10 May 2003, Leiden


  1. Opening words
  2. Daders hebben een kortere geheugen dan slachtoffers
  3. Fighting History: The Legacy of Ienaga Saburo
  4. Japan in het geschiedenisonderwijs in Nederland
  5. History teaching at a Japanese school

1. Opening words | Takamitau Muraoka

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2. Victimizers have shorter memory than victims | Masamichi Shida, Japan

(Mr. M.Shida, who was unable to attend the 5th conference, is one of the few surviving kamikaze-pilots. After the war he became a peace-activist, wrote a book “My Second Testament”, and founded of a growing organization called “Japanese citizens weary of wars.”)

Good morning. You have done me a great honour by inviting me to address you today.

I’m very fond of Holland. The Dutch and the Japanese appear to get on pretty well. In 1543 a Portugese warship shipwrecked near Okinawa, bringing the first firearms to Japan. In 1549 a Portugese Jesuit, Francis Xavier came to Japan with the Christian gospel. This is the beginning of the modern era of the Japanese history.

By contrast, the Portugese and the Japanese, it appears, didn’t get along with one another terribly well. They were expelled in 1639, and Japan would remain closed for a long period of 230 years until the Meiji Restoration.

There was one exception. Two years after the expulsion of the Portugese, the Japanese shogunate moved the Dutch commercial delegation to Deshima off Nagasaki, where they remained 230 years until the country opened its doors again. Through this Dutch connection Japan managed to remain in touch with the outside world. Thank you for that.

In the mid-19th century, when America, Britain and Russia targeted Japan, it was the Dutch royal house that advised Japan to open up. As a result we were spared the fate of Saddam Hussein’s regime. I believe you’re all familiar with the Dutch-Japanese relationships. So my introductory words may sound like elaborating the obvious. I would like to share my viewpoint with you all the same. I also believe that we are gathered here in order to find out how peoples of different ethnic and national backgrounds can understand one another. What matters here is to be honest with one another.

To be too diplomatic doesn’t always help. So let me start with the theme of my address.

Victimisers have a shorter memory than victims. In other words, you may be hurting others without being aware of it yourself, but your victims may have trouble forgetting the hurt. Communication across ethnic and national boundaries is awfully difficult. Let me first say something about the sense of hatred generated by wars.

In 1931, in the north east China, then Manchuria, was part of the railway blasted, which signalled the start of the fifteen-year war which would lead to the Pacific War. According to the official Japanese announcement it was a sabotage operation of Chinese troops, but in fact it had been framed up by the Japanese Army. This reminds us of the way the Vietnam War started when the USA made a false claim that an American frigate had been attacked in the Tonkin Bay by a North Vietnamese torpoedo boat.

In 1933 a puppet state of Manchuria was established by Japan. The Japanese Government encouraged her citizens “to move into a vast uninhabited land called Manchuria”. An uncle of mine, unemployed at the time, took up the call and emigrated with his wife and four children. But Manchuria was anything other than an uninhabited wilderness. It was all owned by Chinese people. My uncle would suffer from their hostility.

On July 7, 1937, over the Marco Polo Bridge in the suburbs of Beijing, Japanese and Chinese troops clashed, marking the start of a bitter Sino-Japanese war. Shortly afterwards, on July 29, three hundred Japanese were murdered by Chinese troops in Tungzhou. Dismembered corpses of the victims were left lying about on the streets. Back in Japan, general anger raged, and the public opinion firmly backed the military leadership.

This in turn reminds us of the American public reaction following the September 11 disaster. However, hardly any Japanese born after 1932 knows of this Tungzhou incident. Postwar Japanese school textbooks pass over it in silence. The Japanese Government is wary of damaging its relationship with China. Strangely enough, the Japanese rightists keep quiet about it. Five months after the incident there occurred the Nanking massacre, which the rightists would not admit. They probably fear that if they should admit the Tungzhou incident, they might have to conclude that the Nanking massacre would not have been improbable. People involved in peace movements would not admit the Tungzhou incident, either. Their thinking might be that we Japanese need only to think of wrongdoings by the Japanese against the Chinese, but not what the Japanese suffered.

Five years ago, in 1998, a Japanese comic writer, Kobayashi Yoshinori, wrote a book on the theme of war and mentioned the Tungzhou incident. The book became the best seller, selling 950,000 copies in a year. He belongs to the extreme right. Let me quote the last page about the Tungzhou incident- “I can’t forget a film called “Here is a Japanese!” which I watched as a fifth-grader in the school assembaly hall. It was when the Tungzhou incident took place, and the film was about Japanese agricultural settlers in Manchuria. -One night, about ten Japanese settlers in Manchuria, including children, were taken handcuffed and gagged to a public assembly hall. They were followed by Chinese paramilitaries, each armed with a rifle. After a while, Japanese soldiers who noticed Japanese settlers weren’t around shouted “Is there any Japanese?”, approaching the public hall. But they hadn’t yet realised what was going on. One of the Japanese captives sensed that the rope around his hands was getting loose, and tried hard to free himself. We watched the film very tense. One of the Chinese paramilitaries saw what was happening, and hit the back of the Japanese with his rifle. The voice of the Japanese soldiers became more and more distant. All of a sudden, the gag of one Japanese captive got loose, and he yelled “Here is a Japanese!” Then there rang a rifle shot, and blood gushed out from his forehead. The Japanese around him covered him to protect him. On hearing the rifle shot, the Japanese soldiers rushed to the public hall, rescuing all the settlers and arresting all the Chinese paramilitaries.

We fifth-graders all embraced one another in tears. This is a true story. The Japanese who yelled is a certain Murakami Kumetaro. He survived the injury and was awarded a medal by the Manchuko and the Japanese Government. The Japanese people cursed then the murderous cruelty of the Chinese who had abducted Japanese civilians. But it was the settlers who victimised, and the real victims were the Chinese robbed of their land, and the worst victimisers were the Japanese Government which had set out to colonise Manchuria. It is only recently that we in Japan have learned to see the history in this way.

My mother was born in 1902 in Pjonyang in North Korea. When she was at a highschool there, my grandmother divorced, and my mother returned to Japan, finishing her studies at a teacher training college and giving birth to my sister in 1922 and me in 1926. My grandmother remarried in Pjonyang a Japanese smallshopkeeper. On Aug. 15, 1945 Japan lost the war. My grandmother and step-grandfather were forced to leave Korea, coming back to Japan to live near my mother. To us the step-grandfather was a stranger. Day and night he would regale to us how awful the Koreans were. His story went like this.

On the day when Japan was defeated, the family of our Korean employee burst into our house. Our step-grandfather was enraged, yelling at them “How dare you set your feet in our house!” But the employee yelled back: “this house is ours!” He forced his wife and children in. Our grandmother and her family had no choice but to retire into a small hut formerly occupied by the employee and his family. At the same time there were riots all over the place, Japanese flags were burnt, and Korean flags were flung instead. Many Japanese were subjected to physical violence and had their properties taken. The shinto shrine, a symbol of the Japanese invasion, was burned down overnight. Until then the Japanese believed that they were nothing but benefactors for Koreans. Until his death my step-grandfather wouldn’t admit causing any harm to the Korean employee and his family.

