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The School Diary in Wartime Japan: Cultivating morale and self-discipline


During the Second World War, the Japanese state enacted sweeping education reforms designed to prime the population for Total War. The policies of the National Education Ordinance of 1941 aimed to strengthen collective loyalty and self-sacrifice for the state. Military drill and ceremonial rituals were the outward manifestation of wartime education. But this article examines how teachers borrowed an aspect of progressive ‘whole-person’ education from the more liberal pre-war era—‘daily life writing’ (seikatsu tsuzurikata)—to shape children's dispositions and consciousness. Through such reflective diary writing, children would learn to internalize the ideal behaviours and attributes of the Total War civilian. By comparing education discourse with samples of children's writings, teachers’ written feedback, and interviews of former students of an elementary school affiliated with the Ministry of Education, I show how reflective diary writing, despite its progressive origins as a means of self-expression for self-actualization and social critique, could be co-opted by right-wing Japanese ultra-nationalism for its potential as a means of self-censorship, self-monitoring, and self-control. At the same time, its practice did help children endure the hardships of war and defeat.

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I thank Peter Cave and Aaron W. Moore of the University of Manchester for supporting my research through the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council project, ‘Remembering and recording childhood, education and youth in Imperial Japan, 1925–1945’ (AH/J004618/1). I would like to thank Atsuko Koido and Kakuko Shōji for help with transcriptions and translations of diaries respectively. I am grateful to my informants for their generous time, and to Dr Nobuko Nagase and librarian Sakamaki Junko for access to Ochanomizu University Library.

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1 Masao, Terasaki (ed.), Sōryokusen taisei to kyōiku: kōkokumin ‘rensei’ no rinen to jissen (The Total War System and Education: The Training of the Imperial People in Concept and Practice), Tōkyo Daigaku Shuppankai, Tokyo, 1987, pp. 16, 104, 109.

2 The term shōkokumin is composed of the words shō (small) and kokumin (‘nation’ and ‘people’). It dates back to the Meiji era (1868–1912), but lost ground to jidō (the child) and dōshin (child's heart), favoured in the Taishō era (1912–26). The popular or informal word for children, kodomo, continued to be used throughout.

3 Cave, Peter, ‘Story, song, and ceremony: shaping dispositions in Japanese elementary schools during Taisho and early Showa’, Japan Forum, vol. 28, no. 1, 15 September 2015, pp. 123.

4 Krämer, Hans Martin, ‘The Pre-war roots of “equality of opportunity”: Japanese educational ideals in the twentieth century’, Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 61, no. 4, Winter 2006, pp. 521549.

5 For a recent example of using diaries to illuminate wartime social history, see Yamashita, Samuel Hideo, Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1940–1945, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, 2015. For didactic messages in children's media, see Orbaugh, Sharalyn, Propaganda Performed: Kamishibai in Japan's Fifteen-Year War, Brill, Leiden, 2014.

6 See Rosenwein, Barbara H., ‘Worrying about emotions in history’, American Historical Review, vol. 107, no. 3, December 2012, pp. 821845.

7 Cave, Peter and William Moore, Aaron, ‘Historical interrogations of Japanese children amid disaster and war, 1920–1945’, Japanese Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, December 2016, p. 294.

8 Mikawa Sueko, interview, 15 January 2014, Piel (trans).

9 This and all project data derive from the overview (sōran) included in the 11-volume set of photocopies, Dai ni-ji Sekai Taisen gakudō sokai kirokushū: Tōkyō Joshi Kōtō Shihan Gakkō fuzoku kokumin gakkō (A Collection of Records of School Evacuation in the Second World War: The National School of the Tokyo Women's Higher Normal School). Here, the author is listed as Ochanomizu Gakudō Sokai no Kai (School Evacuation Association).

10 Ootsuka Nanae, personal conversation, 16 June 2015.

11 William Moore, Aaron, ‘From individual child to war youth: the construction of collective experience among evacuated children during World War II’, Japanese Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, December 2016, p. 348.

12 Michio, Namekawa, Nihon sakubun tsuzurikata kyōiku (Japanese Composition and Writing Education), 3 vols, Kokudosha, Tokyo, 1977–78.

13 Okano, Kaori and Tsuchiya, Motonori, Education in Contemporary Japan: Inequality and Diversity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 27.

14 Kitagawa, Chisato and Kitagawa, Mary, Making Connections with Writing: An Expressive Writing Model in Japanese Schools, Heinemann, Portsmith, 1987, pp. 3949.

