April 27, 2006

Japan cabinet approves patriotism for schools plan

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's cabinet approved a bill on Friday
to make nurturing "love of country" an aim of education, a
change sought by conservatives who want patriotism in schools
but opposed by those who see parallels with militarism.

The revisions -- which would be the first to the 1947
Fundamental Law of Education since it was enacted during the
U.S.-led occupation -- are unlikely to be welcomed by China and
South Korea, locked in disputes with Japan stemming from the
legacy of Japanese military occupation and colonization.

The revisions would make it a goal of education policy to
cultivate "an attitude that respects tradition and culture,
loves the nation and the homeland that have fostered them,
respects other nations, and contributes to peace and
development of international society."

Education Minister Kenji Kosaka told reporters: "We want to
make efforts to enact this bill and to gain the people's

Among those keen on the change is Chief Cabinet Secretary
Shinzo Abe, the current front-runner in the race to succeed
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down in

Conservatives have long been unhappy with the U.S.-drafted
law, which they say eroded the pride of Japanese in their
culture and history, and undermined legitimate patriotic

"It's a very important symbol of a strengthening of
nationalism in the political class and the will of the
political class to educate people toward stronger nationalism,"
said Sven Saaler, an associate professor at the University of

Feuds have already erupted with Beijing and Seoul over
textbooks that critics say whitewash Tokyo's past aggression.

Japan's relations with its two neighbors are also frigid
because of Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine for war
dead, where some convicted war criminals are honored.

Critics of the proposed new education law fear for freedom
of speech and thought.

"This revision would turn back the clock to the pre-war
era," Communist Party lawmaker Ikuko Ishii told a gathering of
opponents to the changes this week.

"It is a serious violation of freedom of thought."

Some conservatives, though, are disappointed that the
changes do not go further to include cultivating a "patriotic
spirit" as well a "religious attitude."

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Buddhist-backed
junior coalition partner, New Komeito, had been wary of
revisions and worked to water down more strongly worded

Many members of the lay Buddhist group that supports the
New Komeito had suffered under the wartime state Shinto
religion and were wary of anything hinting at a revival of
similar ideology.

Whether the bill will be enacted in the current session of
parliament ending June 18 is unclear, although the ruling camp
has a majority in both houses.