The tiny island that lies between Japan and Korea – Takeshima (竹島) in Japan and Tokdo (독도) in Korea – is at the centre of a territorial dispute and serious bilateral tension. This is nothing new. The island, along with other remnants of Japan’s colonial aggression in Korea, has sparked diplomatic issues throughout postwar history. Despite unprecedented levels of cultural, academic, and economic exchange between the two nations, the dispute continues to be defined by a persistent legacy of colonialism and growing nationalism. Japanese and Korean political leaders demand that educators legitimate territorial claims by including these in their national curricula. But if educators comply uncritically, we will undermine future generations’ development of mutual understanding and respect.
This diplomatic skirmish is an important pedagogic moment for those who teach subjects like history, citizenship, geography, and political economy in the two countries. Educators should encourage students to critically assess a world divided along national borders and consider what this view obscures. History teachers might focus on the rich economic and cultural interactions among those who reside on the rim of the enclosed ocean known as East Sea (동해) in Korea and the Sea of Japan (日本海) in Japan. Understanding these interactions allows us to see this ocean not as a division but a long-standing medium for transnational interaction. When students learn to see this disputed island as a critical node in a larger, transnational network, they might be less inclined to support the jingoistic nationalism of current political leaders.
Just as students can learn to question nationalism, they can gain a better understanding of Japan’s colonial legacy and Korea’s responses to the remnants of Japanese colonial violence. But this history must be taught. Japanese history textbooks, which spend no more than one page on the topic, must increase their coverage.
Fortunately, a sign of positive change is emerging. Since the 1990s, some Japanese and Korean history scholars and teachers have worked together to develop a shared historical narrative and history lessons. We cannot suspend such laudable efforts towards mutual understanding. We need to extend it to ensure that future generations develop a healthy national consciousness with a transnational imagination.
Hee-Ryong Kang – teaches curriculum theory and evaluation in School of Education, Chonbuk University, South Korea.
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- Rethinking Japanese History, 2012. (Book by Amino Y.)
- Japanese intellectuals ask that Japan earnestly reflect on its history, The Hankyoreh, September 2012.
- The Japan-Korea Shared History Project Reports, The Japan-Korea Cultural Foundations. (In Japanese).
- Joint studies should continue to seek mutual understanding of history, Japan Times, March 2012.
- A Problem in the History Education Practice for Japan-Korea Mutual Understanding, Bulletin of Josetu University of Education, 2009.
- The Study of the Direction of Dokdo Education: From Nationalism to Civic Patriotism, Journal of KAGEE, 2009.
- The Development of South Korea’s Nationalist Discourses and the Exploration of Alternative of Nationalism in a Global Ero, 2007.