Nation and Nationalism in Contemporary Japan

Yoshio Sugimoto. Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. Editor: Gerard Delanty & Krishan Kumar. Sage Publications, 2006.

The Japanese term for nation, kuni, denotes three different levels of community. At the most local level, kuni refers to the villages or towns from which one’s family originated. For many contemporary metropolitan dwellers, their respective kuni refers to the place where their ancestors used to reside, their parents or grandparents still live, and where their ancestral family tomb is located. They return there during the New Year holidays or summer bon vacation when their ancestors’ souls are believed to be present. Such people consider these villages and towns as their spiritual homes and therefore hold them dear to their hearts. The folk communities of these areas, with their collective memories of rice paddies, creeks, mountains and other bucolic imagery, create and sustain a sense of homeland for those connected to them. Kuni in this sense is a folk community comprised of people that share a ‘we-feeling’ based on common ancestral origin, cultural practice and linguistic heritage.

At the intermediate level, kuni also stands for the regional units that originated in the seventh century when the imperial clan secured control of a significant amount of the Japanese archipelago and established a government system based on three tiers of administration. Under this system, kuni was the highest regional unit, followed by a middle level unit called gun (or kori) and the smallest unit ri (or sato). Toward the end of the Tokugawa feudal period, there existed some 68 kuni units. These served as the basis of the prefectural units later created by the Meiji government at the time of modern state-building in the middle of the nineteenth century. At this level, even today kuni can refer to a region defined by a common system of customs, practices and beliefs. For instance, the Japan Alps region in and near Nagano prefecture is Shimano no kuni (or Shinsh ü). Kagoshima prefecture more or less corresponds to Satsuma no kuni. Regional identities are often expressed in such local products and events as Echigo rice (produced in the Echigo region, present-day Niigata prefecture), Iyo oranges (Ehime prefecture) and Awa dancing (Tokushima prefecture). Japan, then, is made up of these sub-nations.

As a largest unit, kuni means Nihon (or Nippon), the Japanese national entity, though it is not a constant but a variable. Its territorial boundaries have contracted and expanded over centuries. In ancient Japan, with the gradual unification of Nihon under the imperial household in the eighth century onwards, the Japanese nation as kuni denoted the territory that we today call the Kinki region, with Kyoto as its capital and geographic centre. While the ‘nation’ of Japan expanded to cover the three main islands of the Japanese archipelago—Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku—over time, Hokkaido, where the Ainu retained their own culture, remained outside Nihon until the latter half of the nineteenth century when the Tokyo government confiscated the Ainu’s land and officially incorporated it into the Japanese territory. In the first half of the twentieth century, Nihon expanded into Asia as a result of the Japanese annexation of the Korean Peninsula, the colonization of Taiwan and the military occupation of parts of China and South-East Asia before and during World War II. The Ryukyu Islands, situated in the south-west of Kyushu, had their own kingdom and polity for centuries and were closely connected with the Asian continent and the Pacific islands until incorporated as Okinawa prefecture in the Japanese state structure in the late nineteenth century. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, Okinawa was occupied by the United States until its return to Japan in 1972. Thus, the Nihon we know today as a nation with 47 prefectural units stretching from Hokkaido to Okinawa is a post-1972 phenomenon. The Japanese nation as kuni has, over time, inflated and deflated in size and has never been a fixed and historically frozen entity.

Given Nihon s territorial fluidity, the definition of who Nihonjin (the Japanese nationals) are has also vacillated over time. Korean residents in Japan, for example, were classified as having Japanese citizenship until 1952 when they were reclassified as non-Japanese at the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Furthermore, different individuals use different criteria to define ‘Japanese’, including citizenship, biological pedigree, language competence, place of residence, place of socialization and so forth. Table 39.1 illustrates the variability of how Nihonjin are defined, depending on which yardsticks are applied and in what way. If one does not simply rely on citizenship criteria, many questions arise. Should soccer players, like Santos and Ramos, who have obtained Japanese passports be regarded as more Japanese than expatriate Japanese who have forfeited Japanese citizenship? What about the children of expatriate Japanese who have grown up abroad, and for whom English is their first language? What about Japanese Latin Americans who have come to live in Japan? To answer these questions, one can be exclusive and argue that those who satisfy all the criteria (those who have a plus in each column) are real Japanese. Conversely, one can be inclusive and maintain that those who meet at least one criterion (those who have at least one plus in the columns) can be classified as Japanese. Of course, there are many middle positions in between these two poles. These considerations sensitize us to the larger question as to who has the right to decide who is and is not ‘Japanese’.

