BY AARON BENEDEK & ANN DOBINSON
TOKYO — Despite international protest, Japan's controversial new junior high school history textbook went on sale in early June.
Its high media profile ensured it gained bestseller status immediately and it has already been adopted by a number of high schools around Japan for use in the next academic year.
The book's title is the New History Textbook and its authors seek to do exactly that — give Japan a new history.
Just as some conservative commentators in Australia have sought to question evidence of state-sanctioned massacres of Aborigines, sections of the elite here are urging people to abandon a "black armband view" of Japanese history.
In the view of the book's producers, the Japanese Society for Textbook Reform (JSTR), Japan's 1910 annexation of South Korea, which led to the suppression of the Korean language, the institution of forced labour, and the plundering of Korea's natural resources, was beneficial for Korea because of the infrastructure which Japan built up.
Similarly, the full-scale invasion of most of Asia, prior to and during World War II, is said to have had the objective of securing Asia's freedom and economic well-being.
The military's use of women as sex slaves, or "comfort women", is totally omitted from the text.
Doubt is even cast over the most notorious atrocity of all: the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, in which 300,000 civilians were killed by Japanese troops in the central Chinese city. "Debate still exists over" it, the authors write.
One member of the JSTR, Fujioka Nobukatsu, was quite candid about why such omissions had been made. Such incidents "would not help to foster love towards one's country", he said.
"History is not a science", Nobukatsu stated.
Another leader of the JSTR, Nishio Kanji, believes textbooks should describe history from a "Japanese perspective".
The JSTR was founded in 1997 by intellectuals from Tokyo University and other mainstream organisations, with the aim of rectifying Japan's "masochistic" view of history, created by the "left-wing" press.
Many government figures have expressed support for the organisation, including the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, and numerous personalities in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan's ruling party.
The New History Textbook also received the approval of the Japanese Ministry of Education to be used in public schools.
The finished product received 137 amendments from the ministry prior to approval, but the JSTR was content that the changes were minor and that the "revisions did not change the essence of the society's textbook".
Whilst the New History Textbook is the most extreme textbook approved by the Ministry of Education, the ministry has long been criticised for censoring content about Japan's war of aggression in Asia.
There is a notable trend, amongst the school texts submitted to the ministry for approval this year, towards a more positive view of Japanese imperialism.
For instance, of the eight publishers who submitted texts for approval by the ministry, statements on "comfort women" were only made in three and one of these was only a footnote. This compares with seven publishers mentioning the subject in their previous editions.
Similarly, a number of publishers have changed the term "Nanjing Massacre" to "Nanjing Incident".
The one publisher who had previously mentioned Japanese military experiments on live prisoners deleted it. And four of the five publishers who had previously mentioned Japan's "burn down, exterminate, and strip the land" policy, carried out on Chinese resistance strongholds, deleted it.
Other incidents point to the strengthening of right-wing ideology in Japan. Film companies have produced a spate of films glorifying Japan's role in World War II.
In addition, earlier this year, a documentary on the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal, shown on public broadcaster NHK, was censored following pressure by right-wing groups and possibly elements of the government.
This "pressure" included 30 members of various ultra-nationalist groups barging into the NHK building, intimidating staff and demanding that the program be cancelled.
The documentary did go to air. However, the full name of the tribunal ("On Japan's Military Sexual Slavery"), the aims of the tribunal, those indicted at the tribunal and, most importantly, the tribunal's verdict were all omitted.
Far-right sentiments have also been fuelled by the new Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi. He and his government have rejected calls for the New History Textbook to be revised.
Foreign minister Makiko Tanaka has ruled out revising the textbook unless "an obvious factual error is found". The government appear to have no problem with the JSTR's "Japanese perspective" on history.
Prime Minister Koizumi has indicated he intends to pay homage to some of Japan's most notorious war criminals by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.
Claims are also circulating that prominent members of the LDP have donated money to ultra-nationalist and fascist groups, which have become regular fixtures at Tokyo train stations, blasting racist propaganda. Their other activities include intimidating and attacking left-wing demonstrations.
In response to the Japanese government's stand on the New History Textbook, South Korea withdrew its ambassador in Japan for 10 days, and South Korean lawmakers conducted a hunger strike outside the Japanese Diet. The Chinese government have also condemned the textbook, and demonstrations against the textbook by various human rights groups have occurred around Asia.
Within Japan there has been strong public opposition to the book, with one opinion poll indicating that 60% of people oppose the New History Textbook.
Demonstrations and meetings have occurred around Japan demanding that the government overturn the education ministry's approval of the textbook. But this movement is not yet strong enough to seriously challenge that decision or the general increase in Japanese nationalism.