The Portrayal of Foreigners in Japanese Social Studies Textbooks: Self-Images of Mono-Ethnic PluralismReport as inadecuate

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Educational Studies in Japan: International Yearbook, n2 p31-44 Dec 2007

History and social studies textbooks have often been the object of heated political debate in various countries, since they relate directly to issues of national identity and citizenship. This article analyzes how "foreigners" are portrayed in two versions (the 2000 and 2006 versions, date of issue) of the best-selling elementary social studies textbook in Japan. How "foreigners" are portrayed, reflects how non-foreigners, in other words, "Japanese," are understood. The study categorized the sections containing key terms and themes that were relevant to foreign/foreigners. Based on a content analysis, the results were broken down into 8 themes (plus "Other"), and their patterns were analyzed. The major findings were that (1) despite the image of Japanese as having a monocultural image of themselves, the image of ethnic Japanese and Japanese society in the textbooks was actually very diverse in terms of region, climate, landscape, occupation, etc.; (2) images of coexistence were also present, but the objects of coexistence were dominantly of two kinds--first, the coexistence of Japanese with nature, and second, the coexistence of Japan with foreign countries through trade; and (3) in cases that the "foreigners" did appear in the textbooks, the image shifted according to the context in which it was discussed, and there was a missing link between the different meanings. In other words, when the context was contemporary Japan (3rd-5th grade), "foreigners" were portrayed as visitors who came and left, and the key concept was "internationalization." When "foreigners" were discussed historically (first half of 6th grade), or were discussed in relation to welfare, peace, human rights and discrimination, they were assumed to be the permanently residing foreigners in Japan (the Koreans and Chinese in Japan). The article analyzes the implications these findings have for a more multicultural and pluralistic Japanese self-image. (Contains 3 tables and 3 notes.)

Descriptors: Nationalism, Foreign Countries, Content Analysis, Social Studies, Textbook Content, Textbook Evaluation, Textbook Research, Foreign Culture, Ethnicity, Ethnic Diversity, Ethnology, Curriculum Evaluation

Japanese Educational Research Association. UK's Building 3F, 2-29-3 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033 Japan. Tel: +81-3-3818-2505; Fax: +81-3-3816-6898; e-mail: jsse[at]; Web site:

Author: Tsuneyoshi, Ryoko


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