In order to diagnose the ideology of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, I compare the controversial textbook New History Textbook (2005) published by Fusösha with another history textbook titled Middle School History (2005), which is published by Teikoku Shoin. We examine the content of New History Textbook because its publication provoked nationwide protests in China in 2005 due to its nationalistic text that de-emphasized Japan’s militarization in Asia. I selected Middle School History as a comparison textbook for two reasons. First, I could not locate the history textbook published by Teikoku Shoin, which is the most widely used textbook in Japan with a market share of 51.2%, at the university library. Instead, I found the history textbook published by Teikoku Shoin, which has the third largest market share (14.9%) of history textbooks in Japan. I selected Middle School History as a substitute for the most commonly used history textbook published by Tokyo Shoseki. Second, I read through the text and made an assumption that Middle School History is fairly representative of a generally accepted view of Japanese history in textbooks. The comparison of the standard history textbook with the controversial New History Textbook can serve to illustrate different interpretations and portrayals of same historical events. An analysis of this gap can unmask a fundamental divide in ideas about Japanese national identity. In the comparison of two textbooks, the Sino-Japanese War and the Nanjing Massacre are subjects of interest because of their disputed way of portrayal.

As of 2006, the adoption rate of New History Textbook is 0.4%, which is much lower than Middle School History published by Teikoku Shoseki whose market share is 14.9% (see Table 2). The low adoption rate of Fusösha’s New History Textbook is noteworthy since the percentage of market share has increased by 0.4% over a period of four years. Although the change is small, if the adoption rate were to continue changing at this rate, the overall impact on school curriculum can be significant. Compared to other textbooks whose market share had increased by about 4%, the small increase in Fusosha’s market share is noteworthy given the criticism and diplomatic tensions its controversial reinterpretation of Japan’s wartime history triggered. Therefore, the significance of this controversial history textbook cannot be underestimated. In addition, the so-called spillover effect, according to Sven Saaler, could have an indirect impact on subsequent editions of other history textbooks in Japan.44 As witnessed in the gradual change in the language used to account history relating back to World War II, most publishers toned down the language by replacing the Nanjing Massacre with a milder version of the Nanjing Incident and even omitting statistics of the Nanjing Massacre and the Comfort Women.

44 Sven Saaler, Politics, Memory and Public Opinion: The History Textbook Controversy and Japanese Society (Munich: Iudicium Verlag, 2005). P62.

Table 2: Market share of 8 textbook publishers

Survey of 583 school districts in Japan





































A %









Source: statistics from http://www4.ocn.ne.jp/~aoitori/siten3.html (accessed on 20 December 2008).

The following table shows textbook covers for the controversial New History Textbook (2002, 2006) by Fusösha and commonly used Middle School History (2006) by Teikoku Shoseki.

Table 3: Middle School History Textbook Covers

To assess the difference of narratives in respective textbooks about Japan’s wartime activities, the chart below compares presentations and interpretations of the two major historical events: the Nanjing Massacre and the Sino-Japanese War.

Table 4: Comparison chart


New History Textbook (Fusosha©2005)

Middle School History (Teikoku Shoin©2005)


Controversial textbook with 0.4% market share

Standard textbook with 14.9% market share


* Image of textbook has been removed due to copyright. Please consult page 199 in the textbook.

* Image of textbook has been removed due to copyright. Please consult page 204 in the textbook.

Sino-Japanese War (1939- 1945)

The Japanese military, in order to maintain Manchukuo and secure resources, had placed a friendly government in the neighboring north China region... On the night of July 7, 1937, a shot was fired against a Japanese army unit that was on exercise at the Marco Polo Bridge outside of Beijing. This resulted in a military engagement with the Chinese army the following day (the Marco Polo Bridge Incident).

The Japanese military did not remain in Manchuria, but advanced its troops into northern China in search of natural resources. In July 1937, Japanese and Chinese forces clashed outside of Beijing in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, triggering the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.




In August of the same year, two Japanese army officers were shot and killed in Shanghai, a city where foreign interests were concentrated. This incident escalated the confrontation between Japan and China. The Japanese army believed they could make Chiang Kai-shek surrender by taking the Kuomintang capital of Nanjing. In December, they occupied Nanjing, but Chiang Kai-shek transferred the capital inland to Chongqing and continued to resist.

*Footnote at the end of this sentence: “At this time, the Chinese military and civilian population suffered many casualties due to the Japanese military (the Nanjing Incident). Furthermore, controversy has arisen with the data used to calculate the number of victims in this incident. Many perspectives exist on the number of victims and other details about this incident due to doubts about the historical record, and debate continues to this day.

The Japanese military also invaded China from the south and occupied Shanghai and Nanjing, the capital at the time. In Nanjing, many Chinese, not only soldiers but also women and children, were killed. Japan was criticized by the international community for the “barbarism of the Japanese military” (the Nanjing Massacre). The Japanese people, however, were not informed of this incident.

Source: Translation credit to Je Kaleidoscope: Multilingual Translation of Mext-Approved Middle School History Textbooks.45

As the comparison of two textbooks demonstrates, different explanations offered for the causes of the Sino-Japanese War and the Nanjing Massacre represent two drastically different understandings of history. For example, New History Textbook seems to indirectly attribute the cause of the Sino-Japanese War to Chinese violence against Japanese in Manchuria. The paragraph about the Sino-Japanese War begins with a description of a shot being fired against the Japanese army, and without any explanation for why such an incident occurred, the text then proceeds to suggest that the Chinese violence triggered the war. In Middle School History textbook, however, the paragraph describing the Sino-Japanese War makes no mention of such a shot being fired. Instead, the text describes the clash between Chinese and Japanese armies (the Marco Polo Bridge Incident) as a trigger event of the Sino-Japanese War. In addition, the use of ambiguous language is more evident in New History Textbook, as it portrays the military confrontation between Chinese and Japanese army as “military engagement,” whereas Middle School Textbook clearly states it as the war.

With respect to the Nanjing Massacre, the first notable difference in two textbooks is the naming of the event. While Middle School History textbook presents the event as the Nanjing Massacre, New History Textbook assigns a more neutral name of the “Nanjing Incident”. As readers move from the section of the Sino-Japanese War to the Nanjing Massacre, New History Textbook implies a misleading link between the Nanjing Massacre and killing of Japanese

45 "Je Kaleidoscope: Multilingual Translation of Mext-Approved Middle School History Textbooks," Japan Echo Inc., http://www.je-kaleidoscope.jp/english/index2.html.

officers. In this section, readers learn that the killing of two Japanese officers in Shanghai had provoked the Japanese invasion of Nanjing. Through attributing the initial killing of Japanese officers by Chinese to the cause of the Nanjing Massacre, the textbook seems to justify the Japanese atrocities in Nanjing.46

Furthermore, New History Textbook minimizes the scale of Japanese violence in the Nanjing Massacre by avoiding the mention of casualties incurred as a result of the Japanese assault. To express doubts about the facts regarding the Nanjing Massacre, a small footnote at the bottom of page 295 points out that the number of victims still remains contested due to the controversial nature of the issue. The footnote says: “Many perspectives exist on the number of victims and other details about this incident due to doubts about the historical record, and debate continues to this day. ” This ambiguous language not only creates an impression about reduced severity of the event but also leaves the motive of Japan’s wartime conduct in China unaddressed. In contrast, the Middle School History textbook offers a brief description of the Nanjing Massacre. As the text indicates, the Japanese occupation of Nanjing incurred significant casualties involving women and children, and the event received international condemnation. Although the Middle School History text offers a brief summary of two events, readers will also notice that the text is almost too concise and fails to offer a concrete explanation for the cause of the Sino-Japanese War and the Nanjing Massacre. Since the textbook does not mention the number of casualties and no images of the Nanjing Massacre are provided, readers are left with unanswered questions about the causes of the Sino-Japanese War.

46 Nelson, "Tempest in a Textbook: A Report on Te New Middle-School History Textbook in Japan." P139-140.

After having compared the two Japanese history textbooks to the history textbook published for middle school in People’s Republic of China, the difference in the presentation style of same historical events is striking. The following table illustrates the Marco Polo Bridge Incident (beginning of the Sino-Japanese War) and the Nanjing Massacre in China’s state-endorsed history textbook.

Table 5: Sample Pages of middle school history textbook in People’s Republic of China

Marco Polo Bridge Incident

Nanjing Massacre

* Image of textbook has been removed due to copyright. Please consult page 75 in the textbook.

* Image of textbook has been removed due to copyright. Please consult page 76 in the textbook.

The sentence under the first image says: “Chinese army is courageously resisting the Japanese occupation army.

The sentence under the second image says: “Chinese army at the Marco Polo City rush to the battlefields.”

Description of Japanese atrocities in Nanjing: (1st image on left) “Japanese soldier beheading a Nanjing youth”

(2nd image on right) “Japanese army using children for military exercises”

(3rd image on left) “Japanese army burying Nanjing citizens alive”

(4th image on right) “Japanese general seizing and leading youths to be execution camps located outside of Nanjing”

Text and image credit to Middle School Chinese History © People’s Education Press.47

In addition to the detailed description of two events, the Chinese textbook provides more visual images to demonstrate the cruelty of Japanese occupation in China. Contrary to photos of

47 "Chinese People's Japanese Resistance War," in Chinese History (Beijing Renmin Jiaoyu Chubangshe (People's Education Press) 2006).

the brave Chinese army defending and fighting against the Japanese army shown on page 75, the following page displays images of the ruthless, almost inhuman Japanese troops executing innocent Chinese people. This presentation style of Chinese history textbook embodies almost propagandistic element, which utilizes visual aid to convey a certain image of the Japanese army—merciless and aggressive—through the Sino-Japanese War. Certainly, the Chinese textbook has its own flaws, especially in the use of critical tone against the Japanese army.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to observe that the Chinese portrayal of the Sino-Japanese War and the Nanjing Massacre differs considerably from that of Japanese textbooks. Not to mention the presentation of Japanese wartime activities in China by New History Textbook, even one of the most commonly used history textbooks lacks details concerning the war. If the reader were to compare these textbooks by length, the space devoted to Japan’s wartime activities in Chinese textbook exceeds that of Japanese textbooks (total of 3 pages compared to 1 page). Some scholars have even argued that this tendency to avoid excessive description of the war is the result of passive self-censorship on the part of the publishers of Japanese history textbooks.48 Whether this form of self-censorship directly emerged due to pressure from the Ministry of Education or is merely the publisher’s cautious approach to dodge overseas criticisms, the textbook controversy continues to remain unresolved as long as the disputed content is perceived to be unjustly interpreted to serve Japan’s self-interests.

48 Kersten, "Coming to Terns with the Past: Japan."

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