Current concerns (6)

33. The Minister of Education and Science has announced a grandiose plan to improve English education in Japan. All English teachers will be required to have at least a 550 on the TOEFL, or a 730 on the TOEIC, 60000 teachers will be given intensive in-service training in the next 5 years, the Center test will include a listening component from the year 2005, the number of high school exchange students will be increased from the present 4000 to 10000, there will be full-time native speaker teachers of English in both junior and senior high schools, 1/3 of the elementary school English courses will be taught by ALTs, and more. Asahi Shimbun Mon July 15 2003

34. Japanese minister slams individualism in schools AFP, Feb 27. 2007

The Japanese education minister has denounced Western-influenced individualism in schools, saying allowing too much freedom was like eating too much butter, newspapers said yesterday.

Bunmei Ibuki, addressing a function in Nagasaki on Sunday, was quoted as saying that current education policy was imposed by US occupiers after World War II.

“Japan has until now stressed the individual point of view too much,” Ibuki told the southern city’s chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the Asahi Shimbun reported.

“No matter how healthy butter can be, eating only butter every day will lead to metabolic syndrome,” the Nikkei Shimbun quoted Ibuki as saying.

“Human rights are important, but if they are respected too much then Japanese society will have human rights metabolic syndrome,” he said.

Ministry and LDP officials said they did not have a transcript of the remarks.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made education reform a top priority, last year pushing through a law that requires schools to teach “patriotism” — a taboo since World War II — when students were taught to revere the emperor. His government is also considering bringing back corporal punishment and adding classroom hours.

Ibuki also called Japan an “extremely homogenous” nation, the Nikkei reported.

“There is no doubt that the Yamato race has historically ruled Japan,” he said, referring to the main Japanese ethnic group.

35. Japanese students want easy-going life, Straits Times

Less than 10 per cent of senior high students in Japan want to become a person of high power.

That proportion is about one-third of the levels in the US, South Korea and China according to the survey conducted by the Japan Youth Research nstitute which covered the four countries.

In addition, 43 per cent of the Japanese students surveyed said they would rather lead an easy-going life.

Only 14 to 22 per cent of those in the other three countries said so.

Also, about 79 per cent of the Japanese students osaid “becoming a person of high power” would mean coping with heavy responsibilities.

The results indicated that Japanese students have a negative image of people in power and want to avoid jobs that bear heavy responsbiiltiies, said Asahi Shimbun.

In contrast, many of their overseas counterparts had more postive views of gaining power, such as being able to make better use of one’s abilities and winning the respect of others, the newspaper added.

The survey was conducted in the three months through December, covering more than 1,100 senior high school students in each of the four countries.

***

Haves and have-nots finding their way into the nation’s classrooms too Kyodo News Friday, Dec 29, 2006

 

Japanese society may become increasingly polarized between a small elite and the rest of the population, if indications in a recent survey of schoolchildren’s study habits hold up. 

The survey, by a group of researchers at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo, shows that children with strong scholastic aptitudes or who are enrolled at good schools study more than those with less ability, highlighting a growing gap in the classroom that could translate into greater economic inequality down the road.

In June and July, the group asked thousands of fifth-graders, second-year junior high school students and high school juniors how much time they spend studying on weekdays and compared the results with those of earlier surveys.

High school students who attend elite schools where graduates mostly go on to college spend an average of 105.1 minutes a day studying, while students at midlevel schools study for 60 to 62 minutes. Those at less demanding schools hit the books for just 43.2 minutes.

“Elite high school students study hard to enter highly competitive universities, while others do not because they can go to colleges anyway, if they want, thanks to a fall in the number of children,” said Ochanomizu University professor Hiroaki Mimizuka, who led the research team.

Kids these days are studying less across the board. The 1990 survey found that students at second-tier schools studied 112.1 minutes at home on average, almost as long as their elite school counterparts, “as they wanted to catch up with and overtake the top students,” Mimizuka said. “But now they do not have to study so hard because they can easily go on to college.”

