|JPRI Working Paper No. 73: January 2001
Postwar Japan's "Hard" and "Soft Nationalism"
by Brian J. McVeigh
The greatest trick of the Devil is to convince us he doesn't exist. If this doesn't work, his second greatest trick is to make us believe he is someone other than he really is, thereby sending us off on a wild-goose chase while he is free to carry out his deeds unhindered. Besides the Devil, con artists, swindlers, assorted tricksters, and political leaders also use such ploys. The latter are sometimes able to spin myths of national identity or, by relying on the propensity for self-deception in the face of unpleasant or complex truths among "the people," they create consensual denial at the societal level. In Japan, common myths of national identity include "Japan is a poor, small island nation;" "Japan is homogeneous;" and "all Japanese think alike, so there is no need for serious debate." Such myths, as innocuous as they may appear, actually legitimate nationalism.
In Japan the word "nationalism" usually evokes the prewar emperor system, wartime mobilization, and postwar right-wing organizations. It also conjures up what is better termed, for the sake of clarity, "ultranationalism"-- an explosive mix of militarized statism, imperialist ambitions, xenophobia, and racism. As we enter the new millennium, a wave of nationalism seems to be emerging in Japan. Some symptoms include: the legalization of the Hinomaru, the rising-sun flag; a film glorifying Hideki Tojo (and other movies about kamikaze pilots and efforts to "liberate" wartime Indonesia); Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara's use of sangokujin ("third-country people," a derogatory term from the immediate postwar period for Koreans and Chinese) and his suggestion that the Self-Defense Forces might be needed to put down rioting foreigners in case of a national emergency; Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's description of Japan as "a divine nation centered on the Emperor" and his use of kokutai, a pre-1945 word usually translated as the "national polity" but conveying a sense of the mystical unity of the Emperor and the Japanese people.
A closer examination, however, reveals that the supposed neo-nationalism now visible in Japan is not new; it has been there all along. Media reports that "Japanese nationalism is on the rise" ignore recent postwar history and continuities with the wartime period, the varieties of nationalism, and the actual sentiments of the Japanese. Nationalism has always been there, expressed by a nostalgia for "traditional" values, concerns for "national morality," and the debates about a stronger national defense, educational reform, income redistribution, constitutional revision, and anti-Americanism. Many of these issues were highlighted in 1973 when twenty-four relatively young members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) formed the Fresh Wind Society (Seirankai) that, in addition to supporting the expected nationalist causes of the right, took a decidedly anti-American stance. By the 1980s, emboldened with the success of its economic policies, Japan also indulged what has been called "GNP nationalism," a subspecies of economic nationalism.
"Hard" and "Soft Nationalism"
It is easy to target the usual suspects of Japanese nationalism or instances of "hard nationalism," e.g., politicians in denial about Japan's wartime atrocities, right-wing organizations, and official visitors to Yasukuni Shrine. However, I contend that one does not have to bring up extremism to understand Japanese nationalism. Indeed, in order to come to terms with Japanese nationalism (or any other nationalism for that matter), one is better advised to examine matters that seem innocuous, because as in other societies, Japanese nationalism thrives on taken-for-granted notions about the national state and its political and economic machinery. The problem, then, is "where" to look for nationalism. The "soft" forms of nationalism are often overlooked: "Only the waved or saluted flag," Michael Billig observes, "tends to be noticed. If sociological categories are nets for catching slices of social life, then the net, which sociologists have marked Ônationalism,' is a remarkably small one; and it seems to be used primarily for catching exotic, rare and often violent specimens" (Banal Nationalism , London: Sage, 1995, p. 43).
Nationalism is implicated in the mundane practices of everyday life, and like other hegemonic ideologies, it garners its strength from its invisibility. "The citizens of an established nation," Billig continues, "do not, day by day, consciously decide that their nation should continue. On the other hand, the reproduction of a nation does not occur magically. Banal practices, rather than conscious choice or collective acts of imagination, are required. Just as a language will die rather for want of regular users, so a nation must be put to daily use" (pp. 6, 95).
