The Invisible Neighbor

I’ve used quite a few different textbooks to study Japanese and what’s worked best for me has been the popular Japanese for Busy People. The revised third edition is a huge improvement over the previous edition. It’s easy for self-teaching, clearly written, and builds the language, grounded in every day use. It’s well illustrated and well-designed. I use the kana version which has the exercises written in Japanese. Because of how much I like using the book, I was taken aback by something that I realized: this book is nationalistic propaganda. And I’ll tell you why.

The first chapter helps you introduce yourself and lists several countries and nationalities. I found it odd that Korea and Koreans weren’t listed. I thought that perhaps they were just focusing on English speakers. But they also list German, Chinese and Thai. Perhaps the glossary and supplemental tables in the back would list it, but no. Although, Egyptian and Indonesian are added to this list. At this point I realized this was just a straight up snub. How could Japan’s nearest neighbors not be included in the list of nationalities, nor their country listed? Out of curiosity, I checked other Japanese language textbooks at a bookstore and they all list Korea and Koreans in their chapters on self-introduction. This is a clear case of politics trumping education and common sense.

There is also a map of Japan in the front inside jacket and I found it bizarre that on the map was “Take Is.” Take Island, or Takeshima, is the Japanese name of contested islets called Dokto in Korea.


The dispute is of course more than about this set of rocks, it’s the economic zone of rich fishing and possibly oil and gas around the islets. In any case, South Korea has controlled them since the republic was formed in 1945. And a Korean state probably had claims to them since the Yi Dynasty.

It’s odd to see it on a map of Japanese territories because none of the other islands that Japan has disputes with are on the map. Not the 56 Kuril Islands that Russia controls, nor the uninhabited Senkaku Islands that Japan controls but both China and Taiwan claim. Dokto’s area, at 0.186 km2, is tiny in comparison to these substantially larger archipelagos, and would hardly constitute a pin prick on the map above. What’s more odd is that actual Japanese islands that are much larger and, well, significant, are also not named on the map. We see just their silhouettes. The only conclusion is that the writers of AJALT, the book’s “non-profit” writers just want to send a big middle finger to its western neighbor and make it disappear, except for Dokto. I find it terribly pathetic and petty. And worst of all, it’s academically dishonest.

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