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Home arrow History arrow The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
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Nationalist Counterattacks: Educational Implications of the History Problem

Just as the history problem was deepening in East Asia, Murayama Tomiichi resigned from the post of Japan’s prime minister in January 1996. He decided to resign partly because he felt his government had fulfilled its historic mission to offer apologies and relief to Japan’s foreign victims. Besides, friction within his own JSP had intensified since it lost a substantial number of seats in the House of Councillors in July 1995, and this had made it difficult for Murayama to lead the coalition.98 Upon Murayama’s resignation, the coalition of the JSP, the LDP, and the New Party Sakigake chose LDP chairman Hashimoto Ryutaro as prime minister. Hashimoto had served as president of the Japan Bereaved Families Association between 1993 and 1995 and joined the Association of the Diet Members for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Asia-Pacific War’s End. Given his strong commitment to honor Japanese war dead, Hashimoto visited the Yasukuni Shrine in July 1996, for the first time in the twelve years since Nakasone Yasuhiro had suspended a prime ministerial visit in response to strong criticisms from South Korea and China.

Soon after Hashimoto’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement requesting that the Japanese government consider “feelings of the governments and peoples that suffered from Japan’s imperialist aggression in the past.”99 More than a dozen South Korean Congress members also protested in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, arguing, “Prime Minister Hashimoto’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine amounts to the second act of aggression that ignores victims and bereaved families who suffered from Japan’s atrocities during World War II.”100 Similarly, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement to reiterate the official position: “The Yasukuni Shrine honors militarist leaders, such as Tojo Hideki. Prime Minister Hashimoto deeply hurt feelings of Chinese and other Asian peoples who had suffered greatly from Japan’s militarism.”101

Hashimoto argued that his visit was not an official one but only “personal” (shiteki), motivated by his wish to pray for war dead, including his cousin and some former neighbors who were enshrined. He also insisted that his personal visit had nothing to do with either the Japanese government’s official position on the Asia-Pacific War or Class A war criminals.102 To mitigate the international criticisms, however, Hashimoto decided not to visit the shrine again during his tenure. In addition, Hashimoto could not afford to let the controversy over the Yasukuni Shrine sidetrack his coalition government’s policy agenda to cope with the worst economic recession since 1945. The recession affected the country at large, creating widespread feelings of national crisis. According to government statistics, the percentage of Japanese citizens who thought the country was headed in the wrong direction increased from 31.4 percent to 72.2 percent between 1990 and 1997.103 The number of suicides also jumped from 24,391 in 1997 to 32,863 in 1998 and continued to exceed 30,000 annually.104 The severe economic recession, the growing feeling of anomie, and the seeming incompetence of the government made many people lose confidence in Japan’s future, and the 1990s were later called “the lost decade.”

While Hashimoto’s government was busy implementing pol itical reforms to meet the unprecedented economic and social challenges, conservative politicians tried to undo the logic of cosmopolitanism that had been partially incorporated into Japan’s official commemoration. In fact, nationalist counterattacks had already begun in August 1995, when the LDP’s History Investigation Committee published The Comprehensive Evaluation of the Greater East Asia War (Daitoa Senso no sokatsu). This edited volume collected transcriptions of seminars between October 1993 and January 1995, wherein LDP members had engaged in discussions with nineteen guest speakers, including Tanaka Masaaki, the author of books denying the Nanjing Massacre, and Nishio Kanji, who was later to become the first president of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. In the edited volume, the guest speakers and LDP members justified the Asia-Pacific War as Japan’s act of self-defense against Western imperial powers, and they argued that Japan had helped Asian peoples gain independence from their colonial rulers after the war. Moreover, they rejected the Tokyo Trial as “victor’s justice” and criticized postwar Japanese education for propagating the masochistic, Tokyo Trial version of history. As Itagaki Tadashi put it in the volume’s epilogue, “I cannot but feel overwhelmed by the critical situation of the Japanese people’s historical view shaped by the Occupation policies and leftist-biased postwar education. I must say this kind of education is wrong because it fails to cultivate in next generations pride in their country and joy of being Japanese.”105