The trend toward less study is also apparent in elementary school and junior high school students.

High-ranking elementary school kids study for 105.6 minutes at home, on average, compared with 77.6 minutes for midlevel students and 61.9 minutes for lower-ranking kids.

As for junior high school students, top-ranking students spend an average of 97.7 minutes on homework, while midranking students study for 91.1 minutes and lower-level ones for 76.8 minutes.

Part of the drop in study time may be due to a loss of faith. The researchers asked the students if they thought efforts would be rewarded by society. Among elementary students, 68.5 percent answered “yes.”

But as kids get older they become more jaded. Among junior high school students, 54.3 percent said their efforts would be rewarded, while only 45.4 percent of high school students felt that way, according to the most recent survey.

The survey also found that while 61.2 percent of elementary school kids think they will be able to lead a happy life if they graduate from a prestigious university, the percentage of junior high school students who felt that way dropped to 44.6 percent; just 38.1 percent of high school students agreed.

Today’s students are also more pragmatic regarding their future study plans, with 76.6 percent of high school students surveyed saying they wanted go on to a four-year college or graduate school level, down from 81.5 percent in 1990, while 13.1 percent of them hope to study at a vocational school, up from 6.3 percent in the earlier survey.

The number of those who want to study at trade schools is also rising among younger children, with 19.4 percent of elementary school kids preferring that route, up from 7.5 percent in 1990; 21.7 percent of junior high school students preferred trade schools, up from 14.6 percent in 1990.

“The respondents believe a college background will not necessarily lead to employment, so they are attracted by vocational schools, where they can obtain certain qualifications,” Mimizuka said.

The survey, the fourth of its kind since 1990, covered 2,726 elementary school students, 2,371 junior high school students and 4,464 high school students, in Tokyo and other major urban and suburban areas.

The Japan Times (C) All rights reserved

36.

Panel eyes 6-day week school week in reviewing education system Kyodo News

TOKYO — A government panel on education eyes proposing effectively abolishing the current five-day school week for public elementary, junior and senior high schools by enabling them to offer classes on Saturdays, according to the final version of the panel’s draft second report obtained Saturday.

The draft also calls for introducing a system to allow parents and students to choose which schools pupils attend and allocating budgets in line with schools’ achievements in realizing distinctive education and attracting students.

The plans to enable schools to offer Saturday classes and students to choose schools have been conceived as the panel seeks to review the so-called “education with latitude” policy, which some critics have charged with inviting a decline in academic performance among Japanese children.

The Education Rebuilding Council will hold a joint sub-panel meeting on Monday to put a finishing touch to the draft report. The report will be submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in early June.

The panel, which is discussing ways to “revitalize” Japanese education, also plans to propose drastically reorganizing national universities and reducing their freshman classes given the intensifying international competition between schools and the nation’s declining birthrates, according to the draft.

After the report is submitted, its contents are expected to be incorporated in the government’s major policy agenda to be compiled by the end of next month.

In addition to these policies, the panel plans to propose using both government-censored textbooks and supplementary material to provide moral education in schools, given the mixed opinions existing among panel members on using such textbooks for the subject.

It also eyes giving special budgetary consideration to “schools with difficulties in providing education” — those facing a breakdown in classroom management.

The plan to enable schools to offer classes on Saturdays will be proposed as one of the measures to achieve a 10% increase in classroom hours put forth in the first report the panel submitted to the prime minister in January.

The report will urge the government to take action with an eye to changing the School Education Law’s enforcement rules, which currently designate Saturdays and Sundays as holidays for public elementary, junior and senior high schools, according to the draft.

The draft report also includes a plan to set up a “support team to help solve school problems” at local education boards — a team the report envisages as including police officers, lawyers and clinical psychiatrists.

It also proposes mandating English education at elementary schools and expanding the use of foreign teachers in the classroom as well as promoting university enrollment in September instead of only April.

