On August 28, 1945, two days before General MacArthur arrived in Japan as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), the Ministry of Education sent out this advisement to the prefectural governments and school heads:
Concerning textbooks and teaching materials, in the light of the objectives of the Imperial Rescript proclaimed on 14 August [Imperial Rescript of the Termination of the War], due care will be exercised in their use and appropriate measures taken to omit parts of the lessons.
One month later, the Ministry of Education further distilled its policy to adapt to the changing climate in postwar Japan by issuing the following:
- Although it will be permitted until further notice to continue to use existing textbooks in Middle Schools, Youth Schools and National Schools, it is required that all teaching materials that are inappropriate in the light of the intentions of the Imperial Rescript proclaiming the end of the war be struck out in whole or in part or be handled with the utmost of care. . . .
- The following are materials which ought to be used with care, amended or eliminated: (a) Materials that emphasize national defense and armaments; (b) materials fostering the fighting spirit; (c) materials that may be harmful to international goodwill;(d) materials that have become obsolete through being entirely removed from present postwar condition and the everyday life of the students. . . .
- In cases where it is necessary to make up for material omitted, select and supplement from the following subjects, keeping in mind place and circumstances: materials concerning the maintenance of the kokutai (rule by the emperor and imperial sovereignty) and the establishment of high moral education; materials suitable for the education of the people of a civilized country; materials concerning increased agricultural production; materials fostering the scientific spirit and its practical application; materials on physical education and hygiene; materials on international peace.1
Following this order teachers and students all over the country deleted objectionable passages in the wartime textbooks with a “cut first and create later” philosophy followed by a complete ban of texts on morals, Japanese history, and geography.2 At the core of this process were objections concerning the integration of “State Shinto,” which critics regarded as wartime propaganda. All further use of State Shinto tenets in teachers’ manuals and textbooks was prohibited.
It was within this climate that four Japanese historians, including Ienaga Saburo, were called to the Ministry of Education on May 17, 1946. At this meeting they received instructions from an American who laid down three conditions in the writing of the first postwar textbook:
- It will not be propagandistic.
- It will not advocate militarism, ultranationalism, and Shinto doctrine.
- It will not be based on the view of history expressed in Kokutai no Hongi (Fundamentals of our National Polity).
Their task was also further supported by Article 21 of the 1947 constitution that stated:
Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed. No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.3
By 1963, less than 20 years after the end of the war, the Japanese government had reversed their stance. New demands declared that sections in Japanese history textbooks delete entire historical episodes and any language describing wartime aggressions, including the Nanjing Atrocities. Two years later Ienaga, with the support of other historians, filed the first of several lawsuits against the Japanese government, charging censorship and initiating what has become known today as Japan’s “history problem,” the inaccurate accounting of Japan’s colonial rule in Korea as well as its involvement in a range of wartime atrocities including what occurred in Nanjing.
Over the years Ienaga gained some successes including the inclusion and historical truth about the crimes of Unit 731, the “military comfort women,” and the Japanese Imperial Army’s role in the atrocities in Nanjing.4But conservative factions denounced these efforts and continued their campaign to reconstruct Japan’s national history, particularly around World War II. In 2001 the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform waged another successful campaign to soften, and at times remove, entire sections of texts related to the new treatment of the Nanjing Atrocities that had previously been changed. Their arguments range from claiming the reports and accounting of the atrocities were simply a consequence of war to claiming the history has been greatly exaggerated to denying the documentary proof of its occurrence altogether.
Professor Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, a scholar who believes education and an accurate accounting of the Nanjing Atrocities is important, has read several edits of their textbooks and offers the following perspective on their motivations:
They [Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform] want Japanese youths to feel pride in their nation by learning about positive, not just negative, dimensions in history. They argue that, until recently, a “masochistic” view of Japan’s history has . . . pervaded public education and the media.5
In reflecting on the lawsuit years later, Ienaga shared his motivewios for dedicating the majority of his adult professional life to confronting the system of government-approved textbook circulation:
I am a member of the prewar generation and because of that reckless war, millions of my countrymen suffered wretched deaths in the wilds of the continent, the depths of the sea, and the recesses of the jungle. And they died miserable deaths in the air raids and atomic bombings. Fortunately, I survived. But I was unable to make any effort for the sake of my ancestral country to stop the reckless war, and I felt heartfelt remorse for the sin of having been a futile bystander to the tragedy of my country. If I were to die today without opposing educational policies that extol war ... on my deathbed I would ask why I had once again done nothing to prevent it. I never want to repeat the experience of such remorse. Although I am a single citizen with little power, I embarked on this lawsuit with the desire to atone for even a tiny fraction of the sin of not having resisted the war.6
Ienaga Saburo died in 2002. Today, the Japanese government does not designate a singular textbook to be used across the nation. Instead local school boards decide which texts will be used within their specific jurisdiction.
- 1 : Kindai Nihon Kyoiku Seido Shiryo Hensan Kai (Editorial Committee for Materials on the Modern Japanese Educational System), Kindai Nihon Kyoiku Seid Shiryo [Materials on the Modern Japanese Educational System], (Kodansha, 1957) XVIII, 488, quoted in John Caiger, “Ienaga Saburo and the First Postwar Japanese Textbook Author,” Modern Asian Studies, 3, no. 1, (1969): 2–3.
- 2 : Herbert John Wunderlich, “The Japanese Textbook Problem and Solution, 1945-1946” (dissertation, Stanford University, 1952), 236, quoted in Caiger, “Ienaga Saburo.”
- 3 : de Bary, Gluck, and Tiedemann, Sources of Japanese Tradition, 1033.
- 4 : Both Unit 731 and military sexual slavery are important topics for research on their own and will not be covered in depth in this resource. Unit 731 was the biological and chemical warfare research and development program within the Japanese Imperial Army. The unit conducted human experimentation from 1937-1945 in Harbin, China. For further reading about Unit 731, see Sheldon Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45 and the American Cover-Up(New York: Routledge, 2002).
- 5 : Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi (professor, York University), email to the author, January 1, 2014.
- 6 : Ienaga Saburo, Ienaga Saburo kyokasho saiban, 2–7, quoted in de Bary, Gluck, and Tiedemann, Sources of Japanese Tradition, 1285.