All national states have, by definition, nationalism, the "every people a polity" ideology that climaxed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and that is still with us. However, historical events, ideological preferences, international developments, and geographical conditions determine what types of nationalism (and their intensity) emerge in any given society. In Japan, the complex and contradictory nature of modern identity can be observed in its contrasting nationalisms: state nationalism versus anti-state nationalism; economic nationalism versus political nationalism; elite nationalism versus populist nationalism; agrarian nationalism versus techno-nationalism; and ultranationalism versus everyday nationalism. Some other types that can also be found in Japan are ethnic nationalism, racial nationalism, linguistic nationalism, religious nationalism, and gendered nationalism. In what follows I will comment on what may be called four types of soft nationalism in Japan and illustrate how they are ideologically interlinked-- economic, educational, cultural, and peace nationalism.
Economic Nationalism: State-Guided Capitalism
The relationship between the rise of nationalism and economics in the modern world is complex and contested, but it cannot be overlooked. This does not mean that their relationship is obvious, uncomplicated, or deterministic, and it certainly does not mean that all states display the same type and degree of economic nationalism. Given the historical record, the insights of the political theorist Ernest Gellner are a compelling place to start for analyzing the relation between nationalism and economics. "Industrial society is the only society ever to live by and rely on sustained and perpetual growth, on an expected and continuous improvement." Such "improvement" demands "egalitarianism" that allows for competition and mobility-- that is, being in the same "nation," everyone is essentially the same and thought to be interchangeable. "Modern society is not mobile because it is egalitarian; it is egalitarian because it is mobile. Moreover, it has to be mobile whether it wishes to be so or not, because this is required by the satisfaction of its terrible and overwhelming thirst for economic growth" (Nations and Nationalism, Oxford: Blackwell, 1983, p. 24ff.).
Gellner's arguments link economics and nationalism in only the broadest sense, and they do not necessarily explain why some states, more than others, have exhibited more explicit tendencies toward economic nationalism. Therefore, the shaping power of specific sociopolitical arrangements, indigenous ideologies, and the vagaries of the international environment during particular historical periods must be acknowledged in order to account for why, in some instances, states (and their populations) come to tightly link national identity with economic practices.
However one describes Japanese economic nationalism, it is crucial to keep in mind that "Japanese capitalism was created in the crucible of conflict" (John Dower, "The Useful War," Daedalus 119:3 (1990), p. 49). Regardless of ideas borrowed from overseas (German national socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Fordism, New Deal schemes, and scientific management), it was Japanese "new bureaucrats" (shin kanryo) and "renovationist bureaucrats" (kakushin kanryo) who assembled a nationalistic ideological package for Japan during the wartime and early postwar periods. This package has had certain components removed and others added in the decades following the war (e.g., in the 1960s the state, via industrial policy, distributed economic benefits among various social classes in order to secure public support for its economic nationalist projects). Regardless of these changes, key elements of the ideological package have remained: a nationalistic understanding of the primary purpose of production, a state that exercises indirect management rather than outright ownership of capital, and a general suspicion of the market (a source of "excessive competition").
Although the "Japan Incorporated" paradigm has been modified in recent years (and is certainly not espoused by everyone), it seems fair to say that cooperation among the political sector, bureaucracy, and big business still characterizes Japan's political economic system to a significant degree. Economists who rely solely on mathematized models ignore the role of nationalism, which (1) justifies and legitimates policies; (2) motivates individuals to work; and (3) forms ideological linkages across different groupings, affording a common idiom for interpreting social reality (in spite of disagreement over the particulars of policy). Of course, Japanese economic actors have clashed over the means to sustain economic growth. However, in Bai Gao's analysis, "When the country was facing a strong external challenge, such as total war, economic survival, or liberalization, national interest was often asserted strategically to reduce domestic conflicts. The shared sense of national crisis had been an important political foundation allowing competing parties to work out a solution to their domestic disputes" (Economic Ideology and Japanese Industrial Policy, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 295). Developmentalism, then, is sustained by nationalism, and as long as nationalism endures in Japan, there is no reason to expect a fundamental decline in an outcomes-oriented rather than a process-oriented version of capitalism.