A year after the end of the war, in 1946, my sister married a son of her Pjonjang school-teacher, only to get divorced immediately after having given birth to Ichiro. A few years later she remarried a Korean named Lee Insk, with whom she is still married. Ichiro doesn’t know his real father. When Ichiro was a second-grader, my sister went with Ichiro and Lee to a picnic in a Yokohama park. When my sister read a story written by Ichiro on this picnic, she was awfully disappointed, for he wrote about having had fun with my sister all day, making no mention of Lee.

About 1948 I took part in a Japan-Korea friendship and peace conference, having been invited by Lee. The hall was packed with more than 200 participants. When a Socialist Party parliamentarian said “The past relationship between Japan and Korea was not a happy one. For the sake of our future relationship, let’s put the past aside, and move forward for friendship’s sake,” angry protests filled the hall. “What do you mean by leaving the past aside?” “To forget the past is our ruin.” Lee is a gentle person. He still loves my sister dearly. From their marriage to my mother’s death five years ago, he had my mother living in his home and took good care of her.

About 1975 I and my wife were invited to a wedding of Lee’s second son. It was the first Korean wedding that we ever attended. It was a far more joyous occasion than the average Japanese wedding. In the course of the ceremony the bridegroom marched in, taking the arms of my sister, his stepmother. She was wearing a traditional Korean robe. At this sight my mother took out a handkerchief, wiping the tears off her cheeks. She believed that her past relationships with Koreans had been settled. But she was rather sad to see her daughter wearing a Korean robe.

About 10 years ago, my mother’s son, Ichiro, published an excellent book entitled “The history of Korea and Japan”. It was of course translated into Korean and pubished in both Koreas. Ichiro, who 40 years ago ignored in the Yokohama park the reprehensible Lee, who had robbed him of his father, had made quite a progress in his life. Lee loves Ichiro far more than his own children.

Lee was featured last year as the founder of Korean schools in Japan in a special, nationwide programme broadcast by NHK, the Japanese equivalent of BBC. He was decorated by Kim Ilson. But he doesn’t seem to care very much for his son, Kim Jong Il, the Secretary General of North Korea. I really don’t know where his mind is.

In 1993 some of us Anti-war veterans, together with some atom bomb victims of Hiroshima, visited the Independence Museum in Seoul in order to deepen our knowledge on Japan’s war of aggression. Before our departure I met a Korean atom bomb victim, a certain Mr Kan. Kan: “Please don’t forget the 500-year han of the Korean people.” Shida: “What is ‘han’, please?” Kan: “It’s about bitterness.” Shida: “500 years? Really? I thought it was just 100 years.” Kan: “Yes, it’s sure 500 years.”

At the present moment the relationships between Japan and North Korea are going through rough waters. The Secretary General, Kim admitted that about 30 years before 13 Japanese civilians were abducted, eight of them died, and Kim apologised to our Premier Koizumi, and allowed five survivors to return to Japan. Kim imposed a stiff penalty on those responsible for the abduction.

But the Government of Japan had forcefully transported hundreds of thousands of Koreans, and recruited a huge number of Korean women as “comfort women.” Many of them already passed away. The Japanese Government has undertaken no investigation on its own initiative. They have not apologised nor paid any personal compensation. It wouldn’t admit the past errors and wrongdoings.

Unfortunately, the unsettled issues between Korea and Japan are considerable. I believe that the Japanese alone are the guilty party. That’s why we are still the butt of their intense hatred.

Lately the neo-conservative Korea-bashers are becoming influential in Japan. Let me quote from a letter sent in to the nation’s conscientious national paper, Asahi-Shimbun: “What is our government’s view on the abduction issue? Our own citizens were forcefully taken abroad by a foreign state. Japan is prevented by our constitution from resorting to force, but we have not renounced our sovereignty nor a right to appeal to economic sanctions. The Government seems to be taking into account the fact that there are some positive developments round the multi-national negotiation about North Korea’s nuclear armament, but North Korea is hardly a party in which sound reason reigns supreme. I would like our Government to make the country which harms the freedom and lives of Japanese citizens realise how angry we Japanese are at them.”

Can you detect in this letter something of the hatred of the article 9 of the Japanese constitution? The article in question reads:Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. At the moment this article is in grave danger.

Our Parliament is currently debating a law which would support preventive wars by the USA. Four days ago I went to listen to the debate. The situation is really bad. Japan has been moving against this article 9, and has become in the meantime the third largest military power in the world. I have an urgent call to return to Japan immediately after this conference to fight against this development. I take this opportunity to offer you my most sincere apologies for not having been able to come last year despite your kind invitation, all because the political situation back home had deteriorated so much.

Last year, shortly before I was due to leave for Holland, I visited the Indonesian Embassy in Tokyo and spoke with Minister-Counselor Shahri Sakidin. I was accompanied by an ex-Japanese soldier who was in Sumatra about three years during the Pacific War. The following is part of our conversation

Shida: On my return from Holland last year, I heard the following story from a former JAL staffer in Jakarta. “The Japanese Government has paid compensation to Dutch comfort women, although it hasn’t apologised to Asian comfort women. One Indonesian paper wrote in its editorial that thieves had compensated thieves. There is also a story about a highly placed Dutchman about 100 years ago, who had an Indonesian woman as mistress. When an Indonesian youth fell in love with her, the Dutchman got so infuriated that he murdered the youth without any legal procedure. This story is still widely known in Indonesia.” Is there any truth in this story, sir?

Sakidin: As a diplomat I have to be circumspect when it comes to sensitive issues. But facts ought not to be doctored. The Indonesian people are suffering from a big trauma. It’s not 100 years that Holland ruled Indonesia. It’s 350 years. Holland occupied Indonesia an unbroken 350 years and hurt our pride. During the WW2 Japan occupied Indonesia three and a half years. The Dutch occupation is exactly 100 times as long as the Japanese occupation.

Shida: But Holland is a nation of commerce. Unlike the Japanese military occupation, it occupied Indonesia peacefully, didn’t it?
Sakidin: Holland occupied Indonesia as long as 350 years to increase its own wealth. Whether its purpose was military or not, the fact remains that the Indonesian pride was hurt. Since 1700 there had been battless with a view to driving the Dutch out. The Dutch, however, wouldn’t allow Indonesia to grow as a state. Therefore a nationwide struggle was not feasible. The war against the Dutch continued even after Japan came to occupy Indonesia.

Shida: In order to keep India under control Britain resorted to the policy of divide and rule by taking advantage of the Indian caste system. Did Indonesia also experience such internal divisions?
Sakidin: I know next to nothing about Britain. The Dutch always pushed for fragmentation, never allowing Indonesia to unite as a nation.

Shida: Was the situation the same in 1942 when Japan invaded Indonesia?

Sakidin: It is true that at that time Sukarno decided to cooperate with Japan for a while for the sake of independence. Quite a number of Indonesian youths underwent military training by the Japanese army. This group would become the core of the emerging Indonesian army. We knew all along, though, that Japan was using our youths in order to take possession of our natural resources.

