ERIC Identifier: ED464010
Publication Date: 2002-03-00
Author: Masalski, Kathleen Woods
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
History Textbook Controversies in Japan. ERIC Digest.
There is an ongoing controversy in Japan about textbook treatments of
Japanese military actions during World War II. This Digest examines (1) the
importance of history textbooks in schools in Japan and the United States; (2)
the context of history textbook controversies in Japan; (3) the current issues
and contending positions in the Japanese history textbook controversies; and (4)
the lessons and implications of the textbook controversies in Japan for
educators in the United States.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HISTORY TEXTBOOKS IN JAPAN AND THE UNITED
The controversy surrounding the adoption of middle school history
textbooks in Japan raises this question: why are textbooks, history textbooks in
particular, important enough to fight about?
Textbooks are used pervasively in Japanese and American schools. They are the
dominant instructional materials in most classrooms. Thus, the content of
textbooks looms large in the teaching and learning of history and other core
subjects of the curriculum.
American historians Laura Hein and Mark Selden (2000, 3-4) tell us that
"people fight over textbook content because education is so obviously about the
future, reaches so deeply into society, and is directed by the state."
Japanese historian Richard H. Minear says "As a practicing historian, I
encounter at every turn the power textbooks exercise over my students' minds.
... And our students believe absolutely what they read in textbooks"
CONTEXT OF THE TEXTBOOK CONTROVERSIES IN JAPAN.
each public and private school selects one history textbook from a list of seven
or eight authorized by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and
Technology (Monbukagakusho) every four years. This screening process lasts one
year. Japanese textbook companies submit manuscripts to the Ministry of
Education, whose appointed committees examine them according to prescribed
criteria. The Ministry offers the textbook companies opportunities to revise
their drafts, and copies of the Ministry-approved manuscripts are then available
for consideration by the local districts.
In 1965 Saburo Ienaga, a prominent historian, filed the first of his three
lawsuits against the Ministry of Education charging that the process of textbook
approval was unconstitutional and illegal. The Ministry had rejected Ienaga's
history textbook because it contained "too many illustrations of the 'dark side'
of the war, such as an air raid, a city left in ruins by the atomic bomb, and
disabled veterans" (Nozaki and Inokuchi 2000, 108). Ienaga's second suit two
years later also involved the issue of constitutionality and focused on points
related to Ienaga's characterization of Japan's foundation myths and a
description of the 1941 Japan-USSR neutrality pact.
In 1982 the screening process in Japan became a diplomatic issue when the
media of Japan and neighboring countries extensively covered changes required by
the Ministry of Education. The Ministry had ordered Ienaga to remove critical
language in his history textbook, insisting that he write of the Japanese army's
"advance into" China instead of its "aggression in" China and of "uprising among
the Korean people" instead of the "March First Independence Movement." Pressure
applied by China and Korea succeeded in getting the Ministry to back down and
resulted in the Ministry adding a new authorization criterion: that textbooks
must show understanding and international harmony in their treatment of modern
and contemporary historical events involving neighboring Asian countries (Murai
Saburo Ienaga's lawsuits lasted 30 years. Although in 1997 -- in response to
Ienaga's third lawsuit instituted in 1986 -- the Supreme Court of Japan
unanimously upheld the Ministry's right to continue screening textbooks, Saburo
Ienaga and his fellow critics enjoyed a partial victory.
THE CURRENT SITUATION.
A conservative movement toward
reform in the Japanese history curriculum was initiated in the early 1990s by
Nobukatsu Fujioka and his Liberal View of History Study Group. Fujioka, a
professor of education at Tokyo University, set out to "correct history" by
emphasizing a "positive view" of Japan's past and removing from textbooks any
reference to matters associated with what he calls "dark history."
By early 2000 Fujioka and his group had joined with others to form the
Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, now headed by Kanji Nishio. It is
the Society's textbook, THE NEW HISTORY TEXTBOOK (one of eight junior high
school history textbooks authorized by the Ministry of Education in April 2001),
that has caused much debate in Japan over the past year. Nishio summarized the
views of the Society in an article in the August 2001 JAPAN ECHO, a bimonthly
journal of opinion on a wide range of topics of current interest in Japan. The
article maintained that rather than asserting the Society members' personal
views of history, the textbook aims to restore common sense to the teaching of
the subject. Nishio insisted that "history stop being treated like a court in
which the figures and actions of the past are called to judgment" (Nishio 2001,
Widespread protests against the textbook erupted in Japan, China, and North
and South Korea. In December 2000, reacting to a draft textbook circulated by
the Society and shown on national television, a long list of Japanese historians
and history educators expressed misgivings about the content of THE NEW HISTORY
TEXTBOOK and its rendering of Japan's past. Their complaints centered around the
text's presentation of Japan's foundation myths as historical fact and its
characterization of wars launched by modern Japan as wars to liberate Asia.
