Skip to main content

The Study of Maritime Asian History in Japanese Schools

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
War and Trade in Maritime East Asia

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History ((PASTCGH))

  • 282 Accesses


Today, Japanese schools still follow a system of education that was introduced after 1945 in a process known as Postwar Reform.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 109.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 139.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 139.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. 1.

    Within the so-called 6–3–3 system, primary school (six years) and middle school (three years) are stipulated as obligatory, while high school (three years) is not. The curricula and textbooks of these schools must follow the National Guidelines, while every university can run teacher qualification programs with the approval of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science, and Technology. The government does not publish school textbooks, but all titles have to pass a government screening process.

  2. 2.

    Though the number of candidates who are selected through high school achievements, interviews, and/or presentations are increasing, exams on paper are still regarded as the authentic path to university. There are two types of university exam, one organized by National Center for University Entrance Examination (a computer-marked multiple-choice test), and the other organized by individual universities (including essay tests). Owing to poor finances and a lack of manpower, more and more universities, including private universities, rely on the former, regardless of their preferred admission policies.

  3. 3.

    A number of great figures in Japanese history are on the curriculum in primary school, while a comprehensive history of Japan and some topics of world history that relate to Japan are taught in middle school.

  4. 4.

    A popular obsession with neutrality and fairness has helped this tendency greatly, because any abstract concept or big picture can reflect political views, and questions related to these cannot be marked fairly. Despite the democratic constitution and legal systems, in which eighteen-year-old students have the right to vote, most Japanese do not seem to think it necessary for the youth to learn how to make political judgments.

  5. 5.

    In recent years, the number of undergraduate students (and often graduate students) who major in Asian History has been decreasing sharply in many universities (except for students who are interested in studying Muslim society), while the Japanese History major attracts more and more students who are only interested in national topics. The Western History major continues to attract students who are attracted by ‘elegant’ and/or ‘advanced’ European and North American history. The declining interest in Asian history among students has various reasons, including frustration about the contrast between a stagnating Japan and its developing neighbors (which has caused political and cultural conflict between them) and the total collapse in traditional knowledge that is based on the learning of Chinese characters and classics.

  6. 6.

    The National Center Test for University Admissions. It has been used by all national and public as well as many private universities since replacing the Common First-Stage Examination in 1990. From 2021, the new Common Test for University Admissions is intended to more broadly test applicants’ abilities with less reliance on the multiple-choice format.

  7. 7.

    For a long time, major universities have required candidates to take a Course B (four credits) of World History and/or Japanese History, for which a huge amount of memorizing has been thought essential. This is partly so that candidates can be easily ranked, and partly to allow specialized study (as professors do not teach more general knowledge in a systematic manner). However, in the reformed entrance exams for new subjects (advanced histories only have three credits), questions cannot be asked about so many knowledge. Universities have to make a great effort to rank candidates efficiently if there is reduced memorization. It is not so easy to mark questions that involve the big picture or abstract concepts.

  8. 8.

    There are various innovative [Momoki: the term ‘revised’ looks misleading for readers familiar with Japanese education, in which every textbook must be revised every four or five years] textbooks for Course A (two credits) of either Japanese History or World History, but they are seldom used for the preparation of university entrance exams. In the case of textbooks for Course B, however, many facts are listed within a conventional historiographical framework. Moreover, either in Japanese History or in World History, a single textbook has gained an overwhelming market share: this is Expound History (of Japan and of the World) published by Yamakawa. An English translation of Expound History of the World has also been published (Hashiba et al. [eds.] 2019). Foreign readers may be astonished by its insensible historiography and maps regarding Southeast Asia. This textbook, with its conventional historiography and list of items to memorize, has played the role of de facto national textbook among all those who have ever taken university entrance exams. As far as the market for Course B is concerned, innovative texts for Japanese History (published by Jikkyo Shuppan, Toyko Shoseki, and Shimizu Shoin, for instance) and World History (by Tokyo Shoseki, Teikoku Shoin, and Jikkyo Shuppan) are far from successful.

  9. 9.

    The term Asian Maritime History (kaiiki Ahiashi) was first employed by the scholars who inaugurated the Maritime Asian History Research Group in 2013, including Fujita Akiyoshi, Yamauchi Shinji, and the current author. General research trends in the field were introduced in Momoki et al. (2008) and Fujita et al. (2013), while large-scale pictures of maritime Asia in the second millennium were drawn in Haneda and Oka (2019). The Minerva Series of World History, a global history series that was launched in 2016, also pays much attention to maritime Asia (Haneda 2016; Akita 2019; Nagahara 2019).

  10. 10.

    A boom in the study of maritime expansion in medieval and early modern Japan took place between the 1930s and 1945 in major universities in mainland Japan and also in Taipei under the Japanese rule. After 1945, however, a reaction to militarist expansionism combined with the dominance of the social sciences (represented by Marxist theory) that were only interested in the structure of a closed nation and people’s struggle, and research into Japan’s external relationships was almost forgotten (despite the activities of pioneering scholars such as Iwao Seiichi and Kobata Atsuhi). It was only in the 1980s that there was an academic revival led by the younger generation, such as Arano Yasunori and Murai Shosuke (followed by the next generation, including Hashimoto Yu, Enomoto Wataru, and Oka Mihoko), this often being stimulated by new academic trends in local history, such as Ryukyu/Okinawa (led by Takara Kurayoshi). The idea of Hoppo History (history of the Northern region, including areas outside the national territory of Japan), which was mainly proposed in Hokkaido, also played an outstanding role. The situation was not so different for Japan’s academic study of Chinese history and Korean history, except for the traditionally styled research on overseas Chinese. In the case of Chinese history, foreign trade and external relationships started to attract Japanese Sinologists of Imperial China (first the specialists in the Ming–Qing period, including Kishimopto Mio, Ueda Makoto, and Nakajima Gakusho, then those who were studying earlier periods) only after the Cultural Revolution ended, when China began to search its past in relation to the era of Reform and Open-Door Policies.

