How Pearl Harbor Is Taught In Japanese Schools

Have you ever wondered how the Pearl Harbor attacks are taught in Japan? What do Japanese students really learn about Pearl Harbor, anyway? It's a fascinating topic of conversation, frequently presented to the international community over at Reddit, among other online forums. 

Below are a few firsthand accounts - as well as a few accounts from teachers - about how the Pearl Harbor attacks are handled in Japanese schools. As Redditor /u/ywja notes, Japan is not a monolith, meaning this or any other brief account is by no means what "the Japanese" think or feel about the topic. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to hear firsthand how the topic is covered.

Photo: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia / Public Domain

  • The 'Why?' Is Glossed Over

    The 'Why?' Is Glossed Over
    Photo: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    University student Mayako Shibata told McClatchyDC in 2014 that she doesn't recall any classes that mentioned why the Japanese actually attacked Pearl Harbor. She did recall being told, however, that some members of the government opposed the decision.

    The article goes on to say that, when Pearl Harbor was mentioned in the classroom, it was to situate the attack, which "involved more than 300 aircraft, two bombing waves and six aircraft carriers," in a context that served to downplay the event in relation to WWII more broadly.


  • A Preemptive Strike Was The Only Option

    A Preemptive Strike Was The Only Option
    Photo: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Japanese Redditor /u/Karmago related this lesson in 2014:

    External pressures placed upon Japan by the US such as the formation of the ABCD line (American, British, Chinese, Dutch) as well as the trade and resource embargoes that the US imposed on Japan were seen as acts of aggression. This led Japanese military leaders to believe that there was no other option but to launch a preemptive strike on the US.

  • It's Part of A Much Larger Picture

    It's Part of A Much Larger Picture
    Photo: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Japanese Redditor /u/ywja shares the role of the Pearl Harbor attack in Japanese lessons on WWII:

    Japan had been fighting the Second Sino-Japanese War since 1937. Of course Pearl Harbor was a huge event. But in order to understand the Far East situation at that time, one needs to go back to 1937, or to the Manchurian Incident in 1931, or even further. This is the standard narrative, and the clash with the US is sort of the final stage of the war. That may be one of the reasons why Japanese don't put so much emphasis on Pearl Harbor. It's not an event that symbolizes the whole experience.

  • It's 'Less Than A Paragraph'

    It's 'Less Than A Paragraph'
    Photo: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    From Japanese Redditor /u/Centricflow:

    The attack on Pearl Harbor was taught less than a paragraph (from the textbook in 2002). Just stating the event, when, where, and why briefly. And then they had the black and white picture of U.S.S. Arizona surrounded in black smoke, tilted sideways, and sinking in the ocean.

  • It's All About The Oil

    It's All About The Oil
    Photo: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Redditor /u/kylejn says a Japanese high school history class taught the following:

    We didn't talk about Pearl Harbor specifically but the war in general. In a nutshell, the Japanese believed that the three superpowers in the world were going to boil down to the Soviet Union, the United States, and Japan. When the US cut off oil shipments, Japan figured that they would need to attack and needed to do it sooner rather than later. Hence, Pearl Harbor and Japan's attack on the United States.

  • Consequences Are In The Spotlight

    Consequences Are In The Spotlight
    Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Redditor /u/tophmcmasterson gives some perspective from behind the desk:

    I'm an English teacher at a public JHS and elementary schools in Japan, and the emphasis is definitely more on the bombs and the consequences of war and why it should be avoided.