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[Opinion] Japan’s “Grassroots Civic Groups”, a Force Against Right-Wing Extremists

[Opinion] Japan’s “Grassroots Civic Groups”, a Force Against Right-Wing Extremists

Posted August. 11, 2005 03:05,   


Japanese right-wing groups announced their goal of a 10 percent book adoption rate when a controversial, rightist history textbook was officially approved this year. They said that they will recover from the dismal adoption rate of 0.039 percent four years ago. However, Japanese civic groups say that the issue is whether or not the rate can be contained below one percent. This means that rightists’ goal of 10 percent has effectively gone.

Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21, which has taken lead in deterring the adoption of the rightist history textbook, ran an opinion advertisement in Dong-A Ilbo on August 8. The ad said, “We oppose the adoption of a textbook which distorts history and justifies Japanese colonial rule of Korea.” This reminds us that Japan’s conscious civic forces are alive. What unites them is civic groups in Japan which number as many as 120,000.

According to data released by the Japanese Cabinet Office, the most declared purpose of Japanese civic groups is health care and welfare, followed by local community improvement activities called “village building,” and cultural and academic activities. Those civic groups focus their activities on specific areas related to everyday life. In contrast, Korean civic groups are mostly engaged in political activities, including monitoring of the government, resolution of labor issues and protection of rights. A civic activist compared the civic movement of Japan to an army and that of Korea to an air force. The explanation is that Japanese movement is similar to an army in that it seeks changes little by little from the bottom, while Korea intends to induce social change through attacks on strategic points from the top, just like an air force.

Rokuro Hikada, a Japanese sociologist, pointed out the following features of Japanese civic movements: no affiliation with political parties or factions, no political ambitions, and participation as ordinary citizens. Compared with Korea, where a handful of activists have a strong say on state affairs, Japan’s civic movement appears to be weak. Considering that the movement to forestall the adoption of the controversial history textbook quietly bore fruit, however, Japan’s grassroots civic movement looks far more valuable and befitting its nature than a “civic movement without citizens.”

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com