History Education in Contemporary Japan: An Examination of Junior High School Teaching About Imperialism and War

  • Yumi Dunbar

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines Japanese modern history education about the Fifteen Years’ War (1931-1945) in Japanese junior high schools, using lesson observations, interviews with social studies teachers, and document study. Despite the important role that history education is thought to play in the formation of national identity and its influence on international relations, textbook contents and curricula often take precedence in academic studies of history education to the detriment of research into actual teaching in schools. Japanese history education has largely been understood as a transmission of knowledge, yet there are indications that the actual teaching in classrooms may be more complex than examinations of textbooks alone might suggest. This thesis therefore has sought to fill this gap by investigating teaching practices about the war, the content included, and what social studies teachers aim to achieve through these lessons. This study has found that many teachers often aim to deliver analytic viewpoints to help students understand causations between crucial events through lecture-style pedagogy while utilising various primary sources to support teachers’ expositions. Teachers sometimes encouraged students to develop historical empathy to aid analytical history learning or moral response learning, both of which contribute to preparing students to become responsible citizens. Because of the strength of victimhood narratives within Japan, it is generally believed that history education focuses heavily on the wartime suffering of Japanese citizens, but my investigation found that this was rarely a major focus. Teaching Japan’s perpetrator acts was considered important to handle in lessons, though teachers refrained from emphasising them for a variety of reasons. Contrary to the prevalent victimhood narratives in Japanese society, teachers often pointed out that Japanese citizens were in support of the military in the 1930s, which they did in an effort to encourage their students to learn lessons from past mistakes. I also identified a number of influential factors that affect teachers’ representation of the subject as well as the pedagogical choices they make when teaching controversial topics, which has facilitated a greater understanding of why teachers teach the subject the way they do. By investigating the depth of classroom teaching that exists in Japan and how teachers develop their teaching practices as they did, this study provides new insights into history education about the Fifteen Years’ War in Japanese junior high school beyond textbook content.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAya Homei (Supervisor) & Peter Cave (Supervisor)

Cite this