Tokyo Teacher Embattled over War History ; City Official Said Japan Never Invaded Korea. Teacher Demurs

By Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Tokyo Teacher Embattled over War History ; City Official Said Japan Never Invaded Korea. Teacher Demurs


Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Miyako Masuda is a 23-year veteran of public schools here. Like many Japanese history teachers of her generation, she dislikes new textbooks that frame Japan as the victim in World War II. It bothers her that books claiming America caused the war are now adopted by an entire city ward. In fact, Masuda disapproves of the whole nationalist direction of Tokyo public schools.

Yet until last year, Masuda, who calls herself "pretty ordinary," rarely went out of her way to disagree. Few teachers do.

But when a Tokyo city councilman in an official meeting said "Japan never invaded Korea," her history class sent an apology to Korean President Roh Moo-hyan - an action that sparked her removal from her classroom.

The war history dispute in Asia is now so front-and-center that it was cited by South Korea as a reason to avoid an upcoming December visit to Japan by Mr. Roh. Alongside the diplomatic row, the Masuda case shows how nationalist policies are creeping into the minutiae of daily life in Japan's capital city.

Masuda, who says her two sons have Korean friends, got censured after her class did a study group on Japan's occupation of Korea. Her social studies class wrote a letter of apology to Roh, and sent it to the Korean Embassy in Toyko. In a cover letter, Masuda said that councilman Koga Toshiaki's remarks were "a disgrace" by objective historical standards, but "regrettably [they] can be presented proudly as a triumph in the assembly of Tokyo, the capital of this country."

The class never heard from the Korean consul. But Masuda did hear from the Tokyo Board of Education. Her letter was discovered by a Yasukuni shrine support group and they complained to city officials. Masuda was told that while Mr. Koga did speak in public, it was "inappropriate" for Masuda to repeat his name in a letter that was not private, and a violation of city employee codes.

Masuda is now ordered to spend her days in a small room studying public servant regulations, a serious humiliation she says. She in turn is trying to fight in court.

Masuda's experience shows the growing power of Japanese nationalists, and their grass-roots influence in Tokyo, analysts say.

For example, last month Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi positioned his ultranationalist protege Shinzo Abe to be his successor, after Mr. Koizumi steps down in September. Mr. Abe, like Tokyo's hugely popular Mayor Ishihara, is a fan of the Tsukuru-Kai history textbooks that seek to restore a proud Japan by rewriting the past. Mr. Ishihara, for his part, directly appoints all six Tokyo school board members.

Tokyo schools reflect nationalist views: children pledging allegiance to the emperor as in the 1930s, school board members supporting Yasakuni shrine visits, and curriculums failing to mention Japan's invasion of Korea or China.

Masuda, for her part, insists it is wrong to teach untruths to students, for any reason.

"I feel it is my job to tell the truth, it is what I spend my life doing," she told the Monitor. …

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