Protesters Decry Japan's New History Textbooks
Chanting, "Japan, apologize," and "Japan, tell the truth," more than 200 Asian American protesters Tuesday demanded that the Japanese government pull back new history textbooks that they say whitewash Japan's crimes against its neighbors before and during World War II.
The demonstrators--people of Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Okinawan ancestries representing 136 organizations throughout Southern California--said the Japanese government has reversed an earlier effort to make texts reflect wartime atrocities.
The most emotional issue is the fact that five of Japan's eight newly approved junior high textbooks do not mention "comfort women," a euphemism for Asian women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during the war.
"A revisionist history that justifies imperial Japan's actions is what is being included in these textbooks," Annalisa Enrile of the Filipino American women's group Gabriela Network, told a noontime rally at downtown Los Angeles' California Plaza, where the Japanese Consulate is located.
The Japanese Education Ministry's approval of the books demonstrates "a resurgence of remilitarization in Japan," Enrile said.
Five representatives of the demonstrators met with Japanese Consulate officials Tuesday in their 17th-floor offices and delivered a letter addressed to the Japanese prime minister expressing their "alarm" at the approval of the new textbooks.
The most controversial book was developed by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a right-wing organization whose primary goal is rewriting public school books to justify Japanese colonialism.
The protesters called on Japan's prime minister to make a full disclosure of his nation's war crimes and admit the government's complicity in them, make reparations to the victims and teach the truth in textbooks so the crimes are not repeated.
Consul Yasushi Fujii declined to comment but said the letter will be forwarded to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.
The Japanese government first acknowledged the existence of comfort women in 1992 after decades of denial. The admission came after Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers, printed documentary evidence unearthed in government archives by Japanese historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi.
As many as 200,000 women from Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia were conscripted by the Japanese military to serve the Japanese troops from the 1930s to 1945.
By 1996, all seven history textbooks approved by the Education Ministry reflected that history.
Another demonstrator, Rudolph Pan, 74, a retired USC administrator who represented the Chinese Central Committee, said the Japanese government should apologize to its neighbors and ask for their forgiveness.
Lucia Kim, 77, and Duk-Sook Choi, 80, Koreatown residents, said they came, despite their frail health, because they cannot believe "the gall" of the Japanese government.
"My blood pressure shot up, and I couldn't sleep the night I heard the news about the textbooks," Choi said.
"Not mentioning comfort women is tantamount to insulting the women the world over," she said.
"When I looked back on what Japan did to us, I thought I would burst from rage," Kim said. "How dare they deny their crimes, when eyewitnesses are still living."
During their 35-year colonial rule of Korea, Japanese authorities prohibited Koreans from speaking their language, ordered them to adopt Japanese names and even made them pull out the Korean national flower, the rose of Sharon.
"These are our histories that are not going to be heard of--ever--if these textbooks are [used]," said Martha Matsuoka of the Los Angeles-based Okinawa Peace Network.
Last week, South Korea protested the texts by announcing the recall of its ambassador to Japan.
Criticism has not been limited to foreign countries.
One Japanese group, spearheaded by Kenzaboro Oe, the 1994 Nobel literature laureate, has denounced what it calls "watering down the infliction of damage on other nations and the justification of Japan's invasion and colonial rule.
"The voice of criticism has been raised from Korea and China, but of course the textbook issue is our own problem," the group said in a statement.
By K. CONNIE KANG, Times Staff Writer