When National Narratives Clash in Multinational University Classrooms: A Pedagogical Perspective


March 1, 2021

When National Narratives Clash in Multinational University Classrooms: A Pedagogical Perspective
When National Narratives Clash in Multinational University Classrooms: A Pedagogical Perspective

Volume 19 | Issue 5 | Number 10

Article ID 5553


Abstract: While much scholarly attention has been devoted to analyzing governments’ attempts to determine ways of remembering or forgetting the past, little is known about how the politics of remembrance affect the process of reconciliation. To what extent does conflict remembrance actually influence the shaping of collective (national) identities? Does remembering the painful past lead to reconciliation? If not, what does it do? This article addresses these questions by reflecting on the author’s experience of teaching multinational groups at her university in Japan, and discussing fraught issues relating to the Asia-Pacific War (including the “comfort women”) with her classes. Drawing on class observations and student essays from 2016 to 2019, she discusses the often conflicting narratives and identities that students bring to the university classroom and the pedagogical challenges involved in negotiating these. The paper illustrates how highly selective narratives of the national past (learnt at school or absorbed from the media) affect collective identity (the way we perceive the self versus the other), and discusses implications for East Asian reconciliation and peace.1

Keywords: Comfort women, nationalism, history, education, universities, pedagogy, reconciliation


Reconciliation—becoming friends again after a fight—is a beautiful concept. But it is not always so when it comes to researching, teaching, and living it. As a PhD student, I had a hard time finding a professor happy to supervise my doctoral dissertation on rebuilding a broken relationship between historical enemy states. It was not on terrorism, global climate change, or human security, the so-called hot topics in international relations (IR). As a researcher, I had and have a hard time writing on it because my personal life keeps intertwining with the subject of study. I could not continue arguing that it is important to face the dark side of one’s own history when I was unable to do so in my life. And now as a professor, I have a hard time teaching it. Reconciliation is not a popular IR subject to take in Japan where I have been teaching for almost ten years now. Who would enjoy sitting in a classroom where we read books and articles comparing their home country to other “successful” ones and highlighting what is wrong with them?

I once gave my Japanese students a role-play assignment to develop an argument from a Chinese or a Korean perspective as most of their papers were mainly about why the Nanjing massacre is a lie or why the comfort women issue has been exaggerated. I still remember what one student was whispering: “You know, she is Korean.” I was not their professor anymore. I was just one of their enemies. In Seoul, I bluntly asked students what reconciliation means to them. I intentionally made them think at individual levels and did not refer to any specific case. They answered: “It means to apologize.” When I asked, “What about forgiving?” the students showed a very violent reaction. One said that it was a pity that I live and teach in Japan, “wasting” my talent on the enemy country. At my current university we have students from more than 30 nationalities in a classroom, a Korean is sitting next to a Japanese, a French next to a German, an Indian next to a Pakistani, and a Tamil next to a Sinhalese. Here we witness clashes of national narratives every day when addressing the heritage of the Second World War, still so present.

Just as in personal relations, so with states and nations, rebuilding a broken relationship is harder than breaking it. Not all initiatives are successful in transforming enmity to amity. Reconciliation between former enemy states is challenging since the current generation often has not experienced the traumatic historical event that remains unresolved. By definition, we cannot remember something that we did not experience. Instead, perceptions are shaped by what we have learned at school, what we have seen from the media, and what we have heard from older generations. This ongoing dialogue between the past and the present becomes more complicated as it occurs between two collective entities, and across national borders. More than seventy years have passed since the Second World War came to an end across the world. Asia, however, is still in the midst of a history war. How to remember or not to remember the conflicting past constitutes major obstacles to reconciliation and peace between China and Japan, Taiwan and China, South Korea and Japan, India and Pakistan, to name but a few. 


The other in us by Nguyen Huu Phu Gia, designed by Vo Ha Chi. Used with permission. A student’s artwork in my peace-related course: “We draw lines between us and them by what we see (collar shape) but there are always other elements we often miss that connect us and them (cloth color).”



Is It Necessary to Reconcile?

Making efforts to transform enmity to amity between states has rarely been an attractive policy option. Reconciliation is one of the least observed interstate cooperative behaviors compared to others such as alliance, appeasement, détente, normalization, rapprochement, coexistence or cooperation. Some scholars argue that the concept itself has a religious connotation too strong to apply to politics, referring to the reunion between human beings and God.2 Schaap in Political Reconciliation for instance points out that “reconciliation is central to the Christian religion as it provides the narrative link between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament”.3 During his official visit to Algeria in 2007, the former French President Nicholas Sarkozy refused to apologize for colonial misdeeds emphasizing that repentance is “a religious notion that has no place in relations between states”.4 In a world of politics where power, fight, and authority reign, there is no space for sacrifice, apology, forgiveness or love. Others argue that reconciliation is a matter of interpersonal or inter-communal relations so it should not or cannot be applied onto abstract collective entities such as the state.5 There is no normative reason for sovereign states to seek reconciliation with ‘others’ as opposed to intra-state cases in which conflicting groups are forced to find a way to live together. Throughout my study on political science and international relations in France, Switzerland, United States, Korea, and Japan, I have rarely encountered a university lecture focusing on international reconciliation.6 My professors were skeptical when I told them I would like to write a thesis on reconciliation (warning me that it would be difficult to find a job as IR departments would not show much interest in it). Reconciliation was not only rarely practiced in reality, it also had little space in academia.

Nonetheless the process of globalization has made countries become more accountable. We now know what is happening on the other side of the world, which makes it hard to say ‘it is none of my business!’ when witnessing injustice or wrongdoings. Whether states respond to the moral obligation is a different story. But at least this shift from a pessimistic realpolitik vision towards a more ethical one brought reconciliation to the center of international relations.7 The United Nations8 proclaimed 2009 International Year of Reconciliation with the aim of “restoring humanity’s lost unity, particularly today, when human societies are fractured or deeply divided.” Scholarly works highlight the importance of reconciliation not because it is ethically right to do so but because it provides a better opportunity to build a trust-based society and stable relations in a longer term.9 We see political and societal leaders publicly recognizing or apologizing for past wrongdoings committed against another country, a phenomenon unthinkable half a century ago.10 The rationale behind these gestures goes beyond the scope of this study. But this reconciliatory trend has certainly attracted the attention of the international community, mass media and academia.

The most researched dyadic relations include France-Germany, France-Algeria, Poland-Germany, Poland-Russia, Germany-Israel, Israel-Palestine, India-Pakistan, China-Japan, Japan-South Korea, Turkey-Armenia, Turkey-Greece (Cyprus issue), mainly post World Wars reconciliation cases. Motives, methods, and processes of reconciliation between governments and people vary from one another. Not all initiatives lead to genuine reconciliation. It first requires to properly face the wound between and among the offender and the offended. This means not only to be ready to open the dark side of the self but also to listen and to try to understand the pain of the other. Reconciliation is therefore different from taking revenge, keeping silence, or letting bygones be bygones. It is also different from making a give and take compromise. Reconciliation then requires two-way efforts to transform a relationship from a state of war to a state of peace11, in other words, a constant interactive process between the past and the present as well as between the self and the other. This seemingly impossible-to-achieve precondition, dealing with a learned past (rather than experienced) between two countries, rich and unique in their own history and culture, explains the paucity of reconciliation in our world. In this sense, international reconciliation invites us to rethink the concept of ‘we-ness’ across national borders: “(Reconciliation means) both can live together, interact, and look at each other as citizens of the same country without placing too much emphasis on what divides them, but rather what unites them”.12 As provocative as it may sound, reconciliation becomes necessary to those wanting to live in peace with others, not against them. Engaging in it is therefore an open expression of political willingness to ask revising the concept of enemy in IR and to demand overcoming the spirit of exclusion, which is still at the very centre of the concept of the state today.13


Remembrance Leads to War Rather Than Peace?

