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A place in history for 'comfort women'

Once again Japan is divided over what version of history children should be studying.

Through the government's policy of screening all school textbooks, particularly history texts, the education ministry finds itself at the centre of a debate over references to the use of Korean women as "sex slaves" in Japanese military brothels before and during the Second World War.

Senior members of Japan's ruling right-wing Liberal Democratic Party are urging the education ministry to delete references to so-called "comfort women" from a new middle-school textbook to be published in April. The ministry's Textbook Authorisation Research Council approved junior high school social studies textbooks that include descriptions of the role of "comfort women". High-school texts already mention the subject.

Japanese teachers, scholars, politicians and elements of the media have launched campaigns to oppose what they call "masochistic views" of history. Some historians estimate that 100,000 to 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels up to 1945 but the revisionist lobby claims that "comfort women" never existed and wants references to them to be deleted from textbooks.

The revisionists' leader is Yoshinori Kobayashi, a manga cartoonist popular with young readers. The group also includes education leaders such as Nobukatsu Fujioka, a 53-year-old professor of education at Todai University. He heads the unironically named Liberal Historical Views Study Group, which challenges the popular view of "comfort women". The "comfort women" issue, he says, has been raised by left-wingers as "part of the project to dismantle the Japanese state".

Opposing the revisionist view through a nationwide multimedia campaign is an informal group of 700 members drawn from public life. Education minister Takashi Kosugi said recently that he has no plans to delete the controversial reference.

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