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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Making History: The Quest for National Identity through History Education

September 21, 2001

With the appearance of the “New History Textbook” (Atarashii rekishi kyokasho) penned by The Society for the Reform of History Textbooks (Atarashii rekishi kyokasho o tsukuru kai), and approved by the Ministry of Education (Monbusho), this year’s choice of a history book for junior high schools turned into a fiercely contested issue both domestically and internationally. Korea and China’s severe criticism of this revisionist textbook accompanied by economic and political sanctions towards Japan, suggests that Japan’s regional ties are under serious threat. Is it worth it? Or, to put it differently, why does the Japanese government uphold, equally unwaveringly, its approval of the textbook, even though its rewriting of the past seems to jeopardize the improvement of Japan’s diplomatic relations as well as existing agreements with South Korea? What is at stake?

To take pride in being Japanese – or rather, to instil such sentiment in the nation’s younger generation is the declared aim of the Tsukuru-kai and the history and civics textbooks they edited. The “masochistic view of our country’s history”, which the Reform Society regards as major cause of what ails contemporary Japanese society, is to be replaced by a positive perspective on national achievements. “History” with a high “feel-good-factor” is thus put into the service of refurbishing national identity. Such an approach to the past prompts difficult questions about what history is and how (and by whom) it is narrated, compiled or reconstructed. Whose “property” is history? That of one particular nation? Or of the/all parties involved? What are the functions and objectives of representations of the past? And how should history be mediated and taught?

Our workshop aims to illuminate the context of the “schoolbook controversy” and to discuss these thorny questions. It provides information on the contents of the “New History Textbook” and the “New Civics Textbook”, the screening and selection processes, specifics about the contentious issues and insight into the domestic protests against these textbooks. There will be presentations by history and history education specialists alarmed by the representation of the past (and present) in these textbooks and concerned with its ideological, pedagogical, and legal effects. Our workshop will then broaden the discussion to include foreign critical perspectives and to address questions of identity, nationalism and image building through history education.


Welcome Note (Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, DIJ)

Introduction of the Workshop and the Participants

Nicola Liscutin

German Institute for Japanese Studies

Introduction: Background and Results of the Textbook Selection Process

Sven Saaler

German Institute for Japanese Studies

Panel 1: History Education and Nationalism

History Textbooks and Nationalism

Nakamura Masanori, Prof. Kanagawa University, History

Beyond National History

Iwasaki Minoru, Tōkyō University of Foreign Languages, Philosophy


Panel 2: History Textbooks and International Relations

Issues Raised by the “New History Textbook”

Kang Sangjung, Tōkyō University, Political Science

Textbooks – a ‘Domestic Issue’ for Japan, an ‘International Affair’ for Korea

Isa Ducke

German Institute for Japanese Studies


Related Research Projects

Japan in Asia