Friday, June 01, 2007

Publisher Drops New History Textbook; A Victory for China and South Korea? Not So Fast

Yomiuri and Asahi tell more or less the same story: Fusosha, the publishing arm of the conservative media conglomerate Fuji-Sankei Group, has decided to drop the controversial New History Textbook written by the members of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform and publish a new textbook that "receives broader support from all layers of society". After ten years, only 5,000 students, or less than 1% of the national total, use the textbook , and Fusosha could not take it any more, it seems. JSHTR is going to seek a new publisher. The JSHTR named Nobumasa Fujioka to replace the previous chairman, who had opposed the attempt to continue to publish the New History Textbook.

So, a victory for China, South Korea, and Japanese liberals?

No. Mainichi adds some crucial details. Fusosha is going to cooperate with the Nihon Kyouiku Saisei Kikou, or Japan Education Rebuilding Organization (my translation; its website does not display an English name) to produce the new one. Sankei goes even further and gives the name of the new Fusosha partner as the soon-to-be-established Kaisei Kyouiki Kihonhou ni Motozuku Kyoukasho Kaizen wo Susumeru Yuushikisha no Kai (Committee of Learned People Promoting the Improvement of Textbooks Based on the Revised Education Basic Law; my translation again) and the name of its head as Taro Yayama.

If Nihon Kyouiku Saisei Kikou, or Japan Education Rebuilding Organization, sounds familiar, take note that it was established on 22 October 2006, twelve days after the Abe administration's Kyouiku Saisei Kaigi or Education Rebuilding Council (official translation), and one of the six JERO advisors is Taro Yayama, a writer who is reputedly a close confidante of Shinzo Abe. Terumasa Nakanishi, the conservative historian, is a JERO advisor as well, and also has the prime minister's ear. However, neither the NKSK chairman, nor any of its six advisors nor 112 elders serves on the ERC.

Incidentally, one of the 112 elders is Tadashi Kobayashi, the deposed JSHTR chairman, and would be one of the three advisors to the new textbook committee. (The others would be Taro Yayama and Shuji Yagi, the JERO chairman.) There should be other overlaps in membership, which will likely be unwound in JERO's favor.

What does all this mean? I think Mr. Abe or his friends have engineered a masterful coup within the conservative ranks. Or, more gently stated, they put an old workhorse to pasture. Without financial support from the Fuji-Sankei Group, the money losing New History Textbook will surely wither away.

JERO, of course, has a much broader agenda (education rebuilding) than JSHTR; and a distinctly conservative one too, unlike the high profile and sometimes-unpredictable ERC. Mr. Abe may or may not long outlast the July Upper House election, and public acceptance of the conservative agenda becomes highly suspect, once you begin trying, for example, to define "patriotism". Yet, at worst, he will leave a legacy of an institutionalized advocacy in education for the conservative cause with the backing of a powerful national media group.

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