This is what we heard from a diplomat. At the start of the Pacific War, Japan sang a song of Asia’s liberation. In reality, however, it was a war in order to grab natural resources. Every modern war is initiated by a strong power pursuing its own national interests. What I learned from the past war is that it’s patriotism that is the enemy of the mankind. Moreover, it’s always ordinary people of small, weak nations that become victims of a strong nation’s patriotism. Those weak nations having no arms are bound to keep up their war of terror. We believe that it is mankind’s highest duty to cast away the yoke of the state, not to doctor the past history, to face the past wrongs perpetrated by one’s own government against weak, small nations, and denounce the government for the sake of better future.

I thank you for your attention.

[Translated from Japanese to English by T. Muraoka]

3. Fighting History: The Legacy of Ienaga Saburo | Prof. Dr. Rikki Kersten

(Professor of Modern Japan at Leiden University)

A Lost Legacy?

Academics are unlikely heroes. In the case of Japanese historian Ienaga Saburo, one could be forgiven for deeming this a self-evident proposition. Painfully thin, bald and bespectacled, Ienaga reminded one more of an elongated sparrow than of a champion. Ienaga was so demonstrably feeble in his youth that he was declared unfit for military service in WWII, and the closest he got to any kind of service was an inglorious stint in the Army Reserve in the last desperate days of the war.

Ienaga passed away, quite unexpectedly, on 29 November 2002, at the ripe age of 89 years. Like Maruyama Masao a few years before, his funeral was a private one, restricted to family members only. This is despite the undoubted enormous public interest that his passing would surely have generated. Whatever judgment awaits us in the next life, death invariably forces us to judge the sum of achievements in this one. In a spirit of tribute but also of critical assessment, I would like to examine the legacy of Ienaga Saburo.

As you all know, the last four decades of Ienaga’s life were the ones that defined his image in the minds of his contemporaries. In the final years of his unexpectedly long life, Ienaga achieved the status of here and crusader in radical and popular circles in contemporary Japan. For this bookish university professor single-handedly challenged the Japanese state over a 32-year period in a series of lawsuits over the alleged censorship of his history textbooks. The crux of these law-suites, and of Ienaga’s fame, was his conviction that the unpleasant details of Japan’s crimes and abhorrent behaviour during the war ought to be included in school history textbooks. The non-combatant of wartime became in effect the combative conscience of postwar Japan.

At first glance, Ienaga’s tale is just another example of the ‘nobility of failure’, whereby it is the glory of an attempt in the face of certain defeat that marks out the territory of the Japanese hero. None of his three lawsuits ended in success: one partial victory in 1970 was soon smothered on appeal; the final ruling in 1997 achieved only partial success on minor points.

More significantly, in contemporary Japan it is undeniably the revisionists and conservatives who hold centre-stage in the ongoing controversy over the teaching of WWII history in Japanese schools. Since 1997, the so-called ‘Liberal School of History’ and their activist wing, the Society for the Creation of New History Textbooks, has swept through the best-seller lists with their own versions of Japan’s war.[1] Apologist, aggressively patriotic and cheap, these mass market books prepared the way for the production of a new textbook intended for use in Japanese junior high schools.[2] The very existence of this movement seems to condemn any notion of an Ienaga legacy to the status of an historical curiosity at best, and at worst, a lost legacy.

The Society’s New History of Japan, having undergone 137 mandatory revisions at the insistence of the same official entity that had provoked Ienaga to go to court, has been available as an approved text for use in schools from April 2002. This occurred despite the extraordinary uproar caused when the results of screening by the Ministry of Education were released in March 2001, including the withdrawal of the Korean ambassador, formal protests and demands for numerous revisions from both Korea and China. Eight prominent historians subsequently published an itemized list of 51 factual errors that they say remain in the revised text.

The conservative turn in contemporary Japanese politics further discourages any notion of an impact made by Ienaga. Japan in 2003 has an ultra-conservative Prime Minister who felt emboldened by his initially high popularity ratings to visit Yasukuni Shrine (where Japan’s war dead- including war criminals ? are worshipped) to commemorate the 15 August anniversary of defeat, without the fig-leaf of doing so in a ‘private capacity’ as his predecessors had felt obliged to do. A continuous parade of lawsuits lodged in Japan’s court system in the 1990s by (mainly foreign) war victims claiming apologies and compensation are invariably dismissed, using the pretext that in international law, all of these issues have been settled in state-to state- treaties following the war.

Today Japan’s historians can be cartooninsts (like Kobayashi Yoshinori, for example), and the complexities of war and memory can be scribbled into balloons emanating from the mouths of black and white heroes in the pages of manga. Lightning-rod issues such as the dispatch of troops to UN Peacekeeping activities, that in the early 1990s provoked fierce public controversy and anger, pass through parliament now with barely a whimper. Revision of the pacifist clause in Japan’s postwar constitution, Article 9, seems only a matter of time.

So where is Ienaga’s legacy? In spite of the light and heat emanating from the ascendant revisionist movement, Ienaga has nonetheless substantially changed the landscape of Japanese historiography on the war. In a real sense, the vehemence of revisionists engaged in passionate denial of a negative past for contemporary Japan is in direct proportion to the impact Ienaga has made on postwar Japanese intellectual life. Without Ienaga, there would be no Kobayashi Yoshinori. Cartoon revisionism is enormously popular and influential amongt the younger postwar generation in Japan, but it exists on a terrain that has been shaped and sign-posted by a sickly scholar who never saw a battlefield.

Ienaga’s Story
At landmark stages of the textbook lawsuits, and in numerous related publications since he lodged the first case in 1965, Ienaga has self-consciously and deliberately laid out his motivation for his activism. In his own version of his story, Ienaga describes his postwar activities as a kind of ‘postwar responsibility’, a personal crusade of atonement for failing to resist the militarism of the wartime Japanese state. Worse, in his own eyes, Ienaga was a passive collaborator in that he taught the “history” of the Emperor System and its foundation myths to the youth of the 1940s.

Born in Nagoya in 1913, Ienaga fell into academe almost by default, or at least he would have it that way. Being of a sickly dispositon, he stated that most alternative avenues of activity were not available to him. What he did not stress is his obvious intelligence, yet even here there is evidence of timidity improbably tinged with pragmatism. He really wanted to study philosophy, but saw no future career there. History, he decided, was the path to take.

He had entered high school in 1931, the year when Japan embarked on its imperial adventure in Manchuria, and bowed to the Imperial portrait along with his classmates. By the time he had graduated from university in 1937, the Manchurian Incident had developed into full-scale war with China. The reality of Imperial Japan was impressed upon him when his attempt to publish part of his graduation thesis was thwarted by his fellow scholars and the journal editors. His topic was considered too dangerous, as it touched on the subject of the foundation myth. Ienaga writes, ‘this manuscript, my first scholarly essay to be set in print, died and was buried at the galley-proof stage, and until the defeat I had no choice but to keep it under lock and key’.[3]

The autobiographical narrative takes a curious turn when he describes his subsequent career as a high school teacher in the early 1940s. He vividly describes the map on the noticeboard in the staff-room, with little pink flags tracking the glorious military successes of Japan in battlefields stretching from China to Australia and the Pacific. He depicts his predicament as a teacher of history in a time of authoritarian control and thought police as ‘fumie no sekai’, equating his situation with that of the Japanese Christians in 16th century Japan who were forced to tread on a portrait of Jesus to prove their contempt for the foreign ideology.

