Book Review

Kokumin no rekishi [The National History].  Kanji NISHIO, edited by Atarashii rekishi kyokasho wo tsukuru kai [Japanese Institute for New History Education].  Tokyo: Sankeishinbunsha/Fusosha, 1999.  (Pp. 774.  Hardcover.  1,905 yen)

     This book is a history book written by a scholar of German literature.  This book, though being written by a non-specialist of history, is not necessarily an amateur's worthless work.  Rather, this book has quite an enthusiastic intention to correct the orientation of Japanese history education.  Kanji Nishio is a professor at the University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo, and the chairman of the Japanese Institute for New History Education (Atarashii rekishi kyokasho wo tsukuru kai in Japanese, which means "a study group for making a new history textbook").  This study group was established at the end of 1996 to insist that postwar Japanese textbooks have described national history as a masochistic past, and that this kind of historical knowledge obstructs the growth of "healthy nationalism" among the Japanese.  They are now criticizing existing textbook publishing companies for their relatively socialist political standpoints, and conducting a campaign to make a substitute for existing history textbooks for junior high school education.

     This book is one of the seven products that the study group is due to publish.  According to their announcement, "first, disregarding the standards for official approval by the Ministry of Education, we are going to make a book to demonstrate that there should be a good textbook like this, and submit it to the general market to ask the world to judge our view of history.  This will be an unapproved textbook but the sample version of the desirable textbook.  Its title is The National History" (Japanese Institute for New History Education 1998: 39).  Furthermore, the study group is preparing textbooks that will be actually submitted for authorization to the Ministry of Education, by reducing and editing The National History.  "What we are planning to publish are textbooks of 'History' and 'Citizenship' for junior high school education.  Takao Sakamoto is preparing a manuscript for the history textbook and members of the Institute are going to make corrections to the manuscript.  Susumu Nishibe is preparing a manuscript for the citizenship textbook.  We are also going to publish a teachers' instruction manual and a students' workbook for both subjects" (ibid.: 179).  In short, this book is the basis of their future publications and the current compilation of their opinions.  Their educational materials are going to be put forward for official approval in April 2000, and the result will be announced in March 2001.  Each educational board determines the propriety of adoption of these textbooks during the 2001 fiscal year, and if adopted, their textbooks will actually be utilized in junior high schools all over Japan from April 2002 on.  The above is the background for this book.

     This book explains the history of Japan starting from about fifteen thousand years ago up to now, and insists that the solidarity of the Japanese nation has been strong even though there have been unavoidable effects from outside Japan.  The most unique feature of this book is its nativist way of historical narration.  Although the author adopted the word "nation" for the title of his book, the book in fact draws only the single-track chronology of a part of people who have lived in Japan.  He pays so much attention to the history of the Imperial family and a small number of people in the ruling class, that the image of Japanese history he shows is quite ethno-centric and homogeneous.

     The author cites many results of historical researches that seem to support the author's opinion.  However, many historians quoted in this book are directors and supporters of the Institution.  Therefore, it must be said that this book intentionally contains historical knowledge with a certain "tendency" in order to justify the author's opinions.  The author himself recognizes the "tendency" and states frankly as follows: "Readers with especially sufficient intuition must have already found that this National History is carried out with a passion for overthrowing the Karagokoro among the Japanese, or the consciousness influenced by ancient Chinese, modern European, and American thoughts" (111).  The author underlines that these influences have not been so strong throughout the Japanese history, and that the Japanese have always lived independently, with a strong solidarity.

     Of course, the author shows recognition that history is a fiction in a sense, by stating that history is a new construct recalled by us living in the present time.  But he also says: "If we think in that way, it is a mistake to accept immovable, pure facts, which were given by foreign countries, without deep consideration.  We have the right to discover and decipher facts on our own, and to reorganize our history" (119).  In his opinion, historical images shared by present Japanese people have been organized through political plots by foreign countries.

