The Japanese History Textbook issue

By Wes Injerd

In objectively handling this hot topic, one must obviously look at the textbooks themselves: what exactly WAS taught in prior textbooks, and what exactly WILL be taught in the new one. It must be kept in mind, however, that the new textbook, compiled by nationalist historians and published by Fuso Publishing Company, is just one of nearly ten other history textbooks for possible use in junior high schools from April 2002. Each school district can choose which text they wish to use.


Upon first glance, one is immediately struck by the thinness of the History textbook presently being used in junior high schools in Japan as a part of Social Studies. Even more surprising is that this textbook is used for all three years of middle school education. One wonders how a student can learn much about history, especially the section with which we are dealing, World War II in the Pacific — a mere six pages are devoted to actual historical account, and those six pages are actually half-pages due to illustrations and pictures. The new history textbooks have doubled the coverage to 12 pages — font point is still 12, and spacing is at 1.5, so total coverage comes to roughly 7 pages. (World War II coverage of the European theater is a whopping 3 pages.)


What we are dealing with then is a VERY condensed version of the events during the Pacific War. In light of this, it would be somewhat odd to bring in peripheral issues, such as “comfort women,” as the South Korean government insists. Given the limited space, therefore, the editors must have truly had a difficult job of deciding content. Educators, no doubt, are obliged to supplement their curriculum with other historical accounts, though it is unknown how many actually do so. A quick look at the Showa History section in the public library gives proof to the fact there is no dearth of literature on these controversial subjects.


More so than content, choosing the proper terminology must have been a headache for the compilers. In some earlier textbooks, “Japan invaded China” (e.g. “Nihon wa…Tonan Asia wo shinryaku shite,” meaning “Japan invaded Southeast Asia”) was changed to “Japan advanced into China,” giving the impression that this was a routine maneuver militarily. The new textbook continues the same terminology when referring to Japan, e.g. “Nihongun no shinkou” (literally, “advance attack”). As for other countries, such as Russia, the term is “invade” or “raid,” e.g. “Soren ha Manshu ni shinkou” (literally, “violate attack). Such terminology clearly reveals the slant of these nationalistic compilers, scholars from the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.


Comparing the majority of the old with the new, it becomes evident rather quickly that Japan’s actions during WWII are glorified instead of decried, Asia helped by Japan rather than destroyed, white rather than Japanese aggression halted. The term “gyokusai,” or “honorable death,” appears in the new textbook for the first time. Replacing the heading “The Pacific War” is “The Greater East Asian War,” a term with the connotation of Asia against the West and based upon the doctrine of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, i.e. Japan’s divine origin and superiority.


With the recent release of the textbook for public perusal, it will be interesting to hear the parents’ reaction to the contents vis-a-vis other Asian government’s criticisms. One acquaintance of mine immediately noticed the change of viewpoint in the new textbook from that which she had studied while in junior high school, “It’s completely different.” I think many will agree. Another said that though “this textbook is radical,” it does represent the views of some educators.


Particular points of contention are the annexation of Korea, the Nanking “Incident,” and the issue of comfort women. The annexation of Korea was “necessary to protect the security of Japan and its interests in Manchuria,” the new textbook reads. Neither England, the U.S., nor Russia raised any objection to this, it goes on. The section concludes with Korean resistance to the annexation and the growing animosity among not a few Koreans towards the Japanese. Earlier textbooks state that Japan subjugated Chosen (Korea), taking away their right of self-government and disarming them, meeting fierce resistance from the disbanded Korean troops. The assassination of Hirobumi Ito is given as the occasion for the “colonization” and annexation in 1910. It also mentions that Japanese history and language were forcibly taught, and that Koreans were forcibly brought to Japan to work under “horrible conditions.” The war itself is called “Japan’s war of aggression (shinryaku senso).”


On the whole, considerable more space is given to the Korean situation in the older versions. In fact, textbooks currently used in schools mention Korea, China and Taiwan in more than a dozen places when discussing the Pacific War. This may partly have to do with these countries’ repeated requests to the Japanese Government for honest historical representation. The newer version, on the other hand, mentions countries such as Indonesia, India and Burma and how Japan’s “southward advance” was “one of the keys that speeded” these countries along the road to independence.


Regarding the Nanking Massacre, which is mentioned very briefly in two separate sections, the new textbook says “there were a great number of casualties by the Japanese Army even among the populace” during the “occupation.” There are, however, “doubts regarding the data” as well as “various opinions” on this, hence the “controversy continues even to this day.” One older version has only a footnote describing how the Japanese Army occupied the city and murdered not only unarmed soldiers but women and children as well, stating it was “criticized by other foreign countries for the Nanking Massacre Incident.” One current textbook clearly states “the massacre of residents of Chinese lineage” during Japan’s brief control of Southeast Asia and actually calls the “mass killing of 200,000 people” the “Nankin Dai-Gyakusatsu Jiken” (Nanking Great Massacre Incident). It goes on to say that from 1940 Japanese forces burned, killed and pillaged, destroying the very existence and livelihood of the people of China.


