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  • War Memory, Nationalism and Education in Postwar Japan: The Japanese History Textbook Controversy and Ienaga Saburo's Court Challenges
  • Kristine Dennehy
War Memory, Nationalism and Education in Postwar Japan: The Japanese History Textbook Controversy and Ienaga Saburo's Court Challenges. By Yoshiko Nozaki. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2008. 224 pages. Hardcover £85.00; softcover £22.50.

The history textbook controversy in the subtitle of Yoshiko Nozaki's book correlates to the Japanese term kyōkasho mondai and denotes the contested nature of educational curricula in the postwar period. Within academic circles and in the mass media as well, this term is readily associated with the Japanese state's tendency to whitewash its modern history of imperialist expansion and militaristic aggression in Asia. To those on the right, one of the main "problems" with textbooks written after World War II stems from the critical stance taken by many textbook authors toward Japanese expansionism. From the perspective of hawkish politicians like former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), an essential component of public education is the inculcation of patriotic sentiment and the formation of a national identity that fosters a sense of pride in the country's history. Furthermore, rather than being critical of Japan's nineteenth- and twentieth-century trajectory, such figures emphasize and even glorify the decisions made by the Meiji-era elite, who promoted a swift program of industrialization and modernization and, as people like Nakasone see it, took a defensive stance to protect Japan from being colonized by Western imperial powers. In contrast, to those on the left, the assumption that schools should be a place of such ideological indoctrination is inherently problematic. It smacks of a return to the prewar curriculum, a factor deemed central to the rise and uncritical support of ultranationalism that ultimately brought so much destruction to the Japanese people themselves and left countless victims in occupied territories throughout Asia. In addition, these progressive intellectuals and others are quick to point out that the postwar process of textbook authorization has become a system of de facto censorship that invests bureaucrats with an inordinate amount of power over the construction and dissemination of Japan's nationalist narratives.

At the forefront of these postwar controversies has been the historian Ienaga Saburō, who brought three separate lawsuits against the Japanese government, starting in 1965, and continued to challenge state power until the final decisions were handed down by the Supreme Court in 1997. While Ienaga was a leading figure in these struggles, he was by no means alone in his efforts as an advocate for the rights of ordinary citizens like himself. Plagued by a sense of personal guilt for not having stood up against the forces of ultranationalism before 1945, Ienaga embarked on what turned out to be a crusade lasting several decades to protect and promote the democratic ideals of postwar reforms embodied in the 1946 constitution.

Nozaki presents readers with an impressive synthesis and analysis of Ienaga's lawsuits and in the process sheds light on a number of important issues central to the nature of Japan's postwar capitalist democracy. For instance, what kinds of market forces are at work in the publication of educational materials? How do ordinary citizens organize and articulate their demands for more transparency among bureaucrats and politicians? Nozaki's meticulous examination of the Ienaga lawsuits will undoubtedly [End Page 442] also prove useful for those interested in looking at these kinds of issues in a comparative context. She draws from the theoretical insights of Michel Foucault and uses his term "games of truth" to examine the struggles over nationalist narratives of Japan's wartime history (specifically the Asia-Pacific War of 1931–1945) and Ienaga's "counter-memories" in the realms of education, history, and the judiciary.

Nozaki is well positioned to analyze these debates given her academic background related to issues concerning history curricula as well as her personal involvement as a volunteer supporter of Ienaga and his activist agenda. Every chapter of this well-crafted, concise study has a rich, empirical foundation and will be of interest to students and scholars in a diverse range of fields from education and history...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 442-444
Launched on MUSE
2010-01-16
Open Access
No
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