THE TEXTBOOK CONTROVERSY
Charles Cummins , December 2001, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY (St. Louis)
Dating back to the 8th Century in
These include Japan’s presence in China in the 1930’s, the Nanjing Massacre, the use of biological warfare by Unit 731, and the role of “comfort women” in Japan’s military, all of which are disreputable acts.
One side in the debate argues for the exclusion from, or “watering down” of these incidents in Japanese history textbooks. The argument claims that the purpose of history is to bolster pride in and increase feelings of nationalism for one’s nation. The counter argument pushes for an objective treatment of history, and the inclusion of these events, therefore giving students greater freedom in the formation of deductions from the text, and avoiding the perception of a censored history.
Since the late 19th century, all Japanese textbooks have been subject to screening for approval of content, vocabulary, and expression by the Ministry of Education. The screenings were an attempt on behalf of the Ministry to represent
Yet, Japanese administrative officials continued with textbook inspections in order to maintain
In order to understand the debate over the portrayal of history in textbooks, one must first be clear of the influence of education, textbooks, history, and politics over nationalism. Education functions as a method for the propagation and molding of the past, for it is “one of the most effective ways to promote a national narrative and to make and remake certain identities into the national identity. ”Bringing “official” interpretations of the past to the student, “textbooks typically function as nationalist primers that selectively highlight elements of the past to limn an ‘official’ story and etch the lineages and myths of contemporary patriotism.”
Textbooks have become a tangible manner for the creation of the “identities” and “narratives” that inspire nationalism. In their discussion on Japanese education and nationalism, Nozaki Yoshiko and Inokuchi Hiromitsu state history is composed of “narratives of ‘nation’ and a nation’s past are powerful tools that can involve people in a shared sense of identity, clarifying who ‘we’ are and where ‘we’ come from.”
History works as a unifying force amongst the masses to create nationalism. Finally, political forces have manipulated historical texts and created a “public perception that textbooks are authoritative statements of national policy and ideology.”Textbooks then play the role, according to political forces, of molding the behavior of the citizens into a “single, conformist mind-set.”Hence, the content of textbooks has become a central issue in the efforts of conservative Japanese to reinvigorate “ultra-nationalist” values.
Fujioka Nobukatsu champions the conservative, exclusionary side of the debate, claiming that representations of history should increase a citizen’s pride in the nation.
A member of the “Liberal View of History Study Group,” Fujioka promotes rightist, nationalist views disguised as“liberal” so as to influence students, teachers, and academics.Fujioka does not believe history should be subject to interpretation; instead history is “subject to the ultimate moral imperative of whether or not it serves to inculcate a sense of pride in being Japanese.” Fujioka believes that history makes no distinction between the truth and conjecture, thus necessitating a “censoring” in historical texts.
Slanderous, uncensored, textbooks simply have no worth, according to Fujioka, for they only serve to provide a “self tormenting historical perspective,” and does not allow Japanese children to foster a sense of nationalism because of a lack of pride in their own nation’s history.Critics, such as Aaron Gerow, suggest that Nobukatsu’s views are masochistic, for he enjoys “making oneself the victim of injustice so as to justify one’s own existence.Fujioka favors the denial of the truth over the inclusion of shameful facts because of the detrimental affect of the truth on the Japanese sense of nationalism.
While seeking specifically to eliminate all references to “comfort women” in history texts, Fujioka in a general sense seeks a complete reappraisal of Japanese history. The inclusion of “comfort women”, he argues, would cause a reevaluation of one’s relation to the state and a reexamination of gender relations within
These ramifications can best be understood in an international context. First, as many of these “comfort women” were Korean, deletion of their presence would serve to further “violate” an already “scarred” group. Further, Korean scholars claim this historical exclusion would indicate a return to the “emperor centered view of history,” in which one denies the existence of another, and the “colonialist view of history.”In this case
Similarly, emperor centered and colonialist views of history in regard to the Japanese presence in
Historian Ienaga Saburo has pioneered the argument for the inclusion of Japanese historical transgressions in textbooks. Challenging the constitutionality of historical censorship in textbooks, Ienaga explained that the exclusion of certain events in texts was a “violation of the freedom of expression and scholarship and contrary to the Fundamental Law of Education,” for it was a “violation of the principle safeguarding education from no improper control.” Ienaga challenged the Ministry of Education on the characterization of issues ranging from the nature of
While the exclusion of historical facts would be harmful to Japan’s relations with many of its Asian neighbors, inclusion of these facts would put
The debate regarding either the inclusion or exclusion in historical textbooks of
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