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Elementary school textbooks in Japan to greater respect gender equality, diversity

Textbooks on moral education, health and physical education and other subjects at Japanese elementary schools are notable for their descriptions of gender equality and coexistence in society, as seen in this photo. (Mainichi/Emi Naito)

TOKYO -- Flower arrangement for boys and baseball for girls are some of the examples shown in elementary school textbooks to be used in Japan from the 2024 academic year onward, which will increasingly showcase gender equality and diversity.

    The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on March 28 released the results of its examination of textbooks to be used in Japanese elementary schools from the 2024 school year. In the textbooks, descriptions with an awareness of sexual diversity as well as gender and coexistence in society were prominent.

    Publisher Bunkyosya put illustrations of a boy doing flower arrangement, a girl playing baseball and a female truck driver in its health and physical education textbook for third and fourth graders, along with a text reading, "It is very important to live your own life, regardless of whether you are male or female." The textbook also introduces a list of names arranged by mixed gender and school backpacks of various colors, not limited to red for girls and black for boys.

    Candidate textbooks for Japanese elementary schools show a child in a wheelchair and another with foreign roots as the main characters. (Mainichi/Emi Naito)

    The moral education textbook for fourth graders to be published by Kyoiku-Shuppan Co. carries a section on the imposition of masculinity and femininity. Kobunshoin Publishing Co. invited a gender education specialist to edit its textbooks, and introduced "genderless school uniforms," in which both boys and girls can freely choose skirts and pants, as an effort to eliminate gender stereotypes and respect "individuality" in moral education for sixth graders.

    Meanwhile, Kairyudo Publishing Co. depicted a boy in a wheelchair and a girl with foreign roots as the main characters in its textbook for fifth and sixth graders' home economics for the first time. A representative of the company said, "We want students to broaden their perspective that there are all kinds of people in society and that it is normal. In addition to the main characters, we tried to represent a society where people regardless of gender, age, race or disability coexist in the textbook illustrations."

    Many other publishers have also included new illustrations with children with disabilities and those from abroad in mind. One publisher told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The times are moving toward a trend of respecting diversity. Textbooks will continue to reflect the times."

    (Japanese original by Ai Kunimoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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