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Research Faculty of Media and Communication, Hokkaido University

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The Politics of History in East Asia 2017

This course has finished. This course introduces students to six aspects of the so-called “history issue” in East Asia, namely the legacies of Japanese imperialism and war in the twentieth century. Students will discuss six key issues in two-week blocks. In the first week, a lecture and assigned readings give students the background knowledge they need. In the second week, students debate “for” or “against” a motion according to a give role.

Photo: Cape Nosappu, the eastern-most point of Hokkaido. Across the waters are the Northern Territories, claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia since 1945.


Syllabus and Course Outline

Course Goals: A) To learn about some of the key political issues relating to “history” in East Asia; B) To practice debating skills and making arguments from an assigned position (not necessarily the personal views of the student). This develops critical thinking skills for social scientists.

Students are assessed on attendance and classroom participation (50%) and the term paper (50%). Submit the term paper (1000 words) in the final week of the course. For guidelines on how to write the term papers (using citations, formatting etc.), see the video series Academic Writing.

Week 1 (11 April): Course Introduction: The “History Issue” in East Asia.

Lecture: What is the “History Issue” in East Asia. Lecture Materials: PHEA1 Intro 2017

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Texts Used in Class: 

Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 14 August 2015.


Reading List:

Report of the Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and on the World Order in the 21st Century, 6 August 2015.

Philip Seaton, Japan’s Contested War Memories (Routledge, 2007)

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (Basic Books, 2000)

Thomas Nagel, ‘War and Massacre’ in Cohen, Nagel and Scanlon (eds) War and Moral Responsibility (Princeton University Press, 1974)

Week 2 (18 April): Japan’s Modern Wars: An historical overview, 1868-1941.

Lecture: Japan’s Modern Wars: An historical overview, 1868-1941. Lecture materials: PHEA2 War History 2017

Homework: Prepare for the debate next time. In addition to familiarising yourself more with the main historical trends via general histories of Japan and World War II, try and read some of the articles below.


Reading list:

Japan, the United States, and the Road to World War II in the Pacific, Richard. J. Smethurst (strongly recommended)

Japan’s Decision for War in 1941: Some enduring lessons, Jeffrey Record (long but useful)

The Nationalist Assault on Japan’s Local Peace Museums: The Conversion of Peace Osaka, Philip Seaton (particularly the section on “Ideological Conversion”)

On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War, Noam Chomsky

Pearl Harbor: A Rude Awakening, Bruce Robinson

Pearl Harbor: Japanese veterans and politicians to question causes of the Pacific War, Daily Telegraph

Who is Responsible? The Yomiuri Project and the Enduring Legacy of the Asia-Pacific War, Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Selective History: Hirohito’s Chronicles, Herbert P. Bix

Week 3 (25 April): Debate 1: “Japan had no choice but to go to war in 1941”

Debate topic: “Japan had no choice but to go to war in 1941”

Week 4 (2 May): War Memory and Responsibility: Japan’s responses to World War II

Class Discussion: The wording and nature of Japanese apologies for its actions in World War II. (No lecture materials).

Question 1: Under what conditions is an apology considered sincere and valid?

Question 2: Have Japanese apologies met these conditions?

Question 3: What does Japan have to do to reach the point where it ‘no longer has to apologise’ for World War II?

Question 4: In his address on 14 August 2015, Prime Minister Abe said the following: “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.” What do you think of this?


Texts Used in Class:

Issues Regarding History

Statement by Yohei Kono on the comfort women issue, 1993.

Statement by Naoto Kan on the 100th anniversary of the annexation of Korea.

Diet resolution on the 50th anniversary of the war end.

Statement by Tomiichi Murayama on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, 1995.

Statement by Naoto Kan at the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead, 2010.

Statement by Shinzo Abe at the Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead, 2013.


Homework: Read the various materials in preparation for the debate next time.


Additional Reading List: The following is only a tiny selection of the many materials available. The links are primarily about the “comfort women” issue, which probably has generated the biggest debate. Feel free to investigate other angles/subjects, too. Think also about whether other countries have paid compensation for their historical crimes.

Japanese Government, The path of a nation striving for global peace (Japanese government position)

Asian Women’s Fund (set up by the Japanese government)

Documents Related to Japan-Korean Peninsula Relations (read especially the documents relating to the 1965 Treaty)

BBC, Japan and South Korea agree WW2 “comfort women” deal (2015 news article).

