Haggling over history

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES & HISTORIOGRAPHICAL CONSCIOUSNESS IN EDUCATION

In places where WWII memories remain vivid from China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia to Indonesia, accounts of historical war events are markedly different from that of the national Japanese one will be found. People in these countries remain concerned about the Japanese “war amnesia” apparently perpetuated in their school history textbooks. For as long the issue of war guilt and accountability remain unsettled for these peoples, Japanese voices calling for world peace and remembrance of Hiroshima will be disregarded.

 

Japanese children today are for the most part blissfully unaware that they face some postwar “baggage” – they may not have the same freedom to travel in some places of the world nor may they be welcomed with open arms, say into Chinese homes.

 

Try to imagine how Japanese children will come across to others in an international student exchange program or when engaged in some debate with their peers in a college setting in some Asian country about the role of Japan in the war.

 

When school boards and local schools out of national pride and integrity adopt controversial history texts that excise all mention of “Japanese invasion”, Nanking Incident or comfort slaves, they surely do Japanese students of history a disservice. One cannot contemplate them being able to debate intelligently nor put forward any coherent arguments based upon the narrow and blinkered views presented by certain history texts in Japanese schools.

 

The only way for Japanese students to study history – is surely for them to fully understand the different accounts of war history and the implications of war for the parties involved.

 

In stark contrast to the taciturness of Japanese students on war issues, I am reminded of the German university students I had met, who were on an exchange program during my days as an undergraduate. I had been impressed by how articulate, self-critical and open the students were on war and peace issues, on issues of justice and accountability, and their deep interest with regards to how Japanese came to terms with their role in the WWII. They did not shuffle their feet or hang their heads in shame at the mention of war atrocities nor was the topic of the Holocaust taboo for them. They did not show any embarrassment for being born German and I did hear expressions of contrition by a few for the past war crimes of their nation and people.

 

So to whom does the account of history matter?

We know from the news, it matters to the few surviving “comfort women” and POWs and their families, to anyone living in the countries that Japan had “advanced” into – they desire unambiguous expressions of accountability for Japanese past war actions and unconditional signs from Japanese leaders and Japanese people to never have any militaristic ambitions again.

Even though through no direct fault of their own, it matters every time they take a holiday that they are less welcomed in some countries than others.

It matters when our children go on exchange programs abroad and are disadvantaged as ambassadors of goodwill from Japan.

It matters when our children live abroad (even in Japan-friendly countries) and risk being insulted or marginalized when encountering hostile nationals from “victim” countries.

It matters when our children may have no future internationally as historians or academics on world history, or when they cannot be taken seriously as diplomats talking about peace.

It will matter to their economic survival someday when the lucrative contract they having been trying to clinch a foreign deal gets awarded to another country “not the ex-enemy” or when the products they have worked hard to launch in another country are banned in yet another diplomatic storm.

 

It is up to parents and educators to stop presenting one-sided views of war events, to ensure that our children understand other versions of history, even if the national sentiment will always remain that of the A-bomb victim sufferer. To not do so, is assure our children are in for a rude shock in a still-sometimes anti-Japanese world beyond Japanese borders.

 

I would like to highly recommend as essential reading for a clear and detailed background on history textbook revisionism issue in Japan is “Distortion and the Revision of History in Postwar Japanese Textbooks, 1945-1998” by Tomochika Okamoto, a research associate at the Center for International Education of Waseda University, Tokyo.

Among other things, Okamoto charted the developments in education and notes the shift from nationalist narratives to a nationally defined “historiographical consciousness” as follows:

1. There was a tendency towards nationalism (to esteem the nation-state system) from grassroots below, which appeared in the 1957 version of the textbook after the end of the occupation policy;

2. Such a nationalism soon came to be managed by the “official nationalism” from above as follows: “the idea or the movement in which people recognize their own nation as separated existence from others, and intend to unify, establish, and develop their own nation.” This ethnocentric “postwar Japanese nationalism” came to be praised in the 1964 and 1973 versions of the history textbooks.

3. Due to movements inside Japan by people who were brought up in the atmosphere of the “postwar democracy”, and the tendency toward the globalization of Japanese societyJ apanese society had been rapidly internationalized after the 1980s so that “postwar Japanese nationalism” was questioned, relativized, and canceled by the monitoring. The 1983 version of the history textbooks expresses the transformation.

4. The reflexive monitoring between nation-states during this era raised more universal historiographical consciousness among Japanese people. That is, Japanese people began to search for ways of presenting history by which any person who belongs to any nation would write historical events in a similar way. We can see less nationalistic, or “transnationalized,” history in the 1994 version of the textbook.

5. Two things did not change during the recent five decades: One was the thought among Japanese educationists that the truth of the history must be more important than the honor of their nation (the result of the imported US concept of democracy during the period immediately after the end of the war) evidenced in the 1960s and 1970s, in the movements to criticize conservative educational policies, such as textbook lawsuits brought by Saburo Ienaga; and after the 1980s, in the form of criticism of Japanese government. The second thing that did not change was the textbook screening system: even if policies of the Ministry of Education changed in each period, textbooks had been controlled by the government to a greater or lesser extent.

6. What should be noted as two major turning points of the transformation are the mid-1950s, when the revisionism was begun, and the mid-1980s when changes in the nationally defined “historiographical consciousness” could be observed.

