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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Japan's Lack Of World War II Education

There's been an-going discussion and complaint about Japan's school system not teaching its students about WWII. It's a complaint that has been going on for decades and decades.

The complaint harps on the fact that the world seems to believe that Japan, by not talking teaching its youth about a war it played a huge part in, absolves itself of all of the terrors and pains it caused in the Pacific theater during the war - and before it, as Japan was quite active in its plans to rule all of Asia under one flag of convenience.

Maybe that's true.

Do the Japanese talk about World War II on a daily basis? No… of course not.

Do you?

It's the very rare person indeed that discusses World War II anymore. It's not because people don't care—though I suspect that IS the case—it's just that people have different things to worry about.

Seriously, though… why should Japan have to have compulsory learning of WWII in its schools? To what purpose? So that it can learn that at one time it tried to rule with an iron fist and did horrible things to its enemies… and to stop a nation that would never surrender, it had to be bombed with the world's first ever atomic weaponry?

I bet the average Japanese person is aware of this. Okay... I'm not so sure. I do know that the Japanese are ferociously proud of being Japanese... I mean... I'm proud to call myself Canadian, but the Japanese were always sure to add the word "Japanese" in front of things when speaking to me in English about their country. Things like Japanese kimono, Japanese rice, Japanese chopsticks... it's pride and a way to ensure I am aware that these things should not be confused with say Korean kimono, Indian rice or Chinese chopsticks... all things that do exist and are different. I will admit, however, that it does sound almost juvenile. Relax... I'm in Japan... I know it's Japanese.

As for education about WWII... so what… we should force them to learn about how they were assholes to the Chinese… to the Koreans… to the Siamese (Thai), Burmese, Philippines, et al… why?

What purpose does that serve?Now in 2014.

Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes?

Well… Japan has pretty much always been a warring country. Yeah, yeah, they can sit under a blossoming cheery tree sipping rice wine and composing haiku poetry about the beauty of croaking frog on a lily pad, but never forget that this was a warring country for centuries… clans battling each other through its samurai warrior class… later taking on Russia… China… Korea… and all of this was before World War II.

In fact… since the end of World War II after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nearly vaporized by a pair of atomic bombs dropped by the U.S., Japan has been a pretty damn fine neighbor and ally. Hell... my family has two Mazda's and a Toshiba television set... quality products, decent prices...

But yeah, it hasn't been the most open and sorrowful in its regretful apologies to the world, but dammit all… it's been 70 years!

Look… maybe Japan should have apologized - and should have done so in 1945 to every nation and person it wronged, but it didn't. It was war and there were winners and there were losers.

What bullcrap is there that says you have to say sorry for trying to kill someone in war?

They made Japan's emperor renounce his divinity!!! It sounds like nothing to you and I, but the Emperor of Japan was special... he was worth giving up your life for. He was god-like. And, after World War II, he was just another guy. Can you imagine what that could do to a nation? The allies did, which was why they wanted it done. It crippled Japan emotionally. They became the stupid step-child no one liked.

And… even if Japan had given a heartfelt apology - or does one tomorrow - do you really think everyone would say "oh, that's okay, forget about it" ??? No. There would still be those who would never forgive and never forget, as is their prerogative. I'm stubborn that way too. You certainly don't want to piss me off.

Instead, it gave an apology some people accepted and some people didn't. It never confessed to many things it was accused of doing, but few countries ever do that. Germany did on behalf of Nazi Germany. Japan has, sort of, for Imperial Japan...

But, regardless of what Japan did - and it did do a lot of bad stuff - it had its soul ripped out.

Think about this: The Japanese people lost World War II and by doing so it cost their leader - the Emperor - his divinity. In the days of the samurai, this would be akin to failing the daimyo (leader) and there would have been mass suicides... but people haven't done that stuff in over a century.

Yes, there's always some odd ball who believes in the old ways, but Japan has been westernized for over 150 years. Taking away their leader's powers? That would be like taking away hockey from Canadians. We'd be crushed, but we would survive (maybe).

Anyway... how much did you learn about World War II back in high school or earlier? I'm not talking university or college where you can CHOOSE the exact course you want to take… but high school and earlier?

Did you spend a week on it? Two weeks? A month? Did you have an entire year's history course on it? Maybe if you went to a military academy, I could see that… but a generic school?

