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New leaf in park of peace

Spring is when Japanese high-school pupils visit some of their country's most important centres of history and culture. This year, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, the most popular destination for school groups is the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum.

More than a million pupils are expected to visit the park, laid out around the epicentre of the atom bomb that killed 180,000.

The museum reveals the horrific effects of the bomb, and Hibakusha (bomb survivors) are available to talk to the pupils.

In the classroom, pupils are learning more about their country's wartime conduct. New history textbooks covering the 1930s and 1940s were introduced this year.

Previous texts portrayed Japan as a victim rather than aggressor and ignored many atrocities committed by the Japanese army. Protests from authors, who accused the education ministry of censorship, contributed to the decision to sanction the new books. Pupils now learn about Japan's brutal occupation of Korea and the invasion of China, when tens of thousands of civilians died.

"It is important that young Japanese learn the full facts of the events of the East Asia War," says teacher Hajime Iwata. "Learning more about the brutality of the conflict will help to reduce the possibility of aggression in the future."

But not everyone approves. Earlier this year, nationalist students, teachers and lecturers demonstrated against the idea of the Diet - the country's parliament - marking the 50th anniversary of the end of Second World War by apologising for Japan's role in the conflict.

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