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Shame to Vengeance: the grand cliche of the Japanese Superstate.

    In a nation where watching the gross national product is a gross
    national pastime, trade representatives come close to being culture
    heroes. Departing from Tokyo's Haneda Airport for their three-to
    six-year assignments in the field, they are usually seen off by
    delegations of colleagues waving banners and shouting "banzai!"
    Their exploits are publicized like battlefield heroics, and a truly
    dedicated shosha-in [company man] can get national recognition.
    --Newsweek, 1970

    Across Asia, Japan is doing with money what it did with guns 50
    years ago.
    --U.S. National Public Radio, 1999

The attempt to demystify Japan's postwar metamorphosis has often invited a free fall into the grand cliche of the economic superstate: Japan lost the war but won the peace. Shame, defeat, and leftover wartime fervor were channeled into economic success without changing the national modus operandi, the creation of a Japan-led Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. This cliche alerted the world that Japanese economism was not politically innocent. The intention in this article is neither to deny such a general truth nor to travel down its well-worn path of explication: instead, I am concerned with the cliche's effect of denying the internal complexity of Japan's social response to defeat and reconstruction. The continuity of a "merciless" wartime imagery was projected via the gaze of-the people of the United States and others who were reluctant to let go of Japan--and, by implication, all Japanese--as a monolithic public enemy.

The cohesion of a new mercantile nation via wartime's "banzai" incantation was not nearly as direct as imagined in the first of the two epigraphs to this article. Public discourse during the Bubble years of Japan's economy (I am concerned with roughly the period from the 1960s through the early 1990s) suggests that shame from war was converted to economic energy not by exploiting a still-warm soil of popular nationalism, where a new state myth simply took the emperor's place, but by smoothly rationalizing a mentality of recovery that concentrated on the individuation of households to build national strength through action, rather than scripted ideology. In the disjuncture between wartime nationalism and postwar consumerism. Japanese elites promoted economism as a national goal by linking it to the U.S.-Japan security alliance of the Cold War; by situating economics in a state polity of "low politics"; by depicting economic fervor as a temporary stage that would eventually be overcome by a new age of culture; and by using seemingly apolitical cultural arguments to solidify national cohesion.

The above list, though not exhaustive, questions the grand cliche's assumption that the economic miracle was publicly propelled by an ideology of vengeance for war's defeat. If shame motivated reconstruction on a personal level, it fueled reconstruction at the state level by cultivating activity as depoliticized ideology, repressing and deferring public sentiments, and keeping people colonized by continuous work and obligations to help forget the past and rebuild the future.

This article's reading of nationalism's discontinuity--in contrast to the continuity implied in the grand cliche--should not be taken as an attempt to minimize any of the well-known attempts of Japanese leaders, and many ordinary citizens, to impose new and old forms of ethnocentrism. On the contrary, I hope to establish a richer knowledge of bureaucratic appeasement precisely to understand why many indications of neonationalism should be taken seriously in a broader, sociopolitical context. Furthermore, I am mostly concerned with the indications of so-called economic nationalism as it was recognized in the United States and elsewhere. The statement "They lost the war but won the peace" belongs to an era that assumes nation and state--"they"--are one. Yet if we fast-forward from the era of Japan paranoia to the present, we find that many of the indications of corporatism inverted to the household/consumer level are what we now recognize as the excesses of economic globalization, rather than any single nation-state's sovereign, mercantilist ambitions.

Public Discourse

In Japan as in the United States and elsewhere, apolitical consumerism followed the turbulence of World War II. Yet whereas the U.S. rush for color TVs intertwined with the "happy days" patriotic ambience of the 1950s, Japan's consumerism forged a conceptual separation from patriotism, and this in itself helped the nation escape, or temporarily dislocate, wartime defeat and shame. The Japanese cultivated and conversed on "My-home-ism" (maihoumushugi), immediate household needs, rather than grander strategies of state economics. That the hallmarks of my-home-ism--credentialism, consumerism, and corporatism--were themselves economically advantageous to the state is a methodologically "realist" consideration, but they are not what I explore here. Instead, I am concerned with the public space where the postwar economism that so resembled wartime raison d'etat was made palatable to a war-weary population that still distrusted all things patriotic and political. Certainly the hegemony of capitalism itself can (in the Gramscian sense) force people to act on behalf of power without believing they are doing so. And cultural nationalism in state and populist forms created social cohesion, as did habits of work and education.

