”Let's make sure our children have a textbook that tells them the truth about history.” (Stock photo). Image from Wikimedia user Japanexperterna.
On Friday, August 4, 2017, the topic of history textbooks took over Japanese Twitter. The phrase “why was this textbook selected” (教科書なぜ採択) briefly trended on Twitter after a local newspaper in Kobe in western Japan reported that a local politician and member of the government questioned how and why a prestigious middle school chose a new history textbook, prompting fears of political pressure over the education system. A subsequent hashtag also briefly trended, “they included descriptions of the ‘comfort women'” (#慰安婦の記述を残した).
In World War II, up to 200,000 women from more than ten countries across Asia were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army. These women were euphemistically called ianfu (‘comfort women’) in Japanese, and have long been a source of political controversy.
According to a story published on August 4 by the Kobe Shimbun, Moriyama Masahito, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who serves as a deputy justice minister and represents the affluent city of Nishinomiya to the east of Kobe, asked why Nada Middle School had chosen a textbook called “Studying Human History Together” (ともに学ぶ人間の歴史).
Nada Middle School is affiliated and co-located with a prestigious high school in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, that routinely sends its graduates to top-ranking universities in Japan and abroad. In fact, Moriyama is a graduate of the school, and, as an “old boy” and member of the government, can be expected to wield considerable influence at the school.
As Kobe Shimbun observed:
According to Kobe Shimbun, Moriyama had a problem with the fact the history textbook selected for Nada Middle School described the ‘comfort women’ issue. During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army had forced women in several Asian countries, known as ‘comfort women’, to work in military-run brothels.
However, the problem Moriyama and others have with the textbook is not that it mentions the ‘comfort women’ issue. Instead, according to the Kobe Shimbun article, the problem is that the textbook includes a short description of the Japanese government's 1993 “Kono Statement.” In the Kono Statement, the Japanese government acknowledged that the Japanese army coerced women into working in brothels, but some conservative politicians and commentators in Japan such as Moriyama still dispute the Japanese government's role.