Such variability in the definition of Japan and the Japanese problematizes various forms of Japanese national identity. This chapter attempts to sketch aspects of contemporary Japan’s nationalism by focusing on: (1) the context in which Japanese self-definition has involved duality throughout the modernization processes; (2) the extent to which the paradigm of ethnic nationalism prevailed in post-war Japan, taking both racial and cultural forms; (3) the way in which a new paradigm of national integration has emerged as a consequence of the globalization of the Japanese economy and the multiculturalization of the population; and (4) the demographic patterns in which different groups consume competing national perspectives in the population.

Duality of Japanese Nationalism: Historical Context

Nationalism in contemporary Japan is a product of its historical legacy and embodies contradictory elements because its modernity has been built upon apparently mutually competing forces. Japan was a late-developing country with colonial ambitions and participated in the international competition of capitalism and colonialism after early developers such as Britain, the United States and France had already made considerable inroads into the global market. Japan has established itself as the most advanced economy outside the so-called ‘West’. The nation relied substantially on both technological and cultural input from Western countries throughout its modernization process. With its defeat in World War II, the country was occupied by the United States for several years and still remains under the military umbrella of the United States. Meanwhile, its leadership has made every attempt to maintain and develop what it deemed to be Japanese civilization and culture and to avoid full-scale Westernization. Thus, Japan has been both in the East and in the West, both at the centre and at the periphery, and both post-modern and pre-modern. The geopolitical and socio-economic location of Japan as a ‘peripheral centre’ (Arnason 2002) makes it an interesting testing ground for theories of nationalism.

Table 39.1

Specific examples Nationality (citizenship) ‘Pure Japanese genes’ Language competence Place of birth Current residence
Most Japanese + + + + +
Korean residents in Japan + + +
Japanese businessmen posted overseas + + + +
Ainu and naturalized foreigners + + + +
First-generation overseas who forfeited Japanese citizenship + + +
Children of Japanese overseas settlers -/+ + +/- +/-
Immigrant workers in Japan -/+ +
Third-generation Japanese Brazilians working in Japan + -/+ +
Some returnee children + + + +
Some children of overseas settlers + +
Children of mixed marriage who live in Japan + +/- + +/- +
Third-generation overseas Japanese who cannot speak Japanese +
Naturalized foreigners who were born in Japan but returned to their home country + +
Most overseas Japan specialists + -/+
Source: Adapted from Sugimoto (2003: 186)

When the Meiji Restoration of 1868 began the process of modernization and industrialization, the nation’s elite put into circulation the two key nationalist slogans made up of dualistic concepts that clearly reflected their orientation. One of these slogans was wakon yosai (Japanese spirit and Western technology), which tacitly conceded that Western countries were ahead of Japan in the material, scientific and productive sphere, but stressed that Japan was superior in the cultural, spiritual and mental domain (Kawamura 1994: 15-17). It was argued that these non-material qualities represented the essence of Japan that should not be contaminated even if the nation embraced Western technology. The separation of these fields enabled Japan to compete with advanced countries in the area of universal technology, while also maintaining a grip on its domestic culture.

The second slogan, datsua nyuo (quit Asia and join Europe), cast Asian countries as negative and underdeveloped entities that Japan should dissociate itself from and European countries as positive and advanced models that Japan needed to follow and eventually surpass. This attitude formed the basis of Japan’s Orientalism—or auto-Orientalism as some authors have termed it (Lie 2000). Over time, this view made the nation’s elite highly conscious of its location in the international pecking order vis-à-vis the United States and European countries and at the same time served to justify the racial prejudice harboured by some Japanese against people in the Asian region (Tsurumi 1982), which ultimately resulted in Japan’s military aggression against East and South-East Asia in the first half of the twentieth century.

Japan’s ambivalent, conflicted relationship with both Asia and the West manifested itself throughout its modernization process. Even while acknowledging its desire to ‘catch up’ to Europe before and during World War II when Japanese military aggression in Asia was in progress, an anti-Western nationalist discourse in Japan maintained that this was a war against Western imperialism to ‘liberate’ Asian countries under white colonial rule (William 2000; Wilson 2002). Though the argument simply served to justify Japan’s own colonial ambitions, it was highly persuasive at the time because of the duality, the Janus-faced nature of Japanese nationhood. Even today this argument has its followers. For instance, the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a vocal historical revisionist group formed in 1997 to produce new textbooks, regards the prevailing narratives of Japanese history as too negative and ‘masochistic’ under the influence of two sets of external worldviews—Western ideology and Marxist propaganda. More broadly, the question of how to ‘transcend Western modernity’ has been a thorny issue for a nation that attained a high degree of development without becoming fully modern in the Western sense.