This is a tantalizing association. At this stage in his life, Ienaga had no belief system other than that of meticulous scholarship. In other words, he implies that he felt he was being forced to betray the discipline of history itself. Eventually, Ienaga intertwined the distortion and emasculation of history with the causes of the war itself: ‘the vast majority of the people were educated from youth into a frame of mind in which they could not criticize state policies independenly but had to follow along in those policies, mistaken through they were. Education since 1868 carries heavy responsibility for bringing on that tragedy’.[4]

Unlike many of his peers, Ienaga’s personal example in postwar tolerated no notional ‘year zero’ in personal responsibility. Rather, his postwar activism was an organic outgrowth of his failure to resist in wartime. He is scathing about his own active part in wartime Japan: ‘I am ashamed I taught propaganda’.[5] Through his postwar activism, Ienaga demonstrated that wartime impotence also entailed some responsibility on the part of passive collaborators, though this was mitigated. ‘In the classroom I had to jump through the hoops: that fact damaged my very soul’.[6]

In postwar, Ienaga was involved in the formulation of Japan’s first postwar textbook, and began drafting his own texts for the Ministry of Education in the 1950s. At the same time, in the first postwar decade, Ienaga became increasingly radicalized by the Cold War turn in Occupation policies towards Japan, particularly as it concerned education. As Japan’s conservative politicians encroached further on the content of education following independence in 1952, Ienaga voluntarily became embroiled in a series of textbook lawsuits where he spoke as a witness for the defendants.

Finally, in 1965, Ienaga felt compelled to put the Japanese authorities on the back foot through lodging his own case, this time against the Ministry of Education itself. Provoked beyond tolerance by a succession of critical screenings of his draft high school textbooks by Education authorities, and incensed by the reasons given for the revisions they demanded he make, Ienaga embarked on the journey that would inspire countless ordinary folk, and generations of lawyers and scholars in his lifetime.

The Textbook Lawsuits
Ienaga’s legendary court cases did indeed inspire and radicalize postwar generations from diverse walks of life, through identifying freedom of thought as an ongoing concern in a postwar Japan that had grown complacent about its democratic legitimacy as a Cold War ally and economic miracle nation. But the significance of his personal example, and of the cases themselves, resonates more deeply.

Ienaga’s fight for history exposed a bigger issue, namely that of how Japan had failed to reconcile its WWII history with the substance of its postwar democracy. Telling the history of war and embracing war guilt has through the textbook trials attained the status of a litmus test for democracy in postwar Japan.

The legal thrust of the textbook trials was quite simple: that the process of screening school textbooks represented a denial of freedom of education to the point of censorship, and thus was unconstitutional. Furthermore, screening violated the spirit of the 1947 Fundamental Law on Education. A law designed by the American occupiers to mobilize education as an instrument of democratic indoctrination. Over time, as repeated rulings against Ienaga created a cycle of inevitable failure through the establishment of legal precedent, he shifted his ground to focus on the validity of the screening process, asserting that the Minister had frequently exceeded his authority in his rulings over textbook content.

Basic democratic rights seemed to be the fulcrum of these cases, and indeed they were. But the cases were also about whether or not postwar generations should be taught about Japanese war crimes, and this fact teased observers and participants alike into confronting more than abstract philosophies of democratic legitimacy.

In their screenings of Ienaga’s texts, the Textbook Authorisation Council exposed its conviction that the purpose of history education was to create patriotic citizens. In 1957 the Council criticized Ienaga for ‘excessive fervour to encourage soul-searching rather than historical accuracy about the past’, and for straying ‘from the goals of teaching Japanese history…(namely) to recognize the efforts of ancestors, to heighten one’s consciousness of being Japanese, and to instill a rich love of the race’.[7] In 1964, he was asked to make over 300 revisions for similar reasons.

The flavour and tone of screening was consistent with this desire for a past that was not only usable, but one that would provide a positive foundation for the present. Commenting on the Rape of Nanjing, one screening committee declared that ‘the violation of women is something that has happened on every battlefield in every era of human history. This is not an issue that needs to be taken up with respect to the Japanese Army in particular’. And referring to Ienaga’s inclusion of pictures of maimed Japanese soldiers in his draft textbooks, it was decided that ‘this conveys an excessively negative impression of war’.[8] Ienaga’s purpose had been to warn future generations that a State inclined towards war did not have the interests of its citizens at heart. For the Ministry of Education, this was the real crux of the matter.

Attitudes towards history in general, and towards WWII history in particular, were not compatible with the official self-image of the postwar Japanese State. Through sanitising the actions of the State and its relationship to society in the past, Japanese education officials were attempting to realize their ideal vision of this relationship in the future.

The trials have also had profound implications for the discipline of history. In their screenings of Ienaga’s draft textbooks, the Ministry of Education revealed its implicit belief that history ought to be the product of consensus. Unit 731 could not be mentioned, they argued, because ‘no credible scholarly research exists concerning Unit 731’. Their references to the need for ‘commonly held’ or ‘correct’ views of events represents nothing less than a formula for orthodoxy, for an official view of history.

Furthermore, through the textbook trials we see orthodox history being determined not by historians, but by lawyers and bureaucrats. Rulings on whether certain sections are allowable are tantamount to a ‘seal of approval’ for one interpretation of history. The exclusion of a section similarly dismisses the legitimacy not only of the interpretation of an event, but its very existence. ‘Comfort Women” did exist, but did the Rape of Nanjing really happen?

Finally, as Nagahara Kenji poignantly indicates, by identifying the creation of patriotic citizens as the goal of history education, the Ministry of Education effectively divorced research and scholarship from education. In the 21st century, the line between education and propaganda in Japan appears to be gossamer-thin.[9]

And yet, the hundreds of historians who appeared as witnesses for Ienaga over the years took away a very different kind of lesson. They had seen that it was indeed possible to combine morality and social responsibility with the study of history, particularly regarding the research and writing of Japan’s WWII history. For many of these individual scholars, passive collaboration would no longer be an option.

As a direct result of Ienaga’s lawsuits, ‘comfort women’, the Rape of Nanjing, and Unit 731 are now able to be mentioned in school history texts in Japan. The appearance of ‘comfort women’ in all junior high school texts from April 1997 was the major catalyst for the furious reaction from revisionist quarters that continues to this day, notably in the form of the Society for the Creation of New History Textbooks. The revisionist crowd have had some successes, too. Feeling the pressure of revisionist ire, textbook publishers are increasingly engaging in self-censorship before submitting their textbooks for the mandatory screening and approval process. In April 2001, 5 out of 8 textbook publishers chose not to mention ‘comfort women’ at all.

Far from symbolizing the smothering of Ienaga’s legacy, the very intensity of the revisionist backlash demonstrates that Ienaga has made a powerful impact on Japan’s historical consciousness. Japan’s revisionists are in essence reactionaries: clearly, Ienaga has given them something to react against.

