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Editorial: The term “military comfort women” should be removed from high school textbooks

The education ministry has released the results of the screening of high school textbooks to be used from next spring. In the new subject of “rekishi sogo” [comprehensive history], the term “military comfort women,” coined after World War II, passed the screening, highlighting the ministry’s use of the same old biased descriptions.


It is questionable whether teachers can teach students history from a broad perspective by using textbooks that are unable to remove a masochist view of history. This is a matter of concern.


It was the first screening of textbooks to comply with the new curriculum guidelines for high schools and updates the content of textbooks. “Rekishi sogo” is a compulsory subject where students learn Japanese history in connection with world history with a focus on the modern and present-day eras. But many textbooks took up the comfort women issue and descriptions such as “military comfort women” and “forced to join the army as comfort women” passed the screening.


During the textbook screening, there should have been a request for correction of the false description that the Japanese Imperial Army and the authorities forcibly recruited [Korean women]. There are no grounds for prefixing the word “military” to comfort women and the description of “military comfort women” is misleading. But in reality, the term “military comfort women” is slipping through screening. With respect to the release of information to the international community as well, this needs to be corrected promptly to prevent improper descriptions from being left in textbooks.


The term “military comfort women” was used in the 1993 statement issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledging the forcible nature of the recruitment of comfort women. The term appeared all at once in junior high school textbooks used from fiscal 1997.


This led to the criticism that history textbooks were badly depicting Japan to an extreme degree and such descriptions were corrected, including the removal of the term “military comfort women” from junior high school textbooks. But the term reappears in junior high school textbooks being used from this spring. What hinders the correction of the term is the “neighboring-country clause” for textbook screening that shows consideration for China and South Korea. This clause remains in effect and restricts screening. Along with the Kono statement, the clause should be reviewed.


Some textbooks also adopt from Chinese propaganda the number of victims of the Nanjing incident, writing, “China insists that more than 300,000 people” were killed in the Nanjing Incident during the previous world war. Caution is needed to prevent [such a description] from taking on a life of its own.


As for the territories, the new curriculum guidelines clearly state that schools need to teach students that the Northern Territories, Takeshima, and the Senkaku Islands are an “inherent part of the territory” of Japan. Also, the textbooks of the new compulsory subject of “chiri sogo” [comprehensive geography] and “kokyo” [public affairs] fully describe the territory issue. These moves are welcome. Teachers also need to fully understand the historical background of the territory issue.  


Rekishi sogo is intended for students to learn from the past and delve into the time we are living in now. We should avoid imposing a biased historical view through textbooks and classes so that students can think from various points of view.


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