This growing concern about the education of Japanese youth was perhaps most systematically articulated by Fujioka Nobukatsu, a professor of education at the University of Tokyo. In April 1994, he began serializing articles in Social Studies Education (Shakaika kyoiku) to outline what he called the “liberal historical view” (jiyUshugi shikan), and in June 1995, he launched the Liberal History Research Group (Jiyushugi Shikan Kenkyukai). The purpose of liberal history was to write a new history of Japan by rejecting the two types of historical interpretation that had dominated postwar Japan: “the Tokyo Trial historical view that describes Japan as the only bad guy and the Pro-Greater-East-Asia-War historical view (Daitoa Senso kotei shikan) that asserts Japan committed no wrongs.”106 According to Fujioka, these two ideologically charged historical views—describing Japan as categorically either right or wrong—prevented Japanese citizens from developing a more mature historical view. As Fujioka put it, liberal history was “liberal” in the sense of being “free from all ideologies,” so that “if something is proven to be a fact, practitioners of liberal history should be ready to accept it, whether they like it or not.”107 At first glance, Fujioka’s manifesto of liberal history simply sought a more empirically rigorous approach to the history of the Asia-Pacific War. But, in reality, his liberal historical view attacked only “the Tokyo Trial historical view that denied anything national” and instead advocated “healthy nationalism” as an essential ingredient for history education in Japan.108

While members of the LDP and the Liberal History Research Group began to mobilize their counterattacks against the greater degree of contrition adopted by the Japanese government, the Ministry of Education announced the results of the latest round of textbook inspection in June 1996: all history textbooks approved for junior high schools now included descriptions of comfort women and expanded descriptions of atrocities that Japanese troops had committed during the Asia-Pacific War, such as the Nanjing Massacre. This significant change in history textbooks happened not only because of the efforts by non-LDP prime ministers and NGOs commemorating foreign victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings, but also because of Ienaga Saburo’s lawsuits against textbook inspection. In January 1984, Ienaga had filed his third lawsuit after his draft history text?book for high schools had been rejected during the 1982 cycle of textbook inspection. This time Ienaga and his lawyers had focused on eight items that the Ministry of Education had disapproved, six of which had pertained to the Asia-Pacific War: (1) Japan’s aggression against China, (2) the Nanjing Massacre, (3) the Korean people’s resistance against Japan’s colonial rule, (4) the Japanese military’s wartime atrocities, (5) Unit 731 and its biological experiments, and (6) the Battle of Okinawa.109 In October 1993, the Tokyo High Court had ruled that, among the eight items in Ienaga’s textbook, descriptions of the Nanjing Massacre and rapes of Chinese women (as part of the Japanese military’s wartime atrocities) had been illegally disapproved in the textbook-inspection process.110 Ienaga then had appealed to the Supreme Court and argued that the Ministry of Education had exceeded its prerogative by having disapproved the other items, whereas the ministry had decided not to contest the high court’s ruling. This led to the 1995—1996 cycle of textbook inspection for junior high and high schools permitting increased descriptions of Japan’s past wrongdoings.111

The results of the 1996 textbook inspection, however, prompted Fu- jioka Nobukatsu to submit an open letter to the Ministry of Education, demanding that the descriptions of comfort women be removed. In his letter, Fujioka stated that the descriptions were misleading because they gave the impression that the Japanese military had forcibly drafted women to work at comfort stations, even though facts about comfort women were still disputed among historians. He concluded his letter by mentioning cases of students who had internalized the masochistic historical view: “Some junior high school students think Japan is the most evil country in the world. There are also female students who feel ashamed about being Japanese. The unbalanced and masochistic history education is a serious crime.”112 Then, in December 1996, Fujioka and other university professors and writers formed the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform (JSHTR).

For these LDP politicians and conservative intellectuals, the history probl em was no longer simply about the past but also about the future of the Japanese nation because it concerned the hearts and minds of younger Japanese citizens. Moreover, they regarded Japan’s domestic problems—the economic recession and social anomie—as coterminous with the history problem. They felt that the domestic problems could be overcome if Japanese citizens became more patriotic and willing to contribute to their country. They then placed the blame for the perceived lack of patriotism squarely on the “masochistic” Tokyo Trial historical view that the Allied powers had imposed on Japan during the Occupation. To combat this historical view as a root cause of the domestic and international problems facing Japan, they targeted history education as the key for reinvigorating patriotism and thereby overcoming the problems.

 
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