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.
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-
"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. …