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Schools hit with protests for using history textbook mentioning 'comfort women'

Postcards protesting the use of Manabisha's history textbook are pictured at Nada Junior High School in Kobe's Higashinada Ward, on Aug. 7, 2017. Image partially modified. (Mainichi)

At least 11 national and private junior high schools across the country have received a massive numbers of postcards objecting to their use of a history textbook mentioning wartime "comfort women," which the protesters describe as "far left, anti-Japan."

    A teacher at one of these schools recalled, "We received persistent phone calls. It was scary because we felt like we were being threatened."

    The textbook in question is "Tomoni Manabu Ningen no Rekishi" ("Human history we learn together") for junior high schools published by Manabisha, a Tokyo-based publishing house.

    In its March 19, 2016 edition, the Sankei Shimbun national daily reported that the textbook is the only junior high school history textbook that mentions wartime comfort women, and that more than 30 national and private schools, including some of the top institutions, have adopted the schoolbook. The daily said the Kobe-based private Nada Junior High School is among them.

    The textbook mentions the so-called Kono Statement on the comfort women issue the government released in 1993. In the statement, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admitted that the Japanese military was involved in the management of comfort women and the establishment of comfort stations and that the comfort women lived under a coercive atmosphere. The textbooks added, however, that the Japanese government announced its understanding that no documents directly showing that comfort women were forcibly taken away have been found.

    In a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Nada Junior High School Principal Magohiro Wada described details of protests that the school has received over its use of the textbook.

    According to him, the school decided to adopt the textbook in December 2015 after discussions among teachers and started using it for history classes in April 2016. Shortly after the decision on the use of the textbook, Wada was asked by a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of the Hyogo Prefectural Assembly over the reason for selecting the textbook.

    Sometime around March last year, the school began receiving postcards complaining about the school's use of the textbook from those who claimed to be "graduates" or "parents of students" at the school. Most of the postcards are written in a similar style, carrying a letter of protest with a photo that apparently shows people welcoming Japanese troops marching in China.

    Subsequently, postcards carrying a typed letter disapproving the use of the textbook, with the names and addresses of the senders, began arriving at the school. Most of the postcards carry the identical message, suggesting that it was an organized protest campaign. Some of the senders identified themselves as local assembly members or heads of local governments.

    The school has so far received more than 200 letters of protest over a six-month period.

    "We've adopted a textbook that has passed ministry screening, but we received postcards from those claiming to be politicians, and there've been news reports calling into question the use of the textbook while identifying the schools by name," said Wada. "We felt political pressure."

    In autumn 2016, principal Wada disclosed the details of the protests the school had received as well as his opinions online. The Osaka-based Mainichi Broadcasting System then reported the matter on July 30, sparking debate.

    According to publisher Manabisha, the textbook in question was adopted by 38 schools across the country, mostly national and private junior high schools that are regarded as prestigious and extremely difficult to enter. Besides the Nada school, 10 schools admitted that they have received protests for their use of the textbook while speaking on condition that they not be identified. They said that they started getting complaints in postcards and other means in spring of last year, same time as the Nada school.

    History teachers at these schools expressed fears that "the independence of education is being threatened" and that "it's a difficult time." Several expressed concern that these schools could switch to another textbook if subjected to further protests in order to avoid trouble. None of them has changed to another textbook this academic year, however, on the grounds that the textbook has passed screening by the education ministry.

    An official of "Kodomo to Manabu Rekishi Kyokasho no Kai" ("association for history textbooks to learn with children"), which edited the schoolbook, said the textbook was created to allow children to proactively learn history.

    "The textbook is a result of years of research, which we carried out while paying attention to children's points of view, for them to develop interest in the subject," the official said. The textbook deliberately lacks explanation of historical documents "to respect children's ability to raise questions and let them come up with their own answers," according to the official.

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