Japanese Textbooks Aren't Getting Much BetterHistorians/History
Since the 1980s, sharp debates have centered on Japanese government censorship of school textbooks. The treatment of such issues as the Nanjing Massacre, the military comfort women, and Japanese use of wartime slave labor have been contentious not only in Japan but also in neighboring countries of East Asia that were colonized or occupied by Japanese forces. But the issues are not confined to history. This article carries the story to the present, exploring the implications of Japanese support for the Bush administration's foreign policy as reflected in the revisions required of the latest textbooks.
Most of the texts submitted for certification in politics/economics this year
treat the U. S. attack on Afghanistan. However, on the grounds that it was an
assault "based on UN resolution," the certifiers did not accept the
term "attack" and revised it to "ground assault," "military
assault," and the like. Even if opinions differ on whether the attack on
Afghanistan was based on UN resolution, the unilateral revision of the texts,
imposing only the government's view, not only damages the freedom of speech
and thought of the authors; it also damages the high school students' right
to learn. Permit this sort of certification, and in the next round of certification
they will probably not accept the term "invasion," either, for this
year's aggression against Iraq, unjust no matter how you look at it. This is
a new second coming of the "aggression/advance" issue that was previously
fought out with respect to textbook treatment of Japan's attack on China in
the fifteen year war.
Again, in a passage concerning the invasion of Afghanistan, "it was also the role of ally Japan to urge second thoughts on arrogant America," "America" was replaced by "great power," thus obscuring U.S. responsibility. In the caption for the illustration at the head of the same page, the words "without armed force" were deleted from "Japan contributes without armed force to UN-centered peace;" this is also serious. Toeing the U.S. line, the Ministry openly supported an "international contribution" with armed force.
An ethics text that raised the issue of responsibility for the dropping of the atomic bomb wrote: "It was the American armed forces that dropped the atomic bomb, and that responsibility rests without doubt with the President of the United States of America, the supreme commander of the American military." It went on, "Because it held to its policy of 'all-out resistance' as before, without forethought, the Japanese leading stratum of the time probably cannot avoid a certain responsibility for providing the American military a pretext for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." The certifiers held that "there is danger here of one-sided understanding" and deleted the passages in their entirety.
A passage that the U.S.-Japan security structure "is being broadened and
strengthened to 'world-wide scale'" was held to ignore the realities of
the new guidelines and the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law of 2001, so it
was revised to "is gradually being broadened and strengthened."
A reference to Japan's Self-Defense Force as a "standing military organization" was deleted on the grounds that it ran the "risk of misleading students to think that the force is a 'standing military organization.'" This is a startling view that reverses the fact that the Self-Defense Force is a standing military organization.
New History Textbooks
One text in Japanese history took up the issue of the Society for New History Textbooks, which backed a nationalistic textbook for middle school students.: "When this text won Ministry certification in the 2001 round, a broad citizen's movement arose everywhere to oppose its adoption, and in the end, in middle schools at city, ward, town, and village levels it was accepted virtually nowhere." This passage was revised heavily to read: "The middle-school history text ... was submitted to the Ministry for certification. The Ministry issued many comments and forced revisions, and in 2001 this text was certified. Meanwhile, a broad citizens' movement arose everywhere concerning the rights and wrongs of adopting this text. It was adopted in virtually no middle school." From the revision the inference is that the certification process led to changes in the text. In fact, it was the citizens' movement that led to the changes. To deny the significance of the citizens' movementby not recognizing the cause-and-effect relation between non-adoption and the citizens' movement, one might term this a certification championing the Society for New History Textbooks.
As has happened before, certification opinions were issued that the problem of reparations between nations was settled and over; but this time, in addition, it was noteworthy that a passage, "The issue of reparations was left in its unsettled state,"was revised to read, "The postwar reparations issue came to be raised as a foreign issue after 1980." Students might thereby be misled to think that the postwar reparations issue did not exist objectively all along but was raised only after 1980.
A passage that referred to compensation for former comfort women was revised
to indicate that the government had recommended financial support for "the
Asian peoples' peace foundation for women." Thus the textbook seemed to
exculpate the government's responsibility for what had happened to the women.
Another revised left the impression that the Japanese army's responsibility for the abuse of the women was vague.
In a passage, "During wartime
in areas Japan invaded, the Japanese
army rounded up many women by force," the subject"the Japanese
army"was deleted. The phrase, "the Japanese Armys comfort
women" was also revised to "comfort women" on the ground that
the term was "not in general use."
Over the last dozen years the phrase "Asia-Pacific War" instead of "Pacific War" has come to be used more frequently. This is because the "Pacific War" cannot represent the entire war correctly: it calls to mind only the war between Japan and the U.S., and Japan's aggression against Asia disappears from consciousness. In this round, too, most of the texts in Japanese history used the phrase "Asia-Pacific War"that fact alone indicates that this phrase has already achieved broad standing. Absolutely no rational reason exists any more for using the certification authority to exclude the term "Asia-Pacific War" from the texts. Nevertheless, the Ministry asserted that this phrase is "not in general use" and changed it to "Pacific War" throughout. Unconstitutional interference by the authorities in scholarly opinion: that is precisely what this is.
We'll need to keep an eye on submissions like this as well as on the activities of groups like the Society for New History Textbooks.
This article has been edited. It first appeared in Shukan Kinyobi. It was translated by Richard H. Minear for Japan Focus, which brought the article to our attention. The original text can be accessed by clicking here.
comments powered by Disqus
Ken Ken - 10/18/2004
The reason Japanese slaves are not mentioned in western textbooks is no doubt because in the larger context of slavery the numbers were insignificant. Could it be the fact that Japanese became slaves to Africans what makes you so angry about this?
Your claim that the decisive cause for the attack on Pearl Harbor was previous acts of racism against Japan by the U.S. and Europe is an interesting one. It seems to suggest that the Japanese at the time had a very poor sense of geography (Hawaii is nowhere near Europe) but a heightened sense of revenge. Is it this need for revenge that is still driving Japan to abandon its peace constitution and deploy its army overseas?
Steve Denney - 3/5/2004
When did I ever say Britain was 'better' than Japan (whatever 'better' means)? I find your whole idea of blaming the west for everything bad in Japanese history highly dubious. Yes, Britain had an empire (inventing the concentration camp, massacring / imprisoning Indians during the post-war independence campaign etc...) and yes, maybe Japan thought 'mmm, we'd like a bit of that too' (or the ruling elite thought so.) But so what!? 2 wrongs make a right do they?! "The subjegation of Korea and large parts of China was not our fault, we were only copying our older colonial brothers." ??????!!!!!!!!
In colonial history France and England were maybe the biggest players. At times England dominated France, at times it was opposite. Both were 'jealous' of the others power, both feared the others might. BUT both were equally to blame for what they did around the globe. The notion that, for example, France is innocent because it was only copying England is ridiculous. Is Japan any different?
Maybe you are thinking - "ah, but France was equal to England in technological terms, Japan was not." Again, so what? As soon as Japan started developing bombs and bullets they wanted their slice of the cake. - Which they took from Asia which was, as you say, "less powerful."
I come to History from a socialist perspective. Yes, that extremely dirty word (especially in America... or is that 'liberalism'?) - A democratic socialist I should quantify. - I believe history is a struggle between the haves and have nots. Like the west (and everywhere else) Japan has always been dominated by an elite. The Samurai giving way to the zaibutsu etc... To me, the Britsh establishment was the same as the Japanese one - their modus operandi, their essence, their very core beliefs were the same. They wanted power and money and always wanted more of it. The non-elite (of Japan and England)suffered and died for their selfish greed. To blame the 'west' is an insult to all those who were used and abused. No, Japan didn't want to be like the west. Rather the Japanese elite saw what their bretheren were achieveing in the west and this was the catalyst for them to do what came naturally to them.