15 Duke, Benjamin C., Japan's Militant Teachers: A History of the Left-Wing Teachers’ Movement, East-West Center, University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1973, pp. 2021.

16 Christian Galan shows how education discourse and practice in pre-1940 Japan developed towards a child-centred model, in L'Enseignement de la lecture au Japon—Politique et éducation (Reading Instruction in Japan: Politics and Education), PUM, Toulouse, 2001.

17 Mark Jones describes the ‘free art’ (jiyūga) and ‘free verse’ (jiyūshi) movements in this period, in Children as Treasures: Childhood and the Middle Class in Early Twentieth Century Japan, Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, 2010.

18 Namekawa, Nihon sakubun, vol. 3, p. 148.

19 Duke, Militant Teachers, pp. 20–21.

20 Goodman, ‘Foreword’ in Kitagawa and Kitagawa, Making Connections, p. ix.

21 Kamemura Gorō discusses the seikatsu movement in two regions (Tottori and Hiroshima), overlooked by Namekawa, in ‘Seikatsu tsuzurikata no ryakushi to jidōbungaku’ (A brief history of daily life writing and children's literature) in Jidōbungaku no shisōshi, shakaishi (A Social and Intellectual History of Children's Literature), Nihon Jidōbungaku Gakkai (ed.), Tōkyō Shoseki, Tokyo, 1997, pp. 236–237.

22 Kiyomichi, Kitaoka, Seikatsu tsuzurikata jisseki shi kenkyū (Research on the History of Daily Life Writing in Practice), Keisuisha, Hiroshima, 2009, p. 140.

23 Minato, Kawamura, Sakubun no naka no Dai Nippon Teikoku (The Japanese Empire in Children's Compositions), Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, 2000, p. 91.

24 Namekawa, Nihon sakubun, vol. 3, p. 211.

25 Monbushō, ‘Shidō no hatten dankai’ (Levels of development in guidance) in Tsuzurikata shidō yōkō (Writing Curriculum), quoted in Kawamura, Sakubun no naka, p. 90.

26 Somei Chika, email correspondence, 29 December 2016.

27 See Wigen, Kären, ‘Teaching about home: geography at work in the pre-war Nagano classroom’, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 59, no. 3, August 2000, pp. 550574.

28 The food shortage was so severe that it stunted the growth of children in the years 1944–46. See Piel, L. Halliday, ‘Food rationing and children's self-reliance in Japan, 1942–1952’, Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, vol. 5, no. 3, Fall 2012, pp. 393418.

29 Analect IV:17, in Confucius, The Analects (Lun yü), D. C. Lau (ed. and trans.), Penguin Books, London, 1979, p. 74.

30 See Piel, L. Halliday, ‘Japanese adolescents and the wartime labour service 1941–1945: service or exploitation?’, Japanese Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, December 2016, pp. 361381.

31 Maeda Tokuko, interview, 15 January 2014, Piel (trans.).

32 Akira, Shimizu, Bokutachi wa nokotta: gakudō sokai tōyōki (We Remained: An Account of the Tōyō School Evacuation), in vol. 6 of ‘Sensō to heiwa’ shimin no kiroku (War and Peace: The Written Recollections of Urban Dwellers), Nihon Tosho Sentâ, Tokyo, 1992.

33 Yūtarō, Tanaka, Kokumin gakkō, kokuminka tsuzurikata seigi (The Correct Meaning of Writing in the National School's National Studies), Kyōiku Kagakusha, Tokyo, 1942, pp. 202, 443.

34 A slogan for national unity.

35 Refers to the imperial cult.

36 Keisuke, Andō, Kokumin gakkō yoi kodomo no shitsuke (Cultivating the National School ‘Good Child’), Keibunsha, Tokyo, 1942, pp. 5860, 131.

37 Hideo Yamashita, Samuel, ‘Confucianism and the Japanese state, 1904–1945’, in Confucian Traditions in East Asian Modernity, Wei-Ming, Tu (ed.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1996, p. 144.

38 Andō, Yoi kodomo, pp. 51, 57, 184–185.

39 Ibid., p. 169.

40 Ibid., pp. 133, 187.

41 Hiroshi, Nishio, Watashi no Shōwa shi: Tsuki tarazu no hansei (My Shōwa Story: Half a Life in Barely a Month), Yūgen Gaisha Nagata Insatsu, Fukumitsu, 2008, p. 27.