In more recent years, some analysts have drawn links between the ‘Japanese dilemma’ and the postcolonial discourse in Asia and beyond. In the ‘world system of knowledge’, the Japanese intellectual community is at the periphery, with its European and American counterparts continuing to occupy the central position. The de-centralists argue that, despite Japan’s economic and technological dominance around the world, the imbalance remains in North America’s and Western Europe’s favour in terms of intellectual exchange (Asquith 1999; Alatas 2001; Kuwayama 2004). For example, a large quantity of Western books and articles are translated into Japanese every year, but only a small number of Japanese publications are translated into English and other influential European languages. The Japanese balance of payments in intellectual commodities in the social sciences and humanities has consistently shown an excess of imports against a deficit of exports. To a considerable degree, such imbalance is attributable to the dominance of English as the lingua franca of international communication, the outworking of what some call ‘English-language imperialism’, in which the native speakers of English have a distinctive advantage over non-natives. This de-centralist argument resonates with postcolonialist discourse to the extent that Japan shares with Asian, African and Latin American states cultural, psychological and mental subordination to their past colonial powers, although Japan’s position is more complex than most because, in a broad sense, it has been both colonizer and colonized.

After Japan’s crushing defeat in World War II, the duality of Japanese nationalism took a convoluted form, portraying the Japanese not as aggressors but as victims. The belligerent militarist ideology of the pre-war and wartime period found little popular support. In its place, however, moral support for various kinds of victims (for example, of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Tokyo Air Raid) shaped the nation’s sense of togetherness. ‘Victim nationalism’, as it were, has galvanized collective self-pity and self-sympathy without fully considering the victims of Japan’s overseas acts of aggression. In the current political scene, two different cases illustrate this. First, despite repeated protests by Korean and Chinese governments, high-ranking Japanese politicians (including Prime Ministers and Cabinet members) regularly visit the Yasukuni Shrine—a memorial to the nation’s war dead (including Class A war criminals from World War II)—because they know that such visits strike a chord with their electorates. Second, news of the North Korean government’s abduction of Japanese civilians in the 1980s and 1990s for intelligence purposes stimulated mass support for the victims and the popular demonization of North Koreans in the 2000s. This is in sharp contrast to the ambivalence and hostility of the Japanese public’s response to the claims of ‘comfort women’, the large number of mainly young Korean women abducted by the Japanese military during World War II to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers on the frontline (see Tanaka 2002; Ueno 2004). So long as Japan remains a central power in the periphery, this type of duality and imbalance in national consciousness is likely to continue to survive.

Prevalence of Ethnic Nationalism

Japan’s nationalism—both state-led and popular—has tended to advance its argument in ethno-racial terms and to use the notion of Nihon minzoku as its central pillar. Minzoku, which literally means a ‘folk tribe’, represents a mixture of race and ethnicity and embodies a racial group with a supposedly common biological extraction and ancestral lineage which shares an internally homogeneous culture. Nihon minzoku, therefore, is an imagined Japanese race that forms Japanese nationhood, cultivates Japanese ethnicity and relishes Japanese culture, making nationhood (N), ethnicity (E) and culture (C) almost synonymous and interchangeable. Based on this N = E = C equation (Sugimoto 2003), Japan’s nationalism has often had an overtone of racial exclusiveness that crystallizes in the notion of Nihon minzoku. At the same time, the Japanese modern nation-state has been envisaged as kokka, a ‘national house’ in which Nihon minzoku live inside as a family to the exclusion of foreigners who are supposed to live outside the ‘house’. The family metaphor is consistent with the assumption of racial homogeneity.

Racial Nationalism

The racially oriented nationalism of this sort prevails both at the state and popular levels. Prominent politicians have often kindled controversies by invoking the images of Japanese racial superiority. In 1986, then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone publicly avowed that the Japanese had a higher level of intelligence than Americans and attributed the difference to Japanese racial purity as opposed to America’s racial heterogeneity. In 2000, Takao Koyama, then LDP member of the House of Councillors, stated in the Japanese parliament that ‘nations (kokka), peoples (kokumin) and races (minzoku) have their own DNA He was arguing that the Constitution that was imposed on Japan by the American Occupation Forces right after World War II needed to be revised to ‘become compat ible with Japan’s DNA. In the same year, Tokyo’s Governor, Shintar—Ishihara, publicly attributed a series of vicious crimes in the capital to the sangokujin (third-country people, a derogatory term for Koreans, Chinese and other Asian residents in Japan), and suggested that they might riot in the event of a natural disaster. These sorts of views, which in most advanced countries would only be advocated by the extreme racist Right, are, in Japan, expressed by powerful mainstream politicians. This reflects the extent to which racial nationalism remains a potent force in contemporary Japan and the degree of its political appeal at the grassroots level.

