History, postmodern discourse, and the Japanese textbook controversy over "comfort women"

Yoshiko Nozaki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Citations (Scopus)


Postwar Japan has been the setting of a hard-fought struggle over national narratives, especially concerning the official history of World War II as represented in school textbooks (see Nozaki & Inokuchi, 2000). In particular, the issue of "comfort women" ushered in a new phase of that struggle in the 1990s. While there has been little dispute over the fact that so-called "comfort women" (ianfu) existed during the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945), a considerable controversy has arisen over how to interpret and teach about this. In the old interpretation, it was an episode of "love/sex affairs" by Japanese men in service, who were "comforted" by the women. Although the episode never had a place in the official history of the war, it was told and retold privately, and used as a side story in memoirs and novels. Feminist movements inside and outside of Japan, not to mention the victims who broke silence and began to speak out, have challenged the old interpretation and delivered a new one-an interpretation that portrays the women as enslaved by the state and its military and subjected to forced prostitution and systematic rape.1 This chapter examines some Japanese scholarly debates on the issue of comfort women and its inclusion in school textbooks.2 The Japanese controversy over comfort women has involved charged debates among intellectuals of different disciplinary and ideological backgrounds: Progressive and feminist historians have advanced empirical research; right-wing nationalist critics have launched a series of attacks upon the new, critical understandings of the historical facts; " poststructuralist" feminist theories have been brought into the dispute; and some right-wing scholars have employed postmodern discourses to promote their agenda. An examination of these debates helps us understand the problem(s) of historical research and education in a contemporary "politics of history" (Scott, 1988).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStruggles Over Difference: Curriculum, Texts, and Pedagogy in The Asia-Pacific
PublisherState University of New York Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)0791463974, 9780791463970
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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