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New primary school textbook excludes Hokkaido and areas farther north from Japan’s territory

  • April 14, 2019
  • , Sankei , Lead
  • JMH Translation

The Sankei Shimbun learned on April 13 that new primary school social studies textbooks, which will be introduced from fiscal 2020, could run counter to the government’s official stance that identifies the Northern Territories as an integral part of Japan. The textbooks color red areas under Japanese control in the early Edo Period, but Hokkaido and places farther north were colored white as recommended by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in the screening process. The new textbooks may cause controversy as they may give children the impression that Hokkaido and areas farther north are not part of Japanese territory.


The revisions were made to social sciences textbooks for Grade 6 students. In the screening process, MEXT pointed out that the map, which appeared in a section that discussed Japan’s external trade in the early Edo Period, “may give children the wrong impression as Hokkaido, Chishima and Karafuto are colored red.” The textbook publishers subsequently changed to white the map portion of Hokkaido and the Northern Territories, which had been colored red along with the rest of the Japanese archipelago, to win the approval of use.


A MEXT section in charge of school textbooks explains that “the Edo government did not seize control of all of Hokkaido back then.” But the purpose of the map in the textbooks was to indicate communities that Japanese people built far from the Japanese archipelago to trade with other countries during the early Edo Period. These places do not necessarily coincide with areas that the Edo government controlled. In addition, only the name “Japan” appeared beneath the map. This may cause misunderstanding that areas that were not colored red are not Japanese territory.


Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office clearly states in its website page dedicated to promoting the Northern Territories as Japan’s inherent territory that “Hokkaido was under control” of the Matsumae clan in the early Edo Period. It explains that the Matsumae clan surveyed all of Hokkaido and the Ezo region, including Chishima and Karafuto,” in 1635. This suggests that MEXT’s argument that the Edo government did not seize control of all of Hokkaido could run counter to the government’s position.


A Cabinet Office official declined to comment on the textbook screening, but noted that “the Cabinet Office website contains no erroneous content.”


On the other hand, MEXT commented that “[the revisions were made] based on the decision made by the Textbook Approval and Research Council and the outcome of the textbook screening will remain unchanged.” (Abridged)

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