State-authorized textbooks became a hotly debated issue in Japan when the left-wing historian, Ienaga Saburo filed lawsuits against the government for violating his freedom of expression and scholarship in 1965. Having followed 137 mandatory revisions at instruction of the Ministry of Education, Ienaga filed lawsuits against Japanese government by stating that the Ministry’s recommendations constituted an unconstitutional censorship.21 Although Ienaga subsequently published a history textbook titled Shin Nihonshi (New Japanese History) after having complied with the Ministry’s screening procedure, his book reflected a view that history should be based on true facts and democratic values and desire for peace.22 Throughout his lawsuits, Ienaga advocated the inclusion of events, in particular those that concern Japan’s aggression in Asia during World War II, which he believed was crucial to understanding Japanese history. For example, Ienaga expressed his view about the war in his textbook by stating: “most Japanese citizens were not informed of the truth of the war, and so could only

21 Kersten, "Coming to Terms with the Past: Japan," History Today 54, no. 3 (2004). P20.

22 Laura Elizabeth Hein and Mark Selden, Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States, Asia and the Pacific (Armonk, N. Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2000). P98.

enthusiastically support the reckless war” in his book.23 Because the word choice “reckless” was deemed a value judgment, the Ministry of Education suggested that Ienaga change the statement to a less subjective tone.24 In addition, the Ministry noted that Ienaga’s original manuscripts included an excessively dark side of the war by depicting Japan’s military activities in Asia, and had asked such a section to be removed.25

As Ienaga’s case demonstrates, history is a highly sensitive subject because history education is regarded as a means of advocating political platform in the form of patriotism. Critiques of history textbooks often point out a general tendency to glorify the nation through laudatory narratives of the past. Thus, the significance of Ienaga’s textbook lawsuits lies in the fact that the presentation of Japan’s wartime past continues to be a powerful instrument, which can serve political interests by shaping the popular perception about a nation’s history. The use of history as a political instrument is not limited to Japan; in fact, the accusing party of Japan’s history textbooks—China—also practices the state censorship through the textbook screening procedure. In Japan’s case, Ienaga’s lawsuit represents an ongoing battle between left-wing scholars and nationalist government to dictate an ideal vision of national history.26 According to Mark Selden, education represents an important vehicle through which contemporary societies transmit ideas of citizenship, as well as the idealized past and the promised future of community.27 Consequently, history education represents a defining aspect of nationalism, which can be employed effectively to convey a particular political discourse. Similarly, Ienaga’s

23 Ibid. PI 13.

24 Saburo Ienaga, "The Glorification of War in Japanese Education " International Security 18, no. 3 (Winter 1993/94).

25 Hein and Selden, Censoring History : Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States. P 108.

26 Ibid. P 96.

27 Ienaga, "The Glorification of War in Japanese Education P97-100.

lawsuits brought the issue of Japan’s war responsibility by openly challenging the prevailing perception of a nation and the government’s direct impact on history education.28

Ienaga’s lawsuits not only questioned the constitutionality of the Ministry of Education’s screening authority but it also illustrated the power struggle between the conservative camp of the LDP-dominated government and the Ministry of Education, and the progressive camp of left-wing socialists and the Japan Teacher’s Union (JTU).29 For a long time, the JTU resisted the conservative the Ministry of Education’s efforts to implement patriotism education. Whether the JTU opposed the Ministry’s textbook screening out of respect for diversity and freedom in education, or as some critiques point out, it hopes to counterbalance the government by seeking control over the textbook content, the ideological divide remains deep between two camps.30 Therefore, Ienaga’s lawsuit case demonstrates the growing discontent within the teaching community towards the Ministry’s inclination to an increasingly centralized system of textbook screening.

28 YoshikoNazaki, War Memory, Nationalism, and Education in Postwar Japan, 1945-2007: The Japanese History Textbook Controversy and Ienaga Saburo's Court Challenges (New York: Routlege, 2008).

29 R. P. Dore, "Censorship in Japan: The Ienaga Case," Pacific Affairs 43, no. 4 (Winter 1970-1971). P 550.

10 Ibid.

Figure 2: Domestic source of the textbook controversy

When the Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of Ienaga’s appeal, the case attracted great public interest and brought the textbook controversy to the forefront of Japanese media. Despite the Tokyo Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling against Ienaga’s lawsuit, it became evident that Ienaga left longstanding legacy since virtually all the high school textbooks incorporated the Nanjing Massacre by the 1990s. Ienaga’s case also served to mirror the voices of war victims in China and other Asian countries, and the publicity the lawsuits received in Japan encouraged public interest and further research about Japan’s war responsibility. Such a drastic change in 31

31 Rana Mitter, "Remembering the Forgotten War," History Today August (2005). P 18.

textbook content was a victory for Ienaga and his supporters who revealed Japan’s war guilt by challenging the Ministry’s screening authority. As Ienaga accentuated the importance of understanding Japan’s past through frank acknowledgement of its past wrongdoings, the renewed interest in the textbook controversy would subsequently trigger diplomatic skirmishes between Japan and China in the 1980s, particular over Japan’s whitewashing of its wartime history in middle school textbooks after Asahi Shinbun's s scandalous report, which was considered scandalous at that time.


