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Censors' pencil is blunted;Briefing

Michael Fitzpatrick reports on how the courts have helped curtail the practice of 'screening' textbooks

JAPAN. Censorship of Japanese school textbooks has been successfully challenged for the second time in the courts.

Nobuyoshi Takashima, joint-author of a social studies text for high schools, has been awarded 200,000 yen (pound;909) for "anguish" caused by censorship of his work in 1992.

The Yokohama district court ruled that the education ministry had abused its power by making changes to the textbook.

The judge added that the ministry did not have clear reasons for ordering the changes as required by law. However, the court also ruled that the screening of school textbooks is constitutional.

Takashima, a 56-year-old professor at Ryukyu University in Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan, filed his suit in June 1993 for 1 million yen. He declared after his victory that he would fight on to eradicate textbook censorship altogether.

"I intend to use the ruling as leverage to force the state to abolish the system," he said.

Textbooks have for decades been an ideological battleground in Japan, which is divided over what version of history children should be reading at school.

There are those who believe the nation should be more penitent over its wartime past and those who argue Tokyo was forced into World War II and did little to be ashamed of.

Since the right-wing Liberal Democrats party (LDP) emerged as the ruling power in Japan in 1958 the ministry of education has had the power to reject or revise "unsuitable" textbooks.

The LDP pledged an end to the screening of high-school textbooks as part of its platform in recent elections, but then abruptly withdrew the idea.

Books for social sciences - screened to ensure that their version of history is acceptable to the government - are the focus of the greatest concerns.

The practice caused outcry in Japan and among its Asian neighbours because the censors tend to erase all mention of Japan's aggression in the Pacific War.

The Yokohama court decision echoed a Supreme Court case won in August by Saburo Ienaga, an historian and author, who received 400,000 yen in compensation for the ministry's unlawful deletion of a passage from one of his books. The excerpt referred to a Japanese germ warfare group Unit 731 which conducted biochemical experiments on humans in northern China during World War II.

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