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Postwar History Education in Japan and the Germanys: Guilty Lessons (review)

From: The Journal of Japanese Studies
Volume 37, Number 2, Summer 2011
pp. 448-453 | 10.1353/jjs.2011.0042

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Throughout the history of postwar Japan, and particularly since the escalation of the controversies over Japanese history textbooks at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century, research into history education in Japan, the contents of history textbooks, and the Japanese system of textbook administration—as well as the broader issue of historical and social memory in Japan—has received a considerable amount of scholarly and media attention. Julian Dierkes's recent work is a highly valuable addition to this growing field of scholarship. While previous works on postwar Japan, as well as much Japanese scholarship itself, have often, in both implicit and explicit ways, related their analyses to the case of Germany, no systematic comparisons between postwar history education in Germany and Japan have hitherto been available.

In this book, Dierkes compares the contents of history textbooks, curricula, and textbook approval systems in three states: Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the German Democratic Republic (or East Germany) until 1989. At the center of his analysis are the questions of how "the nation" is portrayed in German and Japanese textbooks and how these portrayals were influenced by the respective curricula and the "educational policy-making regime" in each country (p. 11). The general assumption underlying his analysis is that "teaching materials play a significant role in the construction of national identities" (p. 164). As Dierkes points out, there are numerous references to "Germany" in studies of Japanese attempts "to come to terms with the past," but these references are mostly limited to West Germany, as East Germany has been neglected in previous research. It is one of the achievements of this book to include, for the first time, a thorough analysis of the East German case, a discussion that leads to some interesting findings. Dierkes's comparative analysis will certainly be most useful for scholars interested in the postwar development of any one of these countries.

At the beginning, readers of this journal might be confused by the balance of the book, as two-thirds of it is occupied with analyses of the two Germanys and (only) one-third deals with Japan. However, due to the close relationship between Japan and Germany in World War II, the similarities in their educational policies before 1945, the situation of complete defeat of both countries in 1945, and, above all, the "iconic status of German attempts to grapple with the past" (p. 8) in postwar Japanese discussions, the relevance of the German case when dealing with Japan is self-evident. Further, as scholars of this subject know, Japanese postwar discussions are full of references to the "German (mostly West German) example," and thus, the perspective of a German Japan scholar writing on Japan and Germany from a comparative viewpoint is potentially a very enlightening one—certainly in this case. The project Dierkes has undertaken—a comparison of three different education systems—is an extremely challenging task, given the linguistic competencies required, but also given the necessity to familiarize oneself with three completely different social, political, and education systems: a strongly de-centralized and democratic environment (West Germany), a strongly centralized education system dominated by the bureaucracy (Japan), and a communist-authoritarian system dominated by party cadres. However, the author offers a brilliant analysis of the educational issues to be addressed in the broader framework of the political, social, and educational systems, in the process making this material accessible to readers unfamiliar with the postwar history of one or more of the three states under discussion.

The author sets himself the task of identifying the factors shaping the "educational policy-making regime" in each country (p. 11), factors Dierkes considers of decisive influence with regard to the postwar (or postdefeat) "construction of the nation in history education" (p. 11). The book is divided into five chapters: an introduction, three chapters on West Germany, East Germany, and Japan respectively, and a comparative conclusion. Each case study consists of a section analyzing the institutions determining the direction of history education; a section analyzing school curricula, how they are drafted, and the institutions involved in this process; and an analysis of crucial chapters in selected textbooks.

The East German case...