TOKYO -- A nationalist textbook newly approved by the Tokyo government is driving the deepest wedge in Japan-China relations in decades, but few of the country's students have ever read it.
Though given away for free, the book titled ''New History Textbook" is used by only 18 of 11,102 junior high schools in Japan, reflecting many teachers' concerns over its content. It has been denounced by the leading teachers' union, and is well to the right wing of mainstream public opinion.
Outside of Japan's classrooms, however, the textbook is anything but obscure.
Since it was first approved by a government screening panel four years ago, the textbook has been singled out by Japan's neighbors as evidence the country is trying to whitewash its militarist past.
And its unrepentant tone and omission of Japan's wartime atrocities -- including germ warfare and the forcing of tens if not hundreds of thousands of women into prostitution -- have outraged many Japanese educators and liberals.
It is now at the center of yet another regional rift.
The approval of the book's newest edition this month fueled street protests in several Chinese cities, threats of a boycott of Japanese products and violence against at least two Japanese students, plunging relations between the two Asian giants to their lowest level in years.
Even North Korea has piped up, saying the Education Ministry's approval of the text demonstrates the nation's leaders are ''political dwarfs."
Only 10 public and eight private junior high schools use the textbook, meaning it reaches just 0.1 percent of the 1.2 million seventh graders.