Ienaga’s Legacy
In 1978 Ienaga described his motivation to write the truth about Japan’s war as follows: ‘To be told to write nice things about the war again, to whip Japan up once again to war, this time in subjection to the United States ? I had to resist such education policies, otherwise on my deathbed I would relive the remorse I felt then: once again, back then, why didn’t I act?’.[10]

Ienaga’s multifaceted legacy begins with the legacy of resistance, Partly through Ienaga’s example, resistance has become the indicator of democratic legitimacy in a nation where democracy exists mainly in the space that divides society from the State. In the Yokohama court system, Professor Takashima is continuing the textbook lawsuit tradition. To date, very few local prefectural school boards have chosen the Society’s New History of Japan as their preferred textbook.

The discipline and profession of history in Japan have been the major beneficiaries of Ienaga’s textbook lawsuits. Perhaps one day, the children of Japan will likewise be allowed to benefit from the titanic struggles of one mighty fighter for a history that is not merely compatible with democracy, but inhabits its very core.

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[1] R.Kersten, “Neo-Nationalism and the ‘Liberal School of History’, Japan Forum Vol. 11 No.2 1999, pp 191-203.

[2] Nishio Kanji et al, Atarashii Rekishi Kyokasho (A New History Textbook)(Tokyo: Fuso sha, 2001)

[3] Ienaga Saburo, Japan’s Past Japan’s Future: One Historian’s Odyssey (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), p.104. Richard Minear trans.

[4] Ienaga, Japan’s Past Japan’s Future, p9.

[5] Ian Buruma, The Wages of Guilt (London: Jonathon Cape, 1994), p190.

[6] Ienaga, Japan’s Past Japan’s Future, p109.

[7] Ienaga, Japan’s Past Japan’s Future, p158.

[8] National League for Suppoart of the School Textbook Screening Suit, Truth in Textbooks: Freedom in Education and Peace for Children (1995).

[9] Nagahara Kenji, ‘Ienaga kyokasho sosho no 32 nen’ (The 32 Years of the Ienaga Lawsuits), Rekishigaku Kenkyu No.706 January 1998, pp4-13.

[10] Ienaga, Japan’s Past Japan’s Future, p6.

References and Suggested Reading by Prof.Dr.Rikki Kersten

Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt (New York: Jonathon Cape, 1994)

Rikki Kersten, ‘Neo-Nationalism and the Liberal School of History’, Japan Forum Vol.11 No.2 1999, pp 191 – 203.

Rikki Kersten, ‘The war in postwar politics’, Bulletin of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia, Vol.15 No.3, pp 1 – 9.

Rikki Kersten, Democracy in Postwar Japan: Maruyama Masao and the search for autonomy (London: Routledge, 1996).

Ienaga Saburo, The Pacific War 1931 – 1945 (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

Ienaga Saburo, Japan’s Past Japan’s Future: One Historian’s Odyssey (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001)

Ienaga Saburo, ‘The historical significance of the Japanese textbook lawsuit’, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Autumn 1970 No.4, pp 3 – 12.

Ienaga Saburo, Senso Sekinin (War Responsibility), (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1985).

4 Japan in het geschiedenisonderwijs in Nederland | R. van der Geest

(Dhr. van der Geest is een geschiedenisleraar bij Rijnland Lyceum, Oestgeest)

Tessa en Mirjam

Begin september vorig jaar kwam een leerling uit 5 HAVO naar me toe. Dit meisje, Tessa, worstelde met het onderwerp van haar profielwerkstuk. Een ‘profielwerkstuk’ is te vergelijken met een ‘meesterproef’, een eigen onderzoek door de leerling met een studielast van 60-80 uur, binnen een of enkele vakken waarover een leerling eindexamen doet, na 5-6 jaar voortgezet onderwijs.

Tessa wilde wel eens wat meer weten over Nederlands-Indië en de Tweede Wereldoorlog, maar ze kwam er niet zo goed uit wat ze precies zou gaan onderzoeken. Tessa vertelde dat haar grootvader was geboren in Nederlands-Indië. Hij had een soort dagboek bijgehouden. Na zijn overlijden had Tessa’s vader dat bewaard. Hij had het Tessa laten zien. Zij was erdoor geboeid geraakt. Ze vroeg nu aan mij of ze het mocht gebruiken voor haar profielwerkstuk. Ze vertelde me hoe omvangrijk het materiaal was, en dat er ook foto’s en tekeningen van haar opa bij zaten. Ik stelde haar voor alle boeken, waarmee ze niet goed uit de voeten kon, terzijde te schuiven. ‘Probeer maar eens een biografie van je opa te schrijven’, was mijn advies. Ik heb zelden een leerling met zoveel plezier een schoolopdracht zien maken.

Toen ik het werkstuk las, besefte ik dat Tessa via het leven van haar opa enkele belangrijke perioden en momenten van de geschiedenis van de 20ste eeuw op een unieke manier had beleefd:
de positie van de Indo’s in de Nederlands-Indische en na 1945 in de Indonesische samenleving;
de economische crisis in de jaren ’30;
de Tweede Wereldoorlog in Azië;
de lotgevallen van Nederlanders in Nederlands-Indië tijdens de oorlog;
het werpen van de atoombommen op Japan (Tessa’s opa werkte destijds op een scheepswerf bij Nagasaki);
de Bersiap-periode en de onafhankelijkheidsstrijd in Indonesië;
de terugkeer / komst van Nederlanders, Indo’s en andere inwoners van Nederlands-Indië naar Nederland.

Voor mij als docent is het begeleiden van leerlingen als Tessa een van de mooiste aspecten van mijn beroep.

Een tweede voorbeeld is mij in de schoot geworpen door iemand die vandaag hopelijk aanwezig is. De heer Leo Geleijnse stuurde mij in februari enkele krantenknipsels. Daaruit bleek dat hij, ‘die veel publiceerde over zijn verblijf als gevangene in een Japans jongenskamp en de verwerking daarvan’, is geïnterviewd door een 16-jarige HAVO-leerling. Dit meisje, Mirjam, schreef een examenwerkstuk (vermoedelijk ook als profielwerkstuk) met als titel ‘Leo Geleijnse overleefde’. Volgens de Leeuwarder Courant van 3 mei 2002 vindt Mirjam ‘dat ze meer heeft geleerd van het gesprek met de Geleijnse dan van de geschiedenislessen’.

Twee leerlingen, de één op een school in Dokkum, de ander in Oegstgeest, werken bijna tegelijkertijd aan een zelfgekozen opdracht, met een vrijwel identieke inhoud: het leven van twee mannen die rond de Tweede Wereldoorlog in Nederlands-Indië hebben geleefd. En twee leerlingen die onafhankelijk van elkaar, meer van hun werkstuk hebben geleerd dan van de overige geschiedenislessen. Is dit toeval? Wat leren deze voorbeelden ons?

Regelgeving in de basisvorming

Het geschiedenisonderwijs in Nederland biedt de leerlingen (én de leraren én de schrijvers van schoolboeken) steeds minder ruimte om eigen keuzes te maken. De Nederlandse overheid bepaalt sinds een aantal jaren via een strakke regelgeving de inhoud van het onderwijs.

