Japanese school textbooks whitewash nuclear disaster
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Japanese school textbooks whitewash nuclear disaster


Japan's textbook publishers are divided over how to document last year's disaster. Pic: AP.

There are many of things Japan has done in the past that it tries to erase from public memory by downplaying their events in school textbooks: the Nanking Massacre, medical testing on POWs during WWII, comfort women and territorial disputes.

But all these are atrocities that have happened outside of Japan, to other nationalities and they occurred generations ago. As inexcusable as it is to claim their non-existence, the logic is somehow more understandable.

But now Japan is trying to rewrite its own modern history. The barely 12-month-old events of the March 11 disaster are now being whitewashed out of “concern got people’s feelings and uncertainly about the effects of radiation,” the Yomiuri Shimbun reports.

“Textbooks are used for a certain period of time. While the situation surrounding the nuclear crisis remains unclear, we can’t hastily cover the issue,” said one textbook publisher.

Only one in 10 textbooks produced for Japan’s schools have covered the issue of radiation and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

One editor defended this decision saying they were in two minds about how to include content but were considering those affected by the event.

“We wanted to take up the issue under food safety, but didn’t know how to handle an issue whose impact has yet to become clear. So we couldn’t cover it.”

Another publisher who refrained from mentioning the Fukushima disaster specifically said that they offered general information on nuclear generation and safety to “encourage [students] to think about the issue on their own”.

One teacher told the newspaper that from a scientific viewpoint, the information offered in the textbooks was inefficient.

Already teachers in the Tohoku area are taking it upon themselves to inform their students about last year’s events and how they will impact the lives of the pupils.

Tomoyuki Bannai says his year four students in Koriyama, 60 kilometres from the nuclear plant, are “probably the best in the world in terms of radiation education,” he told the Japan Times .

“I want them to have the ability to select the right information when so many different data exist. And I want them to be smart enough to think for themselves based on such information.”

Radiation education will become compulsory subject in junior high school from next year and Fukushima’s 700 primary and junior high schools will be forced to spend between two to three hours a year on the topic.

In contrast, Bannai and his students have spend between 30 and 40 hours in the last year alone, with the aid of a colourful picture book he created on his own and distributed free of charge to his students.

Tomoyuki Bannai's picturebook can be purchased on Amazon for 1000 yen. Picture: Amazon.com

We will not lose to radiation” uses red lines to show how radiation accumulates in materials and foods and helps children understand the difference between internal and external exposure.

However, without the appropriate study materials, how well the rest of Japan’s school children will understand how their lives have been and will continue to be impacted by the nuclear disaster is unknown.