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  • A History of Nationalism in Modern Japan: Placing the People
  • Yoshihisa Tak Matsusaka
A History of Nationalism in Modern Japan: Placing the People. By Kevin M. Doak. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xii + 292 pages. Hardcover $93.00/€69.00.

There is certainly no shortage of writing about nationalism in modern Japanese history. Nonetheless, the object of investigation has not always been clear, and despite its extensive use, the term "nationalism" has not been employed, until fairly recently, with much in the way of theoretical rigor. The difficulty of applying the concept to Japanese thought and politics, indeed, is underscored, as Kevin Doak points out, by the multiple Japanese terms—kokuminshugi, minzokushugi, kokkashugi, and nashonarizumu—all translatable in English as "nationalism."

Designed as an intellectual history of Japanese nationalism from the Meiji era to the present, Doak's book represents, in part, an effort to discipline discussion of the subject. He seeks to bring us back to the basic, conceptual building blocks upon which, he argues, all Japanese nationalist discourse has been built. He begins with a consideration of theories of nationalism and their impact on Japanese intellectuals (with an emphasis on the 1920s and 1930s), followed by a review of the preconditions for systematic [End Page 498] thinking about the "nation" in Tokugawa and early Meiji Japan. He then explores four core concepts central to Japanese nationalist discourse: tennō (emperor), shakai (society), kokumin (author's translation, civic nation), and minzoku (author's translation, ethnic nation). The central theme of his study is the dialectic of these last two ideas, manifested ideologically as kokuminshugi (civic nationalism) and minzokushugi (ethnic nationalism).

Doak acknowledges from the start that he is redefining the subject as treated in much of the existing scholarly as well as journalistic literature. He begins his first chapter with the frank assertion that "much of what is written about Japanese nationalism is not really about nationalism at all" (p. 1). Nationalism, as he defines it, "is a principle that asserts the people as the privileged principle of political life" (p. 2). His subtitle, "Placing the People" reflects that understanding. In a framework distinct from Benedict Anderson's notion of "imagining" political communities, Doak's emphasis is less on the construction of identity than on efforts to conceptualize the relationship between "the people" and "the state." In his view, the Japanese term kokkashugi, better translated into the French as étatisme, ideologically centers "the state" rather than "the people" and should be excluded from the category of nationalism. Accordingly, he places outside the boundaries of treatment what others have described in various ways as the nationalism of the state or emperor-centered nationalism, pointing out that, under the Meiji Constitution, which enshrined imperial sovereignty, "state nationalism" would represent a contradiction in terms. Intentionally or not, in emphasizing political philosophies concerned with the relationship of the people and the state, he also seems to downplay the importance of ideological projects aimed at placing the people of Japan in the world at large. The formation of consciousness of the outside world, concern with external threats and their implications for domestic politics, emerging concepts of civilizational conflict anticipating Samuel Huntington by nearly a century, "little Japan" versus "greater Japan" discourse, or the shifting duality of Japanese self-perceptions as victims of foreign oppression and as accomplished imperialists, receive only marginal consideration. Doak thus establishes an analytical perimeter around his subject that, in effect, fences it off from much of the existing historiography of "nationalism" in Japan.

The concepts of civic and ethnic nationalism central to Doak's study gained currency in the 1990s and have been used by scholars in various ways. In some cases, they serve to describe different aspects of the same ideological package whereas in others, the terms are used to parse distinct forms of nationalism. One scholar, who prefers a taxonomy that pits "liberal" against "illiberal" nationalism, notes that the civic-ethnic dichotomy is one of the more recent attempts to characterize the divide between what are regarded as "good" and "bad" nationalisms (Ray Taras, Liberal and Illiberal Nationalisms; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, pp. 52-58). Doak's use of these terms is particular, and a grasp of his...


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