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Home > Special Topics > Activity Report Last Updated: 15:09 03/09/2007
Activity Report #9: August 22, 2002

Workshop on Public Memory: Session III

(This report on the US-Japan Joint Meeting in Hawaii, March 24-26, 2001, is posted with the permission of the workshop organizer)


The Impact of Historical Perceptions on US-Japan Relations in the New Century

Program:

Session III: Education/Culture and Public Memory

  • Chaired by Waldo Heinrichs
  • Papers by Akira Iriye (Harvard University), Chihiro Hosoya, Ryo Oshiba and Ma, and Daqing Yang (George Washington University)

  • Session III Afternoon of March 25

    Professor Iriye summarized his article on American history textbooks and made a few comments on it. During the group discussion, Professors Heinrichs and Gallicchus suggested that Professor Iriye look at how textbooks are actually used and selected in the United States. Since textbooks are only one of the items shaping education, other sources such as curriculum guidelines, standardized tests, lesson plans, and reading lists might be useful. Also, the emphasis on specific facts in textbooks should be seen in light of the fact that surveys frequently show that Americans have trouble identifying important historical events and figures. Professor Ninkovich asked about elite history education since textbooks quality as mass education.

    Professors Hosoya and Oshiba discussed their article on Japanese history textbooks. They explained that Japanese textbook approval has gone through three periods. In the first, domestic critics complained about the Department of Education's secretiveness. In the second, the department became more transparent. In the third, other nations such as China and Korea began attacking textbooks, adding sovereignty issues to the approval process. There have been three basic reactions to these developments. Right-wingers complain about the Department of Education responding to foreign criticism. Left-wingers approve of the foreign pressure. A third group argues history education should be geared towards civil society, not the nation state. Textbooks are also influenced by concerns over globalization and whether a common view of human history, particularly one that would overcome nationalism, is practical. During the general discussion Professors Rosenberg and Iriye mentioned the possibility of creating transnational textbooks along the lines of some joint efforts in Europe. Professor Oshiba responded that this was unlikely to work in Japan due to the Ministry of Education, which is not entirely transparent. The Ministry is not omnipotent since schools choose which books to use, but these came from a list approved by the ministry. Professor Hosoya explained that this selection process is an improvement over the pre-war situation in which only one textbook was used nationally. He added that after the war textbook selection was dominated by wartime officials and right-wing historians who could not got jobs in universities. Professor Ishii added that textbook writers are caught between the right-wing Ministry of education and the left-wing teacher's unions, which often led to dry texts with little context. He explained that the problem is exacerbated by national history standards and course structures that usually end with the 1930s. Professor Takita pointed out that university admissions tests do not cover world or contemporary history much, so students tend to ignore them.

    Professor Ma discussed her paper on Japanese, Chinese, and American museums that covered WWⅡ. She stressed that she could use advice on which museums in the United States might be worth examining. Professor Heinrichs observed that some American museums change their exhibits periodically, so comparing them to permanent displays in Asia might be complicated. He also pointed out the importance of museum artifacts, not just exhibit texts. Professor Ma responded she is looking for permanent exhibits. Professor Hosoya provided some background on the Showa museum in Japan that Professor Ma mentioned in her paper proposal. He explained that he had been on the advisory board for the museum and that originally the officials in charge wanted exhibits that justified Japan's entry into the war. Professor Hosoya resigned in anger along with two others, and the museum dropped that section and made the whole thing neutral. Professor Sasaki asked if there were triggers for PRC museums on the war in the 1980s, and Professor Yang responded that the Nanjing museum built between 1982 and 1985 was a response to the Japanese textbook controversy. Professor Rosenberg suggested that the Japanese-American National Museum and an equivalent Chinese-American museum might be useful.

    Professor Yang went over his paper on how different groups associated with Asia have influenced US memories of the war. He pointed out that there was controversy about the war in the 1980s, but that this controversy had greatly expanded in the 1990s. Professor Heinrichs pointed out that china was of great interest to Americans in the 1930s due to the media and missionary work. This background laid the groundwork for more positive American views after Nixon's trip. Professor Iriye observed that the 1970s were unusual because no one brought up the war. Professor Yang also commented that Chinese American groups are good at building alliances, but that they receive no founding from Beijing, so conspiracy arguments about their success are unnecessary. Professor Hosoya stated that Japanese-American leaders are split about blaming Japan for wartime atrocities.

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