I went to a private school for Grades 1 & 2. We did not learn about history. At all.

I went to a Catholic school for Grades 3 & 4 and another such school for Grades 5-8. We touched upon Canadian history, to be sure, but we never studied a damn word about World War II.

For Grades 9-13 (and I did Grade 12 twice - I wanted to stay back a grade to be with kids my own age for once… and Ontario used to have Grade 13)… I studied English history, American history and Canadian History. In fact, I have five history credits from high school when only two or three were required.

Did we study World War II? Nope! We ran out of time with the school year ending. In fact… we were still 40 years short, having just got to the Boer War - French Canadians did not want to participate calling it a war for the English.

In my five-year university stint, I did five or six courses on Canadian history, but not one touched upon World War II. In two -years of college, I studied nothing about history.

So… here I am… a guy in his late 40s - an immigrant to Canada, but now a proud Canadian citizen… and not once was I taught about World War I or World War II… only two of the top five defining moments of the 20th century.

I'm just glad I'm curious… that I like to read… and I like to learn about history. I certainly don't know dates or battles, but I have a decent enough understanding of things. I also respect the veterans who served and those who do serve, even though I wish there was no need for soldiers.

But not everyone is like that.

I also have empathy. No… I don't move things with my brain.

While I feel bad for anyone affected by the auguries of any war, I can understand why the Japanese don't want discuss World War II.

Japan lost the war. They lost. I'm surprised they didn't all commit seppuku (ritualistic suicide) to atone for the disgrace of losing. Their supreme god-like Emperor was punished because it was better to punish the leader than subjugate an entire nation to punishment.

And… when you are the bad guy, and you want to change and grow-up… wouldn't it be best if people didn't keep throwing the past in your face so that you can concentrate on changing who you are to become something better?

That's what Japan has done with itself since World War II. It doesn't matter if YOU agree or disagree with it, but that's what Japan has chosen to do.And it did so with a lot of fricking help from the United States who helped it create something from nothing... creating a cheap electronics industry that the world could not resist.

If you want to hate them, go ahead. Haters gotta hate. If you want to forget about crap most of us on the planet weren't even alive for, then forget about the fact that Japan doesn't teach its students anything about World War II.

Now… should Japan teach something to students about World War II? Yes, they should. My point above was they didn't HAVE to. But I think a little knowledge never hurt anyone.

Why do I think they should learn something about World War II?

Well… if the young actually talked to the elderly about that time, they'd get a great story, I bet. Here's one I was told: HERE. And... it's all true. It was one of those reasons WHY I wanted to go to Japan - I wanted to talk to someone there about what it was like to fight in World War II... and I wanted to hear about it from a Japanese person's view.

But, the young, if they weren't careful, they might learn something. I did.

Anyhow... here's why the Japanese need to learn a bit about World War II:

The most horrific thing I saw in Japan was a young Japanese man wearing a nice, new bomber jacket… which depicted the Enola Gay on the back .

You could have dropped a bomb on me.

If you did not know that the Enola Gay was the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb named "Little Boy" OVER the city of Hiroshima, then what the fug are you criticizing Japan's education for?

I did not have to look up one item in that sentence. The "Fat Man" was the bomb that exploded OVER Nagasaki.

You'll note that both bombs did not explode on the ground… that each exploded in the air…

You knew that right? You should.

I never studied about the war in school.

In my basement in the furnace room on a dusty shelf is one of the war books I read on my own as a teenager. Yes... that is an unopened box of some Star Wars toy from 20 years ago (I have plenty of unopened boxes), National Geographic magazines going back 40 years, comic book price guides going back to the mid-70s, and a small, clay hippo I painted when I was 10.  I was, and am, a strange child. I have no idea what's in the blue tin. Let me go see... hmmm, some still smelly 20+year-old potpourri that my mom had before she died. I should clean that place out, but it still scars me. Maybe when it's brighter.
Anyhow… that Japanese youth in the bomber jacket should have known that the bomber plane depicted hugely on the back of his coat was the one that vaporized Hiroshima… and he should have been disgusted… but he simply did not know his history… and so, simply because it's trendy to have English words on your clothing, he looked like a complete idiot to me.
I also read the How and Why Wonder book on World War II - and would you believe it?! I think it was thrown out or given away! That was where I first learned about the atomic bomb as a six-year-old. I also had one on Ecology... which is what everyone now refers to as Green something or another. I used information from it for an Ecology science fair project in Grade 5 - my first year in the house I am currently residing in. My memory is still good, at least. 

Hey… please write in and tell me just how much of your history classes are devoted to World War II. Be honest. Let me know WHY you think the Japanese need to learn about WWII... and why you think it's important they learn about their role in it.

Americans 50 and under have a good bit of knowledge on the subject - especially where Pearl Harbor is concerned... but what else do you know?

Many of you have relatives who were in the war, but how many of them wanted to talk about it? If the participants are reluctant to talk about it, why are we shooting our mouths off about it?

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image above is by Ragesoss, and depicts a young boy reading a Japanese manga (comic book) in a Barnes & Noble bookstore in 2007 in West Hartford, Connecticut. Taken from Wikipedia.


  1. i just read your post, i believe japan have their own reason why they not teaching wwii. in my opinion maybe japan have 2 reason first because its old scar which they try to forget / humiliation (because you know just like samurai when suicide when they lost, i'm sure lost in wwii was shame for them)

    the second reason japan don't want anyone try to start war again for bring back japan to glory time when they defeat asia, they dont want somebody rise like Hitler who try to bring back german glory from defeated in ww i and unfortunately failed instead Hitler bring German to more worst condition because lost in wwii.

    and one more thing america maybe teach history in school. maybe they teach about war in vietnam but i doubt they will teach they lost in vietnam (i pretty sure that U.S lost in vietnam and world now about that) no matter what i'm sure nobody like to lose

    that's just my opinion, i don't mean offense anyone. and i'm sorry if my english really bad, still learn though. good post by the way :)

    1. Thank-you for writing!
      Interesting points!
      The USA has always liked to believe that it has never lost a war. For that reason it changed the name of the Vietnam War to Vietnam Conflict... as such, it may have lost a conflict, not a war.
      It's a small and petty thing, but word play like that helps keep the ego of the US. That's not a criticism, by the way. A strong USA is a good thing at this point in time.
      Anyways... Abe is resurrecting old feelings of Japanese imperialism... while I realize he wants Japan to be a strong and free country with its own military and a new constitution (not written by the US or have US bases on its lands), other countries are 1) reluctant to give up their feelings of superiority over Japan 2) don't trust Japan to not go crazy with an arms build-up. 3) might try and escalate the Asia-Pacific theater with possible aggressive action.
      As for you talking about Germany and Hitler... yes... after WW1 the world kind of kicked Germany around and attempted to keep it down. Treated badly after WW1, nationalism took root... and guys like Hitler didn't like everyone treated them like crap... hyper-inflation where it was cheaper to wipe your ass with a 1-million Mark bill than to buy toilet paper, creating a bad guy in the Jews, gypsies and homosexuals, detailing plans for a master race... Germany was ripe for a guy like Hitler... but Japan... the Japan of 2014 is long past turning into what it was before. I hope.
      Again - thanks for reading and writing in!

    2. hello again still same anonymous here. honestly i just start read about your blog now. by the way if you get annoyed because i keep reply or i inadvertent offense you with my words just tell me. i just glad found an interesting blog without annoying ad.

      about why vietnam war become vietnam conflict that's a new information for me.

      now ill try answer about my history class about wwii, i just learn about ww2 for 1 year. about japan? i learn quite many because my country is one of many country who get colonized by japan. so i know how cruel japan in ww2 or at least in my country. but im not learn about they culture in history class.

      about why japan must learn about ww2? sure they should learn about ww2. they should know ww2 not end because avatar aang with his air bender. they should know the mistake that their precursor do, so they can learn from it. i say mistake because anyone who start war is wrong. war is good for nothing.

      about pacific war? i just know about pearl harbor. a bit about war in iwojima and battle of coral sea.

      ps: i'm not hate japan at all. a past is history and history is a lesson. :)

    3. My friend... why would I get tired of you writing?
      I agree... you made a great point... They should know more about war than via Avatar!
      But... what would they teach the Japanese?
      Would they ONLY teach them about Japan's role? That would be a disservice to Europe and Africa with Germany and Italy. Do they do a simple over view where they try and explain WHY their country went to war? I think that would be a great starting point... but again... they would have to go back 70 years before WWII...
      What country are you from? I know almost nothing about the Coral Sea battle.
      From researching all of the articles I have done on Japan and WWII I have learned so much. Most of it's not pretty.
      I know that when I traveled to other countries near Japan, there was still a fair bit of dislike for the Japanese because of what they did to them during the war.
      Old hatreds die hard.
      I am pleased that you believe that the past is history and history is a lesson.
      I do agree that people must know the history to avoid making the same mistakes.
      I wonder how Germany teaches history to its students? However it's done there, that's what Japan needs to copy.

  2. I'll just call my self incognito just to avoid confusion, I enjoyed reading your opinion about the educational system of Japan, It is also my question if they should include the WW2 events; I agree to anonymous, maybe to prevent someone to revive the empire of Japan and not to repeat the bloody war.

    When I was a kid I look at the Imperial Japanese soldiers as brave and courageous, its like they can remove their fear of death. mass banzai charges in saipan, kamikaze attacks, well maybe its because of what they believed in. I can only read books now, dont have anyone (still alive veteran around) to tell the tale, fighting an Imperial soldier, whats it like hearing someone say "tenno heika banzai!" and expect human wave attacks. Sorry I think im a little "carried away", I also like history :)

    1. Hello Incognito. Thanks for writing in. In any war, there are those brave souls, poor cowards and the rank and file who are simply able to follow orders. I know after doing a paint ball war game that I went nuts. Meek and mild-mannered one moment and a crazed psycho the next who wanted to kill the enemy, not be shot and who would wade into a pond to hide to pick off enemies, climb trees to frag them - do whatever it took. Now... that was one afternoon. What would it be like with someone trying to kill you for real... or having the war go on and on and on... never being able to dry your clothes, get away from the mosquitoes... someone taking pot shots... lack of sleep, proper food and no damn TV. Ugh. It's a whole different ball game.
      You mention the Japanese bravery... well... let me refer to another blog I wrote a while back when I talked with a Japanese soldier from WWII. It was an honest look at war from someone who could have easily just lied about it and told me how great he was. Check this out:
      And yeah... I love history, too... there's just so much of it. One of my favorite programs no longer on was a History Channel show called DogFights - about war planes and specific battles pilots were in... fro WWI, WWII and the Korean War.
      Saipan... nice little island. I visited there... the Banzai Cliffs are breathtaking... and knowing that Japanese soldiers would rather thrown themselves off the cliffs yelling 'banzai' rather than become a POW was freaky. I mean... why not live to fight another day? But no... that's just the old samurai code... death before dishonor.
      Your point is well-made re: not make the same mistakes... but Japan is different. They really buy into that whole samurai code... and as such... they all like to think they were descended from warrior stock... and all think that war will bring great honor. It's almost like they need to have a war to recall just how effing awful it is now when you don't even need to see the enemy or even be on the same island to kill him/her.

  3. World War II takes up a significant portion of my school's history syllabus. We study the impact of World War II and the Japanese Occupation on various Southeast Asian countries. This is a rather different way of studying the war, I guess, because we study it to understand the impact it had on Southeast Asian nationalism. But there's a fair amount in the syllabus about Japanese aggression and cruelty. On the other hand, we also study how the Japanese Occupation in these countries actually helped advance the cause of independence championed by the nationalists there.

    I feel that Japanese youths need to learn the objective facts about what happened in the war to prevent excessive development of nationalistic feelings there. Excessive nationalism in Japan could lead to a dangerous escalation of tensions in the East Asian region. China's government makes use of the lack of a formal Japanese apology for war crimes to stir up nationalism among its own population, and the dispute over the Senkaku islands has done little to help the situation. Should Japanese politicians also begin stirring up nationalistic feelings among the Japanese youths as well, inflamed emotions on both sides could lead to dire consequences.

    1. Very well said, Ksu. May I ask WHERE you are from to be studying this topic?

    2. I live in Singapore.

    3. One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited...

    4. Haha thanks. Our majority ethnic group is the Chinese, but the native-born ones are rather distant from China. Many of us don't mind Japan that much either, in my opinion. I like Japan. But we still learn about the war.