  11. 11.

    During the decades up to the 1970s, academic study of Southeast Asian history had begun to include maritime trade and port cities. Scholars such as Wada Hisanori and Ikuta Shigeru collaborated with those studying Ryukyu history. From the 1980s onwards, Ishii Yoneo and Sakurai Yumio led many research projects that involved both foreign scholars, such as Anthony Reid, and young Japanese students, including the present author.

  12. 12.

    Pioneering scholars included Yajima Hikoich, who worked on Muslim trade in the Western Indian Ocean, and Karashima Noboru, who worked on medieval Tamil networks in South and Southeast Asia.

  13. 13.

    Practical divisions are also problematic. For instance, both Asian history and Japanese history often quote sources written in classical Chinese, but methodologies for quotation and translation vary between academic articles and high school textbooks.

  14. 14.

    The Soviet-style which I intend to mean here is the idea that the periodization of a certain area should be different from the periodization of another area. It is not suitable for the current trends to think about history that should be aware of global.

  15. 15.

    There is another problem created by teacher training programs for middle-school education, which stress how to teach rather than what to teach. Many students memorize what they learn, including information that is factually incorrect. In both high schools and universities, teachers have great difficulty in correcting such firmly embedded misconceptions. An example concerns Ming trade licenses. In middle schools, it is taught that these were small tallies issued to distinguish Japanese governmental envoys from the notorious Japanese pirates. More recently, it has been concluded that they were actually an official document issued to many foreign envoys to distinguish them from unofficial trading missions.

  16. 16.

    Central Eurasian academics are generally indifferent to maritime Asia. Even for the Mongol Empire, few scholars other than Mukai Masaki and Yokkaichi Yasuhiro (and some specialists in the Korean peninsula and those in supra-regional cultural interactions) have studied the maritime world closely.

  17. 17.

    This is an updated version of the skeleton of a semester’s lecture course I taught from 1994 to 2006. After that, I continued to update it and presented it many times in my research seminar (so that students could choose suitable research topics) and at seminars for high school teachers (so they were aware of possible teaching topics). RQ indicates research questions for students.


  • Akita Shigeru, ed. 2019. Globaru-ka no Sekaishi [A World History of Globalization]. Minerva Series of World History 3. Kyoto: Minerva Shobo.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fujita Kayoko, Momoki Shiro, and Anthony Reid, eds. 2013. Offshore Asia, Maritime Interactions in Eastern Asia before Steamships. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haneda Masashi, ed. 2016. Chiikishi to sekaishi [Local/Regional History and World History]. Minerva Series of World History 2. Kyoto: Minerva Shobo.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haneda Masashi, and Oka Mihoko, eds. 2019. A Maritime History of East Asia. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hashiba Yuzuru, Kishimoto Mio, Komatsu Tastuo, and Mizushuima Tsukasa (supervisions). 2019. World History for High School. Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppannsha.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hasuda Takashi. 2019. Shuinsen boeki-Nanyo nihonmachi chizu no saikento [Revisiting Maps Concerning the Red Seal Ship Trade and the Japanese Quarter]. Annual Bulletin of the North East Asian Studies 24: 1–8.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kurushima Noriko, Nagano Hiroko, and Osa Setsuko, eds. 2015. Rekishi o yomikaeru: Jenda kara mita Nihonshi [Toward a Different Reading of History: Japanese History from a Gender Perspective]. Tokyo: Otsuki Shoten.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lieberman, Victor. 2003 [2009]. Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800–1830. vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Momoki Shiro. 2015. In Search of Integrated Education of World and Japanese Histories in Japanese High Schools and Universities. International Conference: Researching World History in the Schools; Nationwide and Worldwide: A Conference of the Alliance for Learning in World History, University of Pittsburgh, USA, May 8–9.

    Google Scholar 

  • Momoki Shiro. 2018. History Education in Japanese Senior High Schools and Its Reform: What Should Be Changed to Help Students ‘Think’ about History. International History Education Comparative Research Workshop [国際歴史教育比較研究工作坊], Shanghai, East China Normal University, September 22–23 (proceedings, pp. 167–99).

    Google Scholar 

  • Momoki Shiro. 2019. The Reform of Entrance Examinations and Teacher Trainings in Contemporary Japan. Paper for Panel 1.3, The Role of Universities in the Reform of High School-Level History Education, 4th AAWH Congress, Osaka University Nakanoshima Hall, Osaka, January 5.

    Google Scholar 

  • Momoki Shiro, Yamauchi Shinji, Fujita Kayoko, and Hasuda Takashi, eds. 2008. Kaiiki Ajiashi Kenkyu Nhumon [A Research Guide to Maritime Asian History]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nagahara Yoko, ed. 2019. Hitobito ga tsunagu sekaishi [World History Connected by People], Minerva Series of World History, 4. Kyoto: Minerva Shobo.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2022 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Shiro, M. (2022). The Study of Maritime Asian History in Japanese Schools. In: Oka, M. (eds) War and Trade in Maritime East Asia. Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore

  • Print ISBN: 978-981-16-7368-9

  • Online ISBN: 978-981-16-7369-6

  • eBook Packages: HistoryHistory (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics