Plunge Pontificates

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Japanese Teaching History How it SHOULD be Taught

Kudos to this group of Japanese teachers and administrators at a private school for Japanese students in Singapore. This is exactly how it should be taught in Japan; not glossed over.

Teaching the history of World War II and the role played by Japan can be a "difficult and delicate" undertaking, say principals of Japanese schools in Singapore. They, as well as the Japanese Association here, are concerned that their young students understand the impact of the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.

In addition to the official history textbooks brought in from Japan, the schools have developed two different supplements - one for the two primary schools and another for the secondary school.


"With the supplements, we can set ourselves apart from other international Japanese schools and provide our students with a better understanding of Singapore. They must know what happened here in the past."

The history chapters do not shy away from the brutal realities of the war. Primary school students learn about the bloody massacres and the hardships experienced by Singaporeans under the Japanese administration.


There are also pictures of Japanese soldiers presiding over lines of men squatting in rows and, more graphically, of the grisly remains of victims unearthed after the war.

On top of these lessons, students have also been taken on relevant excursions to historical sites where lessons of the war are retold in a non-classroom setting. The Changi Chapel and Museum, for instance, is one site all Japanese primary six students visit.
As I've argued all along, these kids are old enough to learn what actually happened. It doesn't need to be couched in gentle terms. These kids see and understand, giving them knowledge and allowing them to realize why their neighbors have a hard time with the current PM and his visits to Yasukuni. It is kids like these that will finally bring understanding and goodwill to this part of Asia.

Yet, in Japan proper, a jaded version of history is still being taught.

The Japanese community's efforts to educate its young about the realities of the occupation is a stark contrast to the tone struck by the official textbooks used in Japan.

In Tokyo Shoseki, the official history textbook used in the Japanese secondary school here, the war and subsequent occupation in China, Korea and South-east Asia take up a modest five out of 200 pages. The tone is careful, with wartime events parsed into coolly objective facts.

Visuals are limited to shots of impoverished Japanese children and marching contingents of the Imperial Army. Apart from a small picture of Singapore's World War II Memorial, there are practically no visuals of the impact of the war on countries outside Japan.

It is little wonder then that the typical Japanese youth might be puzzled at the testy state of relations between his country and China or South Korea.

In the classroom, he or she would learn about the hardships endured by their Japanese grandparents during the war but much less about the atrocities committed by the Imperial Army outside Japan.

He or she would also find out about the horrors of the atomic bomb detonations at Nagasaki and Hiroshima but without understanding why the Americans were pressured to do so.

What is more worrying is that Tokyo Shoseki, considered the least controversial of the approved textbooks, is used by over half of the junior high schools in Japan.
Wow, and this is the book used by half the junior high schools in Japan. How pathetic.

Again, the school boards in Japan should look at how history is taught in this private school in Singapore and use it as an example for their own schools. Their students deserve the truth, they deserve better than they are getting.