Sixth Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday and Sunday, June 22-23
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University


last update 2002/03/09

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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181


Session 27
Roundtable: "The Atarashii Rekishi Kyôkasho: A Content Analysis of the Textbook from Four American Historians' Perspectives."
Chair / Organizer: Harry Wray, Aichi Mizuho University

Following the defeat of the imperialist, militarist Japanese Nation in 1945, history education took a new course of de-emphasizing emperors, abandoning political history in favor of chronicling the life and culture of the people, relegating mythology primarily to Japanese literature courses, acknowledging Japan's imperialism, and promoting democracy and international understanding. Yet, the approval of a new junior high school textbook, composed by the 'Atarashii Kyôkasho o tsukuru kai' is seen by Chinese, Korean, and left-of-center Japanese as a major challenge to postwar Japanese educational practice and history education. Although only eleven schools adopted the textbook, it has damaged Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors while simultaneously becoming a best seller among the Japanese public. Our panel offers critical examination of the tsukuru kai approach and textbook content, finding its approval for use in the classroom to be problematic.

We have divided textbook's content into four chronological periods from earliest times to the present. The four papers will examine their respective periods for errors in content and challenges to the established historical record, for omissions and selectivity that demonstrate the authors' nationalistic and right-wing ideological biases, and for examples of the authors abandoning the more objective approach of the postwar period. We will highlight the above by comparing the content of the textbook with that of previous Japanese textbooks and by examining the nature of 136 alterations mandated by the Ministry of Education. Finally, we will offer analysis of the textbook's content and goals for history education through comparison with those of the United States.

1) William Londo, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. "Prehistory and the Heian Era as Portrayed in the Atarashii Rekishi Kyôkasho"

In my presentation I will review the Atarashii rekishi kyôkasho's treatment of Japan's prehistoric through Heian eras. I will pay special attention to how this junior high school textbook portrays the development of imperial rule and the imperial household, and how archaeological and mytho-historical evidence is handled. For the Heian period I will discuss how the emperor and imperial rule are portrayed, with special attention to how this textbook handles the rise of Fujiwara rule and the subsequent rise of Insei and Taira influence.

I will compare and contrast the text's presentation of this part of Japan's history with that of other contemporary textbooks in Japan and measure it against current understandings of these eras held by the academic community. I will conclude with some general comments on the pitfalls and possibilities historians confront when presenting prehistory, mytho-history, and early history in both textbooks and lectures.

2) Ethan Segal, Stanford University, "Rethinking History Education and the
Japanese Textbook Controversy"

Starting from problems in the "tsukuru kai" textbook's treatment of medieval Japanese history, this paper offers both an analysis of content and a comparative discussion of the "tsukuru kai" educational philosophy. In the first part, I look at how the textbook handles key events from medieval and early modern Japanese history including the Mongol invasions, the Kenmu Restoration, the Battle of Sekigahara, and Japan's relations with the continent. The portrayals of these events include errors of fact as well as problems of interpretative methodology, and suggest that the authors lack training as historians. Rather, they adopt a nationalist agenda of promoting the emperor and denigrating people of other countries. These findings are in keeping with the approach to history education that tskuru kai members have described in their other published writings.

In the second part of the paper, I examine some of those writings in greater detail and contend that the tsukuru kai approach is not "liberal," as some members claim, but rather is right-wing nationalist. Yet we must recognize that all textbooks are the result of selective decisions regarding content, and that nationalists influence history textbook content in many countries without drawing the sharp criticisms that have been
cast at the tsukuru kai textbook. Is it appropriate to criticize this particular Japanese textbook and its authors? Drawing on examples from three American history textbooks used in the U.S., I conclude with a comparative perspective on the goals of history

3) Jim Huffman, Wittenberg University. "History as Offense: The Meiji Era"

I will analyze Atarashii rekishi kyôkasho's treatment of bakumatsu and Meiji Japan (ca. 1840-1912), by focusing on the role that a narrative line plays in shaping an academic work. My paper includes four sections. I open with a summary of the major themes of the work, including peaceful Asia set against militaristic Europe, Japanese superiority over China, the unfairness of Western treatment of Japan, the problems associated with military weakness, etc. Next, I offer a critique of the book. In section two, I note that some of the book's contributions, such as its treatment of the concomitant rise of capitalism and civil society in Europe, which is simplistic yet clear and fairly sophisticated for a text at this level. The third section highlights more problematic areas: its errors (e.g., "peaceful" East Asia after 1650), distortions in the narrative (e.g., helpless Japan in the face of the Western challenge), and more. The paper's final section is a more general reflection on the role of narrative and the need to examine comparatively works such as this one. I discuss how the need for a story line is in many ways more important than "factual accuracy" (or lack of it) in determining both a work's effect and its integrity, and then I conclude with a brief look at some similarities in U.S. approaches to history, particularly since the attacks of September 11.

4) Harry Wray, Aichi Mizuho Daigaku. "Ideology and National Interest in Quest
of Supportive History"

My analysis of Atarashii rekishi kyôkasho covers the period from the end of World War I to the present. My tentative conclusions are:

  1. the textbook is too difficult;
  2. in places the author's are to be praised for objective, thoughtful, historical treatment, e.g. the Rise of Fascism and Communism;
  3. the textbook often reflects right-wing ideological and nationalistic bias, as in the case of Chinese treatment of foreigners in the 1920s and 1930s and the Nanking Incident of 1937. This characteristic would have been more pronounced had the authors not been required to make many alterations;
  4. the textbook justifies Japan's pre-W.W. II foreign policy by omission and commission: only the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 is cited as a reason for Japan's entry into W.W.I, and the killing of Manchurian warlord, Marshall Chang Tso-lin in 1928 is not mentioned. The goals of the Asian-Pacific War are twisted;
  5. the textbook is reluctant to credit the Occupation with reforms: the Constitution of 1889 was adequate and Japan would have undertaken adequate reforms to improve labor and women's conditions without Occupation pressure;
  6. overall, the ideal of historical truth is sacrificed to ideological objectives. This bias might be tolerable if Japan's educational system and entrance examinations allowed the adoption of at least one other textbook to present different historical views to Japan's youth. Accordingly, the criticisms of foreign scholars and political leaders,
    beyond Koreans and Chinese, that the textbook is unacceptable seem justified.


list of panels