An 8.8 magnitude underwater earthquake hit Northeastern Japan this past March. A tsunami abruptly followed the earthquake and swept away lives and properties. There were countless aftershocks and also radiation leaks at nuclear power plants. Japan was severely damaged by this natural disaster, and many countries stretched out a helping hand including Korea. It seemed that the Korea-Japan relation would be improved.
Meanwhile, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MECSST) announced its history book certification results. Most Koreans felt a sense of betrayal, because the number of textbooks which contain erroneous expressions, such as “Takeshima [Dokdo is called Takeshima by Japan] is not only Japan’s territory but also the Republic of Korea (ROK) occupies it illegally,” was increased. Hosoda Hiroyuki, Japan’s former chief cabinet secretary, said that Japan needed to take action on national level against Korea’s control over Dokdo. He insisted that Japan has to talk with Korea’s ambassador and refuse its aid. This behavior seemed ignorant to the Koreans who wanted to help their neighbors. The relation between the two countries is cooled down once again.
The Korean temper can be compared with a boiling pot: it heats up quickly and then, just as quickly, goes down. Whenever the press covers stories about Japanese history books containing distorted contents about Korea, people get upset and criticize the Japanese government for its approval. However, just a few days later, public interest withers away. This shows that people tend to react emotionally about Japan. But rather than acting emotionally, people need to be reasonable and show sustained interest in these issues.
Supporters of the Falsifications in Japanese Textbook
The first distortion of Japanese history textbooks occurred in 1953, but it did not become an international issue. Since it has lasted so far, tensions among neighboring countries have increased. Thus Japan’s government announced ‘Neighboring Country Clause’ in 1982 which states that when dealing with historical facts in textbooks, other countries in East Asia should be taken into consideration. This clause is something the Japanese government itself has often ignored.
Murayama Tomiichi, the former prime minister, apologized in 1995 to Korea for Japan’s past colonial rule and invasions. Many people expected that it would be an opportunity to solve past affairs between two countries and to come up with some solutions. However, the right-wing politicians and the conservative forces opposed this, and nothing has happened since.
As a part of the textbook publication process in Japan, companies submit manuscripts to MECSST one year before publishing. If their texts are approved, they lobby to local governments and hold exhibitions showing their books to schools. In 2008, MECSST suggested a guideline of what textbooks should include, and this was approved just around the time of this earthquake.
Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (JSHTR)
JSHTR, a right-wing organization, was founded in 1997. It promotes a nationalistic view of history. It was created by Hujioka Nobukas, a professor of the University of Tokyo, Nisio Kanji, a professor of the University of Electro-Communications, and Kobayashi Oshinori, a cartoonist. In 2000, a textbook manuscript submitted to MECSST got 200 remarks to be corrected. With pressure from right-wing groups, it later managed to pass the final screening with only a few corrections. This middle school textbook was published in 2001 by Fushosha Publishing company.
In 1999, JSHTR had established 48 branches in 47 areas and the number of members grown to over ten thousand. It was supported by conservative right-wing companies. JSHTR wanted to pressure local councils and boards of education to change the textbook selection process. It was supported by the Liberal Democratic Party, and later the system was changed. The results, however, did not meet the expectations of JSHTR, so eventually the organization was split into two groups: one cooperated with the publishing company Jiyusha, and the other founded Ikuhosha Publishing that was affiliated with Fushosha Publishing.
Falsifications in Textbooks
After MECSST screenings, textbook distortions have actually become worsened. This means that it is Japan’s government who makes these distortions. The statement in a manuscript, “there is a difference of opinion about Dokdo” was changed to “Dokdo is Japan’s indigenous land.” Another textbook initially stated that “Japan had three important territorial conflicts: Four Northern Territories and Takeshima, and Senkaku,” but after the screening, it changed and claimed that “in light of historical facts and based upon international law, it is apparent that Takeshima is an inherent part of the territory of Japan, and that the ROK illegally occupies it.”
The number of social studies textbooks for middle school students that claimed ownership over Dokdo was originally 10 out of 23 (43 percent), but is now stands at 12 out of 18 (66 percent). The descriptions of other controversial events which are unfavorable to Japan such as the Nanjing Massacre was not described properly or not mentioned at all. Information about military sexual slavery by Japan began to disappear in textbooks in 2001 and are now completely gone. The publishing company Tokyo Shoseki, which holds three fifths of the citizen textbook market, turned to the extreme right’s inclinations in this textbook approbation. It means that more Japanese students will grow up learning the wrong history.
Kan Naoto, the prime minister of Japan, apologized about colonial rule in a speech in August last year. However, Japan’s government actions did not match its words regarding the distortion of textbooks. Doi Ryuichi, a member of the Democratic Party, was forced to resign after he signed a document stating that ‘Japan should not insist on claiming Dokdo as its own.’
Attitudes about Dokdo between the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party are not significantly different. The supports for the Democratic Party have dropped recently, so it has pressed ahead with announcements of new textbooks. Because the Japanese is sensitive about the territorial problems these days, Japanese government fears that if it takes actions which seem advantageous to Korea, their public support will drop even more.
The Stance Between Korea and Japan
According to Park Ki-tae, the leader of Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK), the U.S. and other nations’ textbooks have similar content as the ones lately announced in Japan. In the U.S., there are textbooks that describe the Korean Strait as the Straits of Tsushima and some even claim that Jeju Island is Japan’s territory. There was no mention about Dokdo in the CIA World Factbook in 2000, but it has been changed and now says “occupied by South Korea since 1954.”
In the information age, facts and information on the websites, which gain the trust from the public of the world, are needed to be correct and described in detail. The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) is one of the most important one for foreign countries which are willing to know Korea’s point of view, but its explanation about Dokdo is not enough. The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan offers in turn very detailed contents. The Korean government has been a little passive in taking action against Japan’s claim that Dokdo is a troubled region. The Korean government needs to organize resources systematically, correct distortions all over the world and inform everyone that Dokdo is Korean territory. It also needs to update the website of MOFAT frequently.
However, there are also people in Japan who think differently from their government. The UOS Times interviewed a Japanese student who is learning Korean at the University of Seoul. She does not want to reveal her name.
I asked her what she knew about the Dokdo ownership problem. She said that she heard about it, but that she and other youths in Japan are not interested in the problem as much as Koreans are. It is mainly from the right wing which makes the problem as an issue.
I wondered what she learned in school and she said her textbook did not mention Dokdo, it just had a small picture. Her teacher only said that the territory was where Korea and Japan have different opinions. In her textbook, the term Sea of Japan is used instead of the East Sea, but her teacher told the students to remember the name East Sea as well. What are her thoughts about Japan’s history? She feels ashamed that Japan bullied the weak in the past and she said many Japanese think they should regret on their past behaviors and accept history properly.
Why is Dokdo such a Controversial Issue?
It is presumed that there are five reasons.
First, the seas surrounding Dokdo are rich fishing grounds. The North Korean Cold Current and the Tsushima Current meet there, so a lot of plankton, the major food source for fish, can be found there. Therefore Dokdo is a very important issue for fishermen in both countries.
Secondly, it is used purposely to turn people’s attention from national to international issues or to heighten public support.
Third, Dokdo is available to use as a strategic point for sea and airspace. Right-wing groups want Japan to become a military power once again. To do that, the distortion of textbooks takes precedence, and that includes claiming that Dokdo is their territory.
Fourth,. there is a potential future energy source called Methane Hydrate in the seas surrounding Dokdo. It is a solidified natural gas with high-tension and low temperature, and can produce a lot of energy from a very small quantity, so it is in the spotlight.
Fifth, Dokdo is an optimum place for an Ocean Research Station. The coast along Dokdo is steep enough to make the development of deep ocean water (DOW) easy. DOW contains minerals which can be used to develop certain medicines.
Efforts to Correct the Distortion
Dokdo Racer is a group composed of university students who visit places all over the world informing the truth about Dokdo.
Previously mentioned VANK acts as a diplomatic corps of organized citizens to introduce Korea properly. It endeavors not to spread distorted history by starting the “21st Century Yi Sun-shin Project” to correct errors in foreign websites.
Some Korean students who study in America wrote the rap song ‘Speak the truth’ to notify not only foreigners but also overseas Koreans who do not know the issue about Dokdo. The first part of the lyrics explains Dokdo’s history and origin, the later points out Japan’s ambitions.
Kim Jang-hoon and Seo Kyeong-duk advertised in the New York Times and at the Times Square in New York to inform foreigners that Dokdo is Korea’s territory. Mr. Kim also advertised the Korea Cup International Yacht Race in the Wall Street Journal. The course included Dokdo, so people who are interested in this race will naturally get to know Dokdo as Korean territory.
Many NGOs and local governments also hold campaigns that urge other Japanese schools not to adopt distorted textbooks and make efforts to keep a correct version of history.
In Japan, there are also many people who are against the distortions. Three NGOs including “Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21” advertised in newspapers not to adopt inaccurate textbooks. Also, many Japanese intellectuals have held lectures against the books written by JSHTR. A few weeks ago, members of “A Group that Thinks About Suginami’s Education,” an NGO from Tokyo, came to Seocho-gu Office in Korea and asked for cooperation
What should the Korean government do? The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s budget for informing about Dokdo overseas is not sufficient and has decreased. Operations regarding Dokdo by Japan’s government have become stronger. Korea’s government should offer a detailed basis and the correct information overseas, and educate the youth with the correct history.
What We Should Do To Correct History
Transportation has developed very well, so countless numbers of people can now easily go to travel or study abroad. Individuals can easily interact with people all over the world through the Internet. Now is the era that people-to-people diplomatic activities can occur anywhere, and where an individual’s behavior could affect the image of a nation, so individuals need to know their nation’s proper history. History books are important guidebooks for teaching the next generation about the correct historical perspective. The difference of historical perspective between Korea and Japan is very deep, so conflicts may last. However, the two countries should talk and cooperate to end their different historical view and understand each other. We should know that Korea and Japan are not enemies, but cooperators for coexistence for the present and future.
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