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Japan's Ex-Vice Education Chief Talks About His Gov't's History Textbook Revisions Updated: 2022-05-09 13:06:03 KST

South Korea has a new president this week and of the many diplomatic challenges and agenda that Yoon Suk-yeol face as leader of this nation is to work with Japan to thaw years of frosty ties.
Japan's relatively new prime minister Fumio Kishida and South Korea's Yoon Suk-yeol, also a conversative, provide two of Asia's biggest democracies with an opportunity for a diplomatic reset.
Their relations have stumbled into acrimony recently mostly over Japan's atrocities leading up to and during World War II and also at the heart of it is Tokyo's contiuous attempts to distort history.
One example is Japan's latest attempt to revise history textbooks for high school students.
Japan's efforts to revise history and what the two nations for a future-oriented relationship: It's the topic of our News In-depth tonight.
I have Kihei Maekawa, Japan's former Vice Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology joining us from Tokyo tonight.
One of his key roles as the vice chief of the ministry was to examine school textbooks before they get published.
Mr. Maekawa, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us on the show.

Thanks for having me on the show.

You've worked for Japan's education ministry for almost 38 years mainly in charge of the nation's education policy until retirment in 2017. I understand one of the key functions being on the job involved reviewing history textbook revisions before they got published. Why does the Japanese government keep changing its standards for history textbooks for students?

It’s because politicians who want to glorify Japan's past often intervene in history textbook examination procedures.

It was as recent as last month that the Japanese government again decided to remove words such as "military comfort women" or "forced transportation of laborers" from high school history textbooks.
Do you believe this was also a political decision made by politicians and not historians?

Whether historical terms such as "military comfort women" or "forced transportation of laborers" are appropriate is solely up to historians and not politicians.

If you look at the changes that Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology demanded from publishers for the past four decades, it appears the Japanese government is trying to dilute certain parts of history.

The far right politicians within The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan have expanded their influence on textbook examination procedures since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first stint in office in 2006.

Given these precedents, isn’t it possible the government will force publishers to write textbooks exactly as it says?

If Monkasho forces publishers to write textbooks totally in accordance with the government's view, it will be a violation of the constitution.

Although the textbook examination rule revised in 2014 requires publishers to refer to the government's established view on historical incidents whenever it exists, it is not technically forcing publishers to write the government's view only.

However, as a result, most textbooks that were actually published did not use terms such as "military comfort women" or "forced transportation of laborers". The publishers decided to avoid those terms following the government's view.
As a matter of fact, the examination procedure has deteriorated into making textbook publishers write only what the government says.


Do you have any words for the publishers and writers who are under tremendous pressure?


One publisher managed to pass the examination even after writing "many Joseon people were forcefully transported." It passed the examination by annotating the government's view. I am sure this was a result of though negotiation Monkasho.
I hope the publishing companies and writers make their best effort based on academic conscience rather than succumb to political power.


In your opinion, why is it important to learn history?

I think through learning history, you can understand the present time and be able to think about the future.

How should you teach history?

Students should understand that studying history is trying to get closer towards the historical truth, based on facts and logic with a wholesome level of skepticism.
If you have a healthy skepticism, you can see through attempts to falsify history.

What do you think is the most important for the relationship between South Korea and Japan?

I don’t know what’s going on in South Korea but in Japan, it was unfortunate we had Shinzo Abe, a historical revisionist and a far right politician to serve as a Prime Minister for so long.
He expanded the conflict of historical awareness between the two countries calling it "History War".
The apology and regret for Japan’s invasion and colonization in the past should be the very basis of S.Korea-Japan relationship.
In order to build a really amicable relationship, it’s best to enliven exchanges in education, academia, culture and sports.

With a new president and a new administration in South Korea and a fairly new prime minister in Japan, do you have any advice for the two governments so that the two nations can resolve historical disputes and move forward with a future-oriented relationship?

I visited South Korea twice when I was in college and interacted with Korean students. I have good memories of those times. I think it would be nice if students in South Korea and Japan do a joint research on history.

When the students begin their joint history research, maybe you can be their Japan advisor.
Maekawa Kihei, former Monkasho vice minister, thank you so much for sharing your insights.
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