In July of 2011 the ‘Educational Resource Steering Committee’ of the towns of Ishigaki, Taketomi, and Yonaguni in the district of Yaeyama in Okinawa prefecture recommended that local junior high schools adopt a history textbook published by Ikuhosha, a subsidiary company of the Fuji Sankei network and founded by the ‘Association for the Creation of New History Textbooks’ (J), a right-wing revisionist organisation.
The method of selection of the textbook was fraught with controversy, with many members who objected to the textbook being removed from the committee before a final decision was handed down. On the 23rd of August of the same year, the committee, acting on behalf of all junior high schools in the area, resolved to use the Ikuhosha textbook and gave notice of this to the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education (J).
Despite the fact that the district had made a decision regarding its educational materials, the Board of Education of the town of Taketomi resolved that as the vetting process for the textbook had been so opaque, it would not use the Ikuhosha textbook and would instead adopt a textbook printed by Tokyo Shoseki, a more leftist publication. This presented something of a dilemma, for if one town in the district chose not to adopt the textbook used by the other two, this would produce an unusual situation whereby students from different towns in the same district would be using different textbooks. The other dilemma concerned the cost of distributing the textbooks. According to the national textbook distribution law (教科書無償設置法), in order for a textbook to be distributed gratis, local education boards must be in unanimous agreement on the book in question. While Ishigaki and Yonaguni agreed to use the Ikuhosha textbook, Taketomi did not.
When this situation was reported to the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education, the Board convened a meeting between the educational board heads of the three towns on the 30th of August, urging Taketomi to adopt the Ikuhosha model. When that proved less than successful, an ‘all town educational board’ meeting was convened on the 8th of September, and a consensus reached by members to adopt the textbook printed by Tokyo Shoseki.
However, the Ministry of Education, citing the fact that the education board heads of Ishigaki and Yonaguni had already chosen the Ikuhosha textbook, meant that the all town education board’s decision was not unanimous and therefore void. The Ministry then directed all three town education boards to adhere to the original decision and adopt the Ikuhosha book. While Ishigaki and Yonaguni were prepared to follow the Ministry’s ruling, Taketomi again voiced its dissent and refused to comply (J).
Not one to take no for an answer, in October last year the Ministry directed the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education to order the Taketomi Board of Education to again adopt the Ikuhosha textbook. Despite meeting with Taketomi representatives five times thereafter, the Okinawan educational board was no more successful in reaching a compromise with Taketomi, and indeed began to resent the manner in which the Ministry attempted to impose its ruling on both the Okinawan government and Taketomi itself. The issue lay dormant until Friday last week when the Ministry of Education, citing the Local Government Act, issued a direct order to the Taketomi Board of Education instructing them to re-examine their choice of textbook. This was the first time the Ministry had issued such an order to a local Board of Education, thereby by-passing the normal channel of the prefectural Board of Education, a state of affairs that seriously irritated the Okinawan government (J).
The head of the Taketomi Board of Education, Kedamori Anzō, was reported as wondering why the Ministry had decided that it had to throw its weight around now, especially since the students in the district of Yaeyama were all learning equally and that no disadvantage had been afforded the students of Taketomi as a result of using a different history textbook. Moreover, Taketomi had been one area that suffered during the closing period of the Pacific War, when it and other towns in Yaeyama district had witnessed the forced deportation of townspeople to make way for Imperial forces, a situation that resulted in the deaths from malaria of some 3,000 town residents. In the mind of the local Board of Education, to attempt to gloss over this fact would be a disservice to the memory of those who died and to the promotion of peace, the first principle of any educational system (J).
For his part, Education Minister Shimomura Hakubun made his position towards Taketomi clear, saying that with the new school year rapidly approaching, the Ministry had decided to step in and issue its order directly to the local Board of Education. Moreover “as a nation of laws it is a matter of course that this illegal situation be resolved, and I expect Taketomi town to make a decision on this serious problem” (J).
For all its seriousness, however, there is not a lot that the federal government can do to force Taketomi to adopt the Ikuhosha textbook. There are no penalties for Taketomi using an alternative textbook, and even if the Ministry took the Taketomi Board of Education to court and won it could not force the town’s Board of Education to agree to use the Ikuhosha book. As the Tokyo Shimbun learnt from a member of the Ministry of Education’s executive, the whole controversy appears to be no more than a ‘performance’ on the part of Abe government to establish its conservative credentials. While the federal government could withhold funding for the Okinawan Prefectural Board of Education, given the performance of public schools in Okinawa compared to the national average (J), this might be seen as both counter-productive and vindictive.
One does have to wonder whether the issue of textbooks would have been so vigorously pursued had Taketomi been located on Naha Island. With the Okinawan government already ill-disposed towards successive federal governments over the relocation of Futenma base, to have issues of historical memory questioned in the most populated part of Okinawa prefecture would certainly produce further protests and raise the possibility of international coverage. As things stand, however, the federal government would gain little if anything trying to force Taketomi to adopt the Ikuhosha textbook and should let the matter rest.