화해 (hwa-hae) in Korean or 和解 (wakai) in Japanese, both referring to reconciliation, mean ‘peacefully resolve’. What ‘peacefully’ means is thus subject to various interpretations. Taking its root from the Latin word concilium, the origin of the term reconciliation refers to uniting people in sentiment or bringing them together. In ancient Greece, reconciliation meant “finding those words that could turn enmity into friendship” and was used to describe “how antagonists would meet in council to settle their disputes, a first necessary step in the reconciling process”.14 The how of reconciliation thus becomes the major focus of study. In IR, reconciliation has been considered as a strategy to peace building and conflict resolution (or transformation) focusing on justice, truth seeking, apology, forgiveness, mutual understanding, psychological transformation, healing, compensation, or reparation.15 Which element to prioritize is context-specific and requires a constant dialogue between two countries to find it out. What is common in all cases however is the question of how to deal with the past: What is the best way to bring peace back? Is money or morality more important? If money, how much compensation is enough? If morality, what does apology mean? What constitutes its sincerity? Who is responsible for it? Who takes initiative? When is the best timing? Is it necessary to reopen the past suffering and transmit it to the next generation? Or is it better to forget? Which way helps to rebuild the broken relationship? These are historically sensitive questions as it directly touches upon collective memory, hence national identity. 

Remembering a conflicting past that brought us pain is a relatively new phenomenon. Since the Westphalian system became the omnipresent rule between states, a defeat is just a defeat. At best, we sign a peace treaty to declare the end of war, the ceasefire. But compensation, reparation, apology, repentance, or healing was not on the agenda between states and nations. Simply put history was written by the victors, not by the victims.16 It was with the Holocaust that we started paying attention to the ones suffered and lost.17 Since then, the memorializing of a painful past has become a lofty moral obligation of humanity. Does remembrance lead to peace? The mere observation of Asia’s history wars demonstrates the contrary. Rather than peace and reconciliation, these have brought more resentment, rancour, distrust, intensified patriotic antagonism, all in relation to a historical past that few living today experienced themselves.18 Where does this socially constructed hatred come from? What makes us believe what we believe true, especially in the case of the younger generation? 

According to a recent survey, both Japanese and German university students chose high school education as the most important source of their World War II knowledge (93.2% to 88.3% respectively) followed by visits to memorials and media.19 In its effort to promote and protect human rights, the United Nations recognized the danger of state-sponsored history textbooks fuelling conflict rather than bringing peace: “History textbooks are an important tool in the hands of Governments for transmitting to pupils the official historical narrative. Especially in countries in which history teaching promotes a single narrative, textbooks occupy a key place and are widely considered to be a decisive tool for transmitting government messages to the widest possible audience”.20 The report goes further, emphasizing how states politically use history textbooks to promote patriotism and to strengthen national pride in order to consolidate national identity. While Lall (2008)21 shows us how Indian and Pakistani governments have used their history textbook reform policies to create antagonistic national identities against each other, Takayama22 argues that Japan, through history textbook censorship, has been trying to eliminate destabilizing elements, in particular the comfort women issue, to protect its official postwar national narrative.

While much scholarly attention has been devoted to analyzing governments’ attempt at choosing ways of remembering or forgetting the past through history textbook, national holidays and sites of remembrance such as museums,23 little is known about the consequences for the younger generation: Through the politics of remembrance, what do they know or not know? How does such state memory-making affect the way they perceive their home country’s relations with former enemy states? What happens when national narratives clash, a rising phenomenon in the era of globalizing higher education? Capturing how the current generation shapes their understanding of the conflicting past can suggest reference points for the potential and limits of reconciliation through the politics of remembrance. It also brings to our attention the challenges faced by young people, as active agents of memory, when they discover that what they have learned at school is not always what others believe to be true. Teaching space – in this paper, the university classroom – becomes a locus to test the dialectics between research and education. What we, reconciliation scholars, argue on paper comes alive in the classroom, which pushes us to reflect on our reconciliation pedagogy. As Galtung24 has stated, peace researchers should be attentive to the close link between what we research, how it is taught, and what impact it brings to our society. 

In this sense, one of the major challenges for reconciliation educators is how to design the course in which reconciliation studies brings more hope than despair25 and how to make the seemingly impossible dialogue possible among students when they are exposed to the clash of national narratives on ‘controversial history issues’,26 ‘violent past’,27 or ‘dangerous memories’.28 Among a series of conflicting national narratives, I focus on the Japanese-South Korean relations with a special emphasis on the comfort women issue based on my teaching experience at Japanese and Korean higher education institutions.29 The purpose of this study is not to question which past is or should be taught in both countries. Rather, it is rather an attempt to discover what students narrate about their acquired conflict knowledge, what happens when their stories clash in university classrooms, and which pedagogical methods could be implemented if we want them to become an active agent of peace and reconciliation.


The Clash of National Narratives: Comfort Women Issue

The comfort women issue is one of the most controversial and politically charged in Japanese-South Korean relations. The rise of Japanese revisionist movements in the late 1990s triggered a severe backlash in bilateral relations as they attempted to nullify the laborious step-by-step progress made over decades, as exemplified by the 1993 Kono statement, the 1995 Murayama statement or the private Asia Women’s Fund.30 Through its textbook censorship and screening process, the Japanese Ministry of Education (MoE) made efforts to eliminate ‘masochistic’ and ‘anti-Japanese’ elements in order to create “new history textbooks that enable children to be proud Japanese”.31 With the aim of creating a positive version of their past, the MoE gradually dropped references to wartime atrocities or changed certain terms explicitly indicating Japan as aggressor: “[i]n the interests of the education of citizens, it is not desirable to use a term with such negative implications to describe the acts of their own country. A term such as ‘military advance’ should be used instead of ‘aggression’”.32 The governmental effort on improving national image does not stop within Japan. In 2015, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo criticized a U.S. textbook used in public schools in California objecting to its description of the comfort women during the wartime period: “I just looked at a document, McGraw-Hill’s textbook, and I was shocked. […] This kind of textbook is being used in the United States, as we did not protest the things we should have, or we failed to correct the things we should have.” He added: “Being modest does not receive recognition in the international community and we must argue points when necessary”.33 This determined attempt to glorify Japan’s past by whitewashing its wartime atrocities provoked a violent reaction in the neighboring countries leading to year-long protests both at the governmental and societal levels.34

This growing chasm between Japan and South Korea in how they deal with the wartime past is replicated in university classrooms, and often expressed in the form of indifference/denial versus anger when it comes to the comfort women issue. In my previous institutions, where the student body in the classroom has largely been from one nationality, Korean students, when given the opportunity to write, have fervently raised the non-apology issue while Japanese students have kept silent or focused on explaining how the issue has become exaggerated.35 Nationality mostly reflects what they believe. Now at my current institution, the situation has changed. Students are now in the presence of a large number of others, with both believing in their national official narratives. Some raise curiosity when other classmates talk, but their narratives often clash. In addition to Korean narratives, Japanese students are exposed to other national narratives. In an International Peace Studies class, Miki, for example, said that during a group discussion she was astonished but then ashamed to learn about the Japanese brutal colonial policy practiced in Indonesia. Her main embarrassment was not about whether what she was told was true. It was more about the fact that she had to face an official narrative unknown to her and was expected to respond in public. Shintaro, who will start working for a governmental institution after his graduation, showed a very violent reaction when faced with alternative narratives. He was frustrated to learn that some of his classmates do not share his conviction that Koreans are exaggerating the number of comfort women. It is easily imaginable how this bitter clash makes any in-class discussion difficult. As long as cultivating guro-baru jinzai (global human resource) remains one of the primary goals of the Japanese higher educational reform36, students are more likely to face such a clash of national narratives at increasingly internationalized universities. Feeling angry, frustrated or ashamed, wanting to learn more about what was not taught, or strongly rejecting all other narratives, are some of the reactions observed. In classrooms that often feature more than ten different nationalities, the classroom becomes a space of multiple diverse national narratives. Teaching historically sensitive issues in the IR classroom is therefore becoming more and more challenging with the global composition of the student body.37


Same Bed, Different Dreams

As historical narratives are closely linked to national identity, students get easily hurt or irritated when faced with other stories, other beliefs. This is obviously not their fault. What they tell us simply demonstrates the “success” of their respective government’s attempt at transmitting the single official narrative of a conflicting past. They learn differently about the same historical event38, and hence they talk about it differently. In my peace-related courses (2016-19), I created a mini research-based assignment asking students to choose a museum, a memorial, or simply a site of remembrance to share their experience and reflection on the purpose of remembering. An overwhelming majority of Korean students chose the statue commemoration of the comfort women while Japanese students chose the atomic bomb museum/dome/city in Nagasaki or Hiroshima (86% to 98% respectively). Content varies but four common points are found.

Victim narrative. When referring to the statue of comfort women, Korean students mostly talk about how “we” suffered under colonial rule, how cruel “they” were, and why it is unjust not to sincerely apologize.39 A similar response comes from Japanese students when it comes to the Atomic Bomb museum. The main discussion is formed around the cruelty of war and how Japanese people had (unnecessarily) suffered and lost so many lives. As Ernst Renan once said, pain connects people more strongly than joy. Victimhood talks more: Comfort women for Korean; Nagasaki and Hiroshima for Japanese; and the Nanjing massacre for Chinese students. While a clear distinction between the “we” who suffered and the “them” who caused us pain is present, a deeper reflection on how we made them suffer is rarely mentioned.40 As we argued in previous research, the lack of reflective narratives among the student body has something to do with the way they were taught rather than the inability to self-assess or criticize.41

Outgoing message. In the case of both sets of students, although the site of remembrance they chose concerned their home country’s past, they understood its main purpose as a message sent outwards to “them” rather than “us”. The Korean students’ reflections on the purpose of comfort women commemoration was along the lines of “you do something to bring justice back”, which closely aligns with the statue’s original purpose. The civic group that erected the statue of a young girl in Busan in 2011 were explicit that the statue was installed “in order to request an official apology and legal compensation for Japan’s colonial rule and war crimes, and also to discard the comfort women agreement”.42 In this way, the site of commemoration becomes a place of public protest, manifestation, fight against human rights, targeting them rather than commemorating our pain.43 Similarly, the Japanese students’ reflections on the atomic bomb memorials in Nagasaki and Hiroshima were concentrated around the danger of nuclear weapons and why the world should stop going to war. Again, this aligns with the clear outgoing message of the sites themselves. At the beginning of the Nagasaki atomic bomb museum tour, for example, visitors are requested to: “[…] Please know the truth under the darkness. Please do not forget. Please spread the message.”44 Student’s reflections on the memorials echo this original intention –asking them to appeal to others in a manner that politicizes the act of remembrance.

Little reflection on peace. In both cases, students frequently referred to peace but there was little reflection on what this term actually means. In the Korean case, the statue of comfort women was officially named as the statue of peace. However few students discussed the concept: peace for them was equivalent to justice or apology: 

“The statue of peace was made in order not to forget what Japan did to victim countries as a perpetrator and focus on the truth about suffering of comfort women. In international relations, it is necessary for the offender to sincerely apologize and recognize historical facts.” (P, Korea)

“The peace statue of girl was built to soothe the pain of the Japanese military sexual slavery (comfort women) and education of students. Not only adults but also students must learn the correct perception of history. The fact that these women were forced into performing sexual acts to pleasure the people in the army is a huge violation of basic human rights. Apologizing can be somehow interpreted with recognizing the past mistake. The reason why we keep on trying to get a sincere apology is not only a problem with comfort women but it is also our problem because it is our past and our present and our future.” (L, Korea)

In the Japanese case, students reflected that through the atomic bombing in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan became the symbol of peace. Peace here is equivalent to a world free of war, free of nuclear weapons:

“Japan, this small country was damaged a lot during World War II and we lost everything. However we decided to be a peaceful country and we did not do any war after that time. We do not even have any nuclear weapons. In my opinion, this is amazing. Nagasaki atomic bomb museum taught me this and make me think about ‘peace’ again.” (G, Japan)

“So many Japanese students visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki as a school trip. I visited both as school trips during primary school and junior high school. The exhibitions had a powerful impact and I got strong emotional impacts. Although there are still people who have personal hatred towards the US, our victim’s attitude focuses more on telling the history and importance of peace rather than blaming the US. Although it is hard to forgive the aggressor, we should find out the way to cooperate with the aggressor for the world peace.” (H, Japan)

One of the favorite quotes students mentioned was by the former US president Barack Obama: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”45 (Picture 1) While both Korean and Japanese students invoked the concept of peace they clearly meant something different.46


President Obama’s Message and the Paper Crane.
Exhibited in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
Author’s photo. 


Socially constructed antagonism. When discussing the main purpose of remembrance, many students shared how a visit to a memorial or a museum dealing with contested heritage enhanced a sense of patriotism and sometimes incited a strong hatred towards the others who caused us pain. Gustafsson47 has analyzed how visiting war museums in former enemy states impedes Japanese children from taking pride in being Japanese. In a class I taught in Korea, a student confessed: “I am sometimes surprised myself how angry and furious I can become about something I have not even experienced just by watching TV news about Japan”.48 If contested memories transmitted through school education, museums, or media only serve to generate a socially constructed antagonism amongst the younger generation, and with respect to a painful past that they were not even involved in, are they worth transmitting? Is it not better to forget if we want our next generation to live in peace with former enemy states? Rieff49 has praised forgetting “so that life can go on”, acknowledging that such memories do an injustice to the past: “Remembrance may be the ally of justice, but […] it is no reliable friend to peace, whereas forgetting can and at times has played such a role.” 

While there is no clear-cut solution to this question, what is clear is that not all sides hold the same right when it comes to the politics of remembrance: “The narratives of the perpetrator and the victim cannot be granted equal moral weight”.50 Is it possible for ‘us’ who caused ‘them’ pain to suggest forgetting? Or is it possible to expect sincerity when an apology is forced? Whether conflicting narratives lead to war or peace appears to much depend on why such narratives are being produced and how the past is being remembered.


Through the Eyes of Others Approach

In the era of globalization, students are constantly exposed to competing national narratives. We learn that what brought us glory brought them pain. We discover that there are different official narratives of the same event. We get surprised by the fact that what we have forgotten still resonates strongly in them. My students have a lot to say when it comes to blaming others or justifying one’s own position when asked why certain countries fail to reconcile. Their arguments presume that reconciliation and peace can only start when they take action, not us. They become quickly silent when asked what is required to transform the enmity to amity or what we can do to rebuild the relationship. In a mini survey exercise I conducted in my class,51 many students left blank their answer to the question “what role do you think you can play to promote reconciliation?” Some answered that they had never thought about this type of question while others considered reconciliation a task for politicians. How can we expect students to become aware of their own peace agency if they are not even convinced that they can work with others inside the classroom? The fundamental problem I encounter while teaching peace and reconciliation is that students do not always know how to listen to and communicate with others when they are exposed to conflicting national narratives.

As a reconciliation scholar, I feel a strong responsibility but also a sense of vulnerability whenever I walk into the classroom. Since I started teaching reconciliation, I have kept questioning myself about why I teach. Scholars have different motivations, reasons, and purposes of engaging themselves into their career path in research and teaching. In my case, professional experience in the diplomatic service and international organizations pushed me first to make a connection between theory and reality: Does my intellectual reflection contribute to promoting reconciliation in un-reconciled cases around the world?52 This puzzle went further when I commenced my academic career: “Does research on reconciliation affect reconciliation happening in our world? Is research helping policy makers find a better way to reconcile? Does all the excellent debate and discussion at academic conferences resonate beyond the ivory tower?” “Does teaching reconciliation lead to reconciliation? Does the research outcome I share in the classroom help students become interested in reconciliation studies and eventually incite them to become an agent of peace themselves?” I realized that education could or could not become an essential resource for reconciliation depending on the answer I provided to these questions. Through my teaching experience in Japan and Korea, I came to understand that I have been looking at my students not only as a subject to transfer knowledge but also as a potential candidate to become a protagonist of reconciliation. Having observed the lack of interest among students in reconciliation studies, my purpose of teaching became clearer over time: to help students discover their own role in promoting reconciliation by introducing various un-or-reconciled cases around the world, by raising awareness of its importance, and by making them see issues from the eyes of others. This self-reflection on why to teach linked me to the question of how to teach.

In this spirit, I tried to implement several methods hoping to help students see the contested history issue through the eyes of others. Instead of focusing on one museum from one’s own national perspective I now asked students to choose two sites of remembrance or museums adopting a different perspective on the same conflicted past, or one museum of their home country that commemorates the pain of others. This dual reflection approach made the in-class conversation very lively as students showed a lot more interest in sharing, wanting to know the why, and engaging in debate with critical but open minds. They compared the different reaction of Korea and Taiwan when it comes to the comfort women issue; discussed what they discovered during their visit to the World War II memorial in Berlin and Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo; and shared how they felt in a South Korean museum that featured a contrasting view on North Korean and Vietnamese communism. A group of Indonesian students said that during their research they were surprised to learn that there was no museum that addressed the suffering of Timor Leste in Indonesia. One of my seminar students wrote an undergraduate thesis on comparing comfort women museums in Korea and Japan. She showed how the Korean museum focuses on the emotional side such as suffering, pain, sorrow, and frustration, while the Japanese museum focuses on factual elements such as place, year, and number that makes visitors react and reflect differently. (Picture 2) I do not intervene much in what they argue as that is clearly not the purpose of my teaching. I, however, push them to question themselves about what makes them believe what they believe true. Comparing sources they cite in order to develop their argument has been proved useful in fostering critical thinking. It is not unusual to see a reference list filled with Japanese or Korean media sources only. I also ask them to deeply reflect on whether what they argue would stay the same even though they might have been born in the opposing country. Allowing one’s nationality to determine one’s belief is the right of the individual, but at least we should be aware of the fact that, in this case, in forming our belief, we prioritize one’s own national belonging rather than a deeper reflection to search for historical truth. In this sense, a comparative approach in reconciliation pedagogy turned out to be useful but it needs to be employed with care. 

Reconciliation scholars have been frequently comparing cases, Europe with Northeast Asia in particular, highlighting national leaders’ behavior of repentance, recognition or denial, cultural argument on shame versus guilt, religious values, the impact of US foreign policy, the role of regional institutions, history textbook controversies, government-civil society relationships, top-down versus bottom-up approaches and governmental influence in the creation of official narratives.53 Such research has been valuable in identifying elements that explain the degree of ongoing processes and in identifying measurable indicators of reconciliation.54 It is however important to note that this kind of comparative research approach does not necessarily lead to constructive discussion when applied in the classroom. I have observed Korean students, strongly influenced by the media, often cite European cases for one purpose: to criticize the other for not having done the same. Willy Brandt’s kneeling down in 1970 (it is ironic to discover that most of them know who Brandt is but not Merkel!), the hand-shake diplomacy between Queen Elizabeth and former IRA commander Martin McGuinness in 2012, or the British foreign secretary William Hague’s speech addressed to Kenya in 2013, were all used in their essays to blame Japan. If we want peace research to contribute to real peace through education, the ultimate goal of teaching must aim at promoting reconciliation, not impeding it: “Positive examples are where the aim of history teaching is more clearly oriented towards the reduction of conflicts within and among societies, the peaceful articulation of social and political controversies […]. Such goals are attainable only when teaching includes critical thought and analytic learning, thereby encouraging debate, stressing the complexity of history and enabling a comparative and multiperspective approach”.55

It therefore appears worthwhile to design classroom content in a way that invites students themselves to discover methods of transforming enmity into amity that enables them to discover their own unique paths to reconciliation. When students were introduced to the Franco-German joint leadership of Konrad Adenauer and Charles De Gaulle, how they tried to continue talking even when there seemed little hope,56 in direct contrast to how Japan and Korea have cancelled official meetings each time there was disagreement, they were forced to consider the crucial importance of dialogue. Moreover, because reconciliation actors are so scarce, simply discovering that there are engaged individuals other than national leaders helps students to become more aware of their own peace agency. When talking about how media professionals stopped demonizing each ‘other’ in the Polish-German relations,57 students reflected on their own media literacy. When teaching how the French historian Benjamin Stora and the Algerian historian Mohammed Harbi tried to put their sources together to analyze the Algerian War58 or how Turkish and Armenian historians had such a hard time discussing the term ‘genocide’,59 I asked students to think about the potential as well as the limit of joint history textbooks in Asia. When discussing the contribution of religious actors in promoting reconciliation between Poland and Russia60 or Greece and Turkey,61 we talked about interfaith dialogue in Asia. It was interesting to see students bringing Buddhist or Confucianist values such as oneness or harmony to the Asian reconciliation agenda to counterargue that the lack of Christianism (mea culpa culture, apology, forgiveness…) makes reconciliation process quasi impossible in Asia. When introducing the role of art and literature watching Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn (Polish-Russian case) or reading Go by Kaneshiro Kazuki (Korean-Japanese case), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Franco-German case), Blood Brothers by James A. Baker III (Indian-Pakistani case), Other Colors by Orhan Pamuk (Turkish-Armenian case), students easily plunged into a deeper reflection wanting to learn more, which is not always so when approaching the issue through 30 page-long academic articles or book chapters.

