Yasukuni Shrine

Tendency to whitewash wartime past on the rise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am

Japan's handling of its wartime history has always been a thorny issue in its relationship with its Asian neighbours, including China and the two Koreas.

The anti-Japanese protests that broke out on the mainland in 2005 were triggered by the controversies over Japan's new school textbooks, which excluded most of the references to the country's wartime atrocities.

This anger was further stoked by Japan's then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honours war dead, including 14 class A war criminals.

Ties improved as Mr Koizumi's successors refrained from visiting the shrine.

The two countries also played down their differences on wartime history to focus more on the future.

But beneath the surface, nationalistic tendencies are growing strong in Japan and the revisionists have quickened their steps to whitewash the country's wartime history, says Hisao Ishiyama, president of the Council of History Teachers in Japan.

The number of references to wartime sex slavery in history textbooks for junior high school students is declining. In 1997, all of the textbooks touched on the issue, but today, only two out of the eight publishers have included such references in their textbooks. Together, the two publishers account for only 17 per cent of the market.

'We hope teachers can have the full options to teach students the facts and truth about our wartime past. And let them be aware how this has hurt the feelings of our neighbours. But this is not a simple task,' Mr Ishiyama said.

'The parts mentioning the Japanese army's wartime atrocities have been deleted from most textbooks. Although the Japanese government recognises the wrongdoings of the Japanese army in the war, some people still refuse to admit this and are trying to deny it.'

He said that right-wing politicians had a huge influence in Japan, particularly over the media.

'The key to the problem is the media. The media are not keen to talk about the past and they are biased in their reports,' Mr Ishiyama said.

He hoped President Hu Jintao would raise the question of wartime history during his visit to Japan this week.

'Mr Hu should be brave and raise the question. He should not avoid it simply because this is a sensitive issue.'

Japanese history teachers say they are unable to teach students about 'comfort women' and other wartime issues because they are excluded from history books.

Katsutoshi Chuso, a history teacher, said his school once received complaints from parents because during a school open day he tried to teach about the Korean women forced into sexual slavery. He says he was able to keep his job because his colleagues and headmaster supported him.

However, Mr Chuso said he could no longer teach about comfort women because the topic had been removed from his history textbook.

'As a history teacher, I think we must let our future generations have the full picture of what has happened in the past, so that they understand what led to these tragedies, and so we can avoid similar things happening again,' he said.