Nationalism, nonsense and other things

I had my presentation this Monday for Issues in Contemporary Japanese Society and Culture. It was on the zainichi Korean population in Japan – the Koreans who came to Japan before the end of World War II, and their desecendants, who are still registered as foreign nationals. Went pretty well, but I still have to do field research. Which, come to think of it, is a good excuse to go to Tsuruhashi again.

Almost all the presentations I’ve seen so far have made me think, and I like that some people have obviously taken the time to research their topics and come up with new ideas. When I saw that one guy was giving a presentation on Japanese nationalism, I was doubly interested – it’s an important subject that says a lot about contemporary Japan.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t what we got from the presentation. It was lazy, biased, scaremongering, anti-Japan and woefully under-researched. A little walk-through: it kicked off with the hilarious assertion that Japanese nationalism died out after World War II exclusively because of General MacArthur’s Occupation reforms. So, nothing to do with the immense suffering, food shortages, firebombing and two atom bombs, all of which created the intense post-war backlash among the Japanese population against militarism of any sort (which is still strong today).

Then, apparently, Japanese nationalism was recently kickstarted again – by the Americans allowing Japan to use their navy in combat operations. (The closest I can find to this is a law passed during the 2001 war in Afghanistan that allowed Japan’s navy to support the US fleet with supply missions.) From hearing his presentation, you would assume that nothing happened in Japan without America’s say-so. And if nationalism was dormant for 50 years, how does this guy explain the fact that the 14 Class-A war criminals were included in the dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in 1978? Or the fact that the first Prime Minister to visit Yasukuni did so back in 1985? (Nakasone Yasuhiro, and no, his nationalist outlook didn’t get a mention either.) Any kind of deep political change occurs over a long period of time, it does not just snap from one extreme to another.

On the international front he was even odder. Summed up, that bit went: Japan bad, nationalism rising, wants to regain control over Asia. Remind you of anyone? I challenged him on a few of these points after the presentation, and he had nothing to say. I got kind of bogged down in the question of Japan’s recent military moves, and was constrained by politeness from doing the kind of point-by-point demolition that I wanted. It’s a real shame that a subject with such potential got such a pisspoor treatment. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few Japanese nationalism-related things I’d love to hear about:

Novelist Yukio Mishima, his ultra-nationalism and fondness for samurai chic, his attempt to take over the Self-Defence Forces headquarters with his own private army (seriously), and subsequent ritual suicide.

Kenkanryu, the controversial Japanese manga (the title can be translated as ‘the hate Korea wave’, a play on words on the ‘Korea wave’ pop culture boom in Japan). The manga, which has sold about 400,000 copies, puts across a right-revisionist view of Japan’s colonial record in Korea. An interesting view of it
here.

Japanese nationalism is not always overt and scary, like the big right-wing sound trucks I’ve seen in Hirakata and Tokyo. (They were actually kind of a let-down – I thought they’d be much louder than they actually were.) I’m currently watching a film for my Japanese classes about an underdog university sumo team, which is quite interesting in terms of overtones. The sumo team gains members from students who are fed up with American sports, such as pro-wrestling and American football, and a gaijin character who is ignorant of Japanese tradition and relies on brute strength to win has recently been introduced. I suspect he will soon be shown the error of his ways. Would that I could say the same for the guy behind that awful presentation.

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Filed under education, Japan, linkage, politics, thoughts

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