A nationwide time-series survey conducted by the Institute of Statistical Mathematics and spanning half a century includes a problematic but intriguing question: ‘In a word, do you think the Japanese are superior or inferior to Westerners?’ The fact that a reputable survey research centre has continued to ask such a question over five decades is in itself indicative of the extent to which race consciousness prevails in Japan. The survey results, shown in Table 39.2, suggest among other things that national self-esteem fluctuates in accordance with the nation’s economic performance. In the 1950s, when Japan was still suffering from wartime devastation, more Japanese felt inferior to Westerners. With the start of the high-growth economy in the 1960s, however, the Japanese regained national confidence and a sense of ethnic superiority. The pattern culminated in the 1980s when the so-called bubble economy reached its peak. After the Japanese economy stagnated and entered recession in the 1990s, such self-glorification gradually declined, though a clear majority still felt superior to ‘Westerners’. One can also observe that the proportion of the Japanese population who perceive no difference between the two groups has steadily increased over time. The trend is consistent with a decline in support for the thesis that the Japanese are racially unique. This forms a backdrop against which the racial criteria are gradually losing ground in Japan’s national identity debate, a point which we will take up later.

Even so, Japan’s institutional and legal structure continues to sustain the nation’s racial ideology. The Nationality Law constitutes the bedrock of Japan’s state nationalism. First, this law emphasizes blood relations as the foundation of citizenship acquisition and thereby reinforces Japan’s self-image as an ethnically homogeneous nation. It stipulates that one can automatically qualify as a Japanese national at birth if at least one parent possesses Japanese nationality. Even if born in Japan, the children of foreign nationals cannot obtain Japanese citizenship without their formal applications being approved by the Ministry of Justice. Secondly, the Nationality Law disallows dual citizenship on the grounds that it is a dangerous arrangement that would threaten national cohesion. Approximately half of the thirty-odd member states of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) accepts dual citizenship in one form or another. Most of the G8 (Group of Eight) nations, made up of superpower economies, allow their citizens to hold citizenships in other countries with some qualifications. Germany used to be an exception but now belongs to the majority group after the German parliament passed legislation that permits Turkish citizens to also become German nationals. This has left Japan as the only G8 country unwilling to authorize dual citizenship.

For this reason, many Koreans living in Japan—even though a majority of them have resided there for four or five generations—do so without Japanese citizenship. This, despite the fact that their first language is Japanese and that they are culturally more familiar with Japan than with Korea. Both South and North Korea share Japan’s genetic approach to citizenship and as such reject dual citizenship, which puts Korean residents in Japan in a kind of double bind.

Cultural Nationalism: Nihonjinron

As racism has become increasingly unacceptable internationally, ethnically oriented nationalism has shifted its focus from the hard racial dimension to a softer cultural one. The cultural mode of nationalism manifested itself widely in post-war Japan in the form of the so-called Nihonjinron, a genre of writings that literally means a theory of what it is to be Japanese and has established itself as a field of its own with many bestsellers and perennial sellers in the publishing industry. Most Nihonjinron literature emphasizes the uniqueness of Japanese psychology and culture, stresses the exclusive superiority of the Japanese and gives its readers a sense of national pride and self-esteem. The ideology of wakon yosai (Japanese spirit and Western technology) was reinforced in numerous well-received books and articles written in this genre from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. This, of course, was a period of Japan’s spectacular economic advancement in the international market, when overt political and militaristic nationalism was still taboo after the defeat in World War II.

While the specific substance of Nihonjinron is wide-ranging, the genre is defined by a few common features (Dale 1986; Mouer and Sugimoto 1986; Yoshino 1992; Befu 2001). The first is the essentialist assumption that the Japanese are homogeneous and have a common set of cultural characteristics and value orientations, regardless of their class, gender, age, region, occupation and other sociological variables. Internal variation, diversity and stratification are either unrecognized or ignored, with stereotypes being Nihonjinrons stock in trade. Secondly, the literature is either explicitly or tacitly predicated upon the proposition that the uniformity of the Japanese is derived from their racial commonality. Some advocates go so far as to argue that the Japanese think and behave in the same way because they share a common bloodstream. Others contend that the Japanese can understand each other with ease because they share the same ethnicity. Thirdly, Nihonjinron use the so-called West as the yardstick against which Japan is favourably compared. The West—the United States in particular—has been the significant ‘Other’ for Nihonjinron analysts, which reflects the fact that Japan’s cultural leaders have long been preoccupied with the nation’s standing vis-à-vis other industrialized countries. The datsua nyuo and ‘catch-up and overtake’ mentality that dominated the thinking of the pre-war Japanese elite has remained a deep-rooted sentiment among post-war cultural nationalists. Fourthly, methodologically, Nihonjinron writers have used arbitrarily chosen anecdotes, key words and phrases and personal experiences as evidence for their claims and thereby made their publications a form of popular entertainment rather than serious scholarly writings. As mass consumption goods, Nihonjinron have penetrated into many sections of Japanese society and have become the dominant way that the Japanese interpret and understand themselves and their culture. Fifthly, these widely held views within Japan have contributed to the international stereotype of Japanese national identity. While the Nihonjinron industry has recently declined with Japan’s economic stagnation, its main claims still remain influential and entrenched.

