Internal settler colonialism and history textbooks (the case of Japan): Nicholas Henck, ‘History from Below Japan’s Junior High School History Textbooks and the colonisation of Hokkaidō’, electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies, 15, 2, 2015


Abstract: The scholarly attention that has hitherto been devoted to discussion of Japan’s Junior High School History Textbooks (JJHSHT) has tended to focus almost exclusively on their treatment of the colonisation of Korea and China. Indeed, it appears that the issue of the JJHSHT’s description of the Japanese government’s imperialist ventures in East and South-East Asia has almost completely eclipsed that of these same textbooks’ coverage of the Meiji government’s colonisation of Hokkaidō. This paper then seeks to address one of the most blatant, but least discussed, examples of “victor’s history” concerning Japan—namely, what the JJHSHT euphemistically dub the ‘development’ of Hokkaidō. A textual analysis of all eight government-approved JJHSHT yields interesting results: first, it reveals that they exhibit a degree of variation in their treatment of this subject that is perhaps not commonly associated with these textbooks; and secondly, it exposes both a repeated emphasis on ‘development’ to describe what was in fact colonization, and also a consistent pattern of ignoring, or severely underplaying, the extremely detrimental impact this process had on the indigenous Ainu who experienced it. Indeed, the JJHSHT’s reluctance to heed the alternative perspectives of the minority Ainu fosters historical amnesia by producing historiographies of oblivion, and constitutes a classic example of cultural imperialism. The result is a highly sanitised version of events which substitutes historical reality for a contrived, cosmetic narrative of ‘development’ that lends a veneer of legitimacy to what was in effect plunder. Consequently, what Japanese pupils are being exposed to is a partial, ‘official’ version of history, rather than a nuanced account that finds resonance with the perspective of the Ainu, the testimony of contemporary Japanese eyewitnesses, or the historical narrative produced by modern scholarship.

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