The report is expected to set its eyes on establishing an evaluation system for schools and education boards and on reviewing the current 6-3-3-4 school-year system for elementary, junior and senior high schools and universities.

The five-day school week system was introduced to the nation’s elementary, junior and senior high schools in phases from September 1992, and was fully implemented in April 2002.

Its aim has been to enable children to develop their individual potential, but the system has often been criticized as inviting a decline in children’s academic performance, although its effects remain unclear.

The government panel, headed by Nobel chemistry laureate Ryoji Noyori, was set up last October by Abe, who has placed top priority on revitalizing Japanese education.

Since its establishment, the panel has often been the target of criticism for its conservative bent. In early May, it was forced to withdraw a proposal that would call on parents to breast-feed and sing lullabies after concerns grew over its possible intrusion into the sphere of private life.

37. Point of View / Yoshiaki Suzuki: Help teachers hone skills right from the start 03/24/2007 THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

 

 

In fiscal 2001, the Tokyo metropolitan government board of education began a training program to help ill-prepared teachers improve their classroom skills.

This program, the first of its kind to be offered by a local government, revealed an alarming situation: many of Tokyo’s teachers don’t have the necessary skills to communicate with students or to evaluate their abilities fairly and accurately.

Surprisingly, veteran teachers with 10 or more years of experience are more likely than younger teachers to be so encumbered.

Students tend to lose interest if classes are boring and become disruptive and noisy. Using physical punishment to keep children quiet is unacceptable.

Disapproval from colleagues, superiors and parents adds to teachers’ stress, driving some into misconduct such as sexual harassment or indecent acts. In fiscal 2005, there were 252 instances of punitive action taken against public school teachers in Tokyo over such abuse, up from 168 in fiscal 2001.

In some cases, the teachers were accused of acts that raised disturbing questions about their position in society. Teachers had verbally bullied certain children repeatedly or they had bugged the teachers’ office to find out whether they were being criticized by colleagues.

But a more common and more serious threat to school education is the legion of teachers who simply cannot teach.

Under Tokyo’s teacher training program, more than 10 veteran educators, such as former principals or supervisors of boards of education, are assigned to each teacher. For one to two years, these mentors observe their trainees’ classes and evaluate their qualifications and abilities. They keep detailed records of the training process, describing everything from the trainee’s motivation and attitude to the lifestyle guidance.

Young teachers need mentors

The gap in classroom skills is widening, especially among teachers at elementary schools.

One reason for this is the greater emphasis placed on each child making greater efforts at self-study and learning by their own initiative. This change in classroom style was introduced under the government’s policy of yutori kyoiku, or “education free from pressure.”

This looser approach, however, requires teachers to respond flexibly to each child’s achievements. But teachers who don’t know how to support and encourage children’s independent learning efforts simply end up making cookie-cutter comments like, “You have brought up an important point,” or “You have expressed your opinions clearly.”

What led to this drop in classroom skills? A lack of mentors is one cause. As experienced teachers from the baby-boomer generation have retired or moved up to managerial posts, younger teachers were left with fewer role models to turn to for advice.

The situation was exacerbated by dwindling interest among veterans to help younger teachers develop skills. There used to be plenty of opportunities for teachers to hone their skills, including study sessions, school training programs and voluntary learning circles. Teachers used such opportunities to focus on specific challenges and to develop teaching skills. They could also discuss problems frankly with colleagues and superiors. But such meetings are now scarce.

In addition, new class subjects and teaching methods are being introduced in elementary schools, including English language classes, nutrition studies and ethical and moral education. These new burdens have added to the time and energy required of already-busy teachers.

Another obstacle has been the difficulty of identifying teachers who lack adequate skills. Few are willing to admit they don’t know what they are doing. Determining who is not up to the job requires an enormous amount of time and effort by administrators.