One way to come to terms with the actual consequences of Japan's brand of economic nationalism is to investigate what the historian Thomas M. Huber calls its "strategic economy" (Strategic Economy in Japan, Westview, 1994). He argues that Japan's political economy is a tightly interlinked, hierarchical system with three layers-- the strategic, the intermediate, and the tactical.
(1) The strategic level is where Japan's economic elite sets clear goals; it is comprised of key policy making agencies, such as the Ministry of Finance, MITI (especially its Industrial Policy Bureau and its Industrial Structure Council), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Japan External Trade Organization.
(2) The intermediate level is that of the mediating institutions of implementation, the area where Japan made its most important innovations in the institutional arrangements of modern, industrial capitalism. According to Huber, there are three main types of mediating institutions. The first are the keiretsu (industrial conglomerates), or as Huber prefers to call them, neo-zaibatsu (zaibatsu were supposedly disbanded after the war)-- including the Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo, Fuyo (formerly Yasuda), Sanwa, and Daiichi (formerly Shibusawa and other concerns) keiretsu. The second mediating institution comprises the industrial associations of big business, the most important one being Keidanren (Federation of Economic Organizations). Others are Nikkeiren (Japan Association of Employer Organizations) and Keizai Doyukai (Business Friendship Society). The final type of mediating institution is the cartels which, unlike neo-zaibatsu and industrial associations, the government establishes for particular purposes. They resemble "military task forces" for conquering particular industrial sectors, from steel to semiconductors. The elite strategies of grand planning and the everyday tactics of production are connected via these mediating institutions.
(3) The tactical level is composed of about two hundred "strategic corporations" and another 10,000 "strategic firms" that receive preferential treatment from the central authorities. The remaining 1.7 million small and medium-sized corporations and 11 million small businesses organized into Nissho, or the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, belong to the "non-strategic" sector. This structural division into strategic and non-strategic "private" enterprises produces a dual economy,with different pricing, credit, and tax measures for each. One economy is composed of internationally respected, super-competitive, state-guided companies and the other of companies that are domestically focused, not well known (if at all), uncompetitive, and coddled and overprotected from foreign competition and markets.
Aspects of this nationalistic economic structure, in addition to the obvious international features of import quotas and tariffs, are reflected in the attitudes of the general populace. In 1993, for example, 98 percent of housewives surveyed claimed that they worry about imported foods. Furthermore, "About six in ten women polled wanted Japan to boost domestic food production and stop imports exceeding current levels" (Japan Times, March 19, 1993). According to Dennis Kitch, Japan director of the U.S. Grains Council, "Over the last 30 years, there has been a concerted effort here in Japan to paint imported foods as being dangerous, as being undesirable." Japanese citizens have accepted any number of dubious propositions, ranging from assertions that Japanese "intestines are ill-designed for digesting Western beef to persuading them that foreign produce is more chemical-laden than home-grown fare" (Japan Times, March 16, 1999). U.S. officials and industry sources assert that such attitudes add up to an "alimentary xenophobia." These prejudices show no significant sign of subsiding: in a more recent survey, 82 percent of Japanese said they prefer domestically made food to imported food because of safety concerns (Daily Yomiuri, October 8, 2000).
Educational Nationalism: Strategic Schooling
It is fairly easy to illustrate how state structures, led by an elite, have implemented economic nationalist projects. But what about average workers in a factory or office? How do their motivations fit into the picture? Kyoko Sheridan, a professor specializing in the Japanese economy at the University of Adelaide in Australia, asks what "is the relationship between an individual willingness to work and a social aspiration for economic growth?" and "What motivates some people to make more economic effort, individually and socially, than others? Precisely why have the Japanese devoted such considerable effort to economic growth in the century since the Meiji modernization?" Her answer is that elite aims and objectives are transmuted into everyday intentions and practices through state-guided education (Governing the Japanese Economy, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1993, p. 45).
