea, and other Asian countries that Japan colonized before World War II, a far less telegenic news story unfolded on the same day. The country's new middle-school textbook, the source of outrage for Asian neighbors who suffered under Japanese occupation, was only adopted by six public school districts out of a total 532 nationwide, according to a poll done by NHK, Japan's state- sponsored broadcaster. That development casts doubt on all the criticism heaped on Japanese leaders for encouraging neo- nationalist tendencies in Japan.

Yesterday, in addition to being the day when Japanese solemnly marked the loss of almost two-and-a-half million lives in World War II, also marked the deadline for Japanese school districts to report which textbooks they will use this fall. And by all accounts, teachers and parents appear to have virtually rejected attempts by revisionist historians to provide a view of Japan's history that many here and abroad view as dangerously sanitized.

Textbook success

Shinichi Arai, an opponent of the revised textbooks from the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan's War Responsibility, says activists were successful in their campaign to stop the textbooks - one of seven available for use in school districts - from being adopted for the 2001-2002 school year. The new book was authorized for use, he says, after Japan's education ministry was pressured into approving it by right-wing special- interest groups.

"They failed to recognize the power of civil society," says Professor Arai, who teaches Contemporary Cultures at Surugadai University. "In this situation, the textbook problem was handled well.... The Japanese do not want to wake a sleeping dog.... They like to choose the middle and like peace at any price."

The textbooks, which were approved earlier this year, removed references to "comfort women" - women forced to serve as sex slaves to Japanese troops - and calls parts of WWII "the Great East Asia War". "It also removed references to other dark chapters of the war, such as the "Rape of Nanking," deemed too disturbing for middle-school students to read. …