Japan downplays its responsibility for forced labor and forced adoption of Japanese names

Posted on : 2019-03-27 17:33 KST Modified on : 2019-03-27 17:33 KST
New school textbooks blatantly erase Japan’s agency in historical wrongdoings
An elementary school textbook published by Tokyo Shoseki shows a photo of Hashima Island
An elementary school textbook published by Tokyo Shoseki shows a photo of Hashima Island

“People in the colony of Korea were made to change their names to the Japanese style or conscripted as soldiers in the Japanese military and sent into the battlefield.”

This sentence appeared without a clearly stated agent in a social studies textbook for sixth year elementary school students published by Kyoiku Shuppan, which was approved by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) on Mar. 26. The sentence mentions the forced adoption of Japanese names and conscription that the Japanese government imposed on Koreans in the late stages of the occupation, but obscures the responsibility of the government itself in implementing those policies. The current textbook, which was authorized in 2014, mentions the government as the agent of oppression.

Another omission of agency was found in an account of the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1923 by Tokyo Shoseki.

“An incident occurred in which many Koreans and Chinese were killed,” a sentence reads, making no reference at all to the Japanese military, police, and vigilante groups responsible for killing at least 6,000 Koreans during the quake. In the past, the Japanese government has omitted subjects from major sentences in which its own responsibility should have been made clear, including a December 2015 agreement with South Korea on the Japanese military comfort women issue and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s August 2015 statements regarding comfort women victims.

Instances like these that illustrate Japan’s backward perceptions of historical issues are noticeably abundant in government approved school textbooks. In its national teaching guidelines, the Japanese government wrote that students should “be made to understand the effect that the war had on all of humanity, including the massive damages inflicted on people in many countries, particularly in Asia.” But detailed accounts of the actual damages suffered by Japan’s Asian neighbors have been relatively scarce – possibly due to the influence of a historical revisionist push spearheaded by Abe.

Omission of forced laborers on Hashima Island and Japan’s medieval invasions

The dodging of responsibility has also been apparent in references to Gunkan, which emerged as a major diplomatic issue between South Korea and Japan in 2016. In a section on Japan’s “world cultural heritage,” a social studies textbook published by Tokyo Shoseki included a picture of Nagasaki’s Hashima Island – widely known by the nickname of “Gunkanjima” – and indicated its position on a map. But no mention was made of the Koreans and Chinese who were forcibly mobilized there for grueling labor. Describing the Imjin War of the late 16th century in a history of medieval Japan, Kyoiku Shuppan omitted previous references to “invasions,” writing only that Japan “sent a large force to Korea.”

The only textbook to mention Japan’s responsibility for the war was Nihon Bunkyo. In its textbook, it wrote that Japan “inflicted great damage on Asians through wars and other actions.”

“It is important not to forget this historical fact, and to continue building stronger relationships of friends and trust while respecting each other’s countries,” it continued. “Even today, there are some who hold Japan responsibility for damages inflicted during wartime.”

But the same company also included an account whitewashing the Russo-Japanese War that proved pivotal in Japan’s decision to colonize the Korean Peninsula.

“It inspired hope and an awareness of independence in the people of many Asian countries who were suffering from the expansion and control of the European and American empires,” it wrote.

References to South Korea-Japan interchange and South Korea in general were also reduced. While the current Nihon Bunkyo textbook included a sentence about Japan “continuing to strengthen its friendship with Korea, including the co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup,” the latest version omits the reference to “continuing to strengthen friendship.” References to the influence of people from the Korean Peninsula on ancient Japanese civilization were also reduced. Whereas the current textbook notes that people from the Korean Peninsula “shared culture and technology from the mainland,” the latest textbook omits the reference.

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles