Shouting “Teach our children the truth,” hundreds of people in central Tokyo protested on Monday against a controversial history textbook that critics say whitewashes Japan’s World War Two atrocities.
Approved for use from next year by schoolchildren aged 13-15, the textbook, written by nationalist historians, has angered Japan’s neighbors and strained diplomatic ties, especially with mainland China and South Korea.
Singing “We shall overcome” and waving placards, several hundred people from a number of nations, including South Korea and the Philippines as well as Japan, held hands to form human chain partway around the Education Ministry building in Kasumigaseki, the area that houses Japan’s government. “Correct the textbooks!” read one placard.
Among the protesters were elderly Korean men in traditional black horsehair hats and white robes, shouting: “Stop this distorted interpretation of history.”
“It’s clear that the texts are wrong,” said Satoko Tsagoshi, 72. “And not only is it wrong to teach this to children, it’s an international embarrassment for Japan.”
Right-wing groups gathered outside the ministry, street trucks blasting calls against the protesters. “They are teaching our children groundless things that they call international crimes!” one flag draped truck blared.
Police declined to estimate the number of protesters, but some Japanese media said as many as 500 may have taken part although this included right-wing groups.
The protest was the conclusion of a two-day conference being held to protest the textbook issue by a consortium of international groups, led by the Children and Textbooks Japan Network 2001.
Both mainland China and South Korea have strenuously objected to the textbook and have demanded extensive revisions, saying it glosses over Japanese aggression before and during World War II.
During Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula, it forced Koreans to use its language and pledge loyalty to its emperor.
South Korea is particularly upset about phrasing in the textbook that suggests Korea benefited from the colonization because it led to the development of railways and manufacturing industries.
Seoul also says the textbook fails to explain the plight of the estimated 100,000 women, many of them Korean, who were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops during World War Two.
At a news conference prior to the protest, 81-year-old Kim Soon-duk related how she was taken from her Korean home at the age of 17 to become a sex slave in mainland China.
“Why is this sort of textbook still being used?” she said. “We will keep on calling for correction (of this) as long as we all still live.”
The Japanese government has said the book does not represent Japan’s official view of history and has resisted pressure to revise it further, although it did agree to some revisions before the book was approved earlier this year.
The Education Ministry now says no further revisions can be made unless there are factual errors.