Retraining is just the start

The government’s Central Council for Education says one way around this is to require teachers to take 30 hours of retraining each time they renew their teaching licenses. It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Unless there is a clear and effective way to deny license renewals when a teacher is clearly making no effort to improve, the retraining program will end up being a mere formality.

If that happens, then the license renewal system would in effect be allowing ill-qualified teachers to continue on their merry way.

Instead of trying to find ways to weed out unskillful teachers, the government should focus on reviewing and improving college teacher training programs and on-the-job training systems so that new teachers can develop solid classroom skills from the outset.

Teaching requires much practical experience, and teacher training should focus on practical aspects of the job so that newcomers to the profession learn the ropes.

There has been widespread criticism that teachers tend to become wrapped up in their own world and don’t know what is going on outside school. And this has led to a proliferation of misguided training programs.

Many of these programs teach things that might be learned elsewhere, such as lectures from entrepreneurs on how to manage schools and organizations, or from clinical psychotherapists and lawyers on how a child’s mind works and what leads to juvenile crime.

Here’s a better idea: Get veteran educators with years of proven competence, such as supervisors of the education board, to lecture at teachers’ colleges for several years.

Their lectures could focus on practical experience and skills such as how to make a class plan or trial lessons.

In the long-run, practical training is probably the most effective way to help teachers-in-training develop better communication skills and prepare them for the classroom.

* * *

Yoshiaki Suzuki is former supervisor of school education at the Tokyo metropolitan government board of education.(IHT/Asahi: March 24,2007)

38. High school tests show rise in ability, Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 15, 2007)

The results of a nationwide test of third-year high school students’ academic ability, conducted in November 2005, suggest that a recent decline may have bottomed out, and things could even be improving in some subjects, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry said.

The test was the first of its kind conducted on third-year high school students who had been taught exclusively under the ministry’s curriculum guidelines advocating “pressure-free education.”

However, although results for the latest test marked a slight improvement compared with similar tests conducted under the previous guidelines in 2002 to 2003, the actual number of correct responses in mathematics and sciences fell short of what the ministry had expected for the average student.

About 150,000 third-year high school students across the nation, or about 13 percent of the third-year high school students, took the standardized tests in 12 subjects, in six broad categories–Japanese, geography/history, civics, mathematics, science and English.

Subjects covered in the tests were mostly those students were taught in their first year of high school.

When the percentage of correct responses was compared with the results for the same questions asked in the previous tests, students in the 2005 tests did better than those who took the previous ones in about 14 percent of 181 such questions, did more or less the same in about 80 percent of such questions, and did worse in about 6 percent of such questions, the ministry said.

By subject, students who took the 2005 tests did better than those taking the earlier tests in six subjects–world history, geography, politics and economics, physics, chemistry and English.

When similar tests were conducted in 2004 under the new course of study, which covered students at primary and middle schools, there also were signs of improved academic ability.

The ministry calculated a benchmark percentage for a student studying for what it considered a standard amount of time, and compared this figure with the actual test scores.

For all 12 subjects, students did better than the ministry had expected in four subjects, including Japanese and world history, but fell short of the ministry’s expectations in eight subjects, including mathematics, physics and English.

Students fared particularly badly in mathematics, falling short of ministry expectations in two-thirds of mathematics questions and about half of the questions asked in physics, chemistry, biology and earth science.

For those exam questions requiring written responses, a format of questions that Japanese students have proved relatively weak with in international comparisons, students fell short of the ministry’s expectations in eight of the 12 subjects.

In a survey of student attitudes, conducted at the same time as the academic tests, the percentage of those students who said they enjoy studying, or who said studying is important, exceeded the numbers in previous surveys.

One education expert said the apparent improvement in standards might have resulted from additional measures implemented by teachers, including supplementary lessons, who had grown alarmed at the apparent fall in standards.

