School Education Law of 1947 authorizes the Ministry of Education to examine and approve textbooks written by publishers in Japan.9 This textbook screening procedure involves the following steps. First, the publisher compiles a textbook manuscript by working with a team of historians and school teachers. The publisher then submits a sample manuscript to the Ministry of Education where the Textbook Approval Research Council examines the text based on Textbook Examination Standards. With recommendations from the Council, the Ministry of Education returns the textbook manuscript with recommendations such as removal of unsuitable passages to the publisher. The publisher may resubmit the revised textbook manuscript for the Ministry’s approval by following the same procedure. This process repeats if the publisher fails to satisfy the Textbook Examination Standards. Due to the lengthy nature of this screening process, the approval of a history textbook usually takes four years.10 Consequently, through the institutional mechanism of screening procedure, the Ministry of Education closely monitors the

9 "Japan's School Textbook Examination Procedure," Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/education/textbooks/index.html.

10 Ibid.

content of a textbook. For history textbooks deemed too liberal or left-wing, for example, the Ministry of Education can indirectly influence the text content by issuing recommendations, which require publishers to revise their manuscripts in order to meet the criteria.

Figure 1: Textbook Screening Procedure

Saburo Ienaga’s textbook lawsuits (1963-1982) unleashed the controversy surrounding the Japanese Ministry of Education’s textbook authorization procedure. Ienaga accused the government of infringing his right to freedom of expression and scholarship, and his successive lawsuits drew criticism from historians and teachers in Japan. The lawsuit not only challenged the constitutionality of the Ministry’s authority to conduct the screening of text

content, but it also revealed the ideological divide between left-leaning scholars and teachers and right-leaning nationalist officials. Since the Ministry of Education determined textbook content, the Japanese government wields considerable power in skewing the Textbook Examination Standard in favor of its political interests. With Ienaga’s case against the government, however, the Ministry of Education’s screening procedure, and particularly Japanese history textbooks became a hotly debated issue. In the upcoming section, I examine how the textbook controversy sheds light on the ongoing battle between different schools of thought in Japan’s postwar historiography in addition to the diplomatic repercussions of the controversy. Most notably, I will discuss the implications of Ienaga’s lawsuits followed by the internationalization of Japan’s textbook controversy in the 1980s, and the nationwide anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and South Korea in 2005.


Japan’s textbook controversy revolves around three schools of thought in postwar historiography. According to David McNeill, journalist and teacher in Japan, the first school of thought is known as Maboroshi-ha (Illusion School), which rejects Japan’s colonial past despite all the evidence and testimonies of war victims.11 In countering China’s claim of causalities incurred in the Nanjing Massacre, the group argues that a very small number of people were

11 "Japan," in Hindesight: History Under Siege (Australia: ABC National, 2008).

killed in the event. The group sometimes goes even further to state that the Nanjing Massacre never existed and was a Chinese fabrication.12 What makes this school of thought influential is that its ultranationalist movement, though small in membership, consists of influential elites such as right-wing historians, conservative politicians, and business patrons. The second school of thought is called Daigyakusatsu (Massacre School), which essentially agrees with China’s claim of Japan’s wartime atrocities.13 While the group consists mostly of left-leaning historians and teachers, journalists have also been advocating liberal education through media coverage and reports that highlight Japan’s wartime history. Among them, Honda Katsuichi was the first journalist to travel to China in the 1970s and to feature Japan’s wartime crimes in a series of articles published in the Asahi Shinbun. Finally, the third group falls somewhere between the previous two schools. This school of thought has a modest perspective with respect to Japan’s war responsibility.14 Although the group accepts the Nanjing Massacre and Comfort Women as historical facts, the group tends to tone down the language when narrating Japan’s wartime past. For example, the group argues that an estimated casualty of 300,000 people in the Nanjing Massacre is an exaggerated figure. With the majority of Japanese history textbooks expressing this point of view, the third school of thought seems to represent the general view about Japan’s wartime history.