7. Despite the influence of reactionary movements, namely, the group called Jiyushugi Shikan Kenkyukai (the Study Group of Liberal Historical View) which appeared in 1995 protesting against the mainstream view and claiming that positive aspects of modern Japanese history should be taught in order to nurture pride among their children, the majority of Japanese have been more influenced by the development of capitalism and global communications through have caused to circulate throughout advanced societies the non-ethnocentric and non-nationalistic images of the world.

8.The above change in the environment of a nation-state is the key to explaining the change in the contents of history education in the nation-state. The erosion of national narratives and newly born historiographical consciousness expressed after the 1983 version of the history textbooks in Japan are the result of the change in the environment of Japan in the context of the borderless global economy.

9. Examining many editions of Japanese history textbooks, Okamoto places the tendency toward transnationalism of Japanese history education in the same context of changing historical narratives as those of European countries and the U.S. He notes, in 1998, accounts of the Nanking Massacre are included in all of seven kinds of history textbooks for junior high schools in Japan,in 14 out of the 18 world history textbooks for high schools, and in 14 out of the 19 Japanese history textbooks for high schools. Moreover, accounts of the military comfort women in Asia taken by the prewar Japanese military, which caused hot debates with support from the feminist theory to criticize the conventional patriarchy after the 1990s, are included in all of seven junior high school textbooks in Japan since 1996, and in 16 out of the 19 Japanese history textbooks for high schools as of 1998. And he then concludes: The earlier ultra-nationalism cannot be re-established among Japanese people at the turning period of the century.

The commentary was Okamoto’s thesis submitted to Queens College, City University of New York, and is the most recent and complete analysis on the development of national perceptions in Japanese education (and education policy), based on content analysis of history textbooks used since 1951. Read it online here. A summary in Japanese is also available.

Another recommended source on this issue is Ian Buruma’s book “The Wages of Guilt” a brilliant, rich and deep book that explores the ins and outs of the differing perspectives of and ways in which Japan and Germany have tried to come to terms with their defeat in WWII.

 

 

 

Other online resources for further reference include:

 

 

Perceptions of History

Textbook Controversy The prickliness of Japan’s relationship with China has become a major focus of attention, particularly since the anti-Japanese riots in major Chinese cities this spring. A report recently compiled by the Foreign Ministry’s International Press Division has analyzed Asian and other third-country media coverage of these riots and their aftermath over a 70-day period through late May. It found that of the reports that were clearly pro-Japanese (or critical of China) or pro-Chinese (or critical of Japan) in their tone, the former outnumbered the latter by a substantial margin. According to this report, many of the stories that were critical of Japan took aim at this country’s textbook authorization system and the content of one particular middle school history text, the controversial work published by Fusôsha. Let me make a couple of points in this connection. First of all, the content of each textbook is up to its author and publisher. Official screeners check for factual inaccuracies, not for matters of interpretation. Second, the Fusôsha middle school history text (one of the eight approved texts) has been adopted by only a tiny minority of local school districts. Also, it seems to me that much of the criticism of the Fusôsha text is based on the preconceptions of people who have not actually read it. If one compares its content with that of the text published by Tokyo Shoseki, which is the most widely used in middle schools today, one finds some difference in nuance between the two but virtually no major differences in their presentation of historical facts.

The Foreign Ministry has recently commissioned a project to translate the sections of the eight middle school texts relating to Japan’s modern history into English, Chinese, and Korean, and a website presenting this content has now been launched (http://www.je-kaleidoscope.jp/). This project, though probably overdue, is welcome, and I hope that it will enable future debate on Japan’s history texts to be based on their actual content. © 2005 Japan Echo Inc

 

Rethinking Japanese Colonialism The latest textbook controversy has raised anew questions about how to interpret Japan’s modern history. The country achieved parity with the European powers, but the record was marred by its invasion and colonization of other countries. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 may be seen as the first step on the road to colonialism. Japan sought colonies to promote its own security, but colonization turned out to be the source of huge problems.

 

The Long Shadow of World War II

Another Textbook Flap

The History Factor in Sino-Japanese Ties. Many Japanese attribute the recent Chinese outbursts against Japan to anti-Japanese education, which they associate with the present Communist government. But this sort of education has in fact been going on for a century. Japan is the main villain in China’s textbook accounts of the decades up to 1945. It is probably impossible for the two countries to reach a shared view of history, but it is important for both to provide full access to their respective source materials. (Chûô Kôron, July 2005)

 

Rethinking Japanese Colonialism The latest textbook controversy has raised anew questions about how to interpret Japan’s modern history. The country achieved parity with the European powers, but the record was marred by its invasion and colonization of other countries. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 may be seen as the first step on the road to colonialism. Japan sought colonies to promote its own security, but colonization turned out to be the source of huge problems.

The History Factor in Sino-Japanese Ties “Japan is the main villain in China’s textbook accounts of the decades up to 1945. It is probably impossible for the two countries to reach a shared view of history, but it is important for both to provide full access to their respective source materials.”

 

Japan in the Future and the Black Steamships. A pro-nationalist Japanese schoolteacher’s view of World War II history and his take on it. Japanese or English versions at Sugita’s website.

Controversy over Japanese education

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