Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he will express remorse for Japan’s actions in World War II while highlighting the country’s bid to contribute more actively to world peace in his statement marking the 70th anniversary of the war’s end in August.

The text book issue is a good example of this as reddit/news often gets the issue wrong and doesn't have a very accurate account of Japanese attitudes towards WW2.

/r/askhistorians is the community for these type of things.

Copy paste from Asian expert in this askhistorians thread. Its more focused about the textbooks but I think it helps to better show the attitude.

Well i can comment on how it's taught in Japan. To answer this question fully, I'm going to have to break the 20 year rule.

If I go too far, please let me know and I'll edit/delete my comment as appropriate!

There have been various times throughout the years when Japanese textbook controversies have made the news, especially in Asia where feelings are still raw for many parts of the population about Japanese imperialism, partly because of racism, partly because of nationalism/political reasons, and partly because it is still a personal thing for some people and/or their immediate family, friends, etc.

These revisionist textbook news controversies coupled with some hardliner historically revisionist politicians are some of the main reasons why Japan still has tensions with its neighbors over a war that happened almost a century ago.

That being said, the majority of Japanese textbooks today and recent history teach the history of World War II in a fairly objective light. While one could argue whether or not the Japanese textbooks are 'apologetic' enough or 'graphic' enough to showcase the horrors of the war, there is no argument in the objective historical content.

Japanese mainstream textbooks that are approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for national curriculum in the public Japanese education system covers all the fundamentals of WWII, including Japanese war crimes as well as Japanese aggression against various Asian countries, colonial holdings, and Allied nations.

Revisionist textbooks are, as far as I could tell in my research, not used at all in the public sector (as they have not received MEXT approval) and is used in fewer than 20 schools in the private sector.

But it has not always been this way in Japan.

Back in the 1950s, Japan was just really beginning to come back from the destruction of the war. Meanwhile, the Cold War is blowing up. The Korean War had just happened and Western troops had fought toe to toe with the PRC and North Korea, seemingly the vanguard of a rising red tide that was threatening to swallow Asia.

Japan was feeling a lot of pressure from the US to crack down on any kind of 'red' sentiment. Japanese people themselves were slowly building up to their own 'red scare'. The government subsequently started a large scale campaign to suppress freedom of speech, freedom of press and control information and political dialogue.

I'll mainly focus on education. The Japanese government began a campaign of banning books, especially textbooks that seemed to support communist viewpoints, which included content that showed the Japanese working class as suffering or oppressed, lack of political freedom, encouraging questioning central authority, as well as any books that even remotely supported anything related to the Soviet Union or the PRC.

Consequently, this meant that any books that condemned the Japanese Empire for its actions during World War II were heavily suppressed.

Scholars and academics were heavily targeted of course while newspapers and media outlets were co-opted into the information control scheme, for the sake of national order with the threat of violent Communist revolution and invasion feeling very real at the time.

Funnily enough, part of this is due to the fact that the US was so adamant on building up an anti-Communist ally in Asia. The Japanese government had political free reign to crack down on labor movements, political expression, and academic learning/research, all in the name of fighting the Communist threat.

Directly after World War 2, the Japanese education system went under a number of reforms, many of which were focused on cultivating critical thinking through group discussion and teaching the method of self study (teaching students how to learn instead of rote memorization).

But this changed very quickly as American strategic concerns overruled the progressive educational reforms of the late 1940s and we move into the 1950s.

Education changed very quickly, with the banning of hundreds of books and almost seeming to return to war time education.

Elementary schoolers curriculum required teachers to teach students to hold favorable views of the Emperor, as in pre-war years. Middle school teachers didn't need to teach World War II at all, simply that a war had occurred and post-war reconstruction, with a focus on the efforts of a patriotic, united citizenry that made rebuilding possible. Highschoolers only needed a 'recognition...of the importance of avoiding wars'.

Now, these education standards would be unthinkable today and would cause massive controversy in modern times in Asia. So why was this even considered back in the 1950s?

Because of Cold War adversarial politics.

With much of Asia seemingly falling to Communist forces, there was very little political value put in reconciliation. China was militant and aggressively pursuing a doctrine of violent Communist revolution in the region. Korea was war torn and half of it was controlled by an adversarial regime. South East Asia had swarms of Communist militias if not out right revolutions.

Japanese politicians simply didn't care. More importance was put in inspiring patriotism and convincing the people of the Communist threat while extolling the superior virtues of the capitalist system. Education was more about preparing the citizens for ideological warfare than critical thinking.

Speaking about the politicians that created this educational policy, many of these politicians were heavily conservative. Many of them had actually been purged by the American occupation but were reconciled and reintegrated because their staunch anti-Communist views made them desirable for American interests in the region.

Unfortunately, these politicians are the origins of political historical revisionism and academic repression. For example, in 1957 under the authorization system that was first installed during the US occupation, 8 middle school textbooks were banned. The contents of the books were fairly graphic and very anti-war, detailing the many atrocities and war crimes Japan had committed in the war.

They were labeled and politically dangerous and harboring Communist sentiments, and subsequently banned.

During this time period of heavy academic suppression, many gave up writing textbooks at all. Some historians even stopped publishing and working on research because they kept coming up against the government roadblock every time.

But there were those who were vehemently opposed to these restrictions. Ienaga Saburo was the most well known figure for this. He brought multiple lawsuits against the Japanese government, claiming the censorship was a violation of the Constitution.

It's also important to note that at the time (1950s), the general mood of the Japanese people was extremely anti-war, anti-establishment, and anti-military. Part of the almost ironic educational reforms of the 1950s (in some respects seemingly returning to pre-war and wartime education) was to try and reverse this public sentiment that was seen as politically conducive to Communist and revolutionary feelings.

As we move on into the 1960s and 1970s, textbooks are no longer the focus of political action. Massive movements of anarchists, communists, socialists, anti-military, anti-conservative, anti-establishment, anti-American, etc spring up. Protests and riots become common place. Most of these political movements are focused around students, particularly high school and college students.

Social issues force social reform and it was reflected in books and textbooks. Textbooks begin to broach the events of WWII and some even hint at the war crimes committed.

By the 1980s, we actually see books that detail the atrocities during the war start to be sold in stores, or rather, were allowed to be published and sold in stores. A big step from the earlier decades. Textbooks began to use more direct language such as 'military aggression' and 'invasion'.

Of course, conservative reactions were loud and intense. Cries of unpatriotic books destroying the social fabric and eroding national values, a war on the Japanese identity, demands for revisions to these books, etc. Conservative groups published their own books and textbooks.

The biggest turn around in education occurred in 1989, when Emperor Hirohito passed away. Now it was much easier and more acceptable to publish textbooks and books that were more openly critical of war time aggression and atrocities. In the early 1980s, there were finally some books that explained in more detail the suffering of civilians and victims of Japanese invasions but after the passing of the Showa Emperor, a flood gate opened.

The Nanjing Massacre, suppression of Korean independence and identity, comfort women, slave labor, POW war crimes, etc. All these things had been excluded from textbooks for decades and for the first time, were reintroduced on a national scale. From middle school to college, students learned about the realities of what happened during World War II.

Conservative reactions were just as loud and vehement as before. But they were in the minority. Progressive history teachers were in the majority and educated their students passionately. But this only intensified conservative reactions, which were becoming more and more isolated socially.

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