Michio Kitahara - 1/22/2004
For the sake of fairness, may I add that, after a repeated request, I finally received a reply from the Chairperson of East Asian Department of Indiana University. She says the materials I am referring to are student papers. I have no way of determining whether or not this is true, but I think it is remarkable to set up web sites of this nature as a product of a course, which spreads incorrect and racist information to the whole world. Is the professor in charge not responsible for the content and consequences?
Michio Kitahara - 1/10/2004
Are you saying Britain is better than Japan? You are free to think and believe as you want. Here, you are manipulated by the ideology of national interest, I am sorry to say. Both Britain and USA have not reached even to the level of Japan! Both countries are still manipulated by the ideology of colonialism and racism even in 2003. A good example is the practice of describing Europeans as "whites." This ideology of considering themselves as good, just, honest, pure, superior, and legitimate people is disgusting.
Michio Kitahara - 1/6/2004
Are you familiar with psychoanalytic defense mechanisms? In two of my books, I argue that Japanese expansionism and colonialism are almost exact copies of Western expansionism and colonialism. In fact, Japanese openly stated so. When Japan was threatened by the West, Japan was forced to build up the strong military to fight back. This you must understand. At the same time, Japanese began to identify with the aggressors, i.e. the West and began to think and act like the West. This is called "identification with the aggressor" in psychoanalysis. This meant invasion and colonialism. When Japan forced Korea to terminate her seclusion policy and to sign an unequal treaty with Japan, the whole thing was an exact copy of what Perry and Harris forced upon Japan!
Because of the bitter experience with the Jesuits and Portuguese slave traders who sold Japanese slaves in large numbers overseas in the 16th century, Japan refused to open the country when Perry came. But the U.S. displayed the military and technological power and threatened to invade and conquer Japan if Japan continued to refuse to open the country.
Imagine, if Perry were unsuccessful, Japan would have remained as a secluded country, similar to, for example, Bhutan. In such a situation, Japanese colonialism and atrocities would never have happened! You must realize that Western colonialism and racism shaped the situation to a significant expent. In terms of psychoanalytic defense mechanisms, Japanese actions against other Asians can be seen as displacement; aggression against the West was directed against them because they were less powerful.
If you look at the world in terms of this perspective, you can also understand Israel's abuse of Palestinians quite well.
Steve - 1/5/2004
Very true Michio. When I was growing up in England, we were never taught about the British invention of the concentration camp, the real impact of the opium wars or the treatment of commonwealth immigrants etc... (and I could list a fair few 'dodgy' periods in US history, even though I admire the country so much)
However, 2 wrongs don't make a right as they say. I have to teach History to Japanese kids at HS (I won't touch on the "MEXT" philosophy of teaching here - 'our way or the highway') and it's er, a challenge to say the least.
History is taught as a if it's were a memory game, not a scholarly pursuit. The questions: what is history for and why do we study it? are never asked. The textbook (and MEXT interpretation) is gospel and unquestionable right.
Examples of 'dodgy' areas: Korean invasion justified (because Korea too weak to defend against western powers; The invasion of other Asian countries for similar reasons; The emperor as 'top dog' throughout history (Tokugawan relegated to 'royal appointees'); Nanjing massacre as 'not that many' (as if the odd 100,000 or so makes a difference!); The bluring of Japans real origins with myth. I could go on....
At the end of your comment you say that the Indiana situation is understandable. True: depending on your agenda. And you mention national interest. Is it really in any countries national interest to deny or beautify it's history? I beleieve the opposite is true. To deny shows pessimism in one's country's direction. This pessismism exhibits itself in the raising of the Hinomaru and singing of the national anthem in schools (like the US?), something that didn't happen before Nakasone and his ilk. In Britain we never have to suffer such indignities.
Why do our 'moral guides' fear the truth? Why do they belive we need a good dose of their version of national pride without the cahnce to find it ourselves? Why do they wish to portray the 'moral guides' of the past as justified?
Michio Kitahara - 12/20/2003
I have a question to all Westerners who criticize Japanese textbooks. I have NEVER seen a textbook in the West, which mentions the fact that Portuguese sold Japanese slaves in large numbers overseas in the 16th century. Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to stop this, and he even suggested that Japan would buy back these Japanese slaves. But Portuguese kings, slave traders, and Jesuit missionaries did only a lip service without stopping the slave trade, or ignored Hideyoshi completely. After the famous San Felipe incident, Hideyoshi acted decisively and quickly: he arrested six missionaries and 20 converted Japanese and executed them. This led to the prohibition of Christianity and the seclusion policy.
Now, my question is this. Why do Western textbooks NEVER mention this historical background? The textbooks I have examined only say that Christianity became forbidden and Japan became closed to the outsiders because Christianity was considered to be the threat to the maintenance of the feudal system. Why are they silent about the slave trade?
Maybe there are textbooks that mention that. In that case, please post a comment.
The Perry Expedition is usually described in a biased way, without mentioning American egoism and arrogance.
The reason why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor is not objectively described in Western textbooks, without mentioning the extreme racism against the Japanese in the U.S. and Europe--the decisive cause for the attack.
How can you criticize Japanese textbooks, while you have these biased, simplistic, and distorted extbooks in the West?
Michio Kitahara - 12/13/2003
Japan has been described as having biased textbooks. But I see the same situation in the U.S. Recently, I happened to see course outlines entitled "East Asia: Introduction" at Indiana University, Bloomington. The content is biased and racist in nature. I wrote an e-mail of complaint to President at Indiana, which was forwarded to Chair of East Asian Department. The Chairperson says we are competent, we are not racists, etc. I offered to point out errors and mistakes but have received no reply.
To present Japan as an evil and the U.S. as a good and just country is in accordance with the national interest of the U.S. and the situation at Indiana is quite understandabele.
In this sense, Japan is not unusual; bot the U.S. and Japan are in the same boat.
Josh Greenland - 8/24/2003
To be honest, I may not have been taught anything about WWII at all in primary or elementary school. I don't remember the subject being taught there. But the prevailing viewpoint in this country has been that the western allies are the ones who defeated the Axis, and the Soviet contribution was ignored.
I said to Hayabusa earlier that I was taught about the intentional genocide against American Indians in school. This was not universally taught throughout the US, and may still not be.
Josh Greenland - 8/24/2003
"I'm responding to something that he wrote, not to him as a person. If you can not recognize propagandizing, dishonesty, and bias, then you have a major problem. Don't blame that on me."
I have a major problem? That wasn't a very nice thing to say. I thought people from a superior culture didn't speak that way to other people.
Actually, I can blame you for not bothering to support your accusations against Hisao with examples.
"I am making a point, not "trying to take the heat off the Japanese education establishment." Nor am I concerned about "heat" or "pressure.""
You seem very concerned.
"Their responsibility and duty extends far beyond what you could ever assume (or even understand, I fear). Their job is not to decide whose agenda and set of "facts" is The Truth."
If the Monbusho is the agency that approves school textbooks, their job absolutely IS to decide which set of historical facts is the truth. If that ISN'T the Mobusho's job as textbook chooser, then Japan is truly a different country than any other on earth.
""Can you say that Japan has done as well with its history as the US has?""
"Yes. Perhaps better."
Then why have I been seeing news stories over the last few years about Japan trying to downplay atrocities the Imperial army committed during WWII, including in its textbooks?
"I know of these things from first-hand knowledge and information (including documentation) from numerous people who were directly involved in what went on during the Occupation, as well as from classified documents in Monbusho archives."
How is it that you've had access to classified Monbusho archives?
"(I myself have spent many hundreds of hours listening to participants in many theaters of the war tell in excruciating detail what they did and saw and how they felt about it.... I have also spent many, many hours with historians (and some self-styled historians) of all sorts listening to their version of things and all the "evidence" that they picked up here and there...."
That sounds like one big project. Were you writing a book or a series of articles?
"I have also heard more than enough people -- who never participated and have no first-hand knowledge -- babble on endlessly about claims and "Truth" that they know nothing about, other than the fact that it is part of the propaganda that they have bought into for some reason. These people include not only some Japanese people, but also Korean, Chinese, Philippino, and various Southeast Asian peoples."
Funny that all the non-Japanese people you mention just happen to come from countries which were occupied by Imperial Japan. So the people from the occupied countries just don't know what they are talking about? And those Japanese people are all disloyal subversives, right?
"As for the "Rape of Nanking," this is a highly politicized and biased set of claims that are based on conflicting evidence, emotionally colored stories, and what has been developed into a full-blown cultural myth that is emotionally satisfying (or necessary?) to some."
So the Rape of Nanking is just a myth??
"What happened in the Nanjing area is far from clear, but there were atrocities committed by both sides and emotional reactions and actions as a result. It will never be possible to reconcile the conflicting views of the participants, and each vilifying the other will not accomplish anything constructive (much less substitute for history). Every war is a series of atrocities and crimes against humanity on a horrendous scale, and both sides are never reacting and acting rationally during it. All the participants are victims of it."
So because there was confusion, it isn't possible to figure out what happened in Nanjing? Pardon me, but the city had a resident population at that time of 300,000 people, and had foreign observers of various kinds as well. It's been something like 55 years after the time of the events, so don't you think it should have been possible to figure out what happened there by now, with so many potential witnesses?
You can claim that wars are all atrocities, but most nations accept that brutalizing unarmed civilians is wrong, while combatants killing one another is not a war crime. You make the Nanjing affair sound like two equally able sides duking it out, but for a significant time the "two sides" were armed Japanese occupiers, and Chinese and other noncombatants. There is no equal victimization here. You can lay a wreath on the graves of the Waffen SS dead at Bitburg but I won't join you.
"But to hear the propagandists talk, you get the idea that the Japanese Government and (under its influence) the Japanese people have some hatred for Chinese and Korean people, and are avoiding or attempting to hide things because they do not want to know them or face them, or worse, because they think that nothing wrong was done because the Chinese or Korean people deserved it for some reason."
Not all Japanese, just the extreme rightwing bigots.
"So each nation is left with their only option: to exercise their sovereignty and make their own textbooks, fighting with all the agenda-driven propagandists and ideological groups in their respective countries."
By which you mean shut out any input from people from foreign countries, so you will only have to battle those bad Japanese who want the truth told.
"The alternative is to eliminate history as a subject in schools."
So the people who think the way you do are so upset by this issue that if the truth were to be told about Japan's actions in WWII, they would rather have the teaching of history stopped entirely? Amazing....
Barlett - 8/22/2003
Horace's point below about avoiding misunderstandings is well taken, as this can happen even between people speaking the same language.
When I said we ought to put "our own house" in order first, I meant we historians teaching in America generally, using textbooks of any publisher whatever.
Of course, I don't expect you to prescreen thousands of pages, I only thought it would illustrate your point and be a public service if you could mention a few specific and particularly egregious errors or distortions you had ALREADY run across inadvertently in the course of books you encountered or used in classes.
But by all means do so during your next semester break or whenever you have time.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/22/2003
I'm sorry if my response was brusque, but I'm really trying to get ready for a new semester this week.
"our own house" is a major publishing industry in its own right, with constantly updated materials and little official interference (though the California and Texas school boards are certainly influential) particularly at the college level.
Any distortions I've run into in the past might not exist in current editions of texts, and I certainly don't have time to go back and find citations.
You're right, though: a cooperative approach would be best, but I've got other priorities right now.
Hayabusa is just one example of a type and an attitude that is very powerful in Japan and increasingly powerful elsewhere: nationalistic, isolationist, particularist, full of barely suppressed rage, Internet connected and with way too much time on his hands.
Bartlett - 8/22/2003
I said nothing about "taking responsiblity, just sharinginformation. Isn't that part of teaching ?
Perhaps not. Fine, we'll all just keep re-inventing the wheel. I don't teach Japanese history anyway.
After having to deal with Hayabusa, I can understand if you're reluctant to act cooperatively with anyone anymore.
Jesse Lamovsky - 8/22/2003
You responded to my defense of the official "heroic" narrative of Israeli history thus:
"How does this give permission to deliberately lie, to replace all undesirable facts with a web of lies and call it history? How can anybody defend this "official" view? Since when is lying and deliberate deception justifiable in the name of national pride?"
Who gave the Israelis permission to spin a "web of lies and call it history"? I sure didn't. Not once did I say that the official version of Israeli history was spot-on; I simply provided an explanation for its existence. Show me one country whose "official" history jibes perfectly with the facts. You've said in your other posts, more or less, that it is each individual's task to go out and seek the truth. I agree. If a student is too stultified to do anything other than accept the approved version of history, that's his or her failing. At any rate, you seem to harbor your own biases pertaining to the State of Israel. But hey, who doesn't?
"You make a great mistake when you incorrectly assume that university students are representative of everybody else in the population."
I never assumed such a thing. But where do you think history educators come from? I don't know how things work in Japan, but in this country anyone who wants to teach history has to go through an accredited institution- a university- first. Anywhere from 80-90 percent of college faculty members in the U.S. are registered Democrats. The National Education Association, the largest teachers' union in the United States, is for all intents and purposes a Democratic interest group. There's plenty of bias here.
"if your assumption (about the free market) were true, far more nations would have adopted the same kind of "free market" and "capitalism" long ago. They have not done so because the American free market is not free and is beneficial only to rich countries (and especially America), and because American style capitalism is better known as predatory capitalism and rejected in much of the world."
My assumption may not be perfect, but it's pretty close to the mark. I'd say this is a pretty rich country, judging by all of the overweight poor people with DVDs and digital cable that I see. As for other nations not adopting our system, there's an explanation there as well: the American economic system, like its political system, is the outgrowth of a thousand years of Western and English civilization. Other nations don't have our system, not because it "doesn't work", but, because of their very different history and culture, it may not work for them. A cactus is a pretty plant, but I wouldn't expect it to grow well in Norway. And what has our 'predatory capitalism' been rejected in favor of? No better system.
"Such departments (black and gender studies) should have never been created in your universities."
Hey, buddy, I agree. Don't shoot the messenger.
"Watching this aspect of American society and education is a never-ending source of hilarious (and pathetic) entertainment. America is at heart an elitist society, and every group wants to be an elite of some sort."
What snobbery! Everytime someone in this string makes a comment about Japan, or quotes Confucius, or whatever, your typical response is something along the lines of, "well, you're a Westerner, you can't speak Japanese, so you have no right to make judgements". But you're certainly quick to cast aspersions on us! And what are you saying: that the United States is the only country on earth that is "elitist"? Give me a break. Every society on earth, from America down to those people in South Africa who talk in 'clicks', has elites.
"This (zero-sum history) is not true only of the "left-wingers" and "the left." It is true of all such stereotypically labelled ideological groups that Americans love to put everybody into and then dismiss them for being in the group that they have been lumped into."
Here we go again: Americans are the only people on Earth that "label" anybody. This doesn't dignify a response. And as far as everybody playing the same game, I simply do not agree. Allow me to return to my previous example; the erasure of Confederate symbols and monuments from the landscape, and from history texts. These attacks on the heritage of an entire region are not coming from the right (sorry, I'm labelling again; oh well). They're coming from (ahem) powerful interest groups affiliated with the Democratic Party. I don't see conservatives trying to knock Franklin Roosevelt or Malcolm X from the history books. Attempts to rewrite the past in this country are coming from one side of the spectrum, and one side only. I'll stand by this assertion, thank you very much. And by the way, if you can think of a better way to distinguish ideological groups than by "stereotypical labels", please enlighten this poor, benighted Yankee!