     The author's original method for division of historical periods is the typical expression of the xenophobic thought.  Normally, when we describe Japanese history, the following rough division of ages is adopted: the Jomon and early Yayoi periods as the Stone Age; the age of ancient Imperial governments; the medieval feudal age; the Edo period as the early modern age; and the modern age after the Meiji Restoration.  The author opposes this consciousness of dividing history, because this framework itself was, according to the author, derived from the European history.  The author proposes the substitute: "Japanese history is roughly divided into three portionsc.  Ten thousand years of the Jomon and Yayoi periods, the ancient era until the end of the Muromachi Shogunate [in 1573], and the modern era after Oda Nobunaga's time [1534-82].  This is allc.  There is no necessity for more detailed division" (29).  The division into three parts helps the author to state the following two opinions.  First, by connecting the Stone Age to the era of ancient Imperial governments, the author can use the contents of Japanese myths as "historical facts," and can also set up the origin of the Japanese nation at between ten and twenty thousand years ago.  Second, by assuming that the mental and emotional characteristics of the Japanese have been consistent from Oda Nobunaga's time to the present, the author can deny the perspective that Japanese history has experienced repeated ruptures.  The author especially describes the Edo period as follows: "I wonder why Japan could promote the national unity during the Meiji Restoration.  I assume that was because the Edo period was not the feudal age, and because the 'sovereign state system' had been already completed by the Tokugawa family's government, which 'resembled' those of western European countries" (487).   Here, the author assumes the political system during the Edo period was equivalent to the one in west European absolute monarchies, and therefore what the Meiji Restoration accomplished was the same modern idea as one of the European modern revolutions.  This way of thinking supports the later insistence that Japanese society until the second World War had realized democracy equal to the one in Europe, but in a different form.

     In order to review the author's concept of a "Japanese nation," we need to consider the author's narrative of historical facts in more details.  I would like to start this with citing a passage from the Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson.  Anderson points out the characteristics of a typical nationalist way of thinking as follows: "If nation-states are widely conceded to be 'new' and 'historical,' the nations to which they give political expression always loom out of an immemorial past, and, still more important, glide into a limitless future.  It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny.  With Debray we might say, 'Yes, it is quite accidental that I am born French; but after all, France is eternal'" (Anderson 1991: 11-12).  In this sense, Nishio's historical narrative surely has a "magical" impact on readers.  According to Anderson, a national way of narrating history has three important features as follows: first, the origin of the nation goes back to an infinite past; second, the national history has continued without any breaks from old times to the present; and third, the national history has been completely isolated from those of other nations.  It seems reasonable to consider Nishio's expressions of the "Japanese nation" through the above three points of organization.

     First, concerning the origin of Japanese history in the infinite past, the author remarks: " It seems that the same natural features, repeated things of four seasons, and blessings from forests and grounds, which have not changed until the present, have created a certain style of common culture during the last ten thousand years of peaceful days.  It is difficult to doubt a certain form of cultural identity has been made through common cultures such as wisdom in people's daily life, religious rituals, architectural techniques, social constitutions, and funeral rules.  Nothing is as important as these facts" (61).  The first thing that one notices is that these assumptions are important for the author, when he wants to believe in the solidarity of the Japanese nation.  The author repeats his basic idea that "language precedes history, and experience precedes language" in many places in this book, and goes on to say: "The fact that the origin of the Japanese language cannot be understood by categorizing linguistic stocks means in short that its origin goes back to the old times which traditional methods of comparative linguistics cannot analyze" (86-87).  The author gives eternity to the concept of Japanese history by these explanations.

     Added to this, the author writes about the origin of Japan as a nation-state: "It is obvious there must have been a drastic change in Japanese people's consciousness about the state when the battle at Hakusukinoe happened [in 663].  During the Jinshin rebellion [in 672] to the establishment of Taiho-ritsuryo [in 701], growing nationalism in this country received a clear shape" (14).  In this context, Nishio introduces quite a modern concept of nationalism, and he assumes it certainly occurred in Japan much earlier than in Europe, as can be seen in the following quotation: "It was during the tenth century that prototypes of European nation-states, such as Germany, Italy, and France, appeared faintly.  They became clear only in the 13th to 14th centuries.  They are much younger countries compared with Japan, where a clear national consciousness arose in the seventh to eighth centuries" (44).  There is a suggestion here that Japan is the oldest nation-state in the world, if readers follow the author.