All nation-states use their educational systems to inculcate modern forms of knowledge, which are needed for social order, economic production, and the ideological receptivity of the political status quo. In this sense, we may speak of nationalized education. However, some states appear to devote more attention than others to organizing, systematizing, and monitoring these educational operations. In the Japanese case, the most obvious place to start is the Ministry of Education, which is charged with the task of guiding, managing, and promoting education, moral development, cultural activities, scientific progress, and even religious matters. The Ministry of Education, designed by trial and error since the Meiji era to match a "strategic economy," forms the apex of a state-wide organization with three levels, corresponding to Huber's three-tiered analysis of Japan's economic bureaucracies and political economy.
The first, or strategic level, is composed of the Ministry of Education's Secretariat and advisory councils, especially the Central Council on Education. The policies of these organs are, in the most general terms, shaped by economic nationalism but more specifically, by particular business interests and ideological pressures emanating from the Diet. The second level, or the mediating level of implementation, is composed of ministerial bureaus, their divisions, prefectural and municipal education commissions ("boards of education"), special corporations, and authorized juridical persons. This level receives "guidance, advice, and assistance" from the Ministry of Education. These three terms appear in official publications about the Ministry of Education so constantly that they form a sort of bureaucratic litany and are the most commonly encountered terms in official documents. What is notable about the way these words are used is that they inevitably describe administrative processes moving top-down, rarely if ever from the bottom-up (from "the people"). The strategic instructions passing through the second level are then transmitted to the third, or tactical, level, which is composed of educational personnel, students, schools, and other sites administered and monitored by the Ministry. In educational materials that are designed for teachers, "guidance" is by far the most ubiquitous word, with many handbooks having shido (guidance) in their title. "Guidance" seems to capture the spirit of how the state's educational institutions should relate to their charges -- namely, as parental authorities guiding students along the correct path (this is not to claim, however, that the Ministry's guidance is always heeded).
The mission of Education ministry officials, like those of other ministries, is activist and goal-oriented. Their bureaucratic language provides a sense of how they view their calling. Besides "guidance," other favorite words of the Ministry of Education are shinko suru, to promote, encourage; suishin suru, to drive forward, promote; kanri suru, to manage, control; kantoku suru, to direct; sogo, comprehensive, integrated; toitsu suru, standardize, make uniform; and ichigenteki, unified, centralized. The constant use of these terms suggests the Japanese state's strategic orientation toward education, the attempt by the state to elicit individual motives that in other systems would require expensive inducements or deterrents. Education, with the strong approval of the political elite intent on developmentalism, has become interwoven with business demands, so that the development of human resources has come to shape an "education investment theory" (kyoiku toshi-ron).
What are some of the more obvious consequences of Japan's educational nationalism? The entire society revolves around strategic schooling, which leads to "excess schooling" putting heavy financial pressures on families to pursue more education, including enrolling children in for-profit cram and prep schools, purchase of study aids, and the employment of tutors. Educational nationalism shapes occupational choices and social status. It also influences plans about where to live and work and the time devoted to studying. It reinforces distinctions between elite and mass educational routes and sharpens gender distinctions. It also generates corruption because of the incestuous institutional relationship between educational and corporate cultures. The most significant effect of Japan's strategic schooling is to establish a hidden curriculum that makes the passing of examinations the main purpose of learning (rather than viewing exams as an aid to learning). Indeed, educational nationalism has prioritized exam-centered schooling to such a degree that by the time students enter universities the obsession with examinations has bred a widespread attitude of anti-intellectualism and resentment towards those associated with teaching. The result is an educational system that performs well at the elementary level but that at the university level, fails to produce social commentators, critics, and watchdogs.
One of the frequently stated goals of reform in Japanese education is to internationalize it. However, despite what may be sincere intentions behind the call for internationalization, it in fact ironically reinforces Japanese separate identity (i.e., nationalizes it). Internationalization deflects attention away from actual power dynamics and reorients the discussion to differences in "culture." In Japan, whenever the going gets tough (e.g., too much international scrutiny, failure to achieve domestic political goals, loss of confidence in political and economic institutions) a common response is to bring up "culture." Culture is an excellent means of defense, shielding, diverting, and distracting attention from concrete criticism of Japan. Whatever else it may mean, culture is the favorite distraction of the Devil. Commenting on the views of an observer who feared one of the trade agreements with the United States would harm "one thousand years of Japanese culture," Eric Sheldon noted that "'Japanese culture' is the bunker to which the fat cats retreat to avoid the issues" (Daily Yomiuri, September 17, 1989).
Cultural Nationalism: Diverting and Deflecting Criticism
Culturalist explanations permeate Japanese studies. Books such as Shuji Hayashi's Culture and Management in Japan (University of Tokyo Press, 1988) and Ian Inkster and Fumihiko Satofuka's Culture and Technology in Modern Japan (New York: Tauris, 2000), which also devotes space to a racialist explanation of differences in Japanese brains, use the "unique" features of Japanese culture to explain business practices. Similarly, a work such as former Washington Post correspondent in Japan T.R. Reid's Confucius Lives next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West (Random House, 1999) divorces "Asian values" and the "Confucian tradition" from their historical contexts and obscures the realities of power relations in Japan. Within Japan, the entire nihonjinron genre ("theories about the Japanese") is a national-level meditation on "the unique and homogenous Japanese society" that has allegedly persisted without change since before the war. According to the anthropologist Harumi Befu, "What is common to the wartime Nihonjinron and postwar neo-Nihonjinron is that both rely heavily on primordial sentiments inherent in the presumed Ôethnic essence' of the Japanese-- blood, purity of race, language, mystique-- which are the basic 'stuff' of Nihonjinron, pre- and post-war" (in Roger Goodman and Kirsten Refsing, eds., Ideology and Practice in Modern Japan, London: Routledge, 1992).
Even so sophisticated an observer as former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa, who in 1993 became the first post-LDP head of state and on whom many had pinned high hopes for reform, argues that "The subtle changes of the seasons have enriched and refined the sensibilities of the Japanese." Although Japan possesses "cultural uniqueness" as exemplified by its lacquer ware, tea ceremony, ukiyoe, waka, traditional music, and should preserve the cultural traditions of its communities, including folk songs, dances, time-honored artifacts, and handicrafts, it should "promote its cultural universality at the same time." "Japan today faces the need to revive its culture, or the Japanese spirit." After all, "Culture is the spirit of the Japanese nation" (Japan Times, April 22, 1999). Such arguments, premised on cultural exceptionalism, homogeneity, and simplistic historicizing are common fare in the numerous books, conferences, and media commentary that supposedly seek to explain Japan to the rest of the world.
For instance, at a 1999 conference held by the Japan Forum on International Relations, Kanji Nishio, a professor at the Electro-Communications University, concluded that "Japanese culture has a unique character" even though it maintains "an admirable universality." Susumu Nishibe, a former professor and a social critic, told the conference that "Since reform of Japan has been discussed only from the American perspective since the end of World War II, I oppose most of the reforms made. . . . The reforms being conducted in the [contemporary] Heisei era will eventually lead to the submersion of Japan." O Sonfa, an essayist, explained that just as the people of the [prehistoric] Jomon period had feelings of "oneness with nature," so do modern Japanese. Shinichi Kitaoka, a professor at Tokyo University, explained the meaning of wa, or harmony, and alleged that it was unique to Japan. The political scientist and international relations specialist Masataka Kosaka, along with some of the other participants, claimed that Japan is in its own special cultural space and belongs to neither the East nor the West (Daily Yomiuri, March 3, 1999).
The "Japan culture industry," despite its proclaimed aim of mutual understanding in fact tends to place impenetrable walls between Japan and the rest of the world. For example, Yoshihiro Nakayama, a former Japanese ambassador to France in an article called "Bridging the culture gap," says that reading American and European books causes him to despair: "These days I give up, resigned to the thought that Japanese and foreigners are different" (Japan Times, July 16, 1990).
One long-term observer who has tried to integrate into Japanese society, the former Australian diplomat Gregory Clark, asserts that the Japanese are different because they have "tribal values," which include "gut feelings, direct human relations, instinctive groupism, familial styles of management, taboos, rules rather than principles, traditions and animistic legends rather than firm ideologies, and so on" (Japan Times, October 8, 2000). I would contend that "tribal values" would be called nationalism elsewhere and that most of them have been engineered by the state rather than inherited from traditional mores. "Direct human relations" are the result of manipulation of sentiments by authorities; "instinctive groupism" is learned in schools with economic mobilization at the workplace in mind; "familial styles of management" is state-encouraged corporatism; and "rules" (rather than "principles") are produced by a bureaucratically guided and managed society. The ideologies of capitalism, rationalism, and positivism go much further in explaining daily life in Japan than do "traditions and animistic legends" (as for gut feelings and taboos, these are common to all societies).
I have chosen the examples mentioned here because they are not unusual and represent much of the discourse found in media treatment of Japan. Such notions also infect some academic investigations of Japan, although usually in a more subtle and sophisticated manner. Although it is easy to dismiss such thinking as harmless exaggerations and inaccuracies, they often legitimate more political dimensions of Japanese society, such as its tendency toward isolationism. Indeed, as Michael Billig has observed, it "would be wrong to assume that Ôbanal nationalism' is 'benign' because it seems to possess a reassuring normality, or because it appears to lack the violent passions of the extreme right." Many forms of cultural nationalism qualify as "everyday nationalism." Although such nationalism-- dressed-up in culturalist explanations and myths of uniqueness -- does not evoke images of xenophobic tirades, marching soldiers, and military threats, it does bolster ethnic exclusivism, heightened ethnocultural self-consciousness, racialized notions of identity, and an economic guardedness vis-&Mac246;-vis the world.
Peace Nationalism: Isolationism
Immediately after the war, many Japanese condemned the wartime period and still today many concerned citizens deplore Japan's bloody rampage through Asia. These sentiments have amalgamated to form what may be called "peace nationalism"-- a powerful form of popular nationalism. In his new book, Embracing Defeat, John Dower observes, "Defeat, victimization, an overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of undreamed-of-weapons of destruction soon coalesced to become the basis of a new kind of anti-military nationalism" (New York: Norton, 1999, pp. 494-95). Peace nationalism is driven by a mixture of repentance and sincerity (denunciation of war), national pride ("only Japan has a war-renouncing Constitution"), a type of self-centered nationalism expressed as "one country pacifism" (ikkoku heiwa-shugi), and a naive denial of the realities of international politics (because since the war Japan has been a de facto protectorate or satellite of the U.S.).
Whatever virtues and sincerity motivate peace nationalism, it has all too often been used to portray "Japan as a victim" of immoral militarist leaders who took the unsuspecting Japanese people down the wrong path of history. Some writers conflate peace with a nationally selfish, one-country pacifism so that involvement in UN peacekeeping operations is without popular support. Like any other form of nationalism, "peace nationalism" is often arrogant, and the attitudes of many Japanese pacifists are often condemned as hypocritical since Japan benefits from its military alliance with the United States. Peace nationalism, then, while certainly anti-war, anti-militarist, and occasionally anti-state, is nonetheless still grounded in theories of Japanese specialness.
Although Japan generously contributes official developmental assistance (ODA) to other countries and has amended its laws to allow participation in peacekeeping operations, peace nationalism often seems like isolationism. A passive nationalism that prevents a state from participating internationally as a normal country breeds an atmosphere that distorts domestic discussion of vital issues. Consider the case of Shingo Nishimura, the parliamentary vice-minister of the Defense Agency. In November 1999, he was forced to resign when he broke a taboo by suggesting that Japan might in the future have to go nuclear (he also considers China a threat). Comparing Japan to France in the 1930s, Nishimura explained that in the same way that France assumed the Maginot Line would protect it, Japanese naively think they are safe (Japan Times, November 9, 1999). The issue of a nuclear Japan, whatever one's opinion on the matter, is not academic. Being the first and only people to suffer atomic bombings, many Japanese understandably oppose nuclear weapons, but there are suspicions about what direction the Japanese state might take in regards to the nuclear option. The decision to use and stockpile plutonium for its nuclear energy needs has raised concerns. Besides posing a potential environmental disaster since plutonium is one of the most toxic materials on earth, Japan's horde of plutonium ("weapons usable, weapons capable, reactor grade plutonium") allows Japan to "go nuclear whenever it chooses," making it "a virtual nuclear-weapons state" (Japan Times, September 20, 1999).
There are two ways to view nationalism. The first is as a range of types or as a variety of domains (e.g., state, military, economic, educational, cultural, linguistic, racial, ethnic, gendered, etc.). The second way to view nationalism is by its intensity or degree as evident in a particular domain. Each nation-state differs in the number of domains and the intensity of each of its nationalisms. What is distinctive about Japan as an advanced industrial democracy is its large scope of nationalist domains, making for a more diffused nationalistic atmosphere. In other words, there are a notable number of spheres of social life in which nationalism has a pervasive influence in Japan. Ironically, military nationalism, the kind that not a few unthinkingly and glibly associate with Japan, lacks intensity. This differs from the United States, where the number of nationalistic domains is limited but the intensity of nationalism is stronger in certain domains (e.g., there is more support among the American public for military action overseas than in Japan).
The domain/degree approach to nationalism explains the paradox of Japanese nationalism: why observers intuitively sense a strong nationalist current in a society that attempts (though of course not always successfully) to keep a distance from the outside world. Japanese nationalism seems strong because the us-versus-them distinction (on which nationalisms everywhere are premised) is highly stressed in so many spheres of daily life, reducing human diversity to the simplistic division of the human race into nihonjin versus gaijin, or Japanese versus outsider. The desire for postwar engagement with the rest of the world (except in terms of economic nationalism) is weak.
What of the future? A focus on soft nationalism cannot tell us what will happen, but it does suggest what will most likely not happen. Barring some major change in the structure of Japan's international relations, economic nationalism will not weaken. An overemphasis on hard nationalism, on the other hand, runs the danger of polarizing observers into demonizers ("the right-wing is about to take over") and apologists (who pay too much attention to developments on the surface, such as ineffective and out of touch politicians). Instead of focusing on the administrative and ministerial core, which is the center of political gravity for the Japanese state, the foreign media and academics (though it must be emphasized, not all) tend to center their attention on politicians, ever hoping for the appearance of a Mr. Right who will "reform" the Japanese system (i.e., change it to more closely resemble the Anglo-American model). But this is almost surely wishful thinking. Japan presents an intellectual challenge to some of the most basic assumptions of Western political and economic thinking. It is a national sociopolity that has cultivated a middle-class without revolutionary roots; it embraces liberality of thought while keeping liberalism at arm's length and it operates the machinery of capitalism in a way that is suspicious of markets. Under these circumstances, it is virtually certain that unsophisticated foreign observers will misunderstand Japan's manifestations of hard nationalism while under-appreciating the strength of its soft nationalism.
BRIAN J. MCVEIGH received his PhD from Princeton University in cultural anthropology and is associate professor at Toyo Gakuen University. His books include Wearing Ideology: State, Schooling, and Self-Presentation in Japan (Berg, 2000); The Nature of the Japanese State: Rationality and Rituality (Routledge, 1998); Life in a Japanese Women's Junior College: Learning to Be Ladylike (Routledge, 1997); and Spirits, Selves, and Subjectivity in a Japanese New Religion (Edwin Mellen, 1997).