But few studies of cultural nationalism or hegemony have addressed the discursive mechanisms that enabled Japan to accommodate a highly state-directed economism while populist, antinationalist sentiment still seethed, along with apathy, alienation, and amnesia. My choice is to navigate the pedagogical area of public discourse, where ideas gain legitimacy in "as if" social truths, creating social meaning while hiding deeper realities of power. Public discourse may be the realm of the lie, but as a character in Akutagawa Ryunosuke's Kappa says of political speeches. "Everyone realizes that they are lies, so in the end, it no doubt boils down to the same thing as truth." (1)

Nationalism's Discontinuity

Political theorist Maruyama Masao's prescient analysis of Japan's nationalism in the early 1950s asserts that wartime national consciousness collapsed as a central unifying force in 1945, fizzling into an atomized, and indeed misrecognized, form. (2) As people poured their energies into national reconstruction, however much in a state of kutsujoku (shame)--and kyodatsu (exhaustion and despair)--they did so at a time when many professed profound disdain for "nationalism" as a state ideology. Historian John Dower's opus on Japanese defeat reveals that the stories and remembrances of the earliest phases of shame are best heard through personal testimonies. If anything, the Occupation government gave the impression of not caring about the deprivation and psychological crises among the people; the people were dismayed, likewise, by corruption and arrogance among leaders (especially their own nationals). Moreover, personal agony from defeat continued long after statistical evidence of national recovery had begun, rendering the common impression that Japan recovered easily from the war a bureaucratic illusion that did not apply to ordinary people. (3)

Thus it is important to figure all impressions of nationalism into the broader postsurrender landscape of political disaffection. Nationalism suggests intensity--passion, parades and youthful bodies mobilized for sloganeering and sacrifice. Japan, in its state of humiliation following the surrender, could not be more antithetical to such imagery, as Maruyama suggests:
    With defeat the Japanese Empire, once supreme over South-East Asia,
    the Western Pacific, and half of China, was suddenly compressed into
    the insignificant island country it had been at the Restoration.
    Scathing criticism at home and abroad went to the very heart of the
    "national polity" idea, and the national polity was altered. The
    value of the Imperial symbols that had surrounded it, such as Shinto
    shrines, the national flag, and the national anthem plummeted.
    Having lost its central props, national consciousness collapsed.

        In many cases defeat has stirred the flames of nationalism....
    But in Japan a feeling of stagnation, of prostration so complete
    that foreigners were astonished, reigned supreme. (4)

Even in its pro-state condition, shards of nationalism relocated elsewhere in the postwar polity, not to the central surface of society, its omote--which would imply legitimacy and elan--but instead in "atomized" form to the social base, its ura, the interior space where nationalism could be conveniently ignored. Evidence of such "decentralized and latent sentiment," according to Maruyama, could be found in the subcultures of organized gangsters, in "small, shady political parties," and among emperor-enthusiasts, shrine keepers, and sports fanatics who could channel their interests into horse racing and other competitions. (5)

Meanwhile, among much of the populace, the debates that pitted pacifists against nationalists--regarding state-sanctioned Shinto, the proposed revision of the "peace Constitution," and the reinstatement of the national flag and anthem--persisted, signifying a loathing, indeed, a shaming, of nationalism itself, rather than actual defeat in war. Maruyama wrote of such debates a half century ago, but nationalist symbols and reminders of World War II remain extremely contested today. The national Diet did not declare the flag and anthem official state symbols until 1999 (though it had ordered schools to use them a decade earlier). In the postwar era, the more active forms of political expression were marked by, on the right pole, latent, bureaucratically disguised and sporadically surfacing popular nationalism, and on the left, citizen movements for pacifism and human rights. Many people felt fatigued with war, nationalism, and politics in general. They expressed oblique culturalism centered on the geographic and resource instability of Japan and were preoccupied with the household and corporate family. Such people occupied the vast center of antipolitics. For many, overwork repressed the very reflection time needed to contribute to civic or consumer responsibility. Cries of economic "banzai!" for the state were less audible than yearnings for "stability" and "harmony" defined as "not rocking the boat."

Practitioners of Japanophobia consistently ignored this complexity. They avoided questioning the very superficiality of the human obedience they saw, obsessing instead on the one thing that was palpable, the power of the economic superstate, and imagined a statist discourse of nationalism in conventional terms.

Thus the story of vengeance for the nation's shame is less a clarion call authored from the core of official Japanese power than a critique from the outside--a distress call of critics, so-called Japan-bashers, and those Japanese civilians who felt left out of the miracle. As a discourse of critical apprehension merged into global paranoia, Shame to Vengeance projected an imagined sovereign discourse onto the unarticulated power of capital. The story followed the signposts of World War II: Japan reclaimed lost territories from the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and attacked the United States with Toyotas rather than torpedoes. It shifted gears from militarism to economics to accomplish what it could not do in war, conquer the world; or, at least conquer shame.