Isomorphism between Mainstream and Dissenting Discourses

Dissenting groups typically build their counterarguments against mainstream institutions and values with the same logical structure as that of Nihonjinron. The essentialist isomorphism between groups at the centre and those at the periphery is evident. For example, minority groups in Japan, as elsewhere, tend to define their minority culture in static and homogeneous terms. When Korean residents in Japan endeavour to maintain what they see as Korean culture, their framework resembles that of Nihonjinron to the extent that they take it for granted that there exists a uniform and unchanging Korean national culture. New migrants to Japan are also inclined to preserve a sense of their respective ‘national culture’ and thereby become cultural nationalists in a way similar to the majority Japanese who glorify Japanese tradition, cultural uniqueness and national ethos.

It is also the case that cultural nationalism à la Nihonjinron has been so pervasive in Japan that it has been embraced not only by the political right but also by the left (Oguma 2002). In the 1950s and 1960s, the Japan Communist Party adopted minzoku dokuritsu (independence of the Japanese race from the United States) as an official slogan. Many Japanese public intellectuals who write harsh critiques of Japanese society often deliver what might be called ethno-criticism, whereby they develop theories of the ‘patterns’, ‘deep structure’ and ‘underlying tones’ shared by all Japanese regardless of their positions and locations in society and throughout Japanese history. Though the substance of their argument may be opposed to the complacent self-glorification of Nihonjinron, ultimately ethno-criticism only mirrors its ethnocentrism by perpetuating the assumption of the ethnic uniformity of the Japanese.

The isomorphic correspondence stems from the fundamental dilemma that exists between essentialism and de-centrism. When one portrays Japan as being a culturally peripheral nation in the international community, one is on the slippery slope of essentialising Japan. When variations within Japan are emphasized, however, the reality of Eurocentrism in the global context tends to be diluted. Similarly, Korean residents in Japan, who advocate the maintenance of their Korean ethnic culture, often unwillingly affirm the notion that cultures are uniform and homogeneous entities. However, when they stress the internal diversity of Korean culture, they tend to attenuate it, making it difficult to collectively impact the might of Japan’s majority culture. In other words, there exists a negative correlation between intra-societal and inter-societal cultural relativism.

‘Developmental State’ as Efficient Disseminating Mechanism

The Japanese state has been well equipped to propagate state nationalism with its highly centralized and efficient structure of ideological dissemination, at the core of which sits the state bureaucracy. The bureaucracy constitutes one side of the so-called iron triangle of the establishment—the other two sides being parliament and big businesses—and formulates long-term state policies and programmes, often subjecting individual corporate interests in the private sector to the imperatives of what it deems to be the national interest. This type of polity, referred to as the ‘developmental state’ (Johnson 1996), contrasts with that of Western capitalism in which the market dominates with few state interventions. Japan represents the prototype of Asian developmental states in which ‘plan rationality’ takes precedence over ‘market rationality’. Under this system, state-programmed ideology can be disseminated and penetrate into the everyday life of the Japanese with relative ease (Garon 1998; McVeigh 2003).

For instance, in the sphere of education, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology oversees the entire school system from primary through secondary to tertiary levels. All textbooks used in government elementary and middle schools must be authorized by the Ministry, and teachers are required to follow its official curriculum guidelines. At the community level, households are organized compulsorily into neighbourhood associations known as ch ó naikai, which serve, among other things, as the information dissemination channels for governmental programmes and instructions. NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), public broadcasters funded primarily by compulsory fees paid by all TV and radio owners, have nationwide networks and have played a crucial role not only in the standardization of the Japanese language and but also in the propagation of establishmentarian ideas (Krauss 2000) since their foundation eight decades ago. Faced with the acceleration of globalization, however, this centralized system of efficient ideology dissemination appears to be undergoing a profound change.

Paradigm Shift to Multicultural National Integration

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Japanese state is split over the usefulness of ethnic nationalism as the major tool for national integration in the future. Japan’s domestic reality is more multi-ethnic than ever as a consequence of the influx of migrants into Japan. This is attributable not only to the transnationalization of the economy but also to the twin processes of a declining birth rate and increased longevity, which has made Japan a rapidly ageing society. Japanese society is now unable to maintain itself without accepting a large number of foreign migrants. Official statistics show that the total number of foreign nationals in Japan exceeds 1.3 million, in addition to which about a quarter million undocumented foreigners reside in various parts of the country. More significantly, some 5 per cent of marriages in Japan are now between Japanese and non-Japanese nationals.