"To "right-wingers," being a "left-winger" is a kind of unforgivable crime, and all such criminals are the source of all that is wrong, bad, evil, despicable, etc."
The logical end of left-wing (oops! label!) thought is Communism. Communist governments murdered about a hundred million of their own citizens during the 20th century. Pretty bad, evil, and despicable, all right. This body count makes us "predatory capitalists" look like rank amateurs.
"If only you knew how silly and juvenile you looked."
I admit, I can be pretty facile in my thinking. But alas, I am but a dumb, labelling, biased, silly, juvenile American. I just can't help it!
Horace Mann - 8/22/2003
Your haste to ascribe bad habits to others is revealing. It is fortunate that you are not a real historian, because I am not particularly looking forward to ever meeting you in person. But I will remember your name should any international history conference suffer the misfortune of your attendance. And I will remember the name of Ishiyama Hisao who obviously has a quite a task ahead of him, should there be more of you lurking around in the jungles still fighting to defend Iwo Jima. I think you answered all of my questions, despite refusing to address them. I have a new set of questions now, but I will ask them of my Japanese friends instead. I don't have a problem discussing German and French history with them even if they don't speak those languages, but I think we'll have a little chat on Japanese history instead, and in English too !
Jonathan Dresner - 8/22/2003
As interesting as an international comparative study of historical distortions might be, I have neither the time nor the inclination to carry it out.
If I were the author of a textbook, perhaps a discussion of errors in my text might be appropriate, but I'm not going to take responsibility for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of texts. I point out errors and biases when I find them, either in Japanese or in English.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/22/2003
Hayabusa spouted "Maybe when American historians start writing their history in Japanese for us we'll consider it."
I can think of three US-based historians off the top of my head whose work has been published in Japanese. And almost every single English-speaking historian of Japan I can think of is doing research with primary and secondary sources in Japanese which is original and substantive, easily the equal of work being done by Japanese historians.
Japan is not some special secret, I'm afraid. Interesting and distinctive (as are so many places), but more than adequately comprehensible. Sorry, Hayabusa, but you aren't that special.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/22/2003
Hayabusa wrote: "No history is -- or can be -- based on some omniscient, infalliable source of the one and only Truth. Those who claim that their version of history is such a version are dishonest agenda-driven propagandists."
I responded: "Since Hayabusa's response denies the possibility of truth, or even reasonable consensus..."
To which Hayabusa retorted: "Where did you get that nonsense from? Certainly not anything that I said or meant."
Jonathan Dresner - 8/22/2003
In response to me, Hayabusa wrote "It is always amusing to see Westerners making statements and claims about things that they obviously know little or nothing about, and understand even less."
In response to my clarification, Hayabusa wrote "I was not amused."
And there is no "inherent" meaning in Confucius' words: they have been interpreted and adapted in generation after generation, century after century, and in transmission from one country to another. I don't know what Hayabusa thinks Analects II:15 means, but I'm quite sure it isn't any closer to Confucius' original meaning than my intent.
As it happens, I have looked at the original Chinese for that verse (which Hayabusa doesn't seem to have), and the various translations I cited were entirely on target. The fact that the words MAY have different overtones in different cultural contexts is irrelevant, unless you can cite specific problems.
Hayabusa - 8/22/2003
"misunderstandings between Japanese and Americans in the 1930s had unfortunate results"
It was never a matter of "misunderstandings."
"the phalanx of criticism you are fending off"
I do not share your perception at all. There is nothing that requires any "fending off" by me. The topic of this forum is the history of my country and how it is represented or taught. I have no need to defend my country or its history to anybody.
"leave me utterly uninformed as to what the point of this heated discussion might be"
See above. I think I have written clearly and to the point in my posts.
"I would like a few facts"
Go out and get them. Start by learning to read, write, and speak Japanese so you can read and understand primary sources, very few of which have been translated (or ever will be translated). Please do not expect me to educate you concerning Japanese history here.
"I can understand your griping about Hisao's article if it is a similarly mediocre representation of Japanese history-writing."
I was presenting well-known facts, not "griping."
"give us an alternative, please. Present your short-list bibliography or recommended websites"
This is no place for that. In regard to Japanese history, you would not be able to read any of it anyway.
"Is there really no scholar of Japan writing in English that is worth mentioning? Decades of learning English in Japan all for nought?"
Does this deserve a response? Maybe when American historians start writing their history in Japanese for us we'll consider it. Then they can do the same for my Chinese and Korean friends too.
By the way, do you enjoy insulting people you do not know? Or is it just a bad habit that you are not aware of?
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
"a majority of American historians exalt factual accuracy over the teaching of a heritage"
There is a great difference between "factual history" and "heritage." Heritage is not history and history is not heritage. Nor is heritage a nonfactual thing.
"in the example you use concerning Israel, one can clearly see the dark side of fabricating a heritage: it allowed Jewish Israeli's to ignore what they had done."
Israel did not fabricate a heritage. It created a false history out of a web of deliberate lies and put that in textbooks and the media in place of the actual history, historical facts. The historical facts and documents were all buried in government archives as classified materials that the public was given no access to. This did not allow Jewish Israelis to ignore what had actually occurred. It hid that from them and denied them the right to know the facts. Their true heritage, therefore, is having had the truth replaced by systematic lying and gross misrepresentation. And that replacement "teaches" hate and contempt for all Palestinians and Arabs in general.
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
"A shared narrative, a shared history, had to be constructed, a history they could be proud of - a history befitting a nation they were willing to fight for. It wouldn't have done the Zionist project much good to indoctrinate young Israelis, right off the bat, with lachrymose tales about expulsions, Deir Yassin, and the like."
How does this give permission to deliberately lie, to replace all undesirable facts with a web of lies and call it history? How can anybody defend this "official" view? Since when is lying and deliberate deception justifiable in the name of national pride?
"I'm a history major at a large American university"
You make a great mistake when you incorrectly assume that university students are representative of everybody else in the population. Also, attitudes, thinking, viewpoints, and values have a strong tendency to change with age, experience, and accumulated knowledge. If that were not true, the human race would have been doomed long ago.
"the free market and capitalism has made this the richest society on earth."
The facts do not support this very well. Also, if your assumption were true, far more nations would have adopted the same kind of "free market" and "capitalism" long ago. They have not done so because the American free market is not free and is beneficial only to rich countries (and especially America), and because American style capitalism is better known as predatory capitalism and rejected in much of the world.
"In "womans' studies" and "black studies" departments around the country one can hear all sorts of contempt and vitriole directed at "slaveholding white males", and "patriarchal capitalism" ..."
Such departments should have never been created in your universities. Education can not be fair and honest when it panders to narrow groups of people and sets them off against one another. Watching this aspect of American society and education is a never-ending source of hilarious (and pathetic) entertainment. America is at heart an elitist society, and every group wants to be an elite of some sort. So there is endless fighting and resentment and fear of other groups. It is not a pretty or comfortable society for humans.
"the revisionists are playing a zero-sum game. Many of them would like to eradicate one history for their own version.... Most of these revisionists are either left-wingers or out-and-out Marxists, and taking the parts of history they don't like, and throwing it down the memory hole, has been part and parcel of the left since the French Revolution."
This is not true only of the "left-wingers" and "the left." It is true of all such stereotypically labelled ideological groups that Americans love to put everybody into and then dismiss them for being in the group that they have been lumped into. This is a very juvenile, immature way of thinking and doing things. Each group hates all the other groups and uses them as some kind of boogyman or straw man that they take out their hatreds and frustrations on. To "right-wingers," being a "left-winger" is a kind of unforgivable crime, and all such criminals are the source of all that is wrong, bad, evil, despicable, etc. If only you knew how silly and juvenile you looked.