Dat begint al in de basisvorming (de eerst 2-3 jaar van het voortgezet onderwijs). Die regels weerspiegelen een westerse visie op de geschiedenis. De niet-westerse geschiedenis komt slechts in twee van de 25 kerndoelen aan de orde en dan ook nog zeer beperkt:
in kerndoel 12 moeten leerlingen ‘voorbeelden kunnen geven van contacten tussen de christelijke Europese cultuur en de islamitische Arabische cultuur in de Middeleeuwen en van invloeden van de islamitische Arabische cultuur op de christelijke Europese cultuur’;
in kerndoel 25 moeten de leerlingen ‘effecten van de koloniale en postkoloniale verhouding tussen Nederland en Oost- en West-Indië op huidige ontwikkelingsvraagstukken in die gebieden kunnen beschrijven’.

Het geschiedenisonderwijs in de basisvorming wordt ingevuld vanuit ons Nederlandse standpunt; wordt in geen enkel opzicht vanuit een mondiaal, laat staan een niet-westers perspectief bekeken. De namen Latijns-Amerika, Afrika en Azië komen niet voor in de kerndoelen, laat staan Japan.

Regelgeving in de Tweede Fase

In de zogenaamde Tweede Fase, de laatste twee jaar van de bovenbouw in het HAVO en VWO, is de regelgeving hoopgevender voor de niet-westerse geschiedenis. Het onderwijs wordt geordend in zogenaamde ‘domeinen’ en ‘sub-domeinen’ (in het VWO respectievelijk 7 en 14). Eén van de domeinen heet ‘Ontmoetingen tussen culturen’. De twee sub-domeinen daarbinnen hebben als titel ‘Niet-westerse samenlevingen’ en ‘Contacten tussen westerse en niet-westerse samenlevingen’. Het laatste sub-domein is in 2001 en 2002 onderdeel geweest van het centraal eindexamen: ‘Nederland en Indonesië. Vier eeuwen contact en beïnvloeding’. De Japanse bezetting van Indonesië kwam nauwelijks aan de orde.

Afgezien van de twee subdomeinen van het landelijk examen, dienen de overige op zogenaamde schoolexamens te worden getoetst. Maar na forse kritiek vanuit het onderwijs (de leerlingen voorop!) op de zwaarte van de Tweede Fase mogen de scholen (lees: de leraren) beslissen om drie sub-domeinen niet te toetsen en in plaats daarvan ‘een historisch overzicht’ aan de leerlingen voor te schotelen. Het is ? voor zover ik weet – nooit landelijk onderzocht, maar ik vermoed dat op veel scholen de sub-domeinen over de niet-westerse wereld vaak het kind van de rekening zijn. Daarvoor kunnen verschillende redenen bestaan:
leraren zijn niet erg geïnteresseerd in (relatief) onbekende onderwerpen uit de niet-westerse wereld;
de schoolboeken bieden de leraren uiteenlopend lesmateriaal over de niet-westerse geschiedenis.

Schoolboeken in de Tweede Fase

Welke aandacht besteden de schoolboeken in de Tweede Fase van het VWO aan de niet-westerse geschiedenis?
Memo heeft ‘China, Van Confucius tot Mao Zedong’ als voorbeeld van een niet-westerse samenleving. Een ander onderdeel gaat over ‘Van Nederlands-Indië tot Indonesië’ (met enkele alinea’s aandacht voor de Japanse bezetting); Azië, Afrika en het Midden-Oosten zijn in het historisch overzicht van de 20ste eeuw aanwezig in een paragraaf over ‘de ondergang van de koloniale rijken’. Japan’s aandeel in de Tweede Wereldoorlog krijgt aandacht binnen de paragraaf ‘Amerika raakt betrokken bij de oorlog’.
Delta wijdt drie delen aan de niet-westerse geschiedenis: één aan het Midden-Oosten, één aan de opkomst en ondergang van het Mayarijk en één aan de çontacten tussen Nederland en Indonesië. Japan komt alleen aan de orde binnen een hoofdstuk over de Tweede Wereldoorlog.
Pharos behandelt de geschiedenis van China (1500 tot heden) en Zuid-Afrika (1652-heden) uitgebreid. Japan speelt een bijrol in het eerste onderwerp.
Sfinx neemt Latijns-Amerika als decor voor ontmoetingen tussen westerse en niet-westerse culturen en behandelt China als voorbeeld van een totalitaire staat. Opvallend is het onderdeel ‘Edo-Japan: de wereld van shinto, sjogoen en samoerai’, als voorbeeld van een niet-westerse samenleving.
Sprekend verleden wijdt zeven hoofdstukken aan de niet-westerse geschiedenis, waarin alle geografische gebieden aan de orde komen. Japan tot 1945 is een apart hoofdstuk. In een later hoofdstuk wordt de geschiedenis van het oosten van Azië na de Tweede Wereldoorlog aan de orde gesteld.

Opmerkelijk is het dat uitsluitend Sfinx en Sprekend verleden veel aandacht besteden aan de Japanse geschiedenis. Sprekend verleden heeft als enige schoolboek een historisch overzicht van de geschiedenis van alle werelddelen. De andere schoolboeken zijn uitsluitend thematisch geordend.

De schoolboeken in de bovenbouw verschillen dus sterk op het terrein van de niet-westerse geschiedenis. Dit is mogelijk, omdat de overheid de twee eerder genoemde sub-domeinen niet nader heeft ingevuld. De schrijvers van schoolboeken kunnen zelf hun werelddeel en land kiezen.

Als bovendien, naar ik vermoed, veel leraren de sub-domeinen over de niet-westerse geschiedenis inruilen voor ‘een historisch overzicht’ dan is de veronderstelling gerechtvaardigd, dat het slecht gesteld is met de aandacht voor de niet-westerse wereld.

Welk beeld van de geschiedenis van Japan zullen de meeste leerlingen vermoedelijk hebben, wanneer ze de school verlaten? Ik vrees dat het zal bestaan uit het volgende:
Japan was een agressief land in de Tweede Wereldoorlog (Pearl Harbour; bezetting van een groot deel van Azië).
De Japanse bevolking werd zwaar gestraft door het werpen van twee atoombommen op Hiroshima en Nagasaki.
Japan heeft zich na de Tweede Wereldoorlog snel ontwikkeld tot een economisch welvarend land.

En dan hebben ze een deel van dit beeld opgedaan in de bioscoop (Pearl Harbour) en bij een ander schoolvak (economie). Het geschiedenisonderwijs krijgt – vrees ik ? geen voldoende.

De toekomst

Is er uitzicht op verandering in deze situatie? In NRC-Handelsblad van 26 april 2003 stond een artikel in de bijlage ‘Wetenschap & Onderwijs’ onder de kop ‘Moord en brand. Overal in Europa wordt het geschiedenisonderwijs herzien’. Ruim 200 docenten en schoolboekschrijvers uit heel Europa analyseerden onlangs in Italië tijdens een congres de veranderingen in hun geschiedenisonderwijs. Het artikel biedt weinig hoop voor de niet-westerse geschiedenis: het nationalisme is niet uit te bannen. Daarnaast zijn politieke lobby’s een niet te onderschatten factor: vanuit de Europese Unie wordt op een eurocentrische invulling van het geschiedenisonderwijs aangedrongen.

Welk lobby kan hiertegen weerstand bieden?