     Second, the author explains the continuity of history from the ancient times to the present mainly by commenting on the relationship between the Emperor and his people.  According to the author, the concept of the Emperor in Japan is based on a tacit understanding that there is no boundary between gods and human beings, while the Chinese concept of Heaven connotes the detachment from the real world for human beings.  The author continues: "Because the lineage of Japanese Emperors can trace back to the family tree of gods, there is no border between the world of gods and that of human beings.  The successive Japanese Emperors have inherited the name of the God of the Sun, which tells us the continuity from the lineage of gods to that of Emperors" (188).  Also, the author further intends to narrate the unity of the Japanese nation by mentioning modern Japanese people too.  He says: "The Japanese had started considering the Emperor as the god before the beginning of modern times.  The Emperor was the god from the beginning, and is the god even now.  The concept of gods in Japan is different from that in western Europe" (401).  The author exaggerates the continuity of the Japanese nation, by putting the Emperor back in the center of Japanese history.

     Finally, the author clearly declares the homogeneity of the Japanese nation.  Although it seems that analyzing racial and cultural mobility and the plurality of human communities has become an important method for historical studies recently, the author criticizes such an academic trend, and insists that even if such a phenomena happened in world history, its influence on Japanese history has been extremely small.  He recommends other historians not adopt a few, small incidents to explain the whole (126-127).  "The people who received some information from outside Japan, and conveyed the information on rice growing from place to place, generation to generation, were the Jomon people who had settled on the Japanese islands.  Let us confirm the fact firmly that there was no large-scale racial migration during this [Yayoi] period" (82).  The reason for this understanding is, again, "the solidarity of the Japanese nation in the Jomon period."  "Having been affected by the natural features in Japan during the Jomon and Yayoi periods, the Japanese had made tacit rules how to judge which things from outside were acceptable" (257).  The author also strongly insists on the racial difference between the Chinese and the Japanese, and between the Koreans and the Japanese.

     A similar insistence is reiterated about Japan's cultural isolation.  The author comments that Japanese culture has absorbed nothing from China and Korea after the end of the Tang dynasty, and goes on to say: "We have to acquire a way of recognizing that China was not related to Japanese history at all.  It was an outsider to Japan" (196).  Therefore, "Japanese culture is not a part of Oriental civilization that confronts with Western civilization.  Japanese culture is separated from the entire Eurasian civilization, which contains both Oriental and Western civilization, and confronts it" (39).  Then, according to the author, Japanese culture as an isolated entity had achieved "the unique consciousness about wisdom and morality, which is seen neither in the West nor in the Orient" (493), by having experienced the Meiji Restoration.

     Showing his image of the Japanese nation quoted in the above paragraphs, the author completes his nativist nationalism.  What readers are required to share after reading this book is a quite ambiguous national consciousness.  It is, according to the author, "mysterious intuition, which has kept flowing inside our bodies for a long time, and instinctive ability of grasping facts, which has kept flowing under our national consciousness" (99).  He points out this ambiguous consciousness operated also during the Second World War, because "the Emperor and the Japanese people were both in the same boat, while German people think that they were led by the Nazis" (628).  In his understanding, however, this common sense got lost after the conclusion of World War II, because of the occupation policy by the United States.  He, therefore, starts criticizing the control of speech and writing by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) and postwar Japanese intellectuals who advocated democracy under the occupation (676).

     So far, we have only roughly examined the purpose of this book as well as the authorfs narrative expresses.  However, this kind of expression of a nativist nationalism itself does not seem to be brand-new.  It does not move forward from typical nationalism of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Let us consider the following quotation: "intelligentsias had access, inside the classroom and outside, to models of nation, nation-ness, and nationalism distilled from the turbulent, chaotic experiences of more than a century of American and European history.  These models, in turn, helped to give shape to a thousand inchoate dreams.  In varying combinations, the lessons of Creole, vernacular and official nationalism were copied, adapted, and improved upon" (Anderson 1991: 140).  As an intellectual in the 20th century, Nishio also copies the concept of nationalism, whose origin is in Western civilization.  Namely, the more Nishio exaggerates the originality of the Japanese nation, the more his narration gets hackneyed.  We can see nationalist declarations of the originality of a certain country everywhere in the world, but the rhetoric they use is always in the same pattern, in which they always praise the originality of their own countries.  Nishio's narration is only one of them.

