11. Controversies over the teaching of Japanese History

“Who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” — George Orwell, 1984.

What does George Orwell mean by “He who controls the past, controls the future”?

How do governments use history? What “narratives” were used to explain Japan’s war effort and subsequent defeat in the period immediately after August 15, 1945? How, for example, did the emperor explain Japan’s decision to end the war in his surrender speech? What role do school textbooks play in disseminating an official narrative? Why are such narratives important?

Occupation period (1945-52) educational reforms:

• New emphasis on internationalism, democracy, peace, and science

• Decentralization of educational administration

• For overview, see MEXT White Paper on history of Japanese education

The Imperial Rescript on Education (Kyoiku chokugo) was replaced by a new Fundamental Law on Education (March 21, 1947)

The purpose of education came to be defined as “the full development of personality” (jinkaku no kansei). What was the purpose of education under the 1890 Imperial Rescript? The Fundamental Law of Education was revised in 2007. What is now defined as the purpose of education?

How did early textbooks describe Japan’s role in the Pacific War? How did these textbooks explain issues of war responsibility?

Ienaga Saburo (1913-2002) was the author of one of the first postwar Japanese history school textbooks: A New History of Japan (Shin Nihon-shi), published in 1947. The textbooks was approved again in 1952 and 1955 by the Japanese Ministry of Education, but only after many revisions. By the 1960s, changes in curriculum guidelines caused the ministry to reject authorization of Ienaga’s history textbook. Why? What reasons were given? What happened in the 1950s and 1960s to change the way history was taught in Japanese schools?

The Ienaga lawsuits: Ienaga carried out a series of lawsuits against the Japanese Ministry of Education, charging the Ministry with violation of his freedom of expression, challenging the constitutional legitimacy of the Ministry’s authorization system, and censorship of history, questioning the factual basis of episodes connected with war, such as the existence of Unit 731 and the existence and operation of comfort women stations. In 1997 the Supreme Court found the authorization system constitutional, but admitted that the Ministry was guilty of attempting to deny the “facts” of history.

See the Wikipedia site for an overview of controversies over the teaching of Japanese history. What are some recent examples of such controversies?