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A rude awakening...

Saturday, July 30, 2005 Posted: 05:12 PM JST

(by Phil) - I was pleased with my newly chosen home and job in Otawara, a small town in the countryside of Tochigi Prefecture, about 150 km north of Tokyo. There seemed to be many more foreign faces than is usual in rural Japan, due to the presence of some large companies. People seemed friendly to me as a Canadian, and my son did not suffer the usual taunts of "gaijin, gaijin" when he enrolled in a local public elementary school.

Then one morning in July 2005, as I was drinking my coffee and reading the international news on the website of the BBC in London, I was surprised to see the name of Otawara.

It seemed that the town Board of Education had seen fit to authorize the use of a controversial history textbook produced by a far-right group known as the "Society for Textbook Reform." The text had angered the governments of South Korea and China, who said that they trivialized and justified atrocities by Japan before and during the Second World War, such as the Nanjing Massacre.

It has been said that the only war crime is starting a war in the first place, and I had long ceased paying attention to the inter-governmental bickering over a war that finished 60 years ago. However, as a father with a foreign-born child in the local school, I looked at a translation of the textbook provided on the "Society for Textbook Reform" homepage.

As I read the introduction, I felt a chilling sense of deja-vu. It reminded me of the language used by racist white supremacist groups in England and the USA, and as I thought of the many foreign children in Otawara, I felt disbelief. The local Board of Education had become a mouthpiece of the racist Japanese ultra-right wing!

The text is copied below.

"The history you are about to study is the history of Japan. In other words, you will be familiarizing yourselves with the stories of your ancestors — your blood relatives. Your closest ancestors are your parents, who were preceded by your four grandparents. As you go back further in time, the number of ancestors increases with each generation. Then you realize that the humans who populated the Japanese Archipelago are ancestors you share with the other students in your classroom. In every era, Japanese history was made by ancestors common to all of us."

It is the responsibility of a public Board of Education to address the needs of all its children, not just the majority. How would a foreign-born child such as my son feel, reading this? And worse, what are the consequences of telling Japanese children that the only people of significance in the classroom are those who have only Japanese ancestors?

In the early years of the 21st century, our world has seen terrorism and war. Those in the Japanese far-right movement seem to long to fight another war, this time against the many foreigners living in Japan. While there may be different views of history, the time has come for Japan to make a decision. Will it allow the far-right to take control of the education of its children? Will the Japanese people allow them to create tension between foreigners and Japanese in their schools? For that appears to be their purpose.

For Japanese and foreign people who do not wish for this to happen, now is the time to make their views known. If enough people write to the Otawara Board of Education, maybe they will reconsider their position. The address is below. What kind of a future do we want?

Mr. Ryu Onuma
Director, Board of Education
1-3-3 Hon-cho
Tochigi-ken 324-8641
Tel: 0287-22-4149
(from outside Japan: +81-287-22-4149)

With thanks to The Otawara Anti-Racism Site

Keywords: opinion_item

Related Links:

  1. The Otawara Anti-Racism Site
  2. BBC Article
  3. Society for Textbook Reform
  4. Organization protesting controversial textbooks
  5. Sites about the textbook controversy at Japan Links

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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