Horace Mann - 8/21/2003
Many supposed "lessons of history" are actually neither educational nor historical. But, I suppose we could all agree that misunderstandings between Japanese and Americans in the 1930s had unfortunate results. Avoidable misunderstandings are regretable even when the stakes are much lower than they were then.
Hayabusa, your many posts here, and the phalanx of criticism you are fending off, leave me utterly uninformed as to what the point of this heated discussion might be. As a historian of Europe, born and raised in the U.S and with almost no knowledge of Japanese historiography or education, I would like a few facts to go with all the back and forth accusation and counter-denuciation.
In my experience, this website (HNN) is also obviously biased, and is certainly not peer-reviewed, so I can understand your griping about Hisao's article if it is a similarly mediocre representation of Japanese history-writing. But, in that case, give us an alternative, please. Present your short-list bibliography or recommended websites so that those of us with open minds, no ax to grind, and a curiosity about Japanese history can do something more than watch the rhetorical fireworks here with bemusement. Is there really no scholar of Japan writing in English that is worth mentioning ? Decades of learning English in Japan all for nought ?
J. Bartlett - 8/21/2003
I've done only a little teaching of history, so maybe you can enlighten me. I would have thought that the textbook "spin" in Japan, as outlined here, is worse than in America.
Maybe not, though.
Can you give some examples of historical distortions in texts that you had to deal with ? The more specific you can be in citation, the better. It seems to me that before advising the Japanese we had better make sure our own house is not in serious disorder.
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
It seems that most if not all of the commenters here are taking this article as something to be taken seriously -- as serious piece of research and scholarship. It is hardly that. First, it is obviously biased and lacks objectivity. Second, it does not appear in a professional journal with a peer review process. Third, it appears in a weekly magazine (perhaps more accurately, a weekly opinion rag) that exists to propagate a certain bias and ideology. It boasts such "scholarly, heavy-weight editors" as Ochiai Keiko (a professional writer of books for the general public), Chikushi Tetsuya (a former TBS newscaster and magazine editor), and Shiina Makoto (a writer and movie director). This is hardly a place to publish any historical work of importance -- or to obtain an objective historical or political viewpoint. It is an opinion rag that promotes one of the many biased, ideologically skewed viewpoints in Japan. Anyone with the same bias and an axe to grind can contribute to it. Good perhaps for amusement and laughs when you have some time to kill, otherwise not worth wasting your money on.
If this is the kind of source that Westerners get their ideas and information concerning Japanese affairs or history, then it is indeed a very sad state of affairs.
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
It is simply not acceptable or accurate to consider a text to be the original when it is a translation. The quality of the translation or the identity of the translator has nothing to do with it. There is always something important lost in any translation, so to treat one as identical to the original is not only inaccurate, but dishonest and against all tradition and conventions. It is this kind of cavalier attitude toward facts that betrays a lack of scholarship and integrity.
"One gets the impression that you think very little of non-Japanese, or of Japanese who fail to strictly follow policy."
I have said nothing about policy. The issue is not one of following policy or of nationality/ethnicity. You are drawing conclusions that have no basis other than something inside your head.
"Others are trying to make sense of the world, in the face of fascinating and complicated differences."
How can you make sense of a world that you do not know or have little experience of? Or is that how you define writing history? In any case, this is not at issue here, nor is it a legitimate excuse for anything.
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
"Since Hayabusa's response denies the possibility of truth, or even reasonable consensus"
Where did you get that nonsense from? Certainly not anything that I said or meant. I do, however, disagree with any idea that history should be written by "consensus" (i.e., by committee so to speak). If history is not a matter of empirical facts, then it cannot be a matter of any consensus of opinion. If it is not a matter of empirical facts, then it is mere fiction -- which can easily be created by consensus or committee.
"Moreover, any disagreement is "ideological", any position is "propoganda" and nobody without a Japanese name (and presumably the true blood of Japan in their veins) can possibly understand the situation."
That is your claim, not mine. You have not understood what I have been saying. I was talking not only about Japanese, but Chinese, Korean, and other Asian people, very many of which I have discussed such things at length. One must wonder what you hope to accomplish by making such asinine statements. You aren't talking about your culture and your history here, you know. This is about Japanese and Asian culture and history.
"good, relatively unpoliticized, educations for all (as guaranteed, for example, in the Japanese Constitution)."
Where does the Constitution guarantee that? Wherever you have political parties, political organizations with political ideologies -- which ARE guaranteed by the Constitution -- you cannot avoid having things politicized. This is especially true when the government provides the education, which the Constitution also provides for. Also, the Consitution does not guarantee a "good" education for all -- it provides only for an education according to the abilities / capabilities of each individual. It is too bad that you cannot or have not read the Constitution of Japan. It would also help if you had read Japanese educational law as well.
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
Chinese aphoristic writing is notoriously difficult to express in English. It is unlike anything in English or any other Western language. You can put down words for it, but the meaning comes directly from the Chinese characters and the civilizational / cultural context which can not be duplicated (or even accurately approached) in English. As I said, the problem is what Confucius meant by learning or study, thinking, danger, etc. This can not be understood from the English words -- any English words. In any case, what Confucius said about such things can hardly be applied to any modern educational endeavor. By taking it out of context, you can give the aphorism some meaning that makes sense to modern speakers of English, but that does not have much value or applicability in the present discussion. I was not talking about words, but meaning -- what Confucius meant -- and whether he ever said what you represented him as saying in English.
"Your amusement is the sign of an entirely undeserved sense of cultural superiority and authenticity."
I was not amused. This is not about "cultural superiority." My comments about your quotation were (in some sense) about authenticity, however.
"I have studied and taught Confucius for a few years"
What is that supposed to prove? I know people who have taught things for decades and are given little or no respect by their colleagues. I also know people who have taught things for many years and didn't know much about it at all. I know people who have never read a single word of the Chinese classics in the original, and yet claim to know all about some or all of them.
It is amazing how many people (especially Westerners) believe that you can know and understand a culture without ever having lived it and been a part of it. And how many people there are who think that they can understand Chinese (or Japanese) philosophy and literature without being able to read a word of it in the original. The arrogance in such beliefs (or worse, assertions) is astounding.
Oscar Chamberlain - 8/21/2003
I'm glad to read your more extended comment here, because I think that you raise a very interesting point when you discuss the use of history in Israel.
These days a majority of American historians--and many elsewhere, too--exalt factual accuracy over the teaching of a heritage. If it's a true history "red in tooth and claw", that's sad, but it's still better than an inacurate "history they can be proud of," to use your description of early Israeli history. On the whole, I think that this is good.
But there is a loss. Learning about my "noble heritage" while growing up in the 1960s misled me in many ways, but it also led me to assume--and later demand--that my country live up to those ideals. (This leads me to the odd suspicious that many other opponents of the Vietnam War got some of their values from grade school cutout images of Washington's Cherry tree and the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving).
In my own teaching today, I attempt to combine the horrors with the resistance against them and the attempts to change things for the better. Teaching U.S. history as the struggle over inclusion--as Foner suggests--works well for this.
It's certainly far better history, but I do fear sometimes that despite my best efforts the dark part of our history may encourage students to settle back passively in a "whatever" sort of cynicism as opposed to being active citizens.
However, in the example you use concerning Israel, one can clearly see the dark side of fabricating a heritage: it allowed Jewish Israeli's to ignore what they had done. That made it easier to continue to view Palestinian Arabs who fought them as evil and not as people that they dispossessed.
That illusion is one important reason that there is no peace today.
