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Editorial: Prewar imperial rescript shouldn't be used as teaching material at schools

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has adopted a statement that the government approves the use of the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education as a teaching material at schools. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the use of the rescript in ethics classes "cannot be disapproved."

The rescript, which served as the prewar standards for education in Japan, played a role of supporting the country's nationalism and promoting its militarism, and was revoked by Diet resolutions after the end of World War II. In view of this process, the government's move cannot be overlooked.

The statement says that it is inappropriate to use the Imperial Rescript on Education as the sole basis for education, but that the use of the rescript as a teaching material in a way that does not violate the Constitution or the Basic Act on Education is acceptable.

One cannot help but wonder how using the rescript in a way that does not violate the Constitution or the Basic Act on Education specifically refers to.

In 1948, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution confirming that the rescript was invalid in light of the postwar Constitution on the grounds that the rescript could violate fundamental human rights. That same year, the House of Councillors also voted to confirm that the rescript was void with the enactment of the Basic Act on Education. As such, it is difficult to understand the government's explanation that the use of the rescript in a way that does not violate the Constitution and the Basic Act on Education is acceptable.

In particular, the government's position to allow the use of the rescript in ethics classes is problematic. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga said the use of the rescript, which shows 12 kinds of virtues including devotion to one's parents, "would not raise concerns if used with due consideration."

However, one can teach children ethics such as devotion to one's parents without going to the length of using the Imperial Rescript on Education. The core of the rescript is that it urged members of the public to support the eternal prosperity of the Imperial Throne and risk their lives for the Emperor in case of national emergencies.

The position that the government takes as if to ignore how the rescript was historically used appears to run counter to Japan's postwar history in which the country has denied the traditional view of the nation centering on the Emperor and introduced the principle that the sovereignty of the nation resides in its people under the postwar Constitution.

The government has failed to make a clear definition of what Suga calls "due consideration." The meaning of the phrase can be stretched and could lead to giving the green light to the full use of the rescript as a teaching material.

A kindergarten operated by scandal-hit Moritomo Gakuen school corporation based in Osaka forced children to recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada repeatedly told the Diet that the key part of the rescript should be revived, stirring controversy.

The government denies that it will use the rescript, but if so, why is the government hesitant to disapprove of the use of the rescript in education? The only way to use the rescript in education in an appropriate way that would not violate the Constitution and the Basic Act on Education is to encourage schoolchildren to reflect on and learn lessons from Japan's historical errors in which the rescript promoted Japan's militaristic education.

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