The cliche deserves interrogation precisely because of its global authorship. Until the decline of the Japanese economy, it was a staple of a vigilant international audience, from trade warriors to liberal professors, reiterated by First, Second, and Third World citizens--and, not to be forgotten, by Japan's own, domestic critics. (6) But Economic Pearl Harbor, containing as it did many well-grounded fears of Japanese capitalist expansion, was a parody. It lent camaraderie to those threatened by Japanese capitalism, while isolating Japan as a separate civilization--anticipating Samuel Huntington's infamous taxonomy, in which Japan stands as a "lonely state," a civilization unto itself. (7) The grand cliche figured into well-informed scholarship and pseudo-Japanology alike, but for different reasons. Some produced the myth to anthropomorphize inscrutable Japanese capital; others generalized from stereotypically inscrutable Japanese character to the level of nation. Yet for whatever the end motivation, the vengeance myth was surprisingly uniform in its potential to omit the actual way Japanese economism was made intelligible to the public. In the postwar imagery, Japanese people became the global Ferengi--Star Trek's annoying twenty-fourth-century capitalists who obey "Rules of Acquisition" as raison d'etat.

Economic Nationalism

Throughout the Japanese miracle years, U.S. scholars applied the term economic nationalism to depict the Japanese polity. If nationalism is a sentiment collectively held in the social body, then Japan's polity was more accurately an economic statism, or neomercantilism, directed from above by officials and corporate leaders. Since 1945, nationalism has largely retained its wartime meaning (and negative memory) among the left-wing and center populace. Intellectuals created variants such as techno-nationalism to criticize state and corporatist policies after the war, but not to mobilize collective sentiment.

Through imagery, Japanese society certainly conveyed the impression of economically defined nationalism--even economic militarism. Political economist Chalmers Johnson likened Japan's economic life to military life: It demands "long hours, service to the group, wearing uniforms, equitable pay, and long term goals," and relies on strategies of "indirection, disinformation, and deception in order to defeat the nation's economic competitors." (8) For their part, however, even while recognizing (and agreeing with) the political critique inherent in such analogies, the citizen/consumers of Japan did not label such economic mobilization as nationalism. Nationalism as a cognate (nashonarizumu) signifies wartime nationalism: patriotism (aikoku) is sometimes considered to have the same meaning, though the older generation has tried to redefine it in more literal terms. "love of country," without political implications, and minzokushugi embraces the exclusionary cultural nationalism (the "ideology of ethnicity"). There was no term for "economic nationalism" except in the context of Western IR disciplines.

With the crescendo of economism, some people joined in the global criticism of Japanese capitalism, recognizing its hidden curriculum of state-led corporatism qua nationalism. Other Japanese resented the stereotyping that accrued to popular hyperbole. The world gazed on Japanese people as Gucci-toting, shutter-snapping, landgrabbing, IQ-intelligent but faceless capitalists-extraodinaire. But many more ordinary Japanese responded that they were left out of the miracle: Land was unaffordable; houses were rabbit hutches, and families were reduced to mother-child duos as salariman fathers were tied to company life. Karoshi, death from overwork, became a stark reality.

From the start of the postwar period, then, how were calls to rebuild the country accomplished to the extent of gaining such sacrifice as death from work, a close variant of death for the state? Some ideas were borrowed from the prewar era; others were new or were guiding discourses such as China's National Shame, (9) but they were not necessarily invoked in any consistent way in the name of "nationalism." More striking are the many ways that calls to rebuild the nation were rationalized--politically maneuvered to create a sense of being apolitical, placating diverse social apprehensions.

Japan Under U.S. (Inter)nationalism

Importantly, Japan's economic posture was not launched under the banner of new Japanism but in deference to U.S. security discourse during the Cold War. By 1947, U.S. officials speculated that Japan would have to join the collective effort to contain Communism. Fears heightened that Communist powers would overtake the impoverished, defeated, and vulnerable nation. U.S. aspirations to reform Japan through democracy and demilitarization during the occupation period shifted to a full-scale effort to bring about economic recovery and regional linkage to non-Communist Asia. Between 1947 and 1949, U.S. interest in Japan shifted from "soft" to "hard" policies, melding a strategy of anti-Communism and economic regionalism for Japan to adopt as a contribution to sustaining the balance of power. (10) U.S. diplomats themselves reimagined the wartime regional zone led by Japan as the "Great Crescent"--a Japan-led economic and U.S.-led military zone that would stretch from Japan across Asia all the way to the Persian Gulf. State Department official George Kennan drafted the "U.S. Policy toward a Peace Settlement with Japan," advocating the integration of Japan in the bipolar structure as a friendly, politically amenable, and militarily dependent industrial producer. (11)

During the occupation, the U.S. hand played heavily in encouraging Japanese economic development in its former empire; later, Japan profited as a military procurer to U.S.-led wars in Korea and Vietnam. Nestled under U.S. anti-Communist hegemony, Japanese leaders averted fears of their own neoimperialism--at least, up to a point. To many critics (especially Asian neighbors), for Japan to become America's model economic workshop was likely the lesser evil compared with the specter of Japan's own remilitarization.

Passive Aggression: Low Politics, High Economics

Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru, both prime minister and foreign minister during seven (discontinuous) years following the war's end, authored a state strategy of passive aggression. The "Yoshida doctrine" advocated aggressive economic recovery as the primary goal of the state, yet maintaining a low political profile and supporting U.S. military bases. (12) In 1946, Yoshida was widely quoted for stating privately that "history provides examples of winning by diplomacy after losing in war." (13) Consistent with his taciturn "low politics" however, Yoshida refused the label of neomercantilist and claimed there could not even be such a thing. (14)

As was the case elsewhere throughout the world, however, by the decade of the 1960s Japan became intensely political. Most social protest was directed against the negotiation and renewal of the U.S.-Japan security treaty that allowed the United States to maintain its military bases in Japan. Extreme practices on both the Left and the Right caused many people to turn away from politics by the early 1970s. The probusiness Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) appealed to the people's cravings for "stability"--the party's soft-sounding mantra--wherein stability was equated with "not rocking the boat." The LDP's passivity was more peaceful to many than the high activism of left-wing "pacifist" parties. As a result, the LDP was the ruling political party continuously for thirty-eight years, until it lost its majority for a brief period in the mid-1990s.

Yoshida's "economics first" polity was closely adhered to by his finance minister and by his protege, Ikeda Hayato, later to be prime minister from 1960 to 1964. Both Yoshida and Ikeda worked closely with Washington diplomats in matters of economics and defense. To sustain "low politics," Ikeda took advantage of his people's own incentives to work for their households, their immediate "in group" through meritocratic egalitarianism, rather than in direct allegiance to the nation.

At the personal level, where the humiliation of war survivors was most palpable, economic researcher Nukazawa Kazuo has written a retrospective account that figures shame into this era of egalitarianism. Writing in 1998 from his own personal memories, he recalled. (15)
    Many of the survivors were young people who managed to avoid
    conscription and stay on the home front and felt somewhat shameful
    when sensing the spirits of classmates and seniors who had become
    "fallen heroes," and they made Japan's reconstruction their mission.
    The returning soldiers, meanwhile, had learned from their
    experiences at the front how best to pool their energies to cope
    with the distribution of insufficient resources.

The social atonement Nukazawa depicts blends old and new: It was a by-product of modernization to feel shame toward the West, but shame figured into the postwar idea of egalitarianism, not economism in letter, but certainly a buttress for the economic miracle to come. He quotes Nitobe Inazo, a scholar of the Meiji era (1868-1912), who noted that (in Nukuzawa's words) "the behavior of [Nitobe's] compatriots was based on a sense of shame--that is, of wanting to avoid foreign contempt." Likewise, continues Nukazawa, "the postwar Japanese were driven by a similar sense of shame, combined with a desire to make amends, and this worked against the proposition that those who have great abilities should receive proportionately great awards." (16)

As other Japanese express it, however, economic fervor was not initially driven by any grand idea, whether public atonement, egalitarianism, anti-Communism, culturalism, or nationalism: It was simply "all we had left" in a state of deprivation. For people who had lost their wealth, in a nation indeed with few natural resources--the historically conditioned habits of developing social resources, investing in "good schools" leading to "good jobs," prevailed. A "catch up to the West" mentality has been conspicuous (and this, too, can be said to be a carryover from the prewar mentality), stimulating peoples' impulses to succeed, but this fed on the much-honed inferiority complex of the Japanese (see below), giving them little reason to think the fervor of "catch up" was recognizably "nationalistic."

Ikeda's two laurels of 1964 included the hosting of the Olympics in Tokyo and the entry of Japan into the Organization for Economic Development--both spectacles for the global display of Japan's new economic power. But his genius lay in defining economics for the average person, launching the famous "income doubling" policy and "manpower" initiatives in education that propelled the nation into the high-growth era that lasted until the early 1970s. In his famous "human construction speech" ("