Jesse Lamovsky - 8/21/2003
You make some good points. Let's see if I can frame an adequate response.
As far as the scholars like Shlaim, Pappe, and Segev are concerned, I can't speak as to their reception in Israel. But I can offer a defense of the "official" view of Israeli history. At its founding, Israel was in a state of extreme geopolitical and diplomatic vulnerability. In the 1940s and 50s, it was populated by refugees from around the globe, from European Holocaust survivors to Yemenites to Moroccans to Argentines, who did not share cultural traditions or, for the most part, the same language. A shared narrative, a shared history, had to be constructed, a history they could be proud of- a history befitting a nation they were willing to fight for. It wouldn't have done the Zionist project much good to indoctrinate young Israelis, right off the bat, with lachrymose tales about expulsions, Deir Yassin, and the like. Now that Israel's permanence seems more assured, now that the immediate physical threats of annihilation have passed, historians can take a fresh look at the past. There is, shall we say, breathing room for disillusionment.
Admittedly, I did betray my biases when I talked about the corrosive effects of negative history on a generation of American students. But I don't think I'm that far off. I'm a history major at a large American university, and I see it everyday. Trust me- I hear a lot more about slavery, genocide of the natives, (supposed) subjugation of woman, the unfairness of American capitalism, than I ever do about the democratic institutions of this country, about the abolition of slavery, or the fact that the free market and capitalism has made this the richest society on earth. In "womans' studies" and "black studies" departments around the country one can hear all sorts of contempt and vitriole directed at "slaveholding white males", and "patriarchal capitalism", but rarely does one hear an admittance that those same white males are the people that built the institutions these misanthropes enjoy.
I'm not saying there isn't room in the study of history for the negative as well as the positive. The problem, to me, is that the revisionists are playing a zero-sum game. Many of them would like to eradicate one history for their own version. Witness the undeclared war against Confederate symbols that has been going on all over the country for the last several years. To the revisionists, we must not acknowledge the wisdom of men like Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee. They were just a bunch of slaveholding white-supremacists, and that's that. The Confederate flag is not a Scottish nationalist symbol going back a thousand years, it is not a symbol of resistance to government tyranny- it's just a racist emblem. Out with it! Most of these revisionists are either left-wingers or out-and-out Marxists, and taking the parts of history they don't like, and throwing it down the memory hole, has been part and parcel of the left since the French Revolution.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/21/2003
Assuming the translation is not done badly (and Richard Minear is a distinguished scholar of Japanese history and society, fully fluent in Japanese and entirely capable of a first-rate translation), and the fact of translation is acknowledged (which it is, or I wouldn't know who did the translation), then there is nothing erroneous, misleading or "impossible" about considering the text "original."
One gets the impression that you think very little of non-Japanese, or of Japanese who fail to strictly follow policy. That is a pitiably narrow position. Some of us do know what we are talking about. Others are trying to make sense of the world, in the face of fascinating and complicated differences.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/21/2003
Since Hayabusa's response denies the possibility of truth, or even reasonable consensus, it would be pointless to respond to the arguments presented: there can be no agreement between starkly opposed epistemological and ontological positions.
Moreover, any disagreement is "ideological", any position is "propoganda" and nobody without a Japanese name (and presumably the true blood of Japan in their veins) can possibly understand the situation.
A depressing position. No more valid than my hopeful search for complexity and understanding and good, relatively unpoliticized, educations for all (as guaranteed, for example, in the Japanese Constitution).
Jonathan Dresner - 8/21/2003
I've seen quite a few different translations of this verse over the years, but they are all quite similar in meaning:
"To learn without thinking is unavailing; to think without learning is dangerous." -- trans. Irene Bloom, Sources of the Chinese Tradition, 2nd edition.
"Learning without thinking is labor lost; thinking without learning is perilous." -- Sources of the Chinese Tradition, 1st edition (Burton Watson, I think was the translator)
"He who learns but does not think is lost; he who thinks but does not learn is in danger."
My paraphrase was entirely on the mark, and I have studied and taught Confucius for a few years myself. Your amusement is the sign of an entirely undeserved sense of cultural superiority and authenticity.
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
The note at the bottom states:
"The original text can be accessed by clicking here."
The original text is Japanese, not English. Just because you cannot read Japanese does not entitle you to make somebody's translation of it the "original text" -- no matter how you interpret that.
One gets the impression that most of the people commenting here know little or nothing about education in Japan, and are instead talking about generalities or American education or history education in general. It is no wonder that there is so much false information that has been spread in America about things Japanese.
It is easy to spout off about the Monbusho and pretend like you know when you have never been to Toranomon or inside the Monbusho or any of its facilities elsewhere, to say nothing of prefectural BOEs, local BOEs, or schools as all levels. And if you can not speak, read, and write Japanese, there is little that you can really learn from being in such places anyway. But it is nice to pretend, isn't it? History half way around the world is so easy to talk about from an armchair in America even with total ignorance. You can say whatever you want. After all, who will know?
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
"the most outspoken revisionists and critics of that country's history - Avi Schlaim, Illan Pappe, Tom Segev - are Israelis themselves."
I am familiar with these scholars and have read much of what they have written, as well as the work of others. The important fact, however, is that their work is not widely accepted (and is reviled and outright rejected by most Israelis), even though it is based on data and information contained in government archives and classified material that was eventually released. To my knowledge, none of their work is included in Israeli history textbooks (read: mythical story books concocted by the government to conceal the truth and replace it with deliberate lies). You might also find out what happened to some of those scholars after they published their works. It is not a pretty thing.
"we now have an entire generation of students who hate their own country, since they've had it pounded into their brains since elementary school that America stands for nothing but "racism", "oppression", and "genocide". They know everything about every heinous thing the United States has ever done"
My experience with a large number of Americans of all ages -- both in Japan and in places I have been in America -- does not justify your claims here. You betray your bias in what you say here.
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
"a lot of generalizations about Ishiyama Hasio [Hisao]"
Where? My post is not just about him.
"I don't see where he's propagandizing. How is he being dishonest? And, why are you trying to discredit him?"
I'm responding to something that he wrote, not to him as a person. If you can not recognize propagandizing, dishonesty, and bias, then you have a major problem. Don't blame that on me.
"I'm real curious to know why you're trying to take the heat off the Japanese education establishment by pointing the figure at Israel and the US."
I merely gave those two examples (out of many that I could have mentioned). I am making a point, not "trying to take the heat off the Japanese education establishment." Nor am I concerned about "heat" or "pressure." Maybe you think that it is all about some claimed legitimate "heat" or "pressure" to change or do something, but that is only your (rather narrow) viewpoint. It would be interesting to know what movement or interest group you belong to or represent. Do you really think that the Monbusho gives a damn about you or your group -- or that it should? Where does it say that they should adopt your version of things and make or approve textbooks that satisfy your agenda or version of The Truth. Their responsibility and duty extends far beyond what you could ever assume (or even understand, I fear). Their job is not to decide whose agenda and set of "facts" is The Truth. You'll have to work that out with all the other conflicting groups and agendas and peddlers of versions of The Truth. If you think that your version is the only TRUE version, then you should form your own country and indoctrinate all your citizens with it. Just don't call it history or truth.
"Can you say that Japan has done as well with its history as the US has?"
Yes. Perhaps better. It was also strongly restricted in what it taught by the Occupation under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Many of the policies adopted and implemented for many, many years by the Japanese Government after 1945 were dictated by MacArthur for a variety of political and other reasons which most people (on both sides) considered reasonable and necessary. Unfortunately, this set precedents and standards for what is dealt with and what is not. I know of these things from first-hand knowledge and information (including documentation) from numerous people who were directly involved in what went on during the Occupation, as well as from classified documents in Monbusho archives.