In the area of popular culture, Korean movie stars and singers have attained unprecedented popularity in Japan, which suggests that a considerable segment of Japanese society is increasingly oriented to multiculturalism. Japanese animation films have succeeded in the export market by their makers ‘de-odorizing’ their Japanese flavour (Iwabuchi 2002) and adopting a more transcultural format. In Japanese spectator sports, professional soccer and baseball clubs are already multiracial. In the supposedly traditional national sport of sumo (Japanese wrestling), Mongolians, Hawaiians and East Europeans have dominated the top ranks to the dismay of old nationalist fans.

Given that this trend is irreversible, if the Japanese state is to continue to unite the population via some form of nationalism, it is faced with the challenge of generating a narrative that can both accommodate the reality of increasing ethnic hybridity while still embracing a notion of national homogeneity. To the extent that nationalism is a mechanism to reconcile the incongruence between state and society, it makes sense that an increasing number of Japanese national leaders has made every attempt to hijack a new form of nationalism to maintain their interest. In contrast to the hitherto predominant framework which can be called ‘monocultural nationalism’, the emerging and increasingly prevalent paradigm can be labelled ‘multicultural nationalism’. Table 39.3 contrasts both the demographic/structural basis and the ideological components of the two types. The multicultural discourse appears to be based on at least three features.

One ingredient concerns the extent to which citizenship rather than ethnicity is placed at the core of Japanese identity. Loyalty to Japanese nationhood is measured in terms of whether one has Japanese citizenship regardless of one’s ethnic background. Multicultural national assimilation is ostensibly based more on legal-rational principles than ethnic ones.

The growing emphasis on citizenship blurs the lines of demarcation between ethnic majority and minority groups. Minorities such as old-comer Koreans who have permanent residency status have gradually moved into the mainstream of Japanese society, while newcomer foreigners have come to occupy its fringe. Some ten thousand individuals acquire Japanese citizenship every year, including resident Koreans whose older generations have long refused to do so. Meanwhile, the golden rule of not allowing dual citizenship remains intact and leaves no grey areas between Japanese citizenship holders and others. The Japanese state continues to impose very strict border control over refugees and accepts only a tiny number of them despite its ratification of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In the cultural sphere, symbols that glorify Japanese sovereignty and citizenship have been increasingly reinforced. The governmental machinery, for instance, forces schools to make their students sing the national anthem and hoist the national flag on ceremonial occasions, a practice that used to be voluntary and discretional. School teachers who do not follow the government instructions now face disciplinary measures.

Table 39.3 Competing orientations of two types of nationalism in Japan

Criteria Monocultural nationalism Multicultural nationalism
Ethnic variety in the nation Claim for mono-ethnic society Acceptance of multi-ethnic reality
Domestic use of cultural symbols Glorification of nostalgic symbols Enforcement of state symbols
Cultural symbols for foreign consumption Exotic and ‘traditional’ Universal and ‘trans-Japanese’
Monarchy Patriarchal imperial system Acceptance of a female head of state
Territorial issues Rallying points Consideration for economic relations
Foreign workers to be recruited Preferential treatment of the descendants of overseas Japanese Priority placed upon skilled workers
Naturalization as Japanese Obstruct as much as possible Encourage to sustain the economy
State structure Developmental state State under deregulation and privatization
Trade Protectionist but export-oriented trade Free trade

While it is difficult to make cross-national comparisons regarding the extent to which people commit themselves to their citizenship, one measure might be the proportion of emigrants who acquire citizenship of the country in which they permanently settle. Australian data suggest that the percentage of those Japanese migrants who apply for Australian citizenship is distinctively lower than that of any other ethnic group (Sato 2001: 159). Such attachment to Japanese citizenship might well prove to be the bedrock of continuing Japanese multicultural nationalist sentiments into the future.

The second ingredient relates to the way in which national sovereignty is emphasized. Advocates of this orientation argue that Japan should become an ‘ordinary nation’, one equipped with a fully fledged, legitimated military congruent with its economic and technological power. To this end, they urgently seek amendments of the existing constitution so as to transform the Self Defence Forces into a fully legitimatized national military. Despite constitutional sensitivities, Japan’s leadership has now sent peace keeping forces overseas and thereby attempted to assume the status of strategically capable sovereign nation. This blend of nationalists believe that, for the sake of its national self-esteem, Japan should acquire a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.