Among these three schools of thought, the battle between the Maboroshi-ha (Illusion School) and the Daigyakusatsu (Massacre School) marks the domestic debate of

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid

14 Ibid

Japan’s history textbook. Beginning in the 1950s, the textbook controversy emerged as a result of Ienaga’s lawsuits, which questioned Ministry of Education’s screening authority over the textbook content.15 Nevertheless, thanks to a series of policies aimed at reducing “biased textbooks” at this time, the LDP-controlled government attacked left-wing textbooks with patriotic education campaigns. While encouraging a more ambiguous description of Japan’s war in Asia, the Ministry of Education tightened the textbook screening procedure and gradually regained control over textbook content.16 By the 1970s, the partial ruling in favor of Ienaga’s lawsuits reversed this trend by loosening the Ministry’s screening authority. As evidence, following Ienaga’s case, the public witnessed a greater amount of information in school textbooks about World War II, in particular Japan’s wartime atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre and realities of the Unit 731 (biological warfare research development facility by the Japanese Imperial Army in Manchuria).17

In the 1980s, however, the Ministry of Education regained control over the textbook screening procedure as a result of the LDP’s political campaign against liberal education. During this period, Japan’s domestic policy had profound diplomatic repercussions. For example, the Asahi Shinbun’s report of the Ministry of Education’s textbook screening process, which was accused of downplaying Japan’s wartime atrocities, provoked nationalistic reactions from China and South Korea. In response to China and South Korea’s protests, the Japanese government made concessions with Chief Cabinet Secretary Miyazawa reassuring both governments that the

15 Yukio Wani, History Textbook and Asia (Tokyo: Syakai hyouronsya, 2001). P12.

16 Rose, Interpreting History in Sino-Japanese Relations: A Case Study in Political Decision-Making. P81-85.

11 Ibid. V 95-101.

textbook content would include comprehensive coverage of Japan’s wartime conduct. Although no such major changes occurred, the textbook content in the early 1990s reflected Japan’s desire to maintain and improve relations with its neighboring countries.18 For example, the previously excluded passages about the Unit 731, the Nanjing Massacre, and Comfort Women appeared in all history textbooks. Nonetheless, Japan’s ultranationalists later responded to this drastic change in textbook content by re-launching various patriotism-enhancing campaigns aimed at reversing the left-leaning trend.

In the late 1990s, the LDP regained political control after a period of non-LDP coalition during 1993-4 and implemented policies to promote patriotism-enhancing education in Japan. By 2000, the so-called “Three All Strategy” permeated some Japanese textbooks with words like “invade” replaced by “advance,” the “Unit 731” deleted, and the “Nanjing Massacre” changed to a milder expression of the “Nanjing Incident.”19 The Ministry of Education adopted this strategy in the screening process and applied to all submitted manuscripts. As a result, only one out of seven history textbooks contained information about Comfort Women by 2000.20 These changes symbolized a drastic reverse policy from the previous years of left-leaning education. What’s more, the emergence of ultranationalist groups such as Atarashii Kyoukasho wo Tsukuru kai, known as the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, supported by the right-leaning publisher Fushösha, became a new source of diplomatic tensions over war memories between Japan and China. For example, Fushosha’s publication of Atarashii Rekishi Kyokasho {New

18 Wenran Jiang, "New Dynamics of Sino-Japanese Relations," Asian Perspective 31, no. 1 (2007).

19 Caroline Rose, Sino-Japanese Relations: Facing the Past, Looking to the Future? (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005). P60.

20 Ibid.

History Textbook) in 2000 not only provoked outcries from historians within Japan but also drew criticism from China. As this overview of the textbook controversy demonstrates, there seems to be a response mechanism in Japanese society, in which various forces from the Left and the Right compete to influence the system by asserting their ideologies and values in history education. The following chapter outlines the timeline of the textbook controversy spanning from the 1950s to 2009 with three major stages of events: Ienaga’s textbook lawsuits (1950- 1982), Asahi Shinbun's s report of “invasion” problem (1982-1997), and the publication of controversial New History Textbook (1997-present).

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