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How much should be in textbooks?

March 28, 2012

School textbooks diverge on handling of tsunami photos, nuclear disaster


New high-school textbooks whose screening results were announced on March 27 made many references to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, but diverged on the handling of photos, and descriptions of the ensuing disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

Publisher Tokyo Shoseki Co. carried a section for students to learn about natural disasters in its textbook "Kagagu to Ningen Seikatsu" (Science and human life). A color photo showing a tsunami surging into a residential area on March 11, 2011 took up about half a page in the B5-sized textbook. The photo was taken by Mainichi photographer Koichiro Tezuka, and won a Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association award.

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, a total of 53 textbooks in eight of the 10 main subjects mentioned the earthquake disaster, while three textbooks used photos of the March 2011 tsunami.

"Photographs firmly convey the unparalleled extent of the disaster. We took the schools hit by the disaster into consideration, and cut photos so that human suffering was not brought to the fore," a Tokyo Shoseki official said.

Many textbooks carried smaller photos of devastated city areas and rubble, and used chronological lists to describe the disaster.

"There are concerns about the psychological impact on people hit by the disaster. We carried photos of the Great Hanshin Earthquake but it's hard to tell if this was the right thing to do," one publishing official commented.

A total of 16 textbooks from six subjects made references to the nuclear disaster triggered by the quake. But only Yamakawa Shuppansha's "Gendai Shakai" (Modern society) published the name of the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant (Tokyo Electric Power Co.). The Education Ministry's screening guidelines request that publishers refrain from advertising or criticizing specific companies, and many publishers were careful about their descriptions, using only such terms as "the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant." Some publishers added that the nuclear crisis had yet to be conclusively evaluated, so handling the disaster was difficult.

Only one publisher, Kairyudo Publishing Co., touched on the issue of radioactive contamination and food safety in its textbook "Katei Kiso" (Home basics). The deadline for textbook submissions was in late April last year. At the time of the quake, the textbook contained no mention of radiation. However, editorial staff judged that the subject concerned life and people's lifestyles, and before the deadline, which was extended by about one month due to the quake and tsunami, it added a column whose theme was "radiation's pollution of the environment and interim regulatory limits."

An official of another textbook publisher commented, "We were busy responding to the disaster, and unable to include all the references we wanted to."

Publishers are now expected to apply to replace content in their textbooks.

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