In januari 2001 verscheen het rapport ‘Verleden, heden en toekomst’, het advies van de commissie historische en maatschappelijke vorming, beter bekend als de commissie De Rooy. Dit rapport bevat de regelgeving voor het geschiedenisonderwijs voor de komende jaren. Gelet op de inhoud zijn er ook in de nabije toekomst geen revolutionaire veranderingen te verwachten ten gunste van de geschiedenis van de niet-westerse wereld.

Het enige hoopgevende punt is dat ook de nieuwe de regelgeving de schrijvers van schoolboeken en scholen ruimte laat om een deel van het onderwijs zelf in te vullen. Misschien is het gezond verstand op de dagelijkse werkvloer van het onderwijs inventief genoeg om die kans te pakken. Wie een sterker tegenwicht weet, mag het zeggen.

Een voorbeeld uit de praktijk

Om met een praktijkvoorbeeld te eindigen, wil ik u iets vertellen van de behandeling van de niet-westerse geschiedenis op mijn school:

in de 3de klas maken de leerlingen in groepjes van 2-3 leerlingen een poster over een zelf gekozen niet-westers land. In de poster moeten ze enkele aspecten van dat land (bijvoorbeeld bestuur, economie, cultuur) in beeld brengen in drie perioden: de tijd vóór de komst van de Europeanen, de koloniale tijd, en de periode sinds de onafhankelijkheid;
in 6VWO hebben we in de periode september-november 2002 twee schoolexamens gewijd aan de geschiedenis van China en Japan: de eerste over de periode tot 1945/1949; de tweede over de periode vanaf deze jaartallen. In de bijlagen van deze conferentie treft u de vragen over Japan, die wij aan de leerlingen hebben voorgelegd. Ik hoor graag wat u van deze opgaven vindt!

Ter inzage heb ik de genoemde schoolboeken meegenomen, alsmede het profielwerkstuk van Tessa.

Ik dank u voor uw aandacht.

5. History teaching at a Japanese school ⎮ Naoko Richters – Yasumoto/h3>

(This speech was at first planned to be given by Mr. O., a history teacher at a Japanese School in The Netherlands. But unfortunately shortly before the meeting, he cancelled attendance at our meeting, and as a consequence Ms.Richters, who had earlier spoken on a similar theme in this forum, agreed to stand in for Mr. O.)


In discussing the way history is taught in the Netherlands and in Japan I believe that one should first refer to more general aims of education. In short, we are to examine how these history lessons contribute to achieving these general aims.

Therefore: What is the aim of school education?

Although more individualistically oriented listeners may not agree, one could say that the most important aim of school education is to prepare each individual of future generations to be responsible to contribute to and maintain the society in the world at large. To transfer knowledge, technique and an attitude to respect and to serve the society are important goals of this education. Especially in the present situation where so much information is available for everyone and moreover is renewed everyday, and where so many individuals from all over the world are having frequent contacts, teaching a package of limited knowledge is obviously not sufficient for school education. Each of us, and each member of the next generation should have the opportunity to absorb any information and any knowledge he or she may need, and has to be able to express his or her idea freely, without being controlled or limited by any external force. Ensuring such an open society should be the important aim of school education, I believe. Creativity, flexibility and originality are powerful qualities for a pupil to gain to be able to solve the often new problems that challenge us and will challenge them everyday in our and their international society.

In this context, “History Education” should be directed at transferring wisdom from our past experience to the new generation .

But in fact, history education in many countries in the world has been focused on satisfying more nationalistic aims: and is directed first and foremost at “ transferring national identity to the young generation, basically to maintain the status quo or even the present regime of the country”. The degree of stress on this issue may vary per each country, but the idea appears both in Dutch and Japanese history education, too.

Let me now review the information which Mr.O has sent us, and find out the present situation of history teaching in a Japanese school.

Mr. O sent us three things that indicate his teaching practice at his school:
Part of Government Curriculum Guidelines; General aims and regulations for history education at secondary school
the textbook used at his school and
the teacher’s manual prescribing how to apply the textbook in class.

Regulations: Government Curriculum Guidelines

The Government Curriculum Guidelines is published by the Ministry of Education and Science. It basically consists of a set of instructions that schools, both public and private, in Japan are expected to follow when they design and apply their curricula. The “Government Curriculum Guidelines” has been published since the end of the Second World War and consists, per schooling level, of several thematic parts. Mr.O has sent us the 6th edition of the part concerning the Social Science Studies for junior High school (“onderbouw”): namely Geography, History, and the subject called Civic studies (“maatschappijleer”). .

In this guidelines, there are 4 items about the goals of history education, 21 items about the contents of history education; what historical events of which age have to be taught at school, and 28 items about the way of handling these historical events in the classroom.

Compared with the Core Objectives for Dutch high schools (kerndoelen), the Japanese Guidelines are far more elaborate, and more directive, where contents and teaching methods are concerned. I regret that I did not have sufficient time to translate the entire Government Guidelines for you, so that you would be able to compare it with the Dutch one by yourselves. Instead, I give you one example of the Ministry’s active involvement in the method of teaching: In the part on how to teach historical events in the classroom, the guidelines say 12 times, ”Not to teach in depth” or “Not to go into the details”. (Later on, I will explain about this instruction.)

Uniformity of the textbooks

The Government Curriculum Guidelines no doubt influence the contents of the textbooks. That is to say; where so many detailed instructions are given by the government, the textbook writer’s freedom is very much limited. But the guidelines are not law. You might argue; “it is just an indication, why do the writers not write what they believe should be taught to the children?” The argument is legitimate, I think. But at the same time we have textbook control by the government. The government controls all the textbooks written for school education. The Government Curriculum Guidelines are naturally the criteria by which the textbooks are checked.

As a consequence, although there are several different publishers, the content of textbooks becomes very similar to each other. When I presented my speech on the history education in The Netherlands and Japan in this forum two years ago, I compared a few of the textbooks from different publishers, but indeed the difference in structure and contents was very little.

As far as textbooks are concerned, schools and teachers have very few options to choose from.

Little room for the schools and the teachers to decide the contents and methods of their teaching practice

As I have just explained, the framework that the government defines for the school teaching through the “Government Curriculum Guidelines” and the “textbook control” leave the school and teachers little room to exploit their own ideas to practise their teaching at school.

Moreover, I can mention some more factors that limit the freedom of teachers and schools in Japan.

At first, the package of knowledge that is supposed to be taught at school is rather wide and large, so that the teachers have little time left to fill in at their own initiative.

Secondly, the high stress level at secondary schools resulting from the excessive emphasis on academic credentials and the consequent need for the pupils to pass entrance examinations.

Thirdly, the strong belief of teachers and schools on the neutrality and fairness of their teaching practice, and the fear that their initiative may harm these qualities.

As I worked on this speech, I had a telephone conversation with Mr. O. I asked Mr. O, “Do you sometimes spend extra time to treat the historical relationships between Japan and The Netherlands, not included in the textbook?” Mr.O’s answer was; “We once made an excursion with the pupils to the Peace Palace in Den Haag. ,,, For the rest we are not going too much into details about subjects that are not in the textbook. Our school is a ‘public’ school. I am a public servant. We are expected to teach the children the same material as the children in Japan are taught at school. I think that we have to give a fair chance to every child and we should not impose our personal way of thinking on the school lessons.”