42 Nisho Hiroshi, interview, 11 June 2015, Piel (trans.).

43 Mikawa Sueko, email correspondence, 25 November 2013, Piel (trans.).

44 Mikawa, interview, 17 June 2015, Piel (trans.).

45 Maeda Tokuko, interview, 3 June 2015, Piel (trans.).

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.

48 Maeda, interview, 14 January 2014, Piel (trans.).

49 Maeda, interview, 3 June 2015, Piel (trans.).

50 Mikawa, interview, 15 January 2014, Piel (trans.).

51 Tokuda Susumu, ‘Kokka-sei’ (‘Nationhood’), in Gendai kokugo kyōiku, Kokugo Kyōiku Renmei (ed.), Meiji Tosho, Tokyo, 1935, pp. 72, 80.

52 Namekawa, Nihon sakubun, vol. 3, p. 212.

53 Tokuda, ‘Kokka-sei’, pp. 65, 83.

54 Tanaka, Kokumin gakkō, p. 2.

55 Ibid., pp. 1, 444–446.

56 Ibid., pp. 7, 37.

57 Ibid., pp. 39, 446.

58 Ibid., pp. 27–28.

59 Ibid., pp. 18–19, 135.

60 Ibid., pp. 95, 102–103.

61 Yamashita, ‘Confucianism and the Japanese state’, pp. 148, 150–151.

62 Ibid., p. 151.

63 Chieko, Kobayashi, ‘Senjika no dōtoku kyōiku kenkyū ni kansuru ikkō satsu: Kyōiku Kagaku Kenkyūkai no shūshin/kōmin kyōiku bukai no hataraki wo tegakari ni’ (A study of the wartime research on moral education: focusing on the Education Science Research Society's perspective on morals education and public education), Kyōiku mokuhyō, hyōka gakkai kiyō (The Japanese Journal of Educational Objectives and Evaluation Studies), vol. 3, September 1993, pp. 36, 38–39.

64 Kobayashi, ‘Senjika no dōtoku’, pp. 39–40.

65 Noriko-gumi, Seta Kokumin Gakkō Go-nen, Shōjotachi no gakkyū nisshi (The Girls’ Class Picture Diary), Kaiseisha, Tokyo, 2015, pp. 201, 210, 212, 224, trans. by Sakai Kunihide for an exhibition at Oxford University curated by Dr Anna Fraser.

66 See Fumishige, Yoshimura, Sensō no jidai no kodomotachi: Seta kokumin gakkō go-nen Chi-gumi no gakkyū nishi yori (Children of the War Era: From the Class Diary of the Seta National School's Fifth-Grade Section Chi), Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, 2010.

67 Miekichi, Suzuki, Tsuzurikata tokuhon (Writing Method Reader), Kodansha, Tokyo, 1987 reprint, pp. 6263.

68 Yasunari, Kawabata, ‘Seikō shita sōkyōiku: Toyoda Masako no Oyamada Sangorō’ (Successful early education: Toyoda Masako's Oyamada Sangorō), chōhan, Asahi shinbun, 73 November 1938.

69 Kamemura, ‘Seikatsu tsuzurikata’, p. 237.

70 Maeda Tokuko, email correspondence, 28 December 2016.

71 Yamashita, Daily Life, p. 142.

72 Ueda Hiroaki, ‘Shine to iwaretemo’ (Although told to die), in section ‘Report’, Tokushima Economic Journal, August 2014, pp. 32–33.

73 Ueda Hiroaki, email correspondence, 8 March 2014.

74 Johnson, Gregory S., ‘Life in retreat: Japan's wartime school evacuation in practise’, Japanese Studies, vol. 36, no. 3, December 2016, p. 331.

75 Ibid., pp. 324, 333.

76 Shichizō, Hori, Kyōin seikatsu 70 nen (Seventy Years of a Teacher's Life), Fukumura Shuppan, Tokyo, 1974, pp. 250253.

77 Even at the height of Taishō liberalism, these two positions were not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, in Moore's words, ‘the teacher-dominated classroom tradition was being replaced by a philosophic perception of self’ (Moore, ‘From individual child’, p. 4).

78 Ibid., p. 348.

I thank Peter Cave and Aaron W. Moore of the University of Manchester for supporting my research through the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council project, ‘Remembering and recording childhood, education and youth in Imperial Japan, 1925–1945’ (AH/J004618/1). I would like to thank Atsuko Koido and Kakuko Shōji for help with transcriptions and translations of diaries respectively. I am grateful to my informants for their generous time, and to Dr Nobuko Nagase and librarian Sakamaki Junko for access to Ochanomizu University Library.

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Modern Asian Studies
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