Education in Japan During the War

Japan’s War-time Evacuation Schools

This photograph is from the August 6, 1941 edition of the Photographic Weekly Report (Shashin Shuho), which was a weekly pictorial journal published by the Japanese Cabinet Intelligence Department during the interwar years of 1938-1945. This magazine functioned as propaganda that the Japanese government used to shape public moral for the war. This picture shows shirtless Japanese girls participating in a physical fitness routine at school during the summer.
[Click the image for a translation of the image caption]
(Courtesy of Jacar)

Another way indoctrination occurred was through the evacuation of Japanese elementary children in the Spring of 1944. The goal of this action was not only to protect children from air-raids, but also to make good Japanese citizens.[5] In the makeshift countryside schools, Teachers asked children—who were isolated from their parents—to keep diaries to record their impressions while at the schools. Children were inspired by the things they learned and bonded with their teachers. When the military conscripted Nakane Mihoko’s teacher, Mihoko recalled that she was sad but had “happy feelings when [she] thought about Ishida-sensei’s going to war for the sake of the country.”[6] Children were also trained in hand-to-hand combat and national values which consisted of putting the state above the individual.[7] These schools were not only preparing children to be citizens, but soldiers. 

Youth’s Response to Their Education

A photograph from the March 12, 1941 edition of the Photographic Weekly Report (Shashin Shuho). The caption of this image translates to: "'Hey, Gen. Aren't you too little for that?' 'Well since you're graduating, older brother...and isn't it usual for a uniform to be too big?' Say, he's right. If it's a little too big, the tailor can make it fit."
(Translation from: David C. Earhart, ed., "Certain Victory: Images of World War II in the Japanese Media" (Armonk, NE: M.E. Sharpe, 2008), 192)
(Courtesy of Jacar)

For the most part, children were compliant and embraced their education. Children had strong confidence in the strength of their country and national government during the war.[8] Although Japanese youth could not be held responsible for the outbreak of World War II, for the most part, they believed the ideas that their parents, teachers, and leaders taught them. Sasaki Fumiko explains how she and other children bullied Korean children after the war was over. She then sorrowfully states, “The blank page of a child’s heart can be dyed any color…I recall the days when we chased Korean children, stones in hand, and my heart is pained.”[9] Youth imitated the ideas that they learned both inside and outside of school, and over time, many who were youth when the war started became soldiers by the war’s end.

Some youth even joined the military as adolescents. As the Japanese forces were fleeing as the American forces arriving, one Filipino youth remembered seeing a Japanese soldier that appeared no more than fifteen years old. The soldier was weeping and crying out “Otosan” (father). The Filipino realized he was looking for a surrogate father to comfort him. She recounts, “Speechless, I pointed to my father. Where upon the young soldier staggered towards my father, fell on his knees and cried on my father’s lap. I held his head, for he was only a boy, and wept in pity.”[10] Rather than a ruthless occupier, in this account he is first and foremost a youth.

[1] David C. Earhart, Certain Victory: Images of World War II in the Japanese Media, (New York: Routledge, 2008), 199.
[2] Earhart, Certain Victory, 188-191.
[3] Earhart, Certain Victory, 191.
[4] Takamizawa Sachiko, “When I Made Balloon Bombs,” in Sensō: The Japanese Remember the Pacific War: Letters to the Editor of Asahi Shimbun, ed. Frank Gibney and trans. Beth Cary (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2007), 181-182. These balloon bombs were designed to float on the air currents over the Pacific and target West Coast and were relatively ineffective as only a small portion landed on U.S. soil. Less than ten people died from the bombs most of which did not even explode on impact.
[5] Samuel Hideo Yamashita, Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1940- 1945 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015), 61.
[6] Yamashita, Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1940- 1945, 80.
[7] Yamashita, Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1940- 1945, 85-88.
[8] Simon Partner, Toshié: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth Century Japan, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 80.
[9] Sasaki Fumiko, “Throwing Stones at Korean Children,” in Sensō,277.
[10] Helen Mendoza, “Looking Back: Day’s of War” Under Japanese Rule, 186-187.