Much of the disputes regarding history involves conflicting claims and so-called "evidence" by people with obvious biases and agendas. Chinese people. Korean people. Certain Japanese people. In the fog and destruction of war, much of the evidence and "proof" was destroyed or lost, and conflicting "eyewitness" accounts by participants on all sides can probably never be resolved to the satisfaction of everybody. Tragedies and atrocities occurred everywhere by everybody involved. Much of this has been taught in schools by many teachers, and many of the participants told their children about what they saw and did during the war.
(I myself have spent many hundreds of hours listening to participants in many theaters of the war tell in excruciating detail what they did and saw and how they felt about it. I have also heard more than enough people -- who never participated and have no first-hand knowledge -- babble on endlessly about claims and "Truth" that they know nothing about, other than the fact that it is part of the propaganda that they have bought into for some reason. These people include not only some Japanese people, but also Korean, Chinese, Philippino, and various Southeast Asian peoples. I have also spent many, many hours with historians (and some self-styled historians) of all sorts listening to their version of things and all the "evidence" that they picked up here and there. Listening to all these people and looking at all their "evidence," you can prove anything at all about what happened -- and they are all busy doing just that, according to their various biases and agendas. The result is not history, but propaganda. But they all demand that it be taught in schools as The Truth -- regardless of what they say in public. The interesting thing is that when you merely mention somebody else's version of "evidence," they become highly emotional about it. Objectivity goes out the window and the agenda takes over.)
"Does Japan's school system universally acknowledge that systematic abuse of Chinese women by the Imperial Army, including the Rape of Nanking, is historical fact?"
Many teachers have taught such things in the classroom. Others refuse to include it for various reasons, some legitimate in some sense. As for the "Rape of Nanking," this is a highly politicized and biased set of claims that are based on conflicting evidence, emotionally colored stories, and what has been developed into a full-blown cultural myth that is emotionally satisfying (or necessary?) to some. What happened in the Nanjing area is far from clear, but there were atrocities committed by both sides and emotional reactions and actions as a result. It will never be possible to reconcile the conflicting views of the participants, and each vilifying the other will not accomplish anything constructive (much less substitute for history). Every war is a series of atrocities and crimes against humanity on a horrendous scale, and both sides are never reacting and acting rationally during it. All the participants are victims of it.
The purpose of history is not to vilify one side or wallow the other side in emotionally satisfying victimhood. I have discussed the war with very many Japanese people, and I have rarely come across people who actually hated the Chinese or Korean people, and certainly not because of anything that happened during the war. But to hear the propagandists talk, you get the idea that the Japanese Government and (under its influence) the Japanese people have some hatred for Chinese and Korean people, and are avoiding or attempting to hide things because they do not want to know them or face them, or worse, because they think that nothing wrong was done because the Chinese or Korean people deserved it for some reason. And so there are groups of people who act accordingly in attacking the Japanese Government. There are also Korean and Chinese people (and organizations) who demand that Japanese textbooks be written according to THEIR version of The Truth, and that to refuse to do so is proof of some other horrible Truth. This sets up a conflict that -- because of its nature -- can never be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned. It is futile to even try under such circumstances. So each nation is left with their only option: to exercise their sovereignty and make their own textbooks, fighting with all the agenda-driven propagandists and ideological groups in their respective countries.
The alternative is to eliminate history as a subject in schools. Maybe then people could get to know each other and accept each other as individual human beings, rather than as what some historian paints them according to some agenda or ideology or theory. This is actually what is happening anyway. So-called historians should get out of the way and stop trying to play god with what happened in the past in human affairs.
"Does Japan's school system admit the Imperial government's unethical and horrific biological warfare experiments on foreigners?"
See my response to Jonathan Dresner (Aug. 20, 4:18 AM).
Hayabusa - 8/21/2003
"learning basic material, a foundation on which to build"
Propaganda and ideological bias do not provide a foundation on which anything should be built. How you define "basic" and what you include in it need to be decided on some basis other than political and/or ideological agendas and their propaganda. No matter what a government or school board or school decides, there will always be those who insist that their agrenda is not being respected or represented, and they will complain that false information is being taught or other information is being excluded because it does not suit their political or ideological agenda. This has been true in Japan since the 1950s.
"In a system like Japanese secondary education, content matters a great deal. There are other debates about whether the emphasis on content is a problem, but we don't know from these discussions whether anyone involved is or is not pushing on that front as well."
Does not content matter in ANY system? And who is the "we" of the second sentence here? There is no lack of groups in Japan who are pushing for their agenda to be adhered to (and their version of things to be taught as Truth). Even in the same school (at all levels), there are often big differences of opinion and thinking on almost everything that is included and done in the school and the classrooms. Sitting in on arguments about such things (in history among others) among teachers for days on end (as I have done many times) only shows that there is no end to it and no solution that everybody will like. In many, many cases, there simply is no fact or set of facts that everybody can or will agree on. Agendas are far too important to far too many people. This is true almost everywhere you go in the world, and not just Japan. (To demand that there be such a set of facts -- or that one be created -- will result only in propaganda that follows one or another biased viewpoint or political/ideological need, because there must be some forcing based on somebody's version of Truth. It is unreasonable to expect otherwise. No history is -- or can be -- based on some omniscient, infalliable source of the one and only Truth. Those who claim that their version of history is such a version are dishonest agenda-driven propagandists.)
"there are some points of fundamental agreement, even some facts, which should be beyond political manipulation."
"Should be" does not become "is" when there are numerous competing interest groups each with their own agenda, bias, and ideology that they are pushing. When the decision is finally made, most such groups will be dissatisfied, no matter what the decision is.
"This is what these people are arguing: there are facts that the Japanese government is trying to obscure."
This is true only if you have certain ideological or political biases. For example: Everybody who hates the LDP in Japan thinks that the government has been obscuring, hiding, distorting, and lying about all kinds of things for 50 years or so. No matter what the LDP or the government does, their response is the same. Another example: It is often falsely claimed that the government is trying to hide what was done in regard to medical and chemical experimentation, etc., during the 1930s and during the war. This is in spite of the fact that the government TV station (NHK General) made and broadcasted documentaries on the terrible details way back in the 1970s. (And teachers have taught them in the classroom for at least as long.) The propagandists, however, conveniently forget or ignore all such things. Agenda-driven propagandists will never accept anything that does not conform to their agenda and propaganda (their version of things). They have a vested interest in that and nothing will change it. They will use any lies and any tactics that protect and further their agenda.
"as a professional historian I think they're a lot closer to a real understanding of the history than the Monbusho"
What makes you think that the Monbusho does not have or consult competent historians and historical materials? What about the professional historians who disagree with those that you refer to? Or do you actually think that it is the "Monbusho" versus all the "professional historians"? You obviously know little of the nature and dynamics of things in Japan. Nothing is as simplistic as you seem to want to believe or claim. Also: one must wonder how many Monbusho officials and associates you have known. The fact that you lump them (and the historians) all into one basket shows that you don't know what you are talking about. Isn't simplicity nice when you have an agenda?!
"Confucius said (roughly): Thinking without learning is dangerous; learning without thinking is pointless."
I have read just about everything that Confucius wrote or is said to have written or taught his disciples, and I have never come across such a statement. Sounds pretty Western to me. In any case, I do not think that you would want or support a Confucian educational system or the principles underlying it. (You might start informing yourself by finding out how Confucius defined such things as "learn," "think," "dangerous," "education." It is always amusing to see Westerners making statements and claims about things that they obviously know little or nothing about, and understand even less.)
Jonathan Dresner - 8/20/2003
I don't ask much, but could you please be a little more careful with people's names, please.
