Japan's Cabinet approved a bill yesterday to make nurturing "love of country" an aim of education.
The bill has drawn controversy because it promotes patriotic attitudes and incorporates "public spirit" into the existing law that requires Japan's education to respect individual dignity.
While the opposition fears it would revitalize the nationalistic sentiment that brought pre and postwar militarism to Japan, conservatives have sought for revision citing the need to emphasize a spirit of patriotism and respect for tradition.
The revisions -- which would be the first to the 1947 Fundamental Law of Education since it was enacted during the US-led occupation -- are unlikely to be welcomed by China and South Korea, locked in disputes with Japan stemming from the legacy of Japanese military occupation and colonization.
The revisions would make it a goal of education policy to cultivate "an attitude that respects tradition and culture, loves the nation and the homeland that have fostered them, respects other nations and contributes to peace and development of international society."
Education Minister Kenji Kosaka told reporters: "We want to make efforts to enact this bill and to gain the people's understanding."
Among those keen on the change is Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the current front-runner in the race to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down in September.
Conservatives have long been unhappy with the US-drafted law, which they say eroded the pride of Japanese in their culture and history, and undermined legitimate patriotic sentiment.
"It's a very important symbol of a strengthening of nationalism in the political class and the will of the political class to educate people toward stronger nationalism," said Sven Saaler, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo.
Feuds have already erupted with Beijing and Seoul over textbooks that critics say whitewash Tokyo's past aggression.
Japan's relations with its two neighbors are also frigid because of Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine for war dead, where some convicted war criminals are honored.
Critics of the proposed new education law fear for freedom of speech and thought.
"This revision would turn back the clock to the pre-war era," Communist Party lawmaker Ikuko Ishii told a gathering of opponents to the changes this week. "It is a serious violation of freedom of thought."
Some conservatives politicians, though, are disappointed that the changes do not go further to include cultivating a "patriotic spirit" as well as a "religious attitude."
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