Education ministry seeks to iron out wrinkles over school history syllabus

Japan Times -- Dec 04
History, the orphan child of Japanese education, will acquire new status next year. “Modern global history” is to be made a compulsory subject in senior high schools.

Shukan Toyo Keizai magazine devotes the better part of its Nov. 20 issue to the implications. The measure “removes the barrier between Japanese history and world history,” says education ministry official Atsushi Fujino.

Postwar Japan has been future-oriented to a degree that fails to do justice to its recent past, neighboring countries who bore the brunt of Japan’s wartime militarism have charged over the years. History as a school subject has languished accordingly — taught mechanically, learned by rote, forgotten after the exam. That may change.

Toyo Keizai sketches the program this way: Its overall objective is to give children a broad grasp of how the world, and Japan within it, have fared over the past two and a half centuries. Three broad themes predominate: 18th- to 19th-century industrialization “and us”; 19th- to 20th-century mass society “and us”; 20th- to 21st-century globalization “and us” — “and us” a reminder that we are part of the evolution, its heirs and its transmitters.

The modern age was born of an expansion of consciousness and enterprise that stirred 16th-century Europe. The discovery of a “new world” spurred imperialism — proto-globalism. Japan, though Christopher Columbus’ intended destination when he sailed westward to what turned out to be the Americas, figured little in this. It was a global backwater soon to become a “closed country,” self-isolating against the plague of foreign incursion.

Europe throbbed and surged. Industry burgeoned, transforming work, consumption, aspirations, living conditions, everything — it transformed the human species. Japan, at peace after centuries of civil war, held aloof, cultivating the Confucian virtues. When American Black Ships came steaming into Edo (now Tokyo) Bay in 1853, there was no resisting. Japan saw that. Grudgingly at first, then eagerly, it entered modern history.

A second victory, over Russia 10 years later, set Japan on a course for which nothing in its long history had prepared it. It was a world power, new on the scene and bursting with confidence. Western technology duly mastered merged with native yamato-damashii (Japanese spirit) now resurgent. Thus armed and armored, it was (or seemed) invincible.

Only corruption stalled its forward march — corrupt politicians, corrupt businessmen. They must be eliminated, said certain elements within the armed forces. The assassination on May 15, 1932, of Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai climaxed a wave of terrorism.