Through this teaching practice, I came to know that students became not only more interested in reconciliation studies but also more curious about how others learn about their own past histories. It could be beneficial if we provide them with a context to see the issues beyond historical antagonism. The ‘through the eyes of others’ pedagogical approach does not bring any immediate solution to the issue of contested memories. But it offers a good opening point in allowing students to think, discuss, and reflect with students sharing different narratives or holding opposing views. Although it can be laborious, sometimes painful, to be exposed to conflicting narratives, students will get a chance to become aware of their own peace agency if they are ready to listen to others with an empathetic mind and willing to understand why others do not think the same way.


From Others versus Us to Others and Us

Opening up the dark side of one’s own history⎯commemorating those we caused pain or suffering⎯ is challenging. Bar-Tal and Bennink62 highlights the importance of self-reflection on the violent past and refraining from self-glorification and self-praise: “In the reconciliation process, the group must take responsibility for its involvement in the outbreak of the conflict, if that was the case, as well as its contribution to the violence, including immoral acts, and refusal to engage in a peaceful resolution.” The reality however shows more cases of denying, blaming, and ignoring such involvements than properly facing them.63 We know that from our life experience. When I ask students to share their own experiences with respect to the difficulty of interpersonal reconciliation, most of them unconsciously put themselves in the victim position by arguing “He betrayed me, I cannot trust him any more”, “She hurt me too much and I know she will do it again”, or “They will not change. People don’t change.” As much as I sympathize, I also know how many times I want the other to forgive me or to give me a second chance when I make a mistake or cause pain in the hope that he or she will believe I can change. Reconciling, and rebuilding a broken relationship, is not easy. Not everyone can do it. It requires courage to open up ourselves, which often makes us become vulnerable. It requires trust in others even though we might get hurt again. It requires a genuine belief in love. And it requires a strong desire for a better future ‘with’ them, not ‘against’ them. Is it therefore possible or even desirable to expect it to happen at a macro level between former enemy states?

While preparing an exhibition on Germany entitled “Memories of a Nation” in England, Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum, confessed to the highly-selective nature of British history as presented in public contexts: “In Britain we use our history in order to comfort us to make us feel stronger, to remind ourselves that we were always, always deep down, good people. […] Maybe we mention a little bit of slave trade here and there, a few wars here and there, but the chapters we insist on are the sunny ones”.64 For instance, the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo was taught in England as the achievement of the British victory rather than the joint German-British effort. As the exhibition was well received in London, MacGregor wished to launch a similar one in Berlin “precisely because it can be helpful for us to have our own history explained to us from an outside perspective”.65 By what he calls a ‘reflexive act of memory’ we better understand why Britain and Germany have followed such different lines on the Syrian refugee crisis, the EU and the concept of sovereignty.66 If the British exhibition “Memories of a Nation” showed the danger of selective memory, the 2017 German exhibition “The Blind Spot” highlighted a little-publicized dark side of Germany’s history relating to its colonial past. Focusing on the role of the “others”—the colonized, the exhibition was “publicly digging into the colonial roots” of Germany. Julia Binter, the curator of the exhibition, said: “Research on Germany’s colonial past has been extensive. Now it is time to start a discussion in society and ask what we can learn from it. […] It is not until we get to know our own history with all of its dark sides that we can shape the present and the future in a positive way. That is vital in a globalized society”.67 These are exceptional initiatives, but they open a new door for those interested in reconciliation and peace.

To make this happen on a larger scale, there should be a conviction we want peace with them—not against them, and perhaps a courage to believe in change: “Although people materialize their memories of traumatic historical events in murals, monuments, and memory quilts, these sites of memory are themselves subject to change as people come to new understanding of their symbolic meaning and thus, construct and reconstruct new identities and memories. It offers a hopeful message that these new memories that represent the past can be used as a tool to bring about peace and reconciliation in troubled places and aid in the process of fashioning a more peaceful, just, and democratic future”.68 Focusing on the erbfeindschaft (hereditary enemy) referring to the deep rooted hatred between France and Germany, Rosoux69 demonstrates how a contested memory of a Franco-German war is now presented as a common past of collective suffering through what she calls ‘memory work’. This process is possible when we are ready to recognize a plurality of narratives—different from relativism, and to transform our perception of identity from one strong national identity to multiple and sometimes fragile ones.

The Siegestor in Munich demonstrates this transformation well. Celebrating Bavaria’s victorious part in the Napoleonic wars in 1852, the Victory Gate portrayed a one-sided narrative: “To the Bavarian army”. Damaged during the Second World War, the Gate went through a reconstruction and carries now an ‘expanded narrative’: “Dedicated to Victory. Destroyed by War. Urging Peace.” The purpose of remembering has changed: “The focus has moved from commemoration to admonition; from the rule looking selectively and triumphantly back, to the citizen, chastened, looking thoughtfully forward”.70 Similarly, in 2017 France and Germany constructed a bi-national museum that “endeavoured to write a new history of the battle and of the war, honouring the proper patriotism of both sides, while deploring the excesses of nationalism that had led to the conflict”.71

States and nations today are accountable for what they do. Heroic glorification of one’s own past does not stop within a national boundary anymore.72 The multinational discussion of national narratives continues through the internet, creating ‘transcultural memory’.73 Leaving students to face this entirely unguided, or neglecting to consider carefully the pedagogical challenges it raises, is dangerous. Peace does not occur naturally. But who knows what happens if we commit ourselves to helping the younger generation to become active agents of peace ‘through the eyes of others’ approach? It was not politicians or historians but students who proposed the idea of a joint German-French history textbook in the French-German Youth Parliament meeting in 2003, adopted later by the German Department of Foreign affairs and the French Ministry of Education.74 The role of teacher agency is crucial in shaping students’ worldview based on ‘collective maturity’,75 humanistic values,76 empathy,77 ‘engagement with otherness’,78 unity,79 ‘ethos of peace’,80 ‘ethos of reconciliation’81 and after all, love for humanity. By showing how Polish and German students changed their perception towards each other through the joint education in reconciliation, Schwan82 emphasizes: “Where reconciliation is successful, it is generally a source of great happiness to those involved, whether they are individuals or peoples. The happiness of peoples lies in their coming to feel confidence in one another, so that they can come to terms with one another without violence even when the conditions for conflict are present.” How we deal with the clash of national narratives reveals much about what type of legacy we want to transmit to our future generation.





