The School Textbook Change That Has Japan Furious at Virginia

The World
How It Works
March 6 2014 3:01 PM

The School Textbook Change That Has Japan Furious at Virginia

Let's just call this a group of rocks in a body of water.

Photo by Dong-a Ilbo/AFP/GettyImages

The Washington Post reports that an “obscure textbook bill that elicited threats from Japan and drew busloads of Korean activists to the Capitol was headed Wednesday to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.”

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The bill requires all new Virginia textbooks to mention that the Sea of Japan is also known as the “East Sea.” McAuliffe promised to make the change on the campaign trail while attempting to win votes from Northern Virginia’s growing Korean community, who claim that the name was wrongly popularized while Korea was under Japanese occupation. It has predictably irritated Tokyo, with Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. warning that it could harm Japan-Virginia business relations. New York and New Jersey are reportedly considering similar bills.


I don’t see anything wrong with textbooks mentioning this, but taking statewide action to require it seems unnecessarily provocative. I get Koreans’ frustrations with what they see as Japan’s failure to fully come to terms with its wartime actions—which I would hope the textbooks also discuss—but there’s an ongoing territorial conflict between the two U.S. allies that Washington is, wisely, I think, trying not to get further involved in.

This seems like an area where state government should follow the lead of the State Department, which announced in 2012 that despite a petition, it would be sticking with “Sea of Japan” as the official nomenclature. 

Before you blast me in the comments section, I don’t have any stance on which is the better name. But in cases where there’s ambiguity, the best course of action is usually to stick with long-standing practice rather than make a statement by changing it. Referring to the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf just to irk Iran doesn’t seem all that productive either.  

In any case, it seems like a lot of fuss for a very minor change. I would be surprised if Virginia textbooks spent all that much time of the Sea of Japan/East Sea to begin with. The fact that, according to one state representative, “For years, our textbooks said that the slaves were happy,” seems like a bigger cause for concern. 


The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?


“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 PM The Phone Call Is Twenty Minutes of Pitch-Perfect, Wrenching Cinema
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.