Education chief’s prewar rescript remarks show lack of judgment

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There are many domains where the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education could be used in a moral education class or elsewhere if given a contemporary twist, the new education minister said during his inaugural news conference.

Masahiko Shibayama said he believes the rescript, issued in 1890 in the name of Emperor Meiji, has elements with perceivable universality.

That makes us doubt the judgment of the Cabinet member who was appointed to take charge of educational administration.

Under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, politicians close to him have repeatedly made remarks defending the imperial rescript.

Hakubun Shimomura, a former education minister, said he believes the rescript is “utterly reasonable” and remains “quite relevant today.”

Tomomi Inada, a former defense minister, also said the spirit of the rescript, which is about aspiring to a moral nation, is something that should be taken back.

Shibayama, who has served as special adviser to the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and as special adviser to the prime minister, is the latest to follow in their footsteps.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga tried to tamp down fires by saying the government has no plans to make aggressive efforts to have the rescript used in classrooms, but that alone is not enough.

Abe should come forward to explain the matter and flatly deny any “rehabilitation” of the rescript.

The essence of the Imperial Rescript on Education lies in its call for devoting oneself to the imperial family and the state at a time of emergency. That is why the Lower House unanimously approved a resolution to eliminate it in June 1948, three years after Japan’s defeat in World War II, on the grounds that “the fact that its fundamental idea is grounded on imperial sovereignty and a mythical view of the national polity obviously harms basic human rights and could allow questions to remain in terms of international good faith.”

That comment was very rightly made.

Something with roots that are at odds with popular sovereignty and respect for human rights should by no means be used in schools, no matter what twist it might be given.

Shibayama said he sees “universality” in the imperial rescript partly because it values international cooperation. That understanding, however, is also questionable.

Masanori Tsujita, a scholar of modern and contemporary history, said there were moves, in the wake of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), to have the rescript revised on the grounds that its text lacked a viewpoint of international cooperation.

The rescript contains a passage saying that the way presented therein is a teaching bequeathed by successive imperial ancestors and remains applicable abroad. In the end, the rescript continued to function as a moral pillar for pushing a value system both at home and abroad and for supporting militarism.

Defenders of the rescript say it mentions a lot of good things, such as taking good care of siblings and friends and spreading benevolence and the public good.

Familial love, friendship and public spirit, however, can be taught without quoting the imperial rescript. All those universal virtues have, in fact, already been included in the government’s curriculum guidelines.

Prewar Japan compelled the public to obey the emperor and the state uncritically, drove them into a war and down a path of catastrophe.

There is no way whatsoever the rescript should be used in education except by referring to it as a historical material for giving lessons on that bitter development.