While all forms of nationalism identify territorial issues as the cornerstone of nationhood, it is notable that multicultural nationalists are concerned with them primarily from economic rather than ethnic perspectives to defend the fishing rights, oil fields and other natural resources around the disputed territories in question. Vis-à-vis Russia, the Japanese government has long claimed that four islands off the eastern coast of Hokkaido—Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashiri and Etorofu—which are currently deemed to be Russian, rightfully belong to Japan. As such it argues for their early return to Japanese sovereignty. Japan is also entangled in a territorial dispute over Takeshima, a set of reefs off the coast of Shimane Prefecture. Koreans call them Tokdo and Seoul claims sovereignty over them, whilst Tokyo argues that South Korea’s occupation of them is illegal. Another territorial conflict exists among Japan, China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands (Tiaoyutai or Tiauyutai Islands in Chinese) near the main island of Okinawa. The three-way dispute provokes nationalist sentiment on all sides, even though the islands in question are small and uninhabited. In all these cases, while territorial issues provide rallying points for monocultural nationalists, their multicultural counterparts tend to deal with them more softly so as not to adversely affect economic relations between the countries involved.

The third feature is ostensibly paradoxical: multicultural nationalism requires internationalist symbols to consolidate itself. International cooperation, cultural exchange programmes and sister-city arrangements tend to sharpen rather than attenuate national consciousness. International sporting events, international exhibitions and even international tourism foster a sense of ‘Us versus Them’, our nation versus their nation, and national identity versus otherness. Even English-language education in Japanese schools is compatible with multicultural nationalism to the degree to which it exaggerates differences between Japanese and English and attributes these differences to the ‘national character’ of the Japanese. It is no coincidence that the Japanese government and cultural leaders began promoting kokusaika (the internationalization) of Japanese society in the 1980s when multicultural nationalism was beginning to emerge. Inter-nationism and multicultural nationalism are interdependent concepts bound together by the powerful imagery that the world is divided into many sovereign nation states, each with its own internal citizenship arrangements.

It is important to emphasize here that the multicultural national integration scheme has not replaced the monocultural type. Rather, they coexist and not only compete with each other but also mutually support each other. For instance, both types accept the notion that the emperor symbolizes national unity and integrity, though the monocultural framework would adhere to the conventional patriarchal system of successions and the multicultural one would contemplate the possibility of a female head of state. Both orientations promote Japanese cultural symbols internationally, although the monocultural type tends to rely on nostalgic, ‘traditional’ and exotic representations (such as the Japanese tea ceremony, flower arrangements and noh plays) and the multicultural type is inclined to sell universal, ‘transcultural’ and ‘translocational’ images (such as certain types of animations, youth music and comic stories).

Demographic Distribution of Nationalist Orientations

Different orientations to nationalism derive from different demographic bases. To examine the consumption patterns of various perspectives, it would be helpful to consider two dimensions of the globalization process—the market and the state. The first concerns the extent to which a given group accepts or rejects the penetration of global, neoliberal market forces from the hegemonic centres of the world, particularly the United States, into their domestic environment. The second dimension relates to the extent to which a given group accepts or rejects national unity under the state apparatus.

Criss-crossing these two axes, Figure 39.1 demonstrates four rival discourses that prevail in different sectors of Japan, namely: (1) global cosmopolitans, who regard the process of globalization as civilizing and the erosion of both the state and nationhood as desirable; (2) multicultural nationalists, who promote interactions and intercommunications with other nation-states while defending domestic national unity and state-based integration; (3) monocultural nationalists, who advocate a strong state and the essence of ‘Japaneseness’ and criticize globalization as Americanization and Westernization; and (4) communitarian localists, who see the penetration of the global market into the community as destructive, yet favour the reduction of state control and the disintegration of national identity. These four analytical categories, whose characteristics are exhibited in Table 39.4, are of course ideal types.

As in other developed countries, global cosmopolitans abound in the sectors that have reaped the benefits of globalization. High-ranking employees of Japan’s multinational enterprises travel the world and often, for a short period, become business expatriates in foreign countries and thereby acquire a global market-oriented perspective that rejoices in consumerism and detests the interventions of national government agencies and officials (see Ohmae 1999). These cosmopolitans are generally well educated, enjoy high incomes and communicate well in English. Some have extravagant lifestyles at home and abroad and engage in fraternal conversations with their overseas counterparts, with whom they share analogous educational backgrounds and similar hobbies, such as golf and tennis. Cosmopolitans promote global arrangements designed to weaken the control of national bureaucrats over the affairs of sovereign states. Those in the IT industry and in import and export businesses also tend to develop this type of value orientation because of their daily exposure to the world beyond their national boundaries.