    5. I did NOT learn about WW2 here in Toronto's schools. It was the last thing to teach in the school year(s) and they always ran out of time to teach it, so it seems. I found picture books on Nazi Germany within my parents bookshelves, bought the How & Why WW2 book pictured above, read that bog old book on Nazi Germany in my teens, and read up on the atomic bombing in my 20s.
      I've learned MORE about the war when visiting countries around Japan just by talking to the locals in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Saipan and Korea than from any book I ever read - and even from talking to the Japanese who were in it!
      My research in this blog has upped that knowledge considerably.
      But... at least they WERE going to teach us about WW2 in school... the Japanese don't seem that interested in knowing about it... except in snippets when it hits the news...

    6. Haha, well, as the world gets more globalised, perhaps more Japanese people will begin to find out more about WWII and why too much nationalism can be dangerous.

  4. The very idea that WWII is unnecessary in the schools because it's now 2014 is ludicrous and juvenile. History is history. WWII is a MAJOR event that has shaped the "World" ever since. It's about learning the facts and the subsequent influence of the war, not about making the Japanese feel bad.

    Also, there's a lot of conjecture in this blog by the OP and commenters about why Japan doesn't teach WWII in it's schools. If the OP gives more importance to first hand stories than history books, then why didn't he ask the Japanese people he's spoken to what they think the reason is? I lived in Japan for two years, I spoke to older people about the war, I saw the US film "Pearl Harbor" with a young Japanese audience - and everybody was OK with it. No reluctance or bad feelings.

    I think the OP is wrong about teaching history, I think he is very self-satisfied and misinformed, and he is projecting his subjective feelings onto the Japanese in an irresponsible manner - not surprising considering all the posts about Boobs on this site.

  5. The OP no longer lives in Japan. Hey, that's me. I haven't lived in Japan in 22 years.
    I did talk to people about WW2... I did talk to people about education... the thing is, how many of these 2800+ blog entries of mine have you read? Exactly.
    You can glance over at the 'popular' topics readers have themselves chosen to read or look at all you like and comment anonymously about how I am irresponsible because I write so much about boobs - but, that's your opinion. '
    Ive written less than 25 articles written about sex in Japan or sexuality or boobs or whatever.
    It's hardly MY fault that's what people choose to read more than say a history of robotics going back several hundred years, tying it in with Japan's archaic system of telling time... or commentary on social customs... no... you assume you know me and what I have written because you think you are superior with your snobby attitude.
    Dude or dudette... I know that the Japanese no longer harbor ill feelings about WW2. Most Americans don't either. Some do... and some Japanese do, too. Minority.
    If you had read about the interview with a gentleman who was so glad the Americans finally took over the island he was stationed on during the war because they were all starving... you would know I have talked to people.
    Note, however, that not all people want to talk about the war... Canadians, Americans, Australians, Japanese... lots of bad memories...
    As for education... there is still a feeling that the Japanese lost a lot more than a war when WW2 ended... their Emperor lost his godhood, the Japanese lost their superiority... the Japanese lost face - big time... It's not the same for them as it was for Germany or Italy or whomever... though I am sure they felt some shame as well... You mention you talked to older people and young people are all cool with the war... sure... I believe you... but that doesn't mean that the politicos feel that way. It's why Abe is trying to create a new Constitution for Japan. It's why he wants Japan to finally have its own military again - things the U.S. changed for Japan after the war.
    This is a blog. It's not a fricking text book. I'm supposed to project my feelings onto topics. D'uh. I don't claim to be an expert. I'm a writer and a blogger.
    You can say all you like that it's about teaching facts and NOT about making the people feel bad... sure.. then why isn't it taught? Are the Japanese afraid of the truth? No... it's because they hate the war being mentioned because it hurts their feelings.
    Did you ever travel to any other country in Asia that was taken over by the Japanese? 50 years later +, they still harbor resentment... and it's the youth talking as well as the older folks who were alive during the war.
    Why does Japan not like discussing it's role regarding Comfort women? Why doesn't it talk about its slave labor camps or the medical testing labs... no... somethings, according to Japan, are best left alone... and it feels that if the war isn't discussed the evil some Japanese did will remain hidden.
    I like boobs... but it's hardly my fault that 30 people a month choose to maintain the popularity of said articles on this site.
    So... mister high and mighty... why doesn't Japan teach WW2 history to its kids? You don't offer an explanation with your hidden identity? Tell us all WHY they don't rather than tell me why I'm self-satisfied and misinformed. I assume you must have an answer, otherwise I have no idea why you wasted the time to comment.