The Rightist Backlash and the School Textbook Issue after the year 2000

In the 1990s, some Japanese high school history textbooks began to provide information on the massacres in Singapore and Malaya , although they devoted only one or two lines to the events. More recently, chauvinistic campaigns and sentiment have become rampant in Japan . A number of ultra right books now claim that the Nanjing Massacre is a fabrication, that the Japanese military took good care of comfort women, and so on. Under pressure from the Ministry of Education, the Liberal Democratic Party, and other right-wingers, statements in school textbooks about Japanese atrocities have become less common, and the Minister of Education said in 2004 that it was desirable for descriptions of Japanese atrocities to be dropped.[56] Moreover, teachers who give lessons about Japanese aggression and army atrocities are often subjected to criticism by local assembly members or municipal education boards.

Descriptions of the Singapore massacre in high school history textbooks are particularly rare. According to research in the 1990s, just 8 out of a total of 26 textbooks referred to the event.[57] The most widely used textbook states simply that “atrocities took place in Singapore and elsewhere”.[58] Other textbooks say that the Japanese army massacred tens of thousands of overseas Chinese inSingapore and Malaya , but even these descriptions are limited to one or two lines, and give no details. Anyone who dared set a question about the atrocities for a university entrance examination could expect attacks not only from right-wingers but also from MPs belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The situation is similar with regard to junior high schools history textbooks. In the eight textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education in April 2005 for use from 2006, descriptions of Korean forced labor have all but disappeared, as has the term “comfort women”. Overall, references to Japanese aggression and atrocities have been drastically reduced under pressure from the Ministry of Education, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the right-leaning mass media. If the current ultra-nationalistic trend strengthens, it seems likely that even the few descriptions of the Singapore massacre that do exist will be eliminated in the near future.



Work by Singaporean and other researchers has produced information about the Singapore massacre but it seems to me that there is room for further research. In particular, what seems to be lacking is collation of documents in the various languages: English, Chinese, and Japanese. While Singapore citizens have accounts of the Massacre and the suffering caused by the Japanese occupation, students inJapan are unable to imagine what happened in Singapore and Malaya during the Japanese Occupation. Few Japanese students have any opportunity to learn about the Occupation, and the many Japanese who visit Singapore each year generally have no awareness of the killings or of the wartime suffering of Singaporeans. It is difficult to redress the balance, but if Japan is to achieve full reconciliation with the people of Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries and gain their trust, steps in the right direction must be taken.


Wai Keng Kwok


[56] See Hayashi Hirofumi, “Nihon no Haigaiteki Nashonarizumu wa Naze Taito shitaka”[Why the Japanese Chauvinistic Nationalism has gained power] in VAWW-NET Japan (ed.), Kesareta Sabaki: NHK Bangumi Kaihen to Seiji Kainyu Jiken[Deleted Judgement: Interpolation of  the NHK’s TV Program and the Politician’s Intervention] ( Tokyo : Gaifusha, 2005).

[57] Zenkoku Rekisi Kyoiku Kenkyu Kyogikai[The National Council for Education of History] (ed.), Nihonshi Yogo-shu [Lexicon of the Japanese History Textbook] ( Tokyo : Yamakawa Shoten, 2000), p. 291.

[58]Shosetsu Nihonshi [The Details of Japanese History] ( Tokyo : Yamakawa Shoten, 2001), p. 332.










The Japanese Occupation of Singapore from February 1942 to August 1945 was a particularly momentous period of loss and sacrifice for the Chinese population as compared to other ethnicities, because they were the targets of brutal Japanese military policies. During a month of screening procedures and indiscriminate massacres in 1942 known as sook ching, or cleansing operations, an undetermined number of civilians were separated from their families and friends and suffered uncertain fates.

The involvement of General Yamashita in the sook ching was direct, personal and not in evidence before the War Crimes Trial in Manila.   His involvement has been overlooked in books concentrating upon the analysis of the Manila trials, and revisionists who write of Yamashita's innocence,  or of the unfairness of the trial he faced,  are perverting the public record of a man who disgraced humanity. To conceal the issue of his involvement in Singapore, and in China, is nothing short of scandalous.

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