Behind this dominant way of thinking that every child should learn the same contents at school, there is a heavy influence of the entrance examination system in Japan. In Japan, children have to pass the entrance examinations that are set and evaluated by the government and the universities. They cannot have a right to enter the desired universities only with the diploma of the secondary schools. Besides, until very recently, there was a widely accepted way of thinking that entering one of well-known universities is a passport for a success in his/her future life. This situation does not help a secondary school teacher do his teaching more originally in his own methods, choosing the contents and methods by him/herself.

What do Japanese secondary school children learn in the history education?

Mr.O sent us the curriculum and teachers’manual he uses for the history teaching at his school. This curriculum and the teaching manual were made by the textbook publisher. A table of parts, chapters, and subchapters of the textbook are made to indicate how each part of the textbook corresponds to the requirements of the Government Curriculum Guidelines.

Let’s now have a look at the textbook. What exactly do Japanese school children learn in the history class ? 

I have no experience in teaching school children at a Japanese school, and neither have I followed the changes of school syllabus that occurred 6 times after the war. Therefore, I can only compare the present textbook with the textbook that I used about 35 years ago.

Characteristics of presentday textbook

Comparing with the textbook of my time, I found three major differences in the present textbook.

At first, in my time, “World History”, which is principally the history of the Western world, and “Japanese History” were treated next to each other, in a parallel way. But in the present textbook, Japanese History is the base of the story, and the Western history appears where contacts with Japan and/or other relevant regions of Asia are concerned or where they had some historical consequence for Japan. At first glance it looks to me that there is now a stronger focus on Japan and the Japanese situation than before. In other words, nationalism seems to have gained more stress. But at the same time, we could also describe this change as the increase in attention to historical dynamism of contacts between different cultures and their consequences for Japan: Japan is more than before presented as part of the world.

Secondly, while Japan-oriented history has become dominant, there is much more attention to the history of other nations in the Asian region. This is probably a consequence of the increased contacts, and of the political and economic relationships that have developed between Japan and other countries in Asia in recent years.

A third difference is about the history before, during and after the Pacific War. This part of the history education has been perhaps most discussed and criticized internationally and, please note: also domestically. Compared to 35 years ago, there is more clarity on the historical facts of “Japan’s invasion of China”, “Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula”, “The massacre of Nanking”, “Victims of the war in the Asian region resulting from Japan’s aggression”, “Sacrifice of the people in Okinawa” etc., though the description is often minimum. (The latter subject may surprise you but the people of Okinawa have felt (and sometimes still feel) rather exploited, abused and neglected by the main islanders further north. I will come back to this later.)

Dilemma under the influence of the relationship with USA

Apart from these differences, I found a similar kind of dilemma in the present textbook on certain events during the war period as in my time. This dilemma comes from Japan’s postwar dependence on the United States of America with respect to democratization, economic growth, and national security in the Cold War situation. This dilemma is most apparent in the description of the atomic bombing and of Okinawa during and after the war.

About the atomic bombing, the textbook does not say that it was a measure to stop the military aggression of Japan, but at the same time neither does it write about the anger of the Japanese victims against the USA for the use of these weapons of mass destruction (these days: WMD’s) on the human kind. In this way, how can the children learn WHO was WRONG from WHAT point of view? How can the children who were born many years after the war judge the essential questions about the war? They probably only gain a rather vague impression such as, “ a war is wrong”.,,,,” “Who is wrong?” “a war?……”

I recognize a similar dilemma in the treatment of the history of Okinawa, especially about the victims of the war there. In Okinawa, a quarter of the total population died during the battle at the end of the war. Moreover, after the war much of their farmland was taken by USA for their military bases. Not only that, during my fieldwork in 1980 the dislike of the North American soldiers and the Japanese Government, or even mainland Japanese citizens themselves by the Okinawans was rather apparent. Not much is written about this in the textbook.

This may be because, in Japan in general, the Okinawa people are traditionally seen as relative outsiders by the mainland Japanese on one hand, while the USA is generally seen as contributing greatly to the economic development of Japan after the war, on the other. Although I do not intend to express a moral opinion on these issues at all, one would expect more of their treatment in history class.

By the way, in the beginning of this speech, I mentioned that in the Government Curriculum Guidelines of the history teaching they write “ do not go in depth”, or “ do not go into the details” 12 times. To encourage and stimulate the children’s independent and creative thinking, and active attitude for research on the well-discussed issues, we should naturally go in depth over some issues and we should go for the details sometimes, I suppose. But the guidelines direct intentionally on certain issues NOT go in depth or for details.

The items that the Government Curriculum Guidelines does not want the schools and teachers go in depth are, for example, “The clan and family name system in the ancient period”, “the changes of kingdoms in East Asia in the ancient period”, “ the revisions of the ancient laws and the actual situation of the politics of that period”, “the details of landownership and the political system of the Samurai period”, “religious reform, the arrival of Europeans”, “Nation unification and foreign relationship by Oda and Toyotomi”, “Commercial development and farmers’ uprisings concerning the social change in the modern period”, “details of the penetration of European nations into Asia”, “the details of political awareness of the people in the modern period, with the exception of the development of political parties, spreading of the democratic thought, and social movements during the period of ‘Taisho democracy’”.

The syllabus does not explain why these items are not to be treated in the depth or in details in the classroom. It is intriguing.


Comparing with my time, around the end of 60’s, presentday pupils are learning a bit more about Japan’s history as ‘victimizers’ (perpetrators) during the war. . I suppose that this occurred above all because of the demands of the people from the countries that had many victims of Japan’s aggression during the war. Although at least part of the Japanese society and part of the teachers may feel that the way school textbooks are written today is more appropriate, it would have been unlikely for this change to develop internally, under the circumstances where freedom of the teachers and schools is so limited. This is a great pity because it is an opportunity lost for us to learn from our own mistakes of the past.

More generally speaking, does present day history teaching in Japan fulfil the objective that I started with? To a large extent it does: the content does reveal how the Japanese society has been formed during the ages and does place Japan in a regional and world context. Still, in an essential sense it does not. The inflexibility and the uniformity of the school education caused by the strong government control, the strong preference of neutrality among the teachers, schools and perhaps among parents themselves, the pressure of the university entrance examinations etc. combine to give excessive focus on the maintenance of the status quo and do not sufficiently, in my view, prepare the next generation to tackle actual problems. Furthermore, these factors combined lead to pessimism on the possibilities of improving the situation.

But is there definitely no hope in our situation? The social problems caused by the Japanese school system, with a growing number of children who refuse to go to school and with an alarming number of children who lock themselves up in their rooms and who refuse to have any contact with the outside world, even with their own parents and siblings draw more and more attention of political parties, civilian groups and individuals these days. Issues like diversity of education, freedom of teaching, freedom of choosing a school, are slowly gaining attention of the people, though this trend has in no way gained the attention of the majority of the society yet.

With one of this kind of civilian groups I have been personally keeping contact and sending information especially related to the historical and legal background of the freedom of education, and the way it functions in the presentday situation in The Netherlands. Members of this group showed great interest in the current situation of the education in The Netherlands. However it seems that it will be a long way to reach our goal, I still have a hope that one day we will have a system that allows us to teach our children as each of us believes to be right. We should not forget, until that time, the wisdom we learned from our great mistakes in our past.