"shrugging acceptance"? No. Rage and horror: remember I teach in this increasingly quantitative and "accountable" environment. But the struggle towards real education must be fought on many fronts, and it must be fought effectively. Getting froth-mouthed about one thing when something else is the issue at hand isn't useful.
And my experience is that the students who don't at least read the textbook don't remember a lot of what the teacher says, either. So I think my original point does hold up.
J. Bartlett - 8/20/2003
Your first point about tendencies towards "memorizing and regurgitation" holds, it seems to me, only for those students who actually read the textbooks. Your second point, about teachers being forced to read pre-packaged "scripts", and then your shrugging acceptance of this horror, are vastly more terrifying and Orwellian than any text manipulation I could imagine this side of North Korea.
Dan - 8/20/2003
I still remember believing the US won WWII, with a smidgeon of help from the British, until I picked up a copy of Zhukov's autobiography from the library in college.
Not that the memoirs were objective, mind you, but that was the first exposure I had about the Soviet contribution. Today, K-12 students at least ahve a small chance of hearing something about the men who won the ground war against the Nazis.
Jesse Lamovsky - 8/20/2003
Mr. Greenland is correct, although I'd like to take this argument a few steps further. Not only have American schoolchildren learned ad nauseum about the decimation of the native population, and slavery- I'd venture to say that most of them are indoctrinated in these things, to the point where we now have an entire generation of students who hate their own country, since they've had it pounded into their brains since elementary school that America stands for nothing but "racism", "oppression", and "genocide". They know everything about every heinous thing the United States has ever done, but try asking them about the Constitution or the separation of powers. See how many of them know that "white, Anglo-Saxon males" did NOT invent slavery, but that they did invent abolitionism.
(By the way, my understanding is that the smallpox epidemic which wiped out up to 95% of New England natives in the 17th century was not intentionally started by the Europeans. It was simply an accident of biology, something that just happened when the natives came into contact with people who had lived under entirely different conditions, and whose body chemistry was different. The Europeans, far from delighting in their fiendish handiwork, were baffled by the villages and towns full of pock-marked corpses. A lot of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan contracted hepititis. But we don't say that the mujahadeen intentionally "gave" the Soviets this disease).
As for Israel, it's only fair to point out that the most outspoken revisionists and critics of that country's history- Avi Schlaim, Illan Pappe, Tom Segev- are Israelis themselves.
Josh Greenland - 8/20/2003
"Education of people is helping them to learn to do their own thinking, information gathering, etc. -- not giving them somebody's version of things, which is propagandizing, not educating. Ishiyama and too many like him around the world fail to make that distinction. Their agenda doesn't allow them to -- and their dishonesty doesn't allow them to admit it. They are not historians but agenda-driven propagandists."
You throw around a lot of generalizations about Ishiyama Hasio but I don't see where he's propagandizing. How is he being dishonest? And, why are you trying to discredit him?
"If you think it's bad in Japan, then just look at what Israel has been doing with its history for 55 years. Or America, for that matter. Where do you find an honest treatment of the systematic annihilation of 90% of the American Indians? Just to give one of many, many examples."
You'll need a few more examples, because I learned about the extermination of American Indians in elementary schools (grades 1-6, for kids aged 7-12 years old) in the 1960s, which despite the stereotypes was a conservative time for most children in the USA.
I'm real curious to know why you're trying to take the heat off the Japanese education establishment by pointing the figure at Israel and the US. For all the flaws of history-teaching here in the United States, I can't think of any mass event that's being covered up by it. I was taught honestly about the extermination and corralling of the American Indians, the brutality of slavery, and the interment of Japanese-Americans here on the West Coast. None of these things was glorified, justified or minimized by the schools I attended. (One lesser exception was that the theft of real estate from Japanese internees was not dealt on overmuch. Real estate people and Central Valley farm owners are powerful here in California. Still, that real estate was taken without compensation was taught to us.)
Can you say that Japan has done as well with its history as the US has? We acknowledge the abuses of black women under slavery and American Indian women. Does Japan's school system universally acknowledge that systematic abuse of Chinese women by the Imperial Army, including the Rape of Nanking, is historical fact? We acknowledge that Indians were killed by being intentionally given blankets infected with small pox. Does Japan's school system admit the Imperial government's unethical and horrific biological warfare experiments on foreigners?
Jonathan Dresner - 8/20/2003
You're right that education is about people learning to gather and evaluate evidence on their own. But it is also about learning basic material, a foundation on which to build. Different educational systems emphasize these components differently: Japanese education, for example, emphasizes the former in elementary education, and the latter in secondary education. As Confucius said (roughly): Thinking without learning is dangerous; learning without thinking is pointless.
In a system like Japanese secondary education, content matters a great deal. There are other debates about whether the emphasis on content is a problem, but we don't know from these discussions whether anyone involved is or is not pushing on that front as well.
Yes, history can be biased, and everyone brings some bias to the writing and study of history. But there are some points of fundamental agreement, even some facts, which should be beyond political manipulation. This is what these people are arguing: there are facts that the Japanese government is trying to obscure. If you want to argue about the content of these facts, fine, but as a professional historian I think they're a lot closer to a real understanding of the history than the Monbusho.
Hayabusa - 8/20/2003
If you think it's bad in Japan, then just look at what Israel has been doing with its history for 55 years. Or America, for that matter. Where do you find an honest treatment of the systematic annihilation of 90% of the American Indians? Just to give one of many, many examples. History depends on the bias and agenda of those who write it, and people like Ishiyama have their bias just as much as anybody in Japan or elsewhere.
Education of people is helping them to learn to do their own thinking, information gathering, etc. -- not giving them somebody's version of things, which is propagandizing, not educating. Ishiyama and too many like him around the world fail to make that distinction. Their agenda doesn't allow them to -- and their dishonesty doesn't allow them to admit it. They are not historians but agenda-driven propagandists.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/20/2003
The effectiveness of the teacher is very much a function of student and institutional culture. Many, perhaps most, students come to history classes thinking that history is about "facts to be memorized and regurgitated" and their approach to the textbook is uncritical in the extreme. Even with a professor correcting, criticizing and complicating the master narrative, what comes back on many tests is rote, undigested textbook language.
There are even school districts (at the elementary level, at least) where teachers are limited to scripts, rather than being allowed to speak their mind and design their own classes. In this environment it is very important that the textbook (and the test, which is where all this leads, unfortunately) reflect the best historical understanding possible and the highest values of truth and responsibility.
Denigrate it if you like, but the more complex and complete historical picture we have developed over the last half-century is immensely more interesting and realistic than the mytho-historical triumphalism that came before (and which some people are trying to resurrect).
J. Bartlett - 8/19/2003
There is almost a "cottage industry" in American history teaching, (even reflected, from time to time, on this unlikely website) which seeks to "liberate" students' minds from the "textbook" version of our past. Much of this is based on myths about myths: the texts are "all about dead white males", not "inclusive" enough, do not "engage" the students sufficiently, etc., etc..
This is not to say that what goes into texts is unimportant, or that the problems of Japan confronting its past are comparable to debates over "political correctness" in America. Only that, how teachers like Hisao present their material is more important than the content or vocabulary in that material.
- Josh Hawley Earns F in Early American History
- Does Germany's Holocaust Education Give Cover to Nativism?
- "Car Brain" Has Long Normalized Carnage on the Roads
- Hawley's Use of Fake Patrick Henry Quote a Revealing Error
- Health Researchers Show Segregation 100 Years Ago Harmed Black Health, and Effects Continue Today
- Nelson Lichtenstein on a Half Century of Labor History
- Can America Handle a 250th Anniversary?
- New Research Shows British Industrialization Drew Ironworking Methods from Colonized and Enslaved Jamaicans
- The American Revolution Remains a Hotly Contested Symbolic Field
- Untangling Fact and Fiction in the Story of a Nazi-Era Brothel