The intellectuals' appeal to people inside and outside Japan appeared on the
Internet prior to authorization of the textbook by the Ministry. Following
authorization, their voices were joined by an international group of scholars.
They aimed to "ensure that textbooks are consistent with values of peace,
justice, and truth." It declared THE NEW HISTORY TEXTBOOK "unfit as a teaching
tool because it negates both the truth about Japan's record in colonialism and
war and the values that will contribute to a just and peaceful Pacific and world
community." More information about the scholars' claim is available on their Web
site, which is maintained by the Center for Research and Documentation on
Japan's War Responsibility
Reactions in China and Korea took various forms. China Radio International
announced that the Chinese government and people were "strongly indignant about
and dissatisfied with the new Japanese history textbook for the year 2002
compiled by right-wing Japanese scholars." Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Banzao
warned that the Chinese people would not accept the interpretation of wartime
events put forth by the new textbook
2001 issue of KOREA NOW, a biweekly magazine published in English, reported that
as Seoul prepared to celebrate its Liberation Day (celebrating Korea's
liberation from Japanese colonization and the establishment of the Republic of
Korea) on August 15, angry Koreans continued to stage anti-Japan protests
ignited by the new Japanese "textbooks that allegedly gloss over atrocities by
Japanese soldiers during World War II."
Under the Japanese system, local school authorities determine whether the new
textbook is to be used in district classrooms. On August 15, the deadline for
school districts to make their selections, Associated Press writer Mari
Yamaguchi reported in THE JAPAN TIMES that the new textbook had been shunned and
that nearly all of Japan's school districts had rejected it.
LESSONS FOR AMERICANS.
As a mirror for Americans, Japan's
textbook controversy may shed light on what could happen here if the dominant
narrative, our "official" story of our past, were challenged by a counter
narrative, one that threatens to alter or even replace a conventional textbook
narrative. Japan lost the war that is the center of the textbook controversy.
American teachers and students might ask how that fact has influenced Japan's
textbook narrative. Does the victor's interpretation of the past differ from
that of the vanquished? For example, James Loewen, author of LIES MY TEACHER
TOLD ME: EVERYTHING YOUR AMERICAN HISTORY TEXTBOOK GOT WRONG, points out that
most American history textbooks published before 1990 omitted all the important
photographs of the Vietnam War (1995, 241).
Many Americans see Japan as a harmonious, one-dimensional society; the fact
that teachers brought this textbook controversy -- which involved lawsuits
supported by tens of thousands of Japanese people -- to the attention of their
students may help diminish that stereotype. At least two individuals are
prominent in the textbook controversy in Japan. By introducing Saburo Ienaga and
Nobukatsu Fujioka to students, American teachers add a human dimension to
Japan's textbook controversy. For years Japan's past adversaries, its Asian
neighbors, have scrutinized Japan's history textbooks. With their students,
American teachers might examine American textbook narratives while imagining
that Mexican, Japanese, and Vietnamese scholars and students are reading over
their shoulders as they teach and learn about American interpretations of the
war with Mexico, the war in the Pacific, or the war in Vietnam. Finally,
American teachers might also consider presenting this passionate debate in Japan
as an example for Americans to follow in constructively criticizing and
improving textbooks in the United States.
History of Japan - Offers a good overview of the history of Japan.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial
Cogan, John J., and Walter Enloe. "The Japanese History Textbook Controversy
Revisited." SOCIAL EDUCATION 51 (October 1987): 450-454. EJ 358 613.
Hein, Laura, and Mark Selden. "The Lessons of War, Global Power, and Social
Change." In Laura Hein and Mark Selden, eds., CENSORING HISTORY: CITIZENSHIP AND
MEMORY IN JAPAN, GERMANY, AND THE UNITED STATES. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000.
ED 448 112.
Loewen, James W. LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME: EVERYTHING YOUR AMERICAN HISTORY
TEXTBOOK GOT WRONG. New York: The New Press, 1995. ED 385 468.
Murai, Atsushi. "Abolish the Textbook Authorization System." JAPAN ECHO
(August 2001): 28.
Nishio, Kanji. "Restoring Common Sense in the Teaching of History." JAPAN
ECHO (August 2001): 33.
Nozaki, Yoshiko, and Hiromitsu Inokuchi. "Japanese Education, Nationalism,
and Ienaga Saburo's Lawsuits." In Laura Hein and Mark Selden, eds., CENSORING
HISTORY: CITIZENSHIP AND MEMORY IN JAPAN, GERMANY, AND THE UNITED STATES.
Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000. ED 448 112.
Ogawa, Masato. A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF CONTEMPORARY JAPAN IN JAPANESE AND U.S.
WORLD HISTORY TEXTBOOKS. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American
Educational Research Association (Montreal, Quebec, Canada, April 19-23, 1999).
ED 442 725.