China Daily, Sino-Japanese Joint Statement (1972 statement)

Etsuro Totsuka, Proposals for Japan and the ROK to resolve the “comfort women” issue (discusses the 2011 Korean Constitutional Court ruling)

BBC, Judge dismisses sex slave suit against Japan (An interesting ruling outside of Japan …)

Asahi Shinbun, Special Reportage on the recent ‘comfort women’ issue (Many articles and commentary)

Fact Sheet on Japanese Military “Comfort Women” (Asia-Pacific Journal)

Women’s Active Museum (A Japanese peace museum supporting comfort women)

Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact (A nationalist group in Japan)

Week 5 (9 May): Debate 2: “Japan has not paid enough compensation for its actions in World War II”

Debate 2: “Japan has not paid enough compensation for its actions in World War II”

Week 6 (16 May): The Yasukuni Shrine Issue and Remembering the War Dead

Lecture: The Yasukuni Shrine Issue and Remembering the War Dead. PHEA7 Yasukuni 2017

Homework: preparation for the debate next time.


Reading list:

BBC: “Japan PM Shinzo Abe visits Yasukuni WW2 Shrine”

Yasukuni Shrine homepage

John Breen, Yasukuni, the War Dead, and the Struggle for Japan’s Past.

Akiko Takenaka, Yasukuni Shrine: History, Memory, and Japan’s Unending Postwar. See also Enshrinement Politics on the Asia-Pacific Journal.

Joshua Baxter, Envisioning Tokyo’s Acropolis

John Breen, Yasukuni Shrine: Ritual and Memory

Philip Seaton, Family, Friends, Furusato: “Home” in the formation of Japanese war memories

Takahashi Tetsuya, The National Politics of  the Yasukuni Shrine

News in The Japan Times is available here.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs commentary on the Yasukuni issue

Also, put the key word “Yasukuni” into Chinese or Korean media to see their response. There is a mountain of information on this topic. You will not have problems finding information if you spend a little time looking!

Also: Remembering the SDF Dead (Defense White Paper p. 293)

Week 7 (23 May): Debate 3: “The Japanese Prime Minister should worship at Yasukuni Shrine on 15 August every year”

Debate 3: “The Japanese Prime Minister should worship at Yasukuni Shrine on 15 August every year”

Week 8 (30 May): Reading Week

Bring to class some materials from the reading list, and/or materials you have found in the library. Share your ideas based on your reading with other members of the class.

Week 9 (6 June): The Pacific War and the Occupation of Japan, 1941-52

Lecture: The Pacific War and the Occupation of Japan, 1941-52. Lecture materials: PHEA9 Occupation 2017

Homework: preparation for the debate next time.


Reading list:

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Richard B. Frank, “Why Truman dropped the bomb”

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, “The Atomic Bombs and the Soviet Invasion: What Drove Japan’ Decision to Surrender?”

Lawrence S. Wittner, “The Enola Gay, the Atomic Bomb and American War Memory”

CIA Intelligence Report, “The Final Months of the War With Japan”

Plus look for materials in the library. There are many books and articles on this topic!

Week 10 (13 June): Debate 4: “The A-bombs did not force Japan to surrender”

Debate 4: “The A-bombs did not force Japan to surrender”

Week 11 (20 June): “History” in post-war relations in East Asia

Lecture: An overview of Japan’s relations with Asian neighbours in the wake of World War II. Materials are here: PHEA11 Postwar Relations 2017

Homework: Preparation for the debate next time.


Texts Used in Class:

The path of a nation striving for global peace

The Japanese Constitution

On reconciliation, see Lukasz Zablonski and Philip Seaton, “The Hokkaido Summit as a Springboard for Grassroots Initiatives: The “Peace, Reconciliation and Civil Society” Symposium”

The BBC World Service Poll on country images, an executive summary is here.

The BBC’s country profiles (timelines): Japan, China, South Korea, Russia

Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (1972)

Book of Horrible Things: 100 worst atrocities


Additional Reading List:

Bruce Cumings, The Korean War, A History

Michael Lynch, The Chinese Civil War 1945-49

Frank Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine

Takashi Yoshida, From Cultures of War to Cultures of Peace (contains a very interesting chapter on how Chinese and South Korean museums might be stoking nationalism more than promoting peace).

There are other works on Japan’s relations with China, South Korea and Russia in the library.

Reading list:

The Japanese Government’s position on the three territorial disputes are available from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs top page.

