- Internationalising Japan: Discourse and Practice ed. by Jeremy Breaden, Stacey Steele, and Carolyn S. Stevens
Developed from papers presented at the 2011 conference of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia, this edited collection of essays focuses [End Page 468] mainly on sport, education, and culture. The book does not deal with economics or business, except tangentially in relation to sport and restaurants.
The three complementary essays on sport are among the strongest in the book. A good place to start is Howard Gilbert and Katrina Watts’s chapter, “Internationalising Sumo,” which gives a fascinating overview of sumo’s international interactions since the Meiji period and stimulates thought about the varying significance of international interaction in modern Japanese history. Gilbert and Watts point out that in the Meiji period, “internationalization” in the form of the opening of Japan spurred nationalism; sumo was reshaped so that it could symbolize Japanese tradition, culture, and national identity. In contrast, internationalization’s next mutation was not for national identity but for profit, in the form of tours taking sumo abroad during the early twentieth century, especially to the Japanese diaspora. Foreign tours resumed after the war but now often as “internationalization” aimed at promoting goodwill rather than making money; these tours were a “re-engagement with the world” (p. 168) that intensified in the 1970s and 1980s, the point at which “internationalization” (kokusaika) became a buzzword, and an activity to tell the world (and the Japanese people) a story about Japanese success and what Japan’s rulers wanted to promulgate as Japanese identity. Just as in the Meiji period, sumo became an image of national identity to be brandished during international interaction—but now the image was taken abroad as well as used within Japan.
The 1990s and 2000s saw the increasing entry and success of foreign sumo wrestlers within Japan. This involved socializing the foreign wrestlers in Japanese ways. Amateur sumo was also promoted outside Japan, with a view to becoming an Olympic sport, resulting in radical changes such as the introduction of weight divisions and the inclusion of women. These two very different versions of “internationalization” were added to the many earlier versions that sumo had already experienced. Gilbert and Watts argue that this has driven ōzumō and amateur sumo apart; one is about the preservation of a certain conception of national identity, now attempting to incorporate the international, while the other is prepared to sacrifice elements of that conception in the pursuit of international status. Thus, sumo might currently be considered a symbol of two ways of dealing with the relationship of national identity and the international world. But the essay shows that there have already been many other ways of dealing with that predicament, and it can be inferred that there may be more to come. Under different conditions, “internationalization” can be unwelcome intrusion, a search for profit, an attempt to build bridges, the bolstering of national identity, the incorporation of the foreign, or the acceptance of change in return for national prestige—or several of these simultaneously. This suggests the futility of attempting to define “internationalization.”
William W Kelly’s essay argues that the global nature of soccer provides opportunities to “reformulat[e] notions of civic membership and ethnic [End Page 469] nationalism” in Japan (p. 144) and that the Japanese soccer authorities have deliberately pursued a cosmopolitan agenda unlike those of more established sports such as sumo and baseball. These well-made points could be developed further in a more extended study. For example, why did the soccer authorities take this approach? Was it not precisely because soccer was weaker and less institutionalized in Japan than baseball or sumo that it was both able to adopt innovative approaches and, indeed, also needed to do so? Perhaps this should be seen as an example of Schumpeterian entrepreneurship. In this apparent entwining of economic and social liberalism, willingness to welcome international player mobility has been joined with liberal cosmopolitanism as the most effective marketing approach for a younger audience.
Comparative thinking is further...