The Japanese government has approved recently a written statement saying that it would not rule out the textbook use of the Imperial Rescript on Education, an 1890 edict that promoted emperor-oriented and militaristic education.
This decision, together with another one by the education ministry that could bring bayonet fighting back to school curriculum, has sparked much criticism and concerns of militarism revival among the public.
PREWAR RESCRIPT BACK TO SCHOOL
The Imperial Rescript on Education has recently drawn public attention when an Osaka kindergarten was found to have been making kids there memorize it.
Video footage posted online showed that uniformed kids of the kindergarten recited the prewar rescript in stilted Japanese, chanting words such as “Should emergencies arise, offer yourself to the state.”
Children there were also captured on the video raising their right hands and shouting: “Go fight, Prime Minister Abe.”
The Imperial Rescript on Education is an edict issued in 1890 by Emperor Meiji and meant for nurturing “ideal” citizens that would sacrifice themselves for the emperor and the country.
The document had been read aloud at all important school events, and students had been required to study and memorize it before the end of World War II.
The rescript, serving as guidelines for prewar school education, played a considerable role of supporting the country’s nationalism and promoting its militarism.
It was abolished after the end of the WWII, but was reintroduced some 15 years ago by the nationalist Tsukamoto kindergarten.
The kindergarten’s education style, while drawing criticism from many, reportedly won support from Abe and his wife Akie.
The prime minister’s wife had visited the kindergarten several times before a cut-price land deal scandal implicating the kindergarten operator Moritomo Gakuen and the Abe couple broke out.
Japan’s Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, in connection with the matter, said in parliament that Japan “should bring back the spirit of the Imperial Rescript on Education, which aimed for a state based on moral principles.”
The Japanese government, when responding to a question raised by an opposition lawmaker last week, said that though it is inappropriate to use the rescript “as the sole basis for education,” “the use of the rescript as a teaching material in a way that does not violate the Constitution or the Basic Act on Education is acceptable.”
CAUSING WIDE CRITICISM
The government’s recent statement, though finding support in some of Abe’s cabinet ministers such as Education Minister Hirokazu Matsuno, was blasted by the opposition parties and the public as they are worried that it would revive prewar militaristic values.
“The Imperial Rescript on Education was inseparably linked to the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. This fact must never be forgotten,” said Japan’s well-read newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun in a recent editorial.
“To be fair, the rescript expounds some virtues that are still applicable today, such as filial piety and conjugal affection. However, it is absolutely possible to teach the importance of these virtues without quoting from the rescript,” said the editorial.
“We must carefully consider if it is truly acceptable to make something like this educational material,” said Yoshihiko Noda, secretary-general of the leading opposition Democratic Party.
Akira Koike, secretariat head of the Japanese Communist Party, said that the government’s decision showed a dangerous trend of the Abe administration and shall not be allowed.
Hajime Funada, a lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also questioned the government’s decision regarding the rescript, saying that the rescript is “generally recognized as a tool for the government and the army to control the people’s minds” before and during the WWII.
“The rescript is what I have been trying not to remember … It was such (militaristic) spirit that had triggered the war,” said Naoyuki Taniguchi, a survivor of the WWII in Tokyo.
“The rescript preaches dying for the Emperor. It’s terrible education for kids. It surely goes against the current Constitution,” said Keiko Taira, another war survivor.
ANOTHER PERILOUS STEP
While the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education is under public scrutiny, another move of the Abe administration to add a highly controversial course of bayonet fighting to secondary school education has raised further concern about Japan’s flagrant retrogression to pre-war militarism.
Japan’s education ministry approved recently a new version of education guidelines, which include for the first time jukendo, or “way of the bayonet” in the physical education curriculum for middle school students.
The guidelines, expected to be implemented in fiscal 2021 for middle schools, suggested that schools should provide students with martial art lessons such as judo, kendo, and jukendo so as to give the students better access to traditional Japanese culture.
Critics, however, have been quick to point out that Jukendo is in essence “a killing art,” with practitioners thrusting blunted wooden bayonets to their opponents, targeting often vital parts of the human body such as chest and throat.
What’s more, bayonet fighting remains a painful reminder of the bloody battlefields that Japan forced upon its neighbors’ territories before and during the WWII.
It has been a combat means during wartime and was taught at military schools in Japan then. Now it is still part of the regular training for the Japanese Self-Defense Force servicemen.
“Bayonet fighting is not a well-recognized sport item like judo or sumo. It is not appropriate for our time now and is terrifying,” said Ryuichi Yoneyama, governor of Niigata, central Japan, in a tweet recently.
He also pointed out that jukendo was not included in a draft version of the guidelines released for soliciting public opinions, but only added to it later upon strong requests from some lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
“It would naturally remind people of a background of nostalgia for militarism,” he said.
WHAT TO TEACH TO CHILDREN
Education specialists like Hidenori Fujita have noted that historical and geographical education in Japan is rapidly going awry.
The Kyoei University professor previously said that textbooks here lack balance and fail to represent the feelings of unjustness from countries like China and South Korea, and are lacking in detail about the specific claims from non-Japanese parties regarding issues of territory and history.
In one such example, the Manchurian Incident – the invasion of northeast China by Japanese troops on Sept. 18, 1931, which ushered in the 14-year Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression – was barely mentioned on one page in a textbook, and the Nanjing Massacre and “comfort women” issue are barely footnotes in the textbooks.
Hiroshi Onishi, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo, points out that the Imperial Rescript on Education was the most important symbol of the Japanese Military Dictatorship in the prewar period and even then was opposed by many intellectuals.
“Therefore, the present movement to revive the script shows a very dangerous trend to go back to the old imperialist regime,” he said, adding that many Japanese peace-lovers are against such movement.
From relaxing post-war pacifist constitution that bans its military from fighting abroad to ambitious overseas military presence, and now from the military to national education, the steps taken by the Abe administration have been alarming to many peace-loving people in Japan.
Abe himself has, on a number of occasions, stated that Japanese young people do not have to keep apologizing in the future for Japan’s atrocities committed before and during World War II, exposing his reluctance to face up to history and delivering misguided and unsound messages to the younger generations here.
Such education threatens to severely warp children and young people’s understanding of historical facts and hence the minds of future generations here, including those that will go on to be leaders in politics, industry and, ironically, education in Japan, said experts here. Enditem