”Military” designation has been absent from certified teaching materials for more than a decade.
The 2020 Japanese school year is just getting underway, but the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is already looking ahead to 2021. This week, the Ministry has been reviewing new junior high textbooks which have applied for certification to be introduced at schools next year, and among those that passed is one that contains a term that middle schoolers haven’t seen in their textbooks for quite some time.
Within a history textbook submitted by Tokyo-based publisher Yamakawa Shuppansha, the following passage appears when discussing the Japanese Imperial Army’s activities in leadup to World War II and the conflict itself:
“At ‘comfort facilities’ established in the war zones, women (called ‘military comfort women’) were gathered from place such as Korea, China, and the Philippines.”
No junior high history text approved by the Japanese government since 2004 has included the “military” designation, which had drawn criticism from those who felt the term was in inappropriate description. With Japanese children entering middle school at the age of 12 or 13, and that stage of the educational system lasting three years, that would mean that no one under the age of 28 was taught using a government-approved junior high textbook which used the term “military comfort women.”
In addition, the Ministry has also reviewed a separate history textbook (the approval/rejection status of which is yet to be confirmed) from a different publisher which includes a description of Imperial Japanese soldiers invading a civilian home during the occupation of China’s Nanking, raping a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old girl, and killing their parents and grandparents. The textbook also says that the Japanese military “massacred many people” in Malaysia and “decided on a strategy of sacrificing Okinawa.”
It’s worth bearing in mind that the Ministry’s approval of Yamakawa Shuppansha’s textbook is no more than that: approval. Schools remain under no obligation to use Yamakawa’s text if they’d prefer to use another. However, for the first time in quite a while, teaching children about not just “comfort women,” but “military comfort women,” will be an option for educators in Japan.