Japanese textbooks overlook history of Dokdo
By Lee Tae-hoon
This is the third of a five-part series examining Korean and Japanese claims regarding Dokdo, and the cause of the territorial dispute over the rocky islets sitting midway between the two countries. ― ED.
On March 30 this year Japan once again reminded Koreans of its reluctance to acknowledge wartime atrocities and acts of aggression by approving new middle school textbooks that describe Dokdo as Japanese territory.
Japan’s Education Ministry authorized seven history, seven social studies and four geography textbooks.
Of them, one history, four geography and seven social studies textbooks claim that Dokdo, which it refers to as Takeshima, belongs to Japan.
Three new social studies book, including the one published by Tokyo Shoseki with a 60-percent share in the school textbook market, describe Korea as unlawfully occupying Japan’s territory of Takeshima.
Japanese call Dokdo as Takeshima.
Many Koreans reacted strongly against the Japanese government’s authorization of the textbooks as they regard Dokdo as a symbol of Korea’s sovereignty and see the claims as a lingering scar of Japanese colonial rule.
“For Koreans, Dokdo is a part of a painful history and the first Korean territory to be annexed by Japan against their will,” said Nam Sang-gu, a senior researcher at the Dokdo Research Institute of the Northeast Asian History Foundation.
He noted that Japan forcefully incorporated Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture in 1905 for its military campaign during the Russo-Japanese War.
“Dokdo was reinstated as Korea’s territory when the country was liberated from Japan in 1945, but Japan still regards the islets as its own,” the Dokdo expert said.
In February 1904, Japan coerced Korea to sign a “Korea-Japan Protocol Agreement,” which allows it to occupy strategic areas of the Korean Peninsula for military purposes.
On year later, Japan incorporated Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture based on the “false grounds” that the rocky islets remained unclaimed by any country without notifying Korea.
Japan’s claims over Dokdo
“What Koreans have forgotten or overlooked is the fact that the Japanese government has always maintained the stance since 1905 that Dokdo is its inherent territory both historically and legally,” said Nam.
Japanese textbooks began referring to Dokdo as Takeshima in the 1950s, suggesting that the remote islets in the East Sea are Japanese territory.
Many Japanese primary and secondary school textbooks have long marked Dokdo within Japan’s territorial waters in maps and started to add an explanatory note that labels Dokdo as their territory in 1981.
Japan further strengthened education on its territory in the 1990s and beefed up its Dokdo-related education with revisions of basic education laws in December 2006 and guidelines for middle school education and textbooks in 2008.
Until 2010, only three of the five available Japanese elementary textbooks described Dokdo as Japanese territory, but now all five do so.
“Though there was no Dokdo-related content in the guidelines for education for elementary school students, the Japanese government said that some textbooks did not clearly mark national border around Dokdo,” he said.
“They managed to pass the government’s reviews only after Dokdo was described as part of Japan’s territory.”
Lack of historical perspective
Nam points out that Tokyo’s repeated claims over Dokdo clearly illustrates the Japanese government’s lack of sincerity in correcting its past wrongdoings and refusal to look at the issue from a historical perspective.
“No Japanese textbook addresses why Koreans reject Japan’s claim over Dokdo and how it was incorporated into Japan’s territory in 1905,” the historian said.
“Japanese textbooks only deal with the issue of Dokdo in terms of territory, and not in terms of history.”
Two Japanese middle school social studies textbooks describe the Dokdo dispute as a territorial issue that should be resolved through international arbitration.
“This is in stark contrast to the fact that Korean history textbooks pay great attention to Dokdo,” he said.
Nam also pointed out that none of the textbooks mention the plight of Korean and other Asian women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
All Japanese middle school history textbooks addressed the issue of ‘comfort women’ in 1997, four years after Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued an official apology for his government’s involvement in the operation of sex slaves.
However, these textbooks no longer mention Japan’s military sexual slavery after seeing their sales drop significantly for exposing Japan’s disgraceful history.
“Twenty one of the 23 school districts in Tokyo picked a publisher, which included the most information on comfort women in its textbook in 1997," Nam said.
“However, only three of them selected it in 2001 and two in 2005 due to mounting pressure and lobbying from right-wing groups. The company has given up publishing textbooks after nearly going bankrupt.”
He said that Tokyo’s approval of new textbooks is worrisome as young students will forget the wartime atrocities that Japan committed, while learning its government’s “baseless” territorial claim over Dokdo from an early age.
Nam said senior high school textbooks are up for review from next year, and they too are likely to assert Japan’s territorial claims.
He said the Japanese government’s promise of a forward-looking relationship with Korea has been confirmed to be an empty slogan as seen from the approval of its controversial textbooks.
“It was a slap in the face for many Koreans as it came at a time when they lent a helping hand to their former colonial ruler after it was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami,” said Nam.
In August last year, Prime Minister Naoto Kan offered a renewed apology for the colonial rule, promising to take concrete steps, such as returning centuries-old royal Korean books to Seoul.
“For the enormous damage and suffering caused during this colonial rule, I would like to express once again our deep remorse and heartfelt apology,” he said ahead of the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea.
Nam noted that the text largely repeated language Japan has used since Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s apology on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end in 1995.
“Japan has once again dashed the hopes of the Korean people by approving distorted textbooks and insisting its sovereignty over Dokdo,” he said. “This has been truly disappointing.”
He said, given that Japan has been strengthening education about Dokdo, it will be likely that all geography textbooks will cover Dokdo from the perspective of a territorial dispute.
“More publishers will support the Japanese’s government’s stance on fears of failing to pass its review in the future,” Nam said.
He also pointed out that an increasing number of textbooks will likely include expressions, such as Dokdo is “Japan’s exclusive territory” or “Korea is unlawfully occupying it,” in the next several years as the revision of textbook guidelines is carried out every ten years.