Study of history
The history study was the worst. It was like we were given a terribly written book and told to memorize the whole thing.
History teacher would come into the classroom, fill the blackboard with years, events, and names circled and connected with lines and arrows, tell us to copy the whole thing on a notebook, and read the rest in the textbook. Exams were again selecting a right/wrong answer from 4 options, that were tweaked so subtly that they deceived our confidence in our memory skills.
We never questioned or discussed the historical events as to why they happened and how they affected the present. There were no perspectives on history beyond facts. For example, we memorized, “Firearms were brought into Japan by Portuguese in 1943.” But how come were they not used in battles in the Edo era then? How come katana swords remained the primary weapons for centuries afterward? What were the consequences of that for the country?
I got too stressed out of memorizing numbers/words, so I went to the bookstore and bought Wild Swans by Jung Chang. It was released in 1993 in Japan and was one of the best seller books. I was completely engrossed by the family saga set during the Cultural Revolution in China. I had very little idea about the Cultural Revolution beyond the one sentence mentioned in the textbook. The book started with the story of the author’s grandmother, whose feet were so “beautiful,” bound tightly since she was little, but had given her tremendous pain throughout her life. Then her mother was involved in the revolution but lived in fear of persecution as she started to doubt the regime. Temples, historical architecture, and artifacts were destroyed, and arts and culture were banned. The history seen through the eyes of these women left with me powerful emotions. And in this way, the study of history made sense to me for the first time,
The textbook only contained facts, but the part Japanese imperialism caused atrocity in the neighboring countries might have had a slight condemning tone that raised a sense of guilt and shame in me. But we were not given opportunities to discuss how we could acknowledge the past and heal from the trauma so that we could sincerely face the present responsibilities without anger or shame.
History study didn’t require us to form opinions or perspectives. If I didn’t get to have my opinions, it didn’t interest me. As a result, I was falling behind in the history class as well.