     Although the image of Japanese history, which the author presents, seems to be consistent, since the story has been made too well, it is easy to find self-contradictions in the authorfs very words.  I would like to show only two cases of some self-contradictions he made, which are enough to show the arbitrariness of his narration.  First, the author changes his standpoint for narrating history very intentionally.  As we have already seen, he premises the possibility for reconstructing history from the viewpoint of the present time.  For example, when the author explains the origin of Japan as a nation-state, he actually adopts the present framework, and says: "Do not raise foolish nominalism that there was no such name of a country like 'Nippon (Japan)' before the seventh century" (115).  According to the author, even though people in Japan before the seventh century did not use the word "Nippon (Japan)" as their country's name, it is apparent from the viewpoint of us living in the present that they lived in this country "Nippon (Japan)."  Therefore, he reifies the existence of Japan as a nation-state before the seventh century.

     On the other hand, however, he presents the following explanation about the policy of seclusion during the Tokugawa period: "It is certain that the word 'seclusion' of the country first appeared in historical documents at that time, but the word was seldom used during the Edo period.  The Setsuyo-shu, a typical dictionary in the Edo period, did not carry this word even in the 14th Shogun Iemochi's age (1858-1866).  It was not until the 1850s that the word appeared in the Shogunate's documents.  However, even at the time, the word was hardly heard among ordinary people.  Few people used it.  This means that people did not recognize the seclusion of the country so much throughout the Edo period.  In other words, the policy of 'seclusion' did not exist" (412).  In this case, the author suddenly moves the standpoint of his narration from the present to the age of his narration's objects, so that he can adopt interpretations suitable for his argument.

     Another example of the author's intentional contradiction is the explanation concerning the political relationship between postwar Japan and the United States.  The author regards postwar democratic education brought by the GHQ as an intrigue to control the Japanese people's mind, and criticizes postwar Japanese intellectuals by considering them as gmind-controlled.h  On the other hand, however, he does not use the same logic as the above when he talks about America's military strategy in the Far East and conditions of Japanese politics under such strategy.  The author remarks: "As the Korean War grew more intense, the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles played an active part in opening the road for Japanfs conclusion of the peace treaty with many countries on the Western bloc, excluding China and the Soviet Union.  However, that was not only a strategy of the United States, but also the benefit of Japan.  It is not true that Japan was used for the encircling net against communism by the United States.  It was necessary also for Japan to defend itself from the menace of communist imperialism.  This was the national interest of Japan" (681).  What the passage makes clear is that the definition of the "national interest of Japan" is left to the author's one-sided belief.  Was not the democratization of Japanese education accompanied by Japanese politics' joining the free world?  It is easy to find the author's self-contradiction that one aspect of a phenomenon is advocated while the other aspect of it is criticized.  The above-cited "intentional contradictions" are supported by a naïve selfish view of the world.

     To conclude this paper, I would like to place the argument, which the author and his followers raised, in the history of postwar Japanese education.  The Bill of School Education, established in 1947, abolished the national adoption system of textbooks, under which all textbooks for primary- and secondary-education were written and published by the government and every student used the same textbooks all over The Great Japanese Empire until 1945.  After the establishment of the new law on education, textbooks were produced not by the government or the Ministry of Education, but by private publishers under the censorship of the Ministry of Education.  However, after the dissolution of the GHQ, a campaign of the "deplorable textbook issue" was started by the Democratic Party.  This was the first wave of textbook revisionism by a conservative party, and was followed by the Liberal Democratic Party after 1955.  The second wave of revisionism took place around 1980.  This was brought about by people in the financial world, who tended to be proud of themselves after the rapid growth of the Japanese economy during the late 1960s and the 1970s.  They demanded that Japanese textbooks put more emphasis on the value of loyalty to the country.  Both these two revisionist movements occurred under the so-called "1955 System," and were basically showing conflicts between nationalist liberalism and socialist pacifism.