This research was financially supported by the Resona Asia-Oceania Foundation and the Czech Science Foundation under reg. no 18-05339S.


Elizabeth A. Cole, “Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education,” in Teaching the Violent Past: History Education and Reconciliation, ed. Elizabeth A. Cole (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 1-28; Joseph A. Favazza, “Reconciliation: On the Border between Theological and Political Praxis,” Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 3 (Winter 2002): 52-63; and Gardner-Feldman, Germany’s Foreign Policy of Reconciliation: From Enmity to Amity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).


Andrew Schaap, Political Reconciliation (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), 18.


Reuters, “Sarkozy Tells Algeria: No Apology for the Past,” Reuters, July 10, 2007.


Marc Howard Ross, “Ritual and the Politics of Reconciliation,” in From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation, ed. Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 197–224.


The accurate term would be ‘reconciliation between nation-states,’ and not inter-state or inter-national, to describe cases of country-to-country reconciliation process including both government-to-government and people-to-people levels. However, for the sake of convenience, this paper interchangeably uses the term ‘interstate’ and ‘international’ referring to reconciliation between two sovereign countries.


Pierre Hazan, “Reconciliation,” in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: A Lexicon, ed. Vincent Chetail (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 256-67.


United Nations, General Assembly Official Record on the Draft Resolution of International Year of Reconciliation 2009. 61st General Assembly, Plenary 56th Meeting, A/61/PV.56. November 20, 2006.


For instance, see Kora Andrieu, “‘Sorry for the Genocide’: How Public Apologies Can Help Promote National Reconciliation,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38, no. 1 (2009): 3–23.


For a list of reconciliatory leaders, see Seunghoon Emilia Heo, “Assessing International Reconciliation in Europe: Towards the South, Towards the East,” Sophia Journal of European Studies 7 (2014): 39–58.


For a detailed analysis on the concept of a state of war, a state of peace and the transformational aspect of reconciliation, see “Defining reconciliation,” in Reconciling Enemy States in Europe and Asia, Seunghoon Emilia Heo (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 61-71.


Cited in Virginie Ladisch, “Toward the Reunification of Cyprus: Defining and Integrating Reconciliation into the Peace Process,” Journal of Public and International Affairs 17 (2006): 119.


Giandomenico Picco, “La Réconciliation et Les Nations Unies [Reconciliation and the United Nations],” Politique Étrangère 58, no. 4 (1993): 877–84.


Charles Villa-Vicencio and Erik Doxtader, Pieces of the Puzzle: Keywords on Reconciliation and Transitional Justice (Cape Town: Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, 2005), 5.


For instance, see Hizkias Assefa, “Reconciliation,” in Peace-Building: A Field Guide, ed. Luc Reychler and Thania Paffenholz (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001), 336-42; Daniel Bar-Tal and Gemma H. Bennink, “The Nature of Reconciliation as an Outcome and as a Process,” in From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation, ed. Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 11-38; Jacob Bercovitch and Richard Jackson, “Reconciliation and Justice,” in Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First Century: Principles, Methods, and Approaches, (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2009); Hazan, “Reconciliation”; Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse, and Hugh Miall, “Reconciliation,” in Contemporary Conflict Resolution (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2016); and Valérie Rosoux, “Reconciliation as a Peace-Building Process: Scope and Limits,” in The SAGE Handbook of Conflict Resolution, ed. Jacob Bercovitch, Victor Kremenyuk, and I. William Zartman (London: SAGE Publications, 2009), 543-63.


Oliver Richmond, Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).


Frank Chalk and Jurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 1990).


For concrete cases, see: Daniel Chirot, Shin Gi-Wook and Daniel Sneider, Confronting Memories of World War II: European and Asian Legacies (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2014); Sara McDowell and Máire Braniff, Commemoration as Conflict: Space, Memory and Identity in Peace Process (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan,  2014); and David Rieff, “The Cult of Memory: When History Does More Harm Than Good,” The Guardian, March 2, 2016b.


Ingvild Bode and Seunghoon Emilia Heo, “World War II Narratives in Contemporary Germany and Japan: How University Students Understand Their Past,” International Studies Perspectives 18, no. 2 (2017): 131–54.


United Nations, Cultural rights, General Assembly, 68th Session on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: Human Rights Questions, Including Alternative Approaches for Improving the Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. A/68/296, August 9, 2013, page 17.


Marie Lall, “Educate to Hate: The Use of Education in the Creation of Antagonistic National Identities in India and Pakistan,” Compare 38, no. 1 (2008): 103–19.


Takayama Keita, “Globalizing Critical Studies of ‘Official’ Knowledge: Lessons from the Japanese History Textbook Controversy over ‘Comfort Women,’” British Journal of Sociology of Education 30, no. 5 (2009): 577–89.


For instance, see William Callahan, “History, Identity, and Security: Producing and Consuming Nationalism in China,” Critical Asian Studies 38, no. 2 (2006): 179–208; Karl Gustafsson, “Memory Politics and Ontological Security in Sino-Japanese Relations,” Asian Studies Review 38, no. 1 (2014): 71–86; Hong Kal, “The Aesthetic Construction of Ethnic Nationalism: War Memorial Museums in Korea and Japan,” in Rethinking Historical Injustice and Reconciliation in Northeast Asia, ed. Gi-Wook Shin, Soon-Won Park, and Daqing Yang (New York, NY: Routledge, 2007), 133–53; Lall, “Educate to Hate”; Gotelind Müller, Designing History in East Asian Textbooks: Identity Politics and Transnational Aspirations (London and New York: Routledge, 2011); and Takayama, “Globalizing Critical Studies of ‘Official’ Knowledge,” 577-89.


Johan Galtung, “Twenty-Five Years of Peace Research: Ten Challenges and Some Responses,” Journal of Peace Research 22, no. 2 (1985): 148.


Pal Ahluwalia et al., Reconciliation and Pedagogy (New York NY: Routledge, 2012); and Birgit Brock-Utne, “Introduction: Education for Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution,” International Review of Education 55, no. 2–3 (2009): 145–56.


Mark Baildon et al., Controversial History Education in Asian Contexts (London and New York: Routledge, 2014); and Karina Korostelina and Simone Lässig, History Education and Post-Conflict Reconciliation (New York, NY: Routledge, 2013).


Cole, “Introduction: Reconciliation and History,” 1-28.


Zvi Bekerman and Michalinos Zembylas, Teaching Contested Narratives: Identity, Memory and Reconciliation in Peace Education and Beyond (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012).


