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Thursday, March 13, 2003

Abductions new cause for text revisionists

Group wants focus on Pyongyang's rights abuses, not Japan's atrocities

Staff writer

OSAKA -- A group that supports revising history textbooks to exclude or downplay atrocities committed by Japan during the first half of the 20th century is now pushing for inclusion of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals as an example of human rights abuse.

The Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which published a history text in 2001 that angered China, South Korea and other nations for its attempt to cast Japan's militaristic past in a positive light, is now pushing for schools to portray the abductions of Japanese by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s as a human rights issue.

The society, widely regarded as nationalistic, sponsored a symposium in December with prominent relatives of people who were abducted by North Korea.

"Junior high schools around Japan are using eight different social studies textbooks, including one that we published. But only our text includes a reference to the abductions by North Korea. Of the estimated 1.34 million civics textbooks in total, there are only about 750 of our texts in use," said Hidetsugu Yagi, a society official at the symposium.

"The abductions by North Korea were the greatest attack on Japan's sovereignty and the greatest human rights abuse targeting postwar Japan," he said.

The symposium came only a few weeks after the Hyogo prefectural board of education rejected a request by local educators, some of whom belong to the society, to include the abductions as a human rights issue in prefectural schools.

"Our position, since Kim Jong Il had admitted to the kidnappings, (is that) they should be taught as an example of human rights violations. The alliance asked that the abduction issue be included in human rights education," said Muneo Takasu, a representative of the National Teachers' Federation of Japan's Hyogo chapter, which made the request.

The board of education's rejection came with the backing of the education ministry.

A spokesman for the Hyogo Prefecture Human Rights Education Division who asked not to be identified said: "We recognized that the abductions were a human rights problem. But there are still many aspects of the issue that are unclear. We consulted the education ministry and were advised not to include the issue."

Since the December symposium -- which featured Shigeru and Sakae Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was kidnapped and reportedly died in North Korea, and Toru Hasuike, whose abductee brother, Kaoru, returned to Japan in October -- the national society has made including the abduction issue in human rights education a part of its overall effort. The society wants Japan's youth taught versions of history and social studies different from that found in textbooks containing references to wartime sex slaves and the Nanjing Massacre.

The society has described the inclusion of such references as anti-Japanese and humiliating.

The alliance between the textbook revisionists and the relatives of the abductees has many in Japan's Korean community worried.

"Some of the family members of those kidnapped seem to have a rightwing agenda that would whitewash Japanese-Korean history, and they have found common cause with the textbook revisionists. The demands to teach the abduction issue as a human rights issue are one method by which they can push their agenda," said Kim Hyun Soo, international director and education chief of the Osaka branch of the pro-Seoul Korean Residents' Union in Japan (Mindan).

Although the textbook revisionist society said it does not plan any further symposiums with relatives of the abduction victims, Masaharu Miyazaki, a group spokesman, said the body will continue to press local governments around Japan to include the abduction issue in their human rights education classes.

"There has been a wall thrown up by local boards of education to introducing the abduction issue as a human rights issue. But Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has expressed support for what we are doing, and members in local chapters of our society are working to include the issue," Miyazaki said.

In addition to three chapters in Tokyo, the society has chapters or support groups in 10 other prefectures.

Soo, however, said such attempts will be challenged.

"What the society and some family members really want to do is portray Japan as a victim and not put those abductions in a historical perspective," he said. "The Osaka branch of the Korean Residents' Union works with the prefecture on human rights education, and we will fight any attempt to introduce such one-sided education that lacks historical background, in Osaka or elsewhere."

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The Japan Times

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