NEW HISTORY: As the country begins to embrace a nationalist taboo since the end of World War II, officials said students should learn to sing the national anthem in schools
Saturday, Mar 29, 2008, Page 5
A court yesterday ruled the Japanese military had a role in wartime mass suicides in Okinawa, rejecting a libel suit by former soldiers against Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe.
The suit was filed in August 2005 against Oe and the publisher of his 1970 book of essays Okinawa Notes, which mentioned how Japanese troops ordered islanders to kill themselves in 1945 rather than surrender to US invaders.
The Osaka District Court threw out the ¥20 million (US$200,000) suit by a 91-year-old former soldier and another soldier's family, as well as their demand that the book be suspended from publication, a court official said.
The military was deeply involved in the group suicides during World War II, the Osaka District Court said in a closely watched ruling.
The suit was one of the reasons the central government had cited last year for its controversial decision to change school textbooks to delete references to the military forcing islanders to commit suicides.
The 83-day Battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest in the Pacific war, left 190,000 Japanese dead, half of them civilians on the southern island chain.
While many perished in the all-out US bombardment, local accounts say mainland Japanese troops forced residents of Okinawa -- an independent kingdom until the 19th century -- to commit suicide rather than surrender.
Locals have said the troops even gave them grenades for suicides while nationalist academics have insisted that the suicide pacts were voluntary.
The central government's decision under former nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe sparked furious protests in Okinawa, including a mass rally.
Abe stepped down in September.
Under pressure, the education ministry in December restored references in history textbooks to note that Okinawans "committed group suicides with the involvement by the Japanese military."
Oe, now 73, won the Nobel prize for literature in 1994 and is known for his pacifist views.
Also yesterday, Japan ordered schools to teach children to sing the national anthem in the latest controversial step to boost patriotism, a taboo since World War II.
The education ministry issued new education guidelines for children aged six to 15 to take effect in 2010 at the earliest.
At the moment schools teach the anthem as part of regular coursework but the new ruling emphasizes instruction "so that children can sing it," a ministry statement said.
Japan has been gradually embracing national symbols which were shunned by most except for nationalist activists in the decades since defeat in World War II.
Liberal teachers have led a campaign against the national anthem in Tokyo and other school districts that have required it to be played at school ceremonies.
The anthem, Kimigayo ("Thy Reign"), praises the emperor. Critics say it harks back to Japan's militarism under the Emperor Hirohito, who was considered divine during World War II.
The ministry also added a guideline saying that "love for our country and hometown, which has nurtured tradition and culture," should be part ot ethics classes.
Additionally, it asked that classes teach children the country's myths, which say the imperial family descended from the goddess Amaterasu. The story will be presented as myth.
The revision was done in line with a bill passed by parliament in December 2006 that patriotism be part of national education.
The parliamentary bill was a signature issue for Abe, an outspoken conservative who championed breaking post-World War II taboos.
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