 

39. Ministry report: Japan a world leader in science Yomiuri Shimbun

Japanese researchers have published many prominent scientific papers in fields such as physics and material science, according to a report published Wednesday by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy. However, Japan has not been so influential in other fields including environmental science and engineering.

The institute used a U.S. research company’s database to analyze about 10,000 papers published between 1999 and 2004 that ranked highly in terms of the number of times they had been cited.

Japan came in fourth with 9 percent of these papers, trailing the United States (61 percent), Germany (13 percent) and Britain (12 percent).

(Apr. 6, 2007)

 

***

See also Science education in need of rejuvenation Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr.6)

40. Japan’s 2nd accredited Steiner school to open in Chiba Pref. Yomiuri Shimbun

A private primary school based on the educational philosophy of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) will open in April next year in Chonanmachi, Chiba Prefecture–a project led by Michiko Koyasu, 73, pioneer of Steiner education in Japan.

Provisionally called the Ashita-no-Kuni Rudolf Steiner Gakuen Primary School, the new institution got the go-ahead to begin construction from the Chiba prefectural government in October last year. It is expected to get official permission for its opening the next spring, becoming the second Steiner school in the country to be accredited by a local government.

Before the official opening, the school will start teaching 20 first-year students in April as a so-called “free school”–a term that describes an alternative educational institution without government accreditation.

The Steiner method involves 12 years of education from primary to high school level, and focuses on stimulating children to learn “through the five senses” in accordance to individual personal characters and developmental stages. The new school will follow this philosophy, while at the same time conforming to the nation’s official school curriculum.

In contrast to normal primary schools, where children get a new homeroom teacher each year, at the Steiner school each class will be assigned a “main lesson” teacher who stays with them for their whole time at the school. Instead of studying several different subjects each day as at a normal school, students at the Steiner school will focus exclusively on one subject for a few weeks at a time, covering all required subjects in the course of the academic year.

Instead of using official textbooks, the students will create their own “textbooks” on which they will write down what they learn through words and pictures. Their main lesson teachers do not impose testing on their students or give them numerical evaluations, instead providing written evaluations of their work.

At the time of its official opening in April 2008, the Chonanmachi school will start with first- and second-year students, with each class having 32 children, including the 20 students studying under the free-school status for the 2007 school year. It plans to expand to cover the full 12 years of education by the 2013 school year.

Koyasu, a scholar of German literature, first came across Steiner education 36 years ago, when her daughter attended a Steiner school in Munich while the family were living in the German city.

Through essays and other publications she introduced Steiner education to Japan, and became determined to set up such a school in her hometown.

Although Koyasu was once involved in setting up some Steiner schools in Japan as free schools, the expert later shifted her focus to setting up an educational corporation to run an accredited private school–and in fact established a nonprofit organization in 2004 for the purpose.

“Steiner schools feature a pedagogy that fosters [children’s] insight and reading comprehension, and therefore are exactly the kind of school we need today. They can become a great alternative [to mainstream education],” Koyasu said.

(Mar. 22, 2007)

41. Free materials help teaching foreign kids at primary school Daily Yomiuiri

The number of foreign children who needed special instruction on the Japanese language at public schools surpassed 20,000 according to September 2005 statistics, almost four times larger than the figure from 1991, when the Education, Science and Technology Ministry began conducting such surveys. The 2005 survey shows that the largest single linguistic group, at nearly 40 percent of the total, comprises Portuguese speakers, mostly the children of Brazilians who have come to Japan to work.

Tokyo University of Foreign Studies has been developing learning aids for Brazilian children studying at public primary schools in the hope they will serve as aid to enable them to take classes together with their Japanese schoolmates. Some of these learning materials were made public on the university’s Web site at the start of the new school year on April 1.

Named “Project Toucan” after the popular Brazilian bird, the project is led by the university’s Center for Multilingual Multicultural Education and Research. It is funded by Mitsui and Co., a trading house that has been tackling the educational issues of Brazilian children living in Japan as one of its corporate social responsibility activities.