China’s claim to Diayao Dao is here. South Korea’s claim to Dokdo is here. Russia does not mention its claim to the Southern Kurils on its Foreign Ministry page (as far as I can tell).

Here is the BBC’s coverage of the three disputes: Senkaku/Diaoyu, Takeshima/Dokdo, Northern Territories/Southern Kurils

Here is a Japanese perspective on all three issues by Kazuhiko Togo.

Yabuki Susumu and Mark Selden (Asia-Pacific Journal): The Origins of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Dispute between China, Taiwan and Japan.

Mark Selden (Asia-Pacific Journal): Small Islets, Enduring Conflict: Dokdo, Korea-Japan Colonial Legacy and the United States

Reinhard Drifte (Asia-Pacific Journal): The Japan-China Confrontation Over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – Between “shelving” and “dispute escalation”

China’s Dangerous Game, Howard W. French

Week 12 (27 June): Debate 5: “The Senkaku Islands, Takeshima and the Northern Territories are Japanese territory”

Debate 5: “The Senkaku Islands, Takeshima and the Northern Territories are Japanese territory”

Week 13 (4 July): The US-Japan Alliance and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces

Lecture and Classroom Discussion: The US-Japan Alliance and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Materials are here: PHEA Final Lecture 2017


Texts Used in Class:

JSDF Recruitment Page

JSDF Materials Page (pamphlets, videos, Defense White Paper)

JSDF Chronology

World military spending

BBC article: Defense spending increases

JSDF personnel strength (p. 37)

Changes in SDF budget

JSDF base sites

Chitose Mayor comments about SDF-community relations (p. 421)

Tomoyuki Sasaki, “Whose Peace? Anti-Military Litigation and the Right to Live in Peace in Japan”

David McNeill, “The Wartime Leaders of Japan Were Heroes”

MOFA, Japan-US Security Arrangements

About US Forces Japan

Japan Ministry of Defense, US Forces in Japan (from the Defense White Paper)

US bases in Japan

Gavan McCormack, “The Continued Saga of the Henoko Base and Japan-US-Okinawa Relations”

Asako Kageyama, “Marines Go Home: Anti-base activism in Okinawa, Japan and Korea”

Takayoshi Igarashi, “Reclamation, Licensing and the Law: Japan’s Courts Take up the Henoko Base Issue”

Hideki Yoshikawa, “Sea wall construction on Oura Bay”

Grant Newsham, “US bases on Okinawa: still an essential deterrent”

Japan Times, “North Korean missile drill simulated targeting Iwakuni Base analysis shows”

Rick Mercier, “Way off Base: The Shameful History of Military Rape in Okinawa”

Ryukyu Shimpo Newspaper, Bases incidents and accidents archive

Jon Mitchell articles on base pollution in Okinawa

Japan Times coverage of the 2015 security bills

Jeff Kingston, “SEALDs: students slam Abe’s assault on Japan’s Constitution”

Japan Times, “Controversial conspiracy bill approved by Abe cabinet”

General Resources:

Plus there are many other articles on The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus on this issue. It has been a pet topic of the journal for a while!

Week 14 (11 July CORRECTED): Debate 6: “Japan will be safer without any American military bases on its territory”

Debate 6: “Japan will be safer without any American military bases on its territory”

Week 15: (18 July CORRECTED) Conclusions

We will have a final class discussion to wrap up the course. There will also be a teaching evaluation questionnaire to complete about the course. The absolutely final deadline for submission of term papers is 1 August. Please submit them before then if at all possible. Note that I am away at a conference from 6-15 August and I must submit grades BEFORE leaving. Please submit by email. Save paper and trees!

Reading List

The main source of articles for this course the The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, an online academic journal with extensive materials on the history, territory and bases issues in East Asia.

See also the major news services in the East Asian region. The Japan Times (it has a section on World War II), Japan Today, China Daily, The Korea Herald, The New York TimesThe Moscow Times, BBC News Online, CNN.

Government websites include: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (China), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Korea).


General Reading

Many of the arguments made in this course have been developed in Philip Seaton’s three books that address war and history.

Particularly …

Philip Seaton, Japan’s Contested War Memories (Routledge, 2007)

But also …

Svetlana Paichadze and Philip Seaton (eds) Voices from the Shifting Russo-Japanese Border: Karafuto/Sakhalin (Routledge, 2015)

Philip Seaton (ed) Local History and War Memories in Hokkaido (Routledge, 2015)