Class observations are limited to peace-related undergraduate courses I taught in English at Sophia University (2013-2016), Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (2016-current) in Japan and in Korean at the School for Politics (MPPU), registered as a research unit in the Korean national assembly (2010-2015). Sophia University lectures include Introduction to Global Studies, International and Global Affairs, and Seminar on Reconciliation and Peace Studies. Most students were from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Faculty of Foreign Studies with a large majority of Japanese nationals. Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University lectures include International Peace Studies, International Relations in the Asia Pacific, Regional Systems in the Asia Pacific and Peace, Humanity, Democracy. Coming from more than 30 nationalities, most students are majoring in International Relations and Peace Studies while liberal arts subjects such as Peace, Humanity, Democracy comprises students majoring in Environment and Development, Culture Society and Media, Tourism, Economics and Management. The School for Politics (MPPU) is a three-month intensive program aiming at educating youth on how we can contribute to the common good for humanity through politics. All participants were Korean. All names used in this study are pseudonyms. The assessment and interpretation are based on my own experience.


Takayama, “Globalizing Critical Studies of ‘Official’ Knowledge,” 582.


Cited in Nicholas D. Kristof, “The Problem of Memory,” Foreign Affairs 77, no. 6 (1998): 41.


Aoki Mizuho, “Abe Pledges to ‘Correct’ the Record on Wartime Sex Slaves,” The Japan Times, January 29, 2015.


Chunghee Sarah Soh, “Politics of the Victim/Victor Complex: Interpreting South Korea’s National Furor over Japanese History Textbooks,” American Asian Review 21, no. 4 (2003): 145-77; and Zheng Wang, “History Education: The Source of Conflict Between China and Japan.” The Diplomat, April 23, 2014.


Students raised in a biracial family or with experience of studying abroad during their secondary education have often different reflections. For more details, see Seunghoon Emilia Heo, “Through the Eyes of Others: Postwar Reconciliation Narrative in Contemporary Japan,” in Identity, Culture and Memory in Japanese Foreign Policy, eds. Michal Kolmaš and Sato Yoichiro (Peter Lang, 2021). forthcoming.


To review the project for promotion of global human resource development and global 30 project (establishing university network for internationalization), see the MEXT (Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)’s official website and this pdfBoth Sophia University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in which class observations are made for this research are selected for the global 30 projects.


Stuart Foster, “Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom: The Exciting Potential of Disciplinary History,” in Controversial History Education in Asian Contexts, ed. Mark Baildon et al. (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 19-38; and Suzanne Goodney Lea and Taiyi Sun, “Diversity and Controversy in the Facilitated Classroom,” in Controversial History Education in Asian Contexts, ed. Mark Baildon et al. (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 248-64.


For details on the difference, see Jae-Jeong Chung, “Historical Conflict and Dialogue Between Korea and Japan: A Focus on Japanese History Textbooks,” in Designing History in East Asian Textbooks: Identity Politics and Transnational Aspirations, ed. Gotelind Müller (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), 207-28; Takuya Kitazawa, “Textbook History Repeats Itself,” Japan Quarterly 48, no. 3 (2001): 51-7; Wang, “Old Wounds, New Narratives”; and Daqing Yang, and Ju-Back Sin, “Striving for Common History Textbooks in Northeast Asia (China, South Korea and Japan): Between Ideal and Reality,” in History Education and Post-Conflict Reconciliation, ed. Karina Korostelina and Simone Lässig (New York, NY: Routledge, 2013), 209-29.


Various interpretations exist of Japan’s apology politics regarding the comfort women issue, which goes beyond the topic of this article. For further details, See for instance Stefan Engert, “Japan – China and the Two Koreas: The Apologia syndrome,” in Apology and Reconciliation in International Relations: The Importance of Being Sorry, ed. Christopher Daase et al. (Routledge: London, 2016), 237-58; Jennifer Lind, Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics (Cornell University Press: Ithaca and London, 2008).


For the danger of hero-victim narrative to the exclusion of alternatives see Catriona Pennell, “Learning Lessons from War,” History & Memory 28, no. 1(2016): 36–71; For a discussion on victor/victim narrative versus reflective narrative in East Asia, see Wang, “Old Wounds, New Narratives,” 101-26; For how efforts to include other narratives helped the shift from enmity to amity, respectively in Northern Ireland and between France and Germany; see Brian Conway, “Active Remembering, Selective Forgetting, and Collective Identity: The Case of Bloody Sunday,” Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research 3, no. 4(2003): 305-23, Valérie Rosoux, “Epilogue: Memory versus Reconciliation,” in Reconciliation in Global Context: Why It Is Need and How It Works, ed. Björn Krondorfer (SUNY Press: New York, 2008), 199-215, and Valérie Rosoux “National Identity in France and Germany: From Mutual Exclusion to Negotiation,” International Negotiation 6 (2001): 175-98.


For examples of non-reflective or victimized Japanese student narratives about World War II see Bode and Heo, “World War II Narratives in Contemporary Germany and Japan.”


Sol Han and James Griffiths, “Why This Statue of a Young Girl Caused a Diplomatic Incident,” CNN, February 10, 2017.


Satoko Oka Norimatsu, “Amidst an Explosion of Anti-Korean Hate: Thoughts on Overcoming Colonialism and Bringing Peace to the Korean Peninsula,” The Asia Pacific Journal | Japan Focus 17, no. 21-3 (2019): 1-8; and Shaun O’Dwyer, “Korean Nationalism and the ‘Comfort Women’ Issue,” The Japan Times, September 23, 2019.


Author’s translation: “曇の下の真実を、知ってください。忘れないでください。伝えてください。”


During his visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Peace Memorial Museum on May 27th in 2016. Message exhibited in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.


Selected essays submitted on 18 May 2018 for International Peace Studies class assignment.


Gustaffson, “Memory Politics and Ontological Security in Sino-Japanese Relations,” 79.


Cited in Seunghoon Emilia Heo, “Challenges of Teaching International Reconciliation in Japan and Korea: A Comparative Perspective,” in Reconciling with the Past: Resources and Obstacles in a Global Perspective, ed. Annika Frieberg and C. K. Martin Chung (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), 110–21.


David Rieff, In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies (New Haven and London: Yale University Press 2016a), 144, 122.


Nadim N. Rouhana, “Group Identity and Power Asymmetry in Reconciliation Processes: The Israeli-Palestinian Case,” Peace and Conflict 10, no. 1 (2004): 43.


A final research project for seminar students in the research methodology class during the fall semester 2017. Their task was to conduct a survey on the South Korean-Japanese reconciliation, interviewing Korean and Japanese university students. The result was presented on 24 January 2018.


For life experience, see Seunghoon Emilia Heo, “Two to Tango: A Life Journey Towards Reconciliation,” Waseda Asia Review 18 (2016): 82-5. [In Japanese] For English translation, see here.


For examples, see: Thomas U. Berger, War, Guilt, and World Politics after World War II. War, Guilt, and World Politics After World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Ian Buruma, The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan (London: Vintage, 1995); Lily Gardner-Feldman, “German-Polish Reconciliation in Comparative Perspective: Lessons for Japan?Japan Focus 8, no. 16 (2010), (accessed on 10 July 2020); Mayer Hartmut, “Historical Narratives as Normative Drivers of Integration and Disintegration in Europe and Asia,” in Drivers of Integration and Regionalism in Europe and Asia: Comparative Perspectives, ed. Louis Brennan and Philomena Murray (London: Routledge, 2015), 52-68; Andrew Horvat, “A Strong State, Weak Civil Society, and Cold War Geopolitics: Why Japan Lags behind Europe in Confronting a Negative Past,” in Rethinking Historical Injustice and Reconciliation in Northeast Asia, ed. Gi-Wook Shin, Soon-Won Park, and Daqing Yang (New York, NY: Routledge, 2007), 216–34; Yinan He, “Comparing Post-War (West) German-Polish and Sino-Japanese Reconciliation: A Bridge Too Far?” Europe – Asia Studies 63, no. 7 (2011): 1157–194; Lind, Sorry States; and Justyna Szczudlik-Tatar and Piotr Mejssner, eds.,”Polish Experience in Reconciliation: A Model for Rapprochement in East Asia?” Post-conference Report, The Polish Institute of International Affairs, Warsaw, 2014.