The sexual slave issue (“comfort women”) is obviously a no-touch issue in the new textbooks. The current version mentions the term three times, including even a photograph of former “ianfu” from Korea demanding compensation at a rally in Tokyo in 1994. No doubt the compilers of this textbook were interested in pacifying Japan’s neighbors. It is good to note, however, that in the new textbook prisoners of war are mentioned, stating they were “unfairly tortured and killed,” including some 60,000 Japanese POWs in Siberia. Sadly, no further mention is made in the next chapters dealing with the Allied Occupation of Japan and the Tokyo War Crimes trials.


In perspective, it is interesting to note that in 1982 there was much concern expressed by China and Korea regarding newly-revised textbooks downplaying Japan’s aggression and atrocities during World War II. One of the most active historians against government manipulation of textbooks was the late Saburo Ienaga. His legal battles began in the 60’s, claiming the Ministry of Education used its screening process to censor textbooks, a violation of academic freedom. One such issue he was opposed to was Japan’s claim that the Soviet Union was illegally occupying the Northern Islands; another was the Rape of Nanking, one of the worst atrocities in modern history, being relegated to only a short footnote. One issue which has been overlooked in all modern textbooks is that of the change of wording from Japan’s “unconditional surrender” to simply “surrender,” further evidence of growing nationalism among the populace and the power of government textbook control.


There is change in the air, however, as some textbook publishers, notably Fuso Publishing, who are revising a number of sections in their books due to the persistent objections, demands and pleas of the South Korean and Chinese governments. Japan insists it has done all it can to settle the dispute and the responsibility for revision lies in the hands of the publishers.


Unfortunately, a solution to this whole textbook issue does not seem to be on the horizon, as an article in the Daily Yomiuri proclaimed recently: “Textbook issue will drag on.”


So what does all this haggling over history mean to us parents and educators?


Clearly we have a choice in what we teach. Fortunately we are not confined to using a history textbook reflecting only the opinions of a few. The choices abound — a very good thing indeed.


I’ve had the chance to look at but two of the eight history textbooks available for consideration as curriculum for 2002, one conservative and the other nationalistic. It is hard to say which of the two is more accurate on the whole — one may deal accurately with one period of history while biased in another. School districts, naturally, will choose one of the total eight available which suits their own views. If very few districts choose the currently controversial textbook published by Fuso, the publisher cannot escape the strong message that educators just do not want that type of historical representation taught in their classrooms.


Yet, as I intimated before, the bottom line is what the Social Studies teacher actually teaches along with the textbook. We educators, to be true to ourselves and our professions, invariably must teach that which we believe. As homeschoolers we have the privilege of choosing curriculum which agrees basically with what we feel is true, and we can change whatever does not agree with our interpretation of historical events. Public school educators do not have that same liberty, in most cases.


Hopefully we will see a new era of education enlightenment spread throughout this land as more and more history educators get involved in the nitty-gritty of searching for the truth in historical events, and then apply what they have learned in their classrooms.




About Wes Injerd


Hailing from Montclair in the US (born in Riverside, California), Wesley Arthur Injerd (IN-YERD), came to Japan in 1974 where he served as a missionary in Fukuoka until 1974. After teaching six years at Berlitz School of languages, he founded his own school which occupies most of his time now. He also helps out at a few local public schools in their English programs. He is married with four children who are homeschooled.


Injerd was an especially appropriate person to approach for a commentary on the recent history textbook furor –because of his own invaluable efforts to chronicle Japanese history.


Being American, he was intensely interested in the U.S. presence in Fukuoka. He started gathering information on the U.S. bases that were once in the city and that search has brought him in contact with scores of ex-military personnel and dependents. The hundreds of e-mails and photos and images he has received from them over the years will eventually be put onto a webpage for all to read and view. As anyone looking up Fukuoka history during World War II will seem to draw a huge blank, Injerd’s research based on data from the U.S. Archives and other non-Japanese sources is invaluable in filling that void.

This first webpage on the Prisoner of War Camp #1. Fukuoka, Japan. An Insight into Life and Death at a POW Camp in War-time Japan (see his POW Camp #1 Fukuoka website ) is the result of his research on the prisoner of war camp that was once in Fukuoka. The website presents material focusing on case records, maps, memos, and depositions relating to events between the attacks. Those who served through WWII are, at last estimate, now dying at the pace of approximately ten per day. Although the full stories can never be uncovered due to the magnitude of the war,. the website is a serious attempt in providing a detailed and important account of war events in Japan.


His other work relates to ancient burial mounds and archaeological sites in the Fukuoka area. Amazed at the number of these in existence, he soon learned about old Chinese histories which mentioned some of these ancient sites. This started him on a study of those Chinese chronicles, the most famous being the Gishiwajinden, and set out to translate this text into English while adding copious commentary. He hopes to complete this work in the near future.


Copyright. Wes Injerd. Written for the Homeschooling/Afterschooling in Japan Newsletter and website and reproduced here.

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