Currently open to the public are teaching materials related to addition and subtraction, as well as kanji studied in the first to third grades.

The math material is based on a textbook written in 2000 by Morihisa Okura, 54, a former primary school teacher who is an expert on teaching foreign students at Japanese public schools. The textbook is intended mainly for children from non-kanji-using countries to learn addition and subtraction while at the same time learning the Japanese required to take mainstream arithmetic classes.

Project Toucan has adapted the textbook’s material specifically for Brazilian children, adding a teachers’ manual that discusses points they should be aware of in teaching them.

For example, the teachers’ manual says the Portuguese word “cen” means “100,” but its pronunciation is quite similar to that of “sen,” meaning 1,000 in Japanese–a possible source of confusion for some Brazilian children.

It also introduces differences between Brazilian and Japanese customs related to giving change. In the South American country, cashiers count up from the amount due to the amount offered, instead of subtracting one from the other. In other words, if a customer hands over 10 reals (one real=60 yen) for a six-real purchase, the cashier would count out the notes in their change by saying, “seven, eight, nine, 10” rather than calculating “10 minus six equals four.”

The kanji materials developed for this project, titled Gosto Muito de Kanji (I Love Kanji), are filled with illustrations to help Brazilian children understand the meanings of kanji.

Before unveiling the materials to the public, the center asked teachers at public primary schools in three areas with many Brazilian residents to check their usability. Among them was Masako Chino, 53, at Nakashioda Primary School in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture.

“Compared to pictures featured in kanji drills for Japanese children, the illustrations [in Gosto Muito de Kanji] are simplified for Brazilians to easily get the ideas behind the kanji, and the textbooks also offer gamelike activities before the writing exercises–such as one requiring children to draw lines to connect kanji and their meanings,” Chino said. “As such, the materials were easily welcomed by foreign children as they helped them enjoy learning kanji by using their eyes.”

Chino, who has been in charge of a Japanese class for foreign students at the school for more than a decade, herself has had difficulty finding suitable materials for her students. “Making the materials open to the public on the Internet has a great significance as it allows us to download them for free after checking the contents,” she said.

In addition, the downloadable materials are copyright-free.

“Teachers are free to process the materials just as they need, depending on the children they are dealing with,” said Prof. Masaaki Takahashi, 61, head of the center. “By offering these materials, we hope to help reduce the difficulties and burdens facing those teaching Brazilian children as much as possible.”

Chino also pointed out that the materials would be great help particularly for schools that do not have large enough numbers of foreign students to set up a special Japanese class. In such cases, homeroom teachers to whom the children are assigned often find themselves at a loss over what and how to teach them.

Through its Web site, Project Toucan will allow those teaching Brazilian children to share not only the materials, but also information on teaching approaches–the site encourages users to report on how they use the materials and will upload some of the feedback gathered. The center will also improve the materials based on user comments.

The menu of school subjects will also be expanded. By the end of next year, the center plans to develop materials to cover all kanji, arithmetic and natural science learned at the primary school level.

As Project Toucan is part of the center’s broader scheme to develop learning materials for foreign students at public primary schools, it will also create teaching materials for speakers of other languages based on those initially developed for Brazilians. The first of these efforts, which began earlier this month, is the development of a version for Filipino speakers.

The materials can be downloaded at www.tufs.ac.jp/common/mlmc/kyouzai/brazil/.

(Apr. 12, 2007)

42. Japan’s Textbooks Reflect Revised History THE NEW YORK TIMES April 1, 2007

TOKYO, March 31 — In another sign that Japan is pressing ahead in revising its history of World War II, new high school textbooks will no longer acknowledge that the Imperial Army was responsible for a major atrocity in Okinawa, the government announced late Friday.

The Ministry of Education ordered publishers to delete passages stating that the Imperial Army ordered civilians to commit mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa, as the island was about to fall to American troops in the final months of the war.

