Preface --- problems of history education of Japan


The issue of "school history textbooks" is definitely the internal affairs of Japan

Current history education of Japan is quite absurd --- under the "system of national approval of text books" (敎科書檢定制度), the government examines school textbooks for use in the compulsory education (elementary and junior high schools) and senior high schools. The most representative case is that the government allowed to include some unconfirmed rumors during the wartime such as the "Nanking massacre" (南京大虐殺) and "military comfort women" (從軍慰安婦) issues. The fact is that these issues were diplomatically and politically employed for textbooks by external pressures from China and Koreas. But still now, the actual situation is very far from making any agreement between Japan and China regarding confirmations and opinions for the "Nanking massacre." For example, there is a huge difference of the estimated number of deaths in the "Nanking massacre" between two countries. Even the "Nanking massacre" itself has rather been questioned whether it really happened. Regardless this discordance, the reason why these issues have been adopted in textbooks is nothing else from a "political compromise" between governments.

In case of "military comfort women" described in the textbooks, this term itself even did not exist at that time. Results of recent researches evidence that most of these women so-called "military comfort women" are Japanese who voluntarily went to China. There is no evidence that the Japanese army organized to offer comfort women to soldiers. The so-called "compulsory employment" is still no more than a rumor (or rather fabricated in recent years). Until the wartime, the "traditional prostitution" was still legal in Japan --- it was still the time that poor families sometimes had to sell their daughters to make living. (this is different from modern prostitutes who voluntarily come to the business) Among people who currently call themselves as "military comfort women," many of them were possibly sold by parents. Although believing that she was "compulsorily employed" by Japanese army, she does not know that her parents actually received money from a Korean private trader --- there may be many cases like this. (or course, no one wants to believe that she was sold by parents) It does not mean that I am affirmative to this kind of compulsory prostitution. I am rather sympathetic to these women. Nevertheless, it is a historical fact. The "military comfort women" issue was unilaterally claimed by Korea's side supported by "anti-Japan Japanese" traitors --- who call themselves "advanced and highly-educated people." It only seems that Japan has been forced to accept Korea's unilateral demand.

"History textbooks," namely, what things to educate Japanese children is definitely our "internal affairs" and should not be controlled by foreign countries. Imagine if Japan demands on China and Koreas:

"Some contents of your history school textbooks are wrong. Correct them!"

It is hard to believe that they will listen to. They will definitely say:

"Education is a part of our nation's sovereignty. It is definitely not Japan's business. This is an interference in the internal affairs!"

It will result to be a diplomatic problem. This is rather a normal reaction however. Such an attitude of current Japanese government --- the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (文部科學省; former Ministry of Education) --- is rather deviant that they cannot do even the normal manner for our sovereignty and internal affairs.

Students are studying the masochistic history textbooks

The problem is the masochistic (self-persecutional) contents and descriptions in these textbooks throughout prewar, wartime and postwar periods of Japan. Japan's history from the Meiji Restoration (明治維新; 1868)[1] to the end of WW II (1945) is thoroughly described by keywords such as "imperialism," "invasions" and "oppressions" and these textbooks indeed incriminate the history that it was a natural result to be defeated. (it is not exactly written but strongly implied) These textbooks define the Greater East Asian War (大東亞戰爭; Pacific War) was Japanese invasions upon "southeast Asian countries" The history is totally distorted in the "Japan villain theory" --- only Japan is always painted in lurid colors. However, in late 19th century and early 20th century, there were only two countries still remained sovereign and independent in Asia --- Japan and Thailand (actually Thailand was under power of Japan). All other southeast Asian countries such as Philippine, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and India did not exist at that time. These areas were all colonized by Western powers. First of all, whole southeast Asia was already invaded by Western powers before saying "Japan's invasions." Japan ventured into the enemy's territory alone to remove Western powers.

After the war, the "Japan villain theory" was made up by victor nations' view of history. However, it is a historical fact that southeast Asian countries become independent one after another after the WW II because of Japan's battles against Western powers. If Japan did not start the war and did not advance military forces into southeast Asia..., perhaps the change of history did not come and southeast Asia may be still remaining colonized by Western countries.

This is the history. Nobody can criticize the history this is "justice" and that is "evil." When we look at the history, we must have an attitude to always consider its "cause/reason," "course /context/subsequences" and "result/consequences."

