HARRISONBURG — Over the objections of Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, the House of Delegates on Wednesday passed a Senate-endorsed measure that will require state textbooks to identify the Sea of Japan also as the East Sea.
The House, which voted 82-16 in favor of the bill, previously supported its own version of the legislation. However, a Senate committee killed the House measure, apparently after pressure from Japan mounted against its passage.
Some textbooks approved by the Virginia Department of Education already refer to the body of water as the Sea of Japan and East Sea, VDOE spokesman Charles Pyle said. Japan borders the sea on the east, while North and South Korea and Russia border it to the west.
South Koreans want textbooks changed, arguing that “Sea of Japan” is a reminder of Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
The Korean-American community in Virginia put pressure on state lawmakers to make it a legislative priority this year, while Japan’s U.S. ambassador, Kenichiro Sasae, wrote Gov. Terry McAuliffe to express concerns about damaging a trade relationship with Virginia if the bill passed.
“It still reminds us of that [occupation] era,” said Isaac Woo, a South Korea native and assistant professor of public relations at James Madison University. “The East Sea, Sea of Japan, it’s the same thing. It has been an issue for a while, even when I was young. … Something needs to be done.”
The governor plans to sign the bill into law, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
On the House floor, Landes attacked the bill from a direction other than the potential trade implications: The General Assembly can expect bills in the future on “issue after issue” on how textbooks should be written, he said.
“In my estimation, that is the wrong precedent,” said Landes, who in 2003 adopted a son from South Korea. “We don’t have that experience. We don’t have that knowledge. … I’m not in the book publishing business.”
His prediction turned out to be accurate, at least in one case: Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said she will file legislation next year to ensure that the contributions of blacks and Native Americans are noted in Virginia textbooks. She said the legislature “cannot and will not” let the East Sea debate be the last one in terms of how history is reflected in teaching materials.
McClellan supported the bill Wednesday, but she unsuccessfully tried to tack on an amendment that would have called for other cultures to be recognized in textbooks. Landes, according to media outlets, contemplated filing a similar amendment earlier in the week and believed he had enough support for it, which may have led to the bill’s defeat since the Senate would have had to review it before Saturday’s adjournment.
Landes did not return a call for comment.
Woo is hopeful that Virginia becomes a trailblazer on the matter, sparking other states to change their textbooks in regard to the Sea of Japan. State lawmakers in New York and New Jersey filed bills identical to Virginia’s last month.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com