The BBC’s Mariko Oi on History Education in Japan

Going to the BBC to read about the new pope, oh wait, what’s that over on the side there?

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Oh man, here we go again.

Selective memory:  Why do Japanese children learn almost nothing about the war?

Also titled:

What Japanese history lessons leave out

The article is here, but I’m not going to go into it deeply.   I will say that I am unsurprised that she uses the “Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform” as a veritable straw man to represent not just people who want more nationalistic textbooks but all of Japan.  She even openly puts him and Prime Minister Abe together with the line, “He, like Fujioka, wants to change how history is taught in Japan…”  All this despite the fact that the Society’s own textbook (which by all accounts seems way more balanced than any history text I ever had in middle or even high school) is in only a couple of schools, available to a mere 1300 middle school  students (or 0.03% of the country’s middle school students).  But if you are interested in a more detailed analysis comparing Japanese history textbooks with those used in the US, China, and South Korea I can recommend this article by a professor at Stanford.

Rather, I wish to merely point out that the author of the BBC piece, Mariko Oi really has no idea as to “What Japanese history lessons leave out.”  The whole first part of the article is her relating how little WWII history she received at her school in Japan:

From Homo erectus to the present day – 300,000 years of history in just one year of lessons. That is how, at the age of 14, I first learned of Japan’s relations with the outside world.

For three hours a week – 105 hours over the year – we edged towards the 20th Century.

I also remember wondering why we couldn’t go straight to that period if it was so important, instead of wasting time on the Pleistocene epoch.

When we did finally get there, it turned out only 19 of the book’s 357 pages dealt with events between 1931 and 1945.

First of all, 19 of 357 pages seems fine to me for a book that is apparently covering millions of years of history.

Second, it is important for anyone interested in this topic to understand a point that is barely mentioned in the article:  students must pass exams in order to attend high school; compulsory education ends after middle school.  Therefore school textbooks here tend to be dry, stick to the facts, and cover all areas that might come up on the exams.  If a middle school history class spent too much time focusing just on WWII its students would probably fair worse on their entrance exams since they wouldn’t have sufficient knowledge about things like the Pleistocene epoch.

But what school was that again that Mariko Oi attended?

When I returned recently to my old school, Sacred Heart in Tokyo…

Oh right, a private Catholic school.  So not really part and parcel of the normal Japanese education system then.  But it gets even better:

My friends had a chance to choose world history as a subject in Year 11. But by that stage I had left the Japanese schooling system, and was living in Australia.

So she was already on the outskirts of the Japanese education system, and then she left it entirely by high school.  How can this person possibly be used as an example of what Japanese children do or do not learn in school?

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1 Response to The BBC’s Mariko Oi on History Education in Japan

  1. kujirakira says:

    It’s a pity the article itself doesn’t allow for comments.
    It should be titled the “What The Western Media Leaves Out”
    It strikes me that there are 3 issues which make it very easy for the Western media to misrepresent this issue for their benefit.

    1. The (predominantly unused) textbook, as you referenced. Last I checked, half the schools that did use it were for the mentally disabled; for which it seems logical that they may not need to have all the gritty details presented to them. The rest were a handful (literally) of private schools.

    2. The Nanjing massacre. I see the article makes a big deal over Japanese historians’ (factual) statements that all the photos used by China at the memorial are fakes. This is actually proven to be the case. Many of the photos were taken by Japanese news agencies at entirely different locations and had nothing to do with Nanjing. Some of them depicted Chinese-on-Chinese massacres (it’s interesting how the Western Media is willing to downplay the violence of Communism when it suits their needs). Some of them were known to be staged (such as the baby in front of a destroyed train station — the baby was the photographers, which he put there to add drama)
    But can be documented to a publication predating Nanjing itself.
    That’s not to say the massacre didn’t happen. In fact, that’s entirely my point. The Western Media wants to take these (factual) statements and try to paint anyone who demonstrates these facts to be the equivalent of a “Holocaust Denier”.
    Rather, they should maybe do some research and fact-checking themselves to discover such things. It’s amazing to me how the Western Media will treat anything coming from China and Russia about themselves as propaganda nonsense — of course, often it is — but when it comes to China and Russia badmouthing say… Japan… they take it at face value. These 2 countries are infamous for their rewriting of History… and a lot of the information about Nanjing follows that pattern.
    First it was 60,000… then it was 200,000 (an unbelievable figure on its own but nonetheless cited at the Tribunal) … and now it’s climbed to 300,000. What will it be 50 years from now? 1,000,000 ? I’m just waiting for China to blame Japan for the 45million caused by Mao’s reforms — and for Western Media to actually buy it.
    On the whole, the massacre of Nanjing is more akin to the Bombing of Dresden. Which oddly gets little more than a footnote in US textbooks either. But what I find more disturbing is that, because the Massacre has taken on this life as evil Japanese wantonly raping and murdering people for no reason… the causes of the Nanjing Massacre aren’t discussed. And we see the same pattern of mistakes and Massacres repeated. Haditha is the most recent example. But it was also common in Vietnam.
    If the issue was discussed and taught to Military Commanders, perhaps we’d be able to avoid making this mistake ourselves. But instead, I guess it’s easier to just demonize our past enemies and learn nothing.

    3. The phoniness of the Tokyo War Crime Tribunals. It’s easy to throw terms like “Class A War Criminal” around, but if you actually look up what that means — it would include many US Presidents; including the 2 most recent ones.
    If you further use the specious logic that resulted in convicting such people as Hirota, Togo, and Shiramitsu — all 3 bureaucrats who worked very hard avoid war and were subsequently pushed out of government by Imperial Army — only to return in 1944-1945 when they immediately resumed suing for peace and working to bring an end to the war. I can’t fathom in any way how these 3 high-profile bureaucrats were War Criminals. The only connection is that they were in office at the time war was declared; despite their best efforts. If being in office is all the criterion which is required, one could argue that the entirety of US Congress is guilty of War Crimes (and some of them should be executed as Hirota was). That’s just insanity.
    Even on the military aspect, a General such as Yamashita was executed for the Manila massacre, which was perpetrated by somebody else not under his command in any sense. Yet the perpetrator, Admiral Iwabuchi, had already died. And yet the Tribunal wanted a fall man to execute. Even though Yamashita took every step imaginable to avoid a massacre with the soldiers he did command, he was executed nonetheless.
    If we applied this standard to current affairs, we’d have to convict General Sanchez as a “Class B War Criminal” for Abu Ghraib and a “Class C War Criminal” for the use of white phosphorous. We would have to execute General Casey for the Haditha Massacre, execute General Sanchez for the Mukaradeeb Massacre, execute General McChrystal for the Maywand Massacre, and execute General Allen for the Kandahar Massacre as per the “Yamashita Standard”.
    This is all without even entering into the discussion of how Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, Firbombing Civilians, and Nuking Civilians would be classified under an objective War Crimes Tribunal (rather than a kangaroo court setup to dispense victors’ justice).

    The Dutch Justice at the War Crimes Tribunal said it best…
    “in Japan we were all aware of the bombings and the burnings of Tokyo and Yokohama and other big cities. It was horrible that we went there for the purpose of vindicating the laws of war, and yet saw every day how the Allies had violated them dreadfully”

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