The textbook controversy became a source of diplomatic tensions in the summer of 1982 when the Chinese and Korean governments launched official protests against the Japanese government’s endorsement of history textbooks. The accusations were directed at the Japanese Ministry of Education for toning down the brutality of Japanese troops during World War II by recommending the omission of details about the war.32 Specifically, the Chinese government pointed to the distorted portrayal of historical events related to Japanese military aggression in middle school textbooks as a result of the Ministry’s textbook screening process. The following table summarizes China’s protests:

32 Rose, "The Textbook Issue: Domestic Sources of Japan's Foreign Policy."

Table 1: Alleged revisions of key historical events

Source: Article of Remin Ribao on 30 June 1982 from Rose, Caroline. "The Textbook Issue: Domestic Sources of Japan's Foreign Policy." Japan Forum 11, no. 2 : 11.

While the Chinese government launched a full-scale domestic campaign aimed at criticizing Japanese textbooks, the reports of the controversy appeared in other major newspapers in East and Southeast Asia.33 Such a comprehensive coverage of the textbook controversy had subsequently internationalized Japan’s domestic problem and raised concerns about the revitalization of Japanese militarism in Asia. Amidst pressures on Japan to correct the content of its textbooks, China’s accusations were largely based on the reports of inaccurate facts reported by Japanese press. Most notably, Asahi Shinbun led a band of newspaper in publishing

33 Ibid.

documents and manuscripts from the Ministry of Education that mistakenly linked the revisions of Japan’s colonial rule in junior high school history textbooks.34 As this publication of misinformation later became the basis of China’s allegations, the Chinese government pointed out that the change of Japan’s “invasion” to “advance” of Northern China constituted an erroneous portrayal of Japanese military quest in Manchuria. Moreover, the description of the Nanjing Massacre after the Ministry’s screening process clearly employed a more ambiguous language in order to downplay the reality of Japanese aggression in China at that time.

Nevertheless, the alleged revisions of history textbook proved false, as investigations carried out by the Japanese Ministry of Education and Asahi Shinbun later revealed that no such changes occurred.35 The actual textbook approval only required optional revisions based on recommendations from the Textbook Approval Research Council which evaluated textbooks according to the Ministry’s curriculum guideline.36 37 This was part of the screening procedure where the Ministry of Education also requested that unsuitable passages undergo revisions. The Ministry’s recommendations were categorized into optional and obligatory revisions. Contrary to the alleged revision of invade (shinryaku) to advance (zenshin), the Ministry’s recommendation was an optional revision for improvement.38 Although the Ministry recommended that “invade” be replaced by “advance,” the investigation found out that no

34 Mitter, "Remembering the Forgotten War." P 18.

35 Rose, "The Textbook Issue: Domestic Sources of Japan's Foreign Policy." P 207.

36 "Japan's School Textbook Examination Procedure."

37 Ibid.

38 , "The Textbook Issue: Domestic Sources of Japan's Foreign Policy." P 207.

textbooks adopted such recommended revision.39 The subsequent diplomatic tension between China and Japan thus resulted due to Japanese media’s erroneous reports of revisions.

In September 1982 after the Chinese government officially accepted the Chief Cabinet Minister Miyazawa’s apology, Asahi Shinbun issued its own apology for carelessly reporting the textbook controversy but the acknowledgement proved too late.40 While the textbook controversy was a result of the inaccurate reporting on the part of Japanese press, the Ministry of Education also bore the responsibility since it failed to respond to foreign accusations in a timely manner. Both actions reiterated the highly sensitive nature of history in Sino-Japanese relations, and although the issue began as a mere domestic matter in Japan, it later transformed into a constant source of diplomatic tensions between Japan and China.


While the textbook controversy of the 1980s questioned the transparency and accountability of the Japanese government regarding war responsibility, an increasingly ultranationalist position emerged in reaction to the problem of history textbooks. The so-called revisionist movement in Japan began as a reactionary force to the textbook controversy in the 1980s. China’s demand for correction and international pressure on Japan has contributed to growing frustration among nationalist conservatives, who saw left-leaning education as

39 Ibid.

40 "Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kiichi Miyazawa on History Textbooks," Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/postwar/state8208.html.

“masochistic” portrayal of Japanese history.41 This annoyance with external pressure eventually gave birth to a fervent nationalist group advocating for the revision of a long-standing view of Japan’s war past. Consequently, the ultranationalist movement originated from domestic campaigns by nationalist groups composed of government officials, scholars, and business patrons in the late 1990s.

The formation of Rekishi Kyokasho o Tsukuru-kai (Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform) in 1995 confirmed the growing strength of the ultranationalist movement in Japan. According to the Society, the denunciatory view of history presented a perversely masochistic view in primary and secondary school students about their identity as Japanese.42 Therefore, such a negative image of Japan must be replaced with a healthy version of history for future generations by emphasizing the uniqueness of the Japanese nationhood. This promotion of Japan’s cultural and linguistic uniqueness along with the omission of Japanese wartime aggression can then instill pride in Japanese youths about their nation.43 The strategy to recreate and reinterpret the generally accepted history rests at the heart of this movement, which challenges mainstream historical narratives by offering a different view about causes and outcomes of the war, in particular, about the nature of Sino-Japanese War.

41 Shingo Minamizuka, "The Textbook Controversy (PowerPoint)," in World History Seminar for Teachers (University of Pittsburgh2008).

42 "Statement of Objectives (Shutyo)," Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, http://www.tsukumkai.com/02_about_us/01_opinion.html.

43 John K. Nelson, "Tempest in a Textbook: A Report on Te New Middle-School History Textbook in Japan," Critical Asian Studies 34, no. 1 (2002). P130-131.

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