Just like global peace index (Institute for Economics and Peace, see here) or global happiness report (United Nations, “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development.” Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 July 2011. A/RES/65/309. August 25, 2011), there have been attempts at creating a reconciliation index while some scholars consider reconciliation impossible to measure. See Yehudith Auerbach, “The Reconciliation Pyramid – A Narrative-Based Framework for Analyzing Identity Conflicts,” Political Psychology 30, no. 2(2009): 291–318; Hazan, “Reconciliation,” 259; Jens Meierhenrich, “Varieties of Reconciliation,” Law and Social Inquiry 33, no. 1(2008): 195–231.


United Nations, “Cultural rights,” 16.


Seunghoon Emilia Heo, “Between Tokyo and Berlin: The Art of Dialogue in Reconciliation,” AICGS Issue Brief, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Johns Hopkins University, March 2014.


Annika Elisabet Frieberg, Peace at All Costs: Catholic Intellectuals, Journalists, and Media in Postwar Polish-German Reconciliation. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2019.


Mohammed Harbi and Benjamin Stora, La guerre d’Algérie [The Algerian War] (Paris: Hachette, 2004).


Elazar Barkan, “Introduction: Historians and Historical Reconciliation,” The American Historical Review 114, no. 4 (2009): 899–913.


Matthew Day, “Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic Church Heads Aim to Reconcile,” The Telegraph, August 17, 2012.


Bar-Tal and Bennink, “The Nature of Reconciliation as an Outcome and as a Process,” 21.


John Torpey, “Dynamics of Denial: Responses to Past Atrocities in Germany, Turkey, and Japan,” in Rethinking Historical Injustice and Reconciliation in Northeast Asia: The Korean Experience, ed. Gi-wook Shin, Soon-won Park, and Daqing Yang (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 173-91.


Cited in Kate Connolly, “Britain’s View of Its History ‘Dangerous’, Says Former Museum Director,” The Guardian, October 7, 2016.




Tim Adams, “Neil MacGregor: ‘Britain Forgets Its Past. Germany Confronts It,’” The Guardian, April 17, 2016.


Sarah Hucal, “Why a German Museum Is Exploring Its Colonial Past,” Deutsche Welle, August 7, 2017.


Conway, “Active Remembering,” 317.


Rosoux, “Epilogue: Memory”; and Rosoux, “National Identity”.


Neil MacGregor, “What Britain Forgets about Remembrance.” The Financial Times, November 9, 2018.




Richard J. Evans, “Introduction – Redesigning the Past: History in Political Transitions,” Journal of Contemporary History 38, no. 1 (2003): 5–12.


Halstead Huw, “‘Ask the Assyrians, Armenians, Kurds’: Transcultural Memory and Nationalism in Greek Historical Discourse on Turkey,” History & Memory 30, no. 2 (2018): 3–39.


Barbara Gruber, “Joint German-French History Book A History-Maker Itself,” Deutsche Welle, October 7, 2006.


Sara Clarke-Habibi, “Transforming Worldviews: The Case of Education for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Journal of Transformative Education 3, no. 1 (2005): 33–56.


Scherto Gill and Ulrike Niens, “Education as Humanisation: A Theoretical Review on the Role of Dialogic Pedagogy in Peacebuilding Education,” Compare 44, no. 1 (2014): 10-31.


Jodi Halpern and Harvey M Weinstein, “Rehumanizing the Other: Empathy and Reconciliation,” Human Rights Quarterly 26, no. 3 (2004): 561–83.


Scherto Gill, “Universities as Spaces for Engaging the Other: A Pedagogy of Encounter for Intercultural and Interreligious Education,” International Review of Education 62, no. 4 (2016): 483–500.


H. B. Danesh, “Towards an Integrative Theory of Peace Education,” Journal of Peace Education 3, no. 1 (2006): 55-78.


Daniel Bar-Tal, “From Intractable Conflict through Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation: Psychological Analysis,” Political Psychology 21, no. 2 (2000): 351–65.


Charalambous, Constadina, et al., “Reconciliation Pedagogies and Critical Ambivalence in Teacher Professional Development: Insights from a Case Study in Cyprus,” Journal of Peace Education 17, no. 2: 208-33.


Gesine Schwan, “The Role of Education in German Polish Reconciliation,” Presentation delivered the Stockholm International Forum Conference, 2002.

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Volume 19 | Issue 5 | Number 10

Article ID 5553

About the author:

This article is a part of The Special Issue: The ‘Comfort Women’ as Public History.  See the Table of Contents.


We created a zip file for download containig all articles in this special issue for your convenience.



Please also see the supplementary issue to this special issue, Academic Integrity at Stake: the Ramseyer Article, edited by Alexis Dudden.




Emilia S. Heo is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Peace Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan and the author of Reconciling Enemy States in Europe and Asia (Palgrave Macmillan 2012). She was an Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Sophia University, JSPS postdoctoral research fellow at the United Nations University with joint affiliation to the University of Tokyo, a research associate at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the George Washington University, and a visiting scholar at Harry & Helen Gray AICGS reconciliation fellowship program at the Johns Hopkins University. Her current research focuses on postwar reconciliation narratives, peace education, and the role of arts in processes of reconciliation beyond national borders. A graduate of Seoul National University, Heo holds an M.A. in European Studies from Université Paris VIII and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the Graduate Institute Geneva. She has a career background in diplomatic service and international organizations before joining academia.

The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus is a peer-reviewed publication, providing critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific and the world.

    About the author:

    This article is a part of The Special Issue: The ‘Comfort Women’ as Public History.  See the Table of Contents.


    We created a zip file for download containig all articles in this special issue for your convenience.



    Please also see the supplementary issue to this special issue, Academic Integrity at Stake: the Ramseyer Article, edited by Alexis Dudden.




    Emilia S. Heo is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Peace Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan and the author of Reconciling Enemy States in Europe and Asia (Palgrave Macmillan 2012). She was an Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Sophia University, JSPS postdoctoral research fellow at the United Nations University with joint affiliation to the University of Tokyo, a research associate at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the George Washington University, and a visiting scholar at Harry & Helen Gray AICGS reconciliation fellowship program at the Johns Hopkins University. Her current research focuses on postwar reconciliation narratives, peace education, and the role of arts in processes of reconciliation beyond national borders. A graduate of Seoul National University, Heo holds an M.A. in European Studies from Université Paris VIII and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the Graduate Institute Geneva. She has a career background in diplomatic service and international organizations before joining academia.


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