Tokyo teacher embattled over war history

City official said Japan never invaded Korea. Teacher demurs.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Miyako Masuda is a 23-year veteran of public schools here. Like many Japanese history teachers of her generation, she dislikes new textbooks that frame Japan as the victim in World War II. It bothers her that books claiming America caused the war are now adopted by an entire city ward. In fact, Masuda disapproves of the whole nationalist direction of Tokyo public schools.

Yet until last year, Masuda, who calls herself "pretty ordinary," rarely went out of her way to disagree. Few teachers do.

But when a Tokyo city councilman in an official meeting said "Japan never invaded Korea," her history class sent an apology to Korean President Roh Moo-hyan - an action that sparked her removal from her classroom.

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The war history dispute in Asia is now so front-and-center that it was cited by South Korea as a reason to avoid an upcoming December visit to Japan by Mr. Roh. Alongside the diplomatic row, the Masuda case shows how nationalist policies are creeping into the minutiae of daily life in Japan's capital city.

Masuda, who says her two sons have Korean friends, got censured after her class did a study group on Japan's occupation of Korea. Her social studies class wrote a letter of apology to Roh, and sent it to the Korean Embassy in Toyko. In a cover letter, Masuda said that councilman Koga Toshiaki's remarks were "a disgrace" by objective historical standards, but "regrettably [they] can be presented proudly as a triumph in the assembly of Tokyo, the capital of this country."

The class never heard from the Korean consul. But Masuda did hear from the Tokyo Board of Education. Her letter was discovered by a Yasukuni shrine support group and they complained to city officials. Masuda was told that while Mr. Koga did speak in public, it was "inappropriate" for Masuda to repeat his name in a letter that was not private, and a violation of city employee codes.

Masuda is now ordered to spend her days in a small room studying public servant regulations, a serious humiliation she says. She in turn is trying to fight in court.

Masuda's experience shows the growing power of Japanese nationalists, and their grass-roots influence in Tokyo, analysts say.

For example, last month Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi positioned his ultranationalist protégé Shinzo Abe to be his successor, after Mr. Koizumi steps down in September. Mr. Abe, like Tokyo's hugely popular Mayor Ishihara, is a fan of the Tsukuru-Kai history textbooks that seek to restore a proud Japan by rewriting the past. Mr. Ishihara, for his part, directly appoints all six Tokyo school board members.

Tokyo schools reflect nationalist views: children pledging allegiance to the emperor as in the 1930s, school board members supporting Yasakuni shrine visits, and curriculums failing to mention Japan's invasion of Korea or China.

Masuda, for her part, insists it is wrong to teach untruths to students, for any reason.

"I feel it is my job to tell the truth, it is what I spend my life doing," she told the Monitor. "When something looks crooked I don't like it. I feel I want to make it straight. If you are straight it is better for everyone.

"I explain and teach the past. But I am now suspended as a history teacher for doing that, even though they say it is for administrative discipline."

In an interview, Masuda reads out the words of the Tokyo city council member from the official transcript: "It is not proper to describe a war of aggression by Japan. Where and when in the world did Japan ever invade? I'd like to ask, once and for all, when where and which country...."

At the APEC summit in South Korea last week, it was unclear whether Koizumi and Roh would even meet on the sidelines. The Korean president told Mr. Koizumi outright that his visits to the Yasakuni shrine, and the Tsukuru-Kai texts, were "provocative." Koizumi tried to say his visits to the shrine, where the remains of Class A war criminals are housed, symbolized the idea of never going to war again. Roh, according to Asahi Shimbun, told Koizumi, "No matter how positively we interpret your feelings, the people of South Korea will never accept it."

Masuda says some fellow teachers supported her at first in her current ordeal, but have since stopped. They fear of their own status in the school. Masuda now must report to the Tokyo Metropolitan School Personnel In-service Training Center, a place she describes in Kafkaesque terms.

Masuda seems a little stubborn, a little leftist, but a stickler for details in the way of junior high teachers around the world. She brightens immediately when the subject turns to teaching. She is proud her classes are not rote memory exercises typical in Japanese public schools. She requires "Discussion Papers" where students have to show how they arrive at conclusions. Papers deal with topics like Hiroshima and Iraq. Last year she showed her class a television documentary put out by Japanese national TV on Korean comfort women- how the Japanese government in the war had sent orders for brothels to be built in China with women dragooned to work there from all over Asia.

Currently, teachers that stress Japan's responsibility for wartime aggression are increasingly framed in Tokyo as "Marxists" living in the past.

Masuda's case has been picked up as a case of simple slander by the Tokyo media. A Japanese journalist with extensive experience points out that the Tokyo Asahi ran an item saying that Masuda was suspended for slandering the government officials and the publisher of the textbook.

The Asahi reporter sourced the story to the Tokyo Board of Education. Masuda's friends and fellow teachers protested to the Asahi reporter. They said the story was inaccurate, and that Masuda should have been talked to for balance.

So the Asahi reporter went back to the Board of Education and asked if his story was correct. They told him yes, his story was correct.

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