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Reviewed by:
  • Nationalisms in Japan
  • Koichi Nakano
Nationalisms in Japan. By Naoko Shimazu. Abington, U.K.: Routledge, 2006. 208 pages. Hardcover £65.00.

This edited volume is part of a project conceived under the auspices of the British Association for Japanese Studies with the aim of enhancing intellectual exchanges and developing new academic networks between scholars in Britain and Japan. To this end, it brings together a diverse group of scholars from the fields of history, social anthropology, political science, and philosophy to explore the doctrines and manifestations of "nationalisms in Japan" over a period of two hundred years—starting with a discussion of thinkers of the late Mito school as well as early Meiji and ending with a critique of Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

The stated goal of this collective endeavor is to challenge the common oversimplification of prewar Japanese nationalism as "a monolithic and static ideological edifice" (p. 184), by demonstrating "the existence of multiple nationalisms in Japan" (p. 187). While the assertion that "Nationalism is dynamic—it is not static and unchanging" (p. 182) can hardly be said to amount to a novel theoretical insight, the volume nevertheless represents a worthy attempt to enrich the study of nationalism in Japan through the adoption of a self-consciously historical and comparative standpoint. Indeed, each one of the individual investigations conducted by the contributing authors exhibits solid scholarship, and the editor, Naoko Shimazu, deserves special praise for ensuring consistent quality over such a wide range of themes and, by bringing these essays together, for successfully highlighting the pluralistic (and perhaps even conflicting) nature of nationalisms in Japan.

The book's first substantive chapter is an appropriately comparative contribution by Erica Benner that maps out the conceptual framework to situate the national thinking of early modern Japan in the wider international context. Benner makes effective use of her expert knowledge of Western political thought to argue convincingly that the development of national doctrines was invariably conditioned by perceived international threats and pressures. In Japan and Europe alike, the crucial question was "how communities should constitute themselves if they wished to increase their chances of non-absorption in an international environment based on competitive, often expansionist, states" (p. 13). Such an approach enables Benner to disaggregate nationalism in a given country at a given time into different strands of national thinking, and she identifies four distinct but partly overlapping patterns between the late eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries that combined and alternated in different manifestations in Japan and other nations: "defensive," "cautious engagement," "enlightened international leadership," and "radicalization" (pp. 14-16). Her discussion of the national thinking of such intellectuals as Aizawa Seishisai and Fukuzawa Yukichi, alongside Johann Gottfried Herder and John Stuart Mill among others, succeeds in demystifying "Japanese nationalism" and demonstrates the fruitfulness of comparative inquiry.

Benner's intellectual history is followed by Naoko Shimazu's social history tracing the consolidation process of the national identity of ordinary Japanese—the making of kokumin—during the Russo-Japanese War. Based on a study of the personal [End Page 496] diaries of low-ranking conscripts, Shimazu's inquiry yields the interesting insight that "the horizontal bonding between the soldiers and the kokumin played a most important part in motivating the ordinary men to fight for the state or, more accurately, the nation. . . . this sideway bonding was much more important for them as reasons to sacrifice their lives, than some abstract notion of loyalty to the state or, even more so, loyalty to the emperor" (p. 62).

In chapter 3, Harumi Goto-Shibata analyzes the "anti-Western" views expressed by Japanese intellectuals and policy experts in the influential Gaikō jihō (Revue Diplomatique) during the period 1918—1922. Challenging the conventional dichotomy between "internationalists" and "nationalists" in prewar Japan, she argues that the internationalists' critique of the double standards of the Western powers in inter-war diplomacy found resonance with both nationalists and wider society. Such convergence, she suggests, accounts for the eventual growth and success of extreme nationalism in the 1930s. In chapter 4, Stephen S. Large in turn seeks to place the nationalist extremists in the wider social and political context of Japan between...


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