The decision was announced as part of the ministry’s annual screening of textbooks used in all public schools. The ministry also ordered changes to other delicate issues to dovetail with government assertions, though the screening is supposed to be free of political interference.

“I believe the screening system has been followed appropriately,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long campaigned to soften the treatment in textbooks of Japan’s wartime conduct.

The decision on the Battle of Okinawa, which came as a surprise because the ministry had never objected to the description in the past, followed recent denials by Mr. Abe that the military had coerced women into sexual slavery during the war.

The results of the annual textbook screening are closely watched in China, South Korea and other Asian countries. So the fresh denial of the military’s responsibility in the Battle of Okinawa and in sexual slavery — long accepted as historical facts — is likely to deepen suspicions in Asia that Tokyo is trying to whitewash its militarist past even as it tries to raise the profile of its current forces.

Shortly after assuming office last fall, Mr. Abe transformed the Defense Agency into a full ministry. He has said that his most important goal is to revise the American-imposed, pacifist Constitution that forbids Japan from having a full-fledged military with offensive abilities.

Some 200,000 Americans and Japanese died during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the most brutal clashes of the war. It was the only battle on Japanese soil involving civilians, but Okinawa was not just any part of Japan.

It was only in the late 19th century that Japan officially annexed Okinawa, a kingdom that, to this day, has retained some of its own culture. During World War II, when many Okinawans still spoke a different dialect, Japanese troops treated the locals brutally. In its history of the war, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum presents Okinawa as being caught in the fighting between America and Japan — a starkly different view from the Yasukuni Shrine war museum, which presents Japan as a liberator of Asia from Western powers.

During the 1945 battle, during which one quarter of the civilian population was killed, the Japanese Army showed indifference to Okinawa’s defense and safety. Japanese soldiers used civilians as shields against the Americans, and persuaded locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. With the impending victory of American troops, civilians committed mass suicide, urged on by fanatical Japanese soldiers.

“There were some people who were forced to commit suicide by the Japanese Army,” one old textbook explained. But in the revision ordered by the ministry, it now reads, “There were some people who were driven to mass suicide.”

Other changes are similar — the change to a passive verb, the disappearance of a subject — and combine to erase the responsibility of the Japanese military. In explaining its policy change, the ministry said that it “is not clear that the Japanese Army coerced or ordered the mass suicides.”

As with Mr. Abe’s denial regarding sexual slavery, the ministry’s new position appeared to discount overwhelming evidence of coercion, particularly the testimony of victims and survivors themselves.

“There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide,” Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, said in an angry editorial. “There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers” to blow themselves up.

The editorial described the change as a politically influenced decision that “went along with the government view.”

Mr. Abe, after helping to found the Group of Young Parliamentarians Concerned About Japan’s Future and History Education in 1997, long led a campaign to reject what nationalists call a masochistic view of history that has robbed postwar Japanese of their pride.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister who is a staunch ally of Mr. Abe, recently denied what he wrote in 1978. In a memoir about his Imperial Navy experiences in Indonesia, titled “Commander of 3,000 Men at Age 23,” he wrote that some of his men “started attacking local women or became addicted to gambling.

“For them, I went to great pains, and had a comfort station built,” Mr. Nakasone wrote, using the euphemism for a military brothel.

But in a meeting with foreign journalists a week ago, Mr. Nakasone, now 88, issued a flat denial. He said he had actually set up a “recreation center,” where his men played Japanese board games like go and shogi.

In a meeting on Saturday with Foreign Minister Taro Aso of Japan, South Korea’s foreign minister, Song Min-soon, criticized Mr. Abe’s recent comments on sexual slaves.

“The problems over perceptions of history are making it difficult to move South Korean-Japanese relations forward,” Mr. Song said.

Mr. Aso said Japan stuck by a 1993 statement acknowledging responsibility for past sexual slavery, but said nothing about Mr. Abe’s denial that the military had coerced women, many of them Korean, into sexual slavery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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