Japan lost the Pacific War because Japan invaded.

If we only see its "result," we will never find the truths of the history. Such as the "Gulf War" and the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict," if we only know the recent consequences, the actual substances of these disputes will never be revealed. Why Saddam Hussein caused the Gulf War, for example, the history cannot be criticized without considering all the preliminaries.

Anyway, current Japan's history school textbooks seem the most masochistic in the world. To educate students in such a way, what kind of future does it aim to bring us? In these textbooks, descriptions throughout prewar to wartime period only say:

Japan has done such bad things

It only makes children hate their own country and identity, even existences of themselves. I seriously warn all the Japanese nation of current situation where "anti-Japan Japanese" traitors aim to bring our country to.

There are always "bright and dark sides" on every event of the history

The historical view of especially the medieval time in current Japan's history textbooks is too simple. Particularly, the description of "South and North courts period" (南北朝時代; 1336-92)[2] is the typical example. These textbooks concludes the end of "South and North courts period" by the unification of courts in 1392 (Meitoku treaty 明德和約). And it shifts the period to the Muromachi period (室町時代; 1336-1575)[3] overlapping with the Sengoku period (戰國時代; 100-year war period; 1467-1573).[4] However, the South court still existed after the Meitoku treaty. The beginning of the 100-year war period, the Ōnin War (應仁之亂; 1467)[5] cannot be understood without considering the existence of the South Imperial Court. Moreover, the existence of the South Court sometimes comes onstage of the history such as during the Meiji Restoration and the appearance of the Kumazawa Emperor (熊澤天皇)[6] in 1947.

Like this example of the South and North courts, the history always has its bright and dark sides which entwine each other. If we look at only the surface of the history, we will never reach the truths. We need to also pay attention on backstories behind the history. It is not important to memorize exact year of every historical event unless they are historians. It is enough to check on dictionaries when we need to know. The most important factor of history education is "to understand the context, subsequences and consequences of every historical event." From such a point of view, it seems that current history education is going the extremely distorted direction.

The most important aim of "history education" must be encouragement
to have diverse views of the history

It is often pointed out that the current educational style is merely "standardized tests cramming." History education especially tends to be. Even Kojiki (古事記; Records of Ancient Matters; 712)[7] and Nihon Shoki (日本書紀; Chronology of Japan; 720)[8]) called the "oldest history books of Japan" were not bad as the current history textbooks. The official history books in the 8th century Kiki (記紀; consists of Kojiki and Nihon Shoki) were supposed to be edited in the view of the political power of the time. Still, these ancient books show some different views and objections such as "either... or it is said..." in descriptions in sections of the "mythological age." Even these ancient history books accept diverse views, current history school books completely exclude any different aspects and objections. These books indeed compel to educate the politically "standardized" history.

Of course, there is a limitation of space in the school system but it only makes an extremely univalued historical view. If there is no space, various different views can be compiled in appendix books. Or it may be a good idea to also include some local folktales in these "secondary textbooks." It is important to describe not only "what happened in the central area of Japan, the capital Kyō (京都)" but also "what happened in the northeast Japan at that time," for example. Of course, Japan is a small island country. But there used to be many politically independent feudal domains existed in Japan before the Meiji Restoration in 1871. Japan was a confederacy of decentralized states until the mid-19th century. There was a diversity of cultures and histories. It is not the right attitude to understand our national history by only learning the sole view of the centralized Japan's history compelled by the Tokyo central government after the Meiji Restoration. Our current educational system is called the "standardized tests cramming." In such a stream of the modern period, we rather need to focus on more diverse views of the history.

TAKESHITA Yoshirō, history critic

Preface for Unapproved by the Government --- Historical truths excluded from school books
(Raiin Publishing Co., July 1999, Tokyo)

(English translation by IWAYA Bunta)

Related information (Links)
  1. Meiji Restoration (明治維新). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

  2. South and North courts period" (南北朝時代). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

  3. Muromachi period (室町時代). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

  4. 100-year war period (戰國時代). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

  5. Ōnin War (應仁之亂). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

  6. Kumazawa Emperor (熊澤天皇). MacArthur Archives.

  7. Kojiki (古事記). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

  8. Nihon Shoki (日本書紀). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.