Figure 39.1 Four-fold typology of competing orientations to the state and the market

Multicultural nationalists differ from global cosmopolitans in defending, sometimes even wishing to expand, the integrative power of the state and Japan’s sense of national unity. They do this, however, while accepting the necessity for Japan to increase cross-border economic transactions and cross-cultural interactions more generally. Their internationalization paradigm differs from that of the globalization promoted by cosmopolitans in that it envisions a future in which mutually exclusive and internally cohesive nation-states interact with each other. Hence, in this paradigm it is assumed that the governance structure of the international system of competing nation-states will remain unchallenged, with the internal regulatory power of each state remaining intact. The collaboration of the main agents of consumer capitalism and the machinery of the state would, in their model, be ensured. If profit motives are predominant amongst cosmopolitans, ‘national interests’ remain uppermost in the minds of multicultural nationalists.

‘Adaptive’ politicians and ‘enlightened’ bureaucrats in Japan tend to take this stance. As the guardians of the Japanese nation-state, they seek to adjust the state structure in response to changing external economic circumstances without undermining their governing control over it. The ‘enlightened’ urban middle class, employed mainly by large corporations, also tend to adopt the multicultural nationalist position. They are all too aware that Japan’s economy is firmly intertwined with the outside world, a situation that requires smooth international relations. Even so, their lives are so intricately connected with the national systems of employment, welfare, education and taxation that they never dream of abandoning their commitment to Japan’s nationhood.

Table 39.4 Some characteristics of four types in Japan

Comparative Criteria Global cosmopolitans Multicultural nationalists Monocultural nationalists Communitarian localists
Market + +
State + +
Benefits from multinationals Full Great Little Negative
Linkage with the political establishment Some Close Close Limited
Relations with other countries Borderlessness Co-existence Japanization Glocalization
Foreign migrants Accept as many migrants as the domestic economy requires Accept skilled workers only to make the national economy competitive Limit foreign migration as much as possible to retain national stability Defend the rights and the quality of life of migrants
Citizenship Global citizenship; dual citizenship National citizenship (status quo) Exclusively national citizenship Equal rights between citizens and non-citizens; voting rights for permanent residents
Some visible groups Executives of multinational corporations; IT professionals; international sports people; technocrats; overseas sojourners Many mainstream mass media; urban middle class; large corporations, cultural exchange promoters; adaptive government officials Farmers; self-employed independent business people; new history textbook movement; ‘petit nationalist’ youngsters NGOs and NPOs; citizens’ movements; some ethnic minorities; housewife activists

Monocultural nationalist sentiments are most prevalent among the agricultural and small, independent business sectors, both of which find it necessary to safeguard their vested interests against the penetration of international market forces. In one public opinion survey after another, farmers and self-employed small business people demonstrate strong nationalist leanings of this type. Like their counterparts elsewhere, Japanese farmers and their families feel vulnerable to agricultural produce, meat products, dairy commodities and other cost-competitive imports. Obviously it is in the interest of these farmers for the Japanese government to adopt protectionist policies, to provide them with farm subsidies and to further raise import taxes on agricultural goods. For small self-supporting businesses, globalization represents the threat of multinationals and big business organizations making inroads into, and eventually taking over, the limited markets that they serve. Small shop managers, subsidiary and subcontracting manufacturers, family business owners and other petty independent, self-supporting proprietors have networks of self-protection. Shops at shoten-gai (shopping streets) provide solid voting blocs of support for particular politicians and thereby exercise considerable political clout.

Communitarian localists comprise a variety of community groups that have found themselves subjected to the adverse effects of global market forces, yet remain opposed to an expansion of government power. Many of these groups take part in what are broadly called citizens’ movements, which are organized by individual volunteers concerned about specific issues in their local community. Such issues include environmental destruction, residential degradation, ethnic prejudice, gender discrimination and many others that impart upon the everyday lives of citizens at the community level. These citizen groups emphasize quality of life, voluntary cooperation and the spontaneity of grassroots activities. Civic, localist thinking is common among students, housewives, senior citizens and some sections of the casual workforce—groups that are distant from the power centres of the state and are not directly connected with the capitalist order of production and distribution. They tend to view the activities of both market-oriented companies and power-oriented state machineries as detrimental to human communities and natural environments alike. Many of these localists identify themselves not so much with the Japanese nation state as with kuni at community and regional levels, as discussed at the beginning of this chapter.

The benefits and costs of globalization are variously distributed among different classes and other social groupings and this creates a diversity of views about the desirability, as well as the form, of Japan’s nationhood. With neither nationalism nor anti-nationalism monopolizing the public discourse, national integration or disintegration in Japan rests upon the shifting balance between rival groups and a set of complex dynamics of their competing perspectives.