     However, the second wave drew strong protests from China and South Korea that the Japanese government was forcing publishing companies to distort history.  As a result, the cabinet at that time promised corrections in educational narratives on China and South Korea, and the passage "national feeling of neighboring countries should be considered" was added to the Study Guidelines in Japan.  Also, because of multiculturalization in big cities in Japan after the mid-1980s, Japanese textbooks had to start adopting a pluralistic perspective to describe the reality of Japanese society and its past.  Japanese textbooks after the mid-1980s have had the "tendency to grope for the post-national identity in place of the national identity with separated and exclusive nature" (Kondo 1994: 273), which is similar to one we can find in the European Union where the united textbook Histoire de l'Europe for all middle schools in Europe was invented through the long-term management of the International Textbook Improvement (Delouche et al. 1992; Kondo1998), or in the United States where "the new treatment of ethnicity in current textbooks [in the 1970s and thereafter] changes a text from one with a single and simple national perspective to one that incorporates a variety of group perspectives" (Glazer and Ueda 1983: 57).  Some people started saying that this tendency is an introduction of the next stage of human communities after the nation-state system (e.g. Giddens 1999)

     Nishio and his followers' activity in 1990s Japan is now considered as the "third wave of textbook revisionism," and is surrounded by these phenomena of drastic changes of human communities.  The focus of the third textbook conflict is on the question whether people should accept the giving up of the concept of nationalism.  That is why Nishio puts emphasis particularly on the necessity of reformation of a strong Japanese national identity in this book.  Of course, the author does not ignore the above-mentioned social changes.  Showing his recognition that social conditions in the current world look similar to those in the Aleksandros' Empire, he admits now is the age when national boundaries are becoming worthless (746).  However, according to the author, people who are not able to manage the infinite freedom in such social conditions demand some closed spaces.  "Todayfs people have this tendency to introvert inside their minds.  Because todayfs people have already lost their morals and social rules which used to be helpful for keeping their mental stability, they invented this introverted mental operation as a substitute" (755).  He goes on to say that such introverted people "try to find enemies in places free from danger.  Their destructive impulse to attack enemies created by themselves becomes bigger gradually" (756).  The author cites terrorism by the Aum Religion and frequent bodily injuries inflicted by teenagers as examples.  He explains that they became anti-social because they have not acquired a healthy national identity as Japanese.

     However, if we think about the phenomena such as a globalization of economic activities, large-scale mobilization of population, or the spread of multicultural human spaces from a broad perspective, it is easy to notice that Nishio's concept of a nation is also an example of the closed spaces.  The introversion and destructive impulses that Nishio finds inside cults look quite similar to those in the concept of the Japanese nation expressed in this book.

Anderson, Benedict, 1991, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised Edition, London: Verso.
Delouche, Frédéric et al. (eds.), 1992, Histoire de l'Europe, Paris: Hachette.
Giddens, Anthony, 1999, "Insights into the World/ Globalization: An Irresistible Force,h in The Daily Yomiuri, June 7.
Glazer, Nathan, and Reed Ueda, 1983, Ethnic Groups in History Textbooks, Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Japanese Institute for New History Education, 1998, "Tsukurukai" to iu undo ga aru [There is a Movement Called the gJapanese Institute for New History Educationh], Tokyo: Fusosha.
Kondo, Takahiro, 1994, "Kokusai kyokasho taiwa no genzai: tougou yoroppa no shiten kara [The Present Conditions of the International Textbook Improvement: From the Viewpoint of the Unified Europe]," in Kyoikugaku kenkyu 61(3).
Kondo, Takahiro, 1999, Kokusai rekishi kyokasho taiwa: yoroppa ni okeru "kako" no saihen [The International History Textbook Discussion: Reconstruction of the "Past" in Europe], Tokyo: Chuokoronsha.

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