- Kokugaku vs. Nativism
Six years ago, this journal published a review article by John Breen with the title "Nativism Restored." In it, Breen observed that "we in 'Japanese studies' . . . still do not know what nineteenth-century Japanese nativism was, where it came from, and what it left behind."1 Since then, Japanese studies has been enriched with two new books on Kokugaku in the nineteenth century. How far do they take us towards answering Breen's questions?
Following the lead of H. D. Harootunian's Things Seen and Unseen: Discourse and Ideology in Tokugawa Nativism, it has become an established convention in japanology to translate the term Kokugaku as "nativism."2 One of Breen's main points in his 2000 article was to question this identification. He noted that while most Kokugaku scholars had a nativist agenda, they were far from alone in this. Nativism, classically defined as the ambition to revive or perpetuate aspects of indigenous culture in response to a perceived threat from other cultures, did not originate with the emergence of Kokugaku, nor did it expire with the demise of this school in the Meiji period. Rephrasing Breen's argument, we could say that we need to recognize that, even in the nineteenth century, not all nativism was Kokugaku, nor was nativism all there was to Kokugaku.
By criticizing the conflation of Kokugaku with nativism, Breen asked us to think again about the meanings and historical positions of both. How did the Kokugaku variety of nativism relate to other forms of nativism that preceded it, coexisted with it, and replaced it? And from the opposite point of view: to what degree was nativism central to Kokugaku? Is it correct to assume that all [End Page 227] Kokugakusha were nativists, and that it was their nativism that defined them as Kokugakusha? Does our branding of Kokugaku as nativism prevent us from recognizing the importance, or even the existence, of both non-Kokugaku nativism and nonnativist Kokugakusha?
Both books under review here relate closely to the questions raised by Breen. In Before the Nation, Susan L. Burns shows that not all Kokugaku was nativism by introducing us to thinkers who did not share the views of Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) on the Japanese Way. In Proving the Way, Mark McNally underlines that not all nativism was Kokugaku by focusing on the efforts of Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843) to institutionalize the latter. In their own way, both Burns and McNally offer new perspectives on Kokugaku that question our routine equation of this school with nativism and urge us to think again about the meaning and appropriateness of that term.
Before the Nation
As the subtitle of Burns's book indicates, Before the Nation explores Kokugaku conceptions of Japan as an "imagined community," arguing that these conceptions formed the foundation for the nationalism that took shape in the Meiji period. Of course, to link Kokugaku to Meiji nationalism is hardly a new proposition. It is well known that the elevation of the "four Great Men" of Edo-period Kokugaku (Kada no Azumamaro 1669-1736; Kamo no Mabuchi , 1697-1769; Motoori Norinaga; and Hirata Atsutane) to heroes of the Japanese nation was a centerpiece of the Meiji discourse of Japanese nationhood. Burns, however, argues that Kokugaku's protonationalist search for a Japanese identity cannot be fully understood by considering only the work of these four Kokugaku saints. If we are to grasp the true nature of the Kokugaku debate as it unfolded in the early nineteenth century, we need to look beyond the narrow selection of Kokugakusha insisted on by post-Meiji nationalists. Burns seeks to pass over the ideological concerns of Meiji and to give voice to Kokugakusha who were silenced in the greater interest of construing, in retrospect, a coherent Kokugaku orthodoxy. In that way she shows that while...