Japan seeks ‘soft landing’ in textbook dispute

TOKYO, Reuters

Japan’s new Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka said on Tuesday she will try for a “soft landing” of the spat over a history textbook which has strained ties with Asian neighbors who argue that it glosses over wartime aggression.

“I want to try to make a soft landing on the issue without taking too much time,” Kyodo news agency quoted Tanaka as telling a news conference.

Last month, the Education Ministry approved the draft of the textbook after some amendments, setting off fierce protests from North and South Korea as well as from mainland China.

Though Tanaka said she will personally check how history is portrayed in the disputed textbook, intended for children aged 13-15, she declined to comment on the possibility of ordering another revision.

Seoul said last week it will officially ask Tokyo for another revision.

Tokyo has repeatedly said that the historical perspectives in the approved textbook does not represent official views held by the government.

Japanese history textbooks, periodically updated under a system of screening by the Education Ministry, have for years aroused fierce debate at home and in Asian countries that were invaded by Japan in the first half of the 20th century.

Japan’s relations with Asian countries have often been damaged by textbook depictions of Tokyo’s wartime role.

In 1982, a row was touched off in Asia when textbooks described Japan’s World War Two invasion of the region as an “advance.”

Current textbooks give fuller accounts of Japanese actions in the war, but have been slammed by the right for going too far.

“I was surprised to see there were still those kind of people who try to distort facts in a textbook,” Tanaka said in a recent group interview.

“It is necessary that we recognize the (historical) facts as facts.”

Periodic remarks by Japanese politicians seen as glossing over Japan’s wartime atrocities stir old-hatreds in mainland China especially and keep ties between the Asian neighbors on edge.

Earlier this year, former Japanese Defence Minister Hosei Norota sparked an outcry across Asia with remarks absolving Japan of blame for entering World War Two, saying it had been forced into action by the United States.