IN A move certain to further worsen ties with China and South Korea, the Japanese government has revised high school teaching manuals to include the description of the disputed Senkaku and Takeshima islands as "integral parts of Japanese territory".
China also claims the Senkakus - though Japan says there is no dispute over them - and calls them Diaoyu. South Korea occupies Takeshima isles - "illegally", says Japan - and calls them Dokdo.
The teaching manuals, prepared by the Education Ministry, serve to explain points made in the curriculum and are not legally binding, but teachers are expected to use them as guides.
Textbook publishers are expected to reflect the revision in new textbooks scheduled for use in junior high schools in 2016 and in senior high schools in 2017.
Before the revision, the manuals touched on only the difference in Japanese and South Korean positions on the Takeshimas and did not mention the Senkakus.
The revision, announced yesterday by Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, were immediately conveyed to education boards across the nation.
He told reporters: "It is natural for a country to teach children a proper understanding of their own territory. We will explain the thinking behind the revision to neighbouring countries."
But he added: "The revision exercise and the maintenance of friendly ties are two separate issues."
The next step, he hinted, could be to incorporate the revision into the teaching curriculum itself.
The revision of teaching manuals in Japan is normally done once every 10 years. The next revision was originally scheduled for 2016. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been feuding with Beijing and Seoul over territorial issues since taking office in December 2012, apparently could not wait to assert Japan's sovereignty over the disputed isles, even in the classroom.
The announcement predictably upset both Beijing and Seoul.
Japan's relations with both neighbours had plunged to a new low last month, following Mr Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine which honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing that China has lodged a protest.
No matter how Japan tries to promote its "false" claims, she said, it is impossible to change the fact that the Diaoyu islands belong to China.
"We once more urge Japan to respect historic realities, stop provocations and teach the younger generation a correct historical perspective," she added.
In Seoul, the government summoned Japanese envoy Koro Bessho to lodge its protest.
A Foreign Ministry statement blasted the Japanese manual revision, saying it again lays "groundless claims" to the Dokdo isles.
"If Japan truly hopes to contribute to world peace, it should nurture minds of peace and reconciliation for its next generation, rather than planting the seed of conflict and dispute," the statement said.
Seoul was already fuming over remarks over the weekend by the new head of Japan's public broadcaster NHK, Mr Katsuto Momii, who described as "puzzling" the claim by South Korea that Japan was the only country that recruited women as wartime sexual slaves.
At home, Mr Abe was grilled in Parliament yesterday by opposition lawmakers over his Yasukuni visit.
Islands are integral parts of Japanese territory, say manuals
1 After the revision, the manuals now say the Senkaku islands (called Diaoyu and claimed by China) and Takeshima islands (called Dokdo and occupied by South Korea) are integral Japanese territory.
2 The revision will be reflected in textbooks for junior high schools in 2016 and senior high schools in 2017.
3 Prior to this, the teaching manuals only pointed out the different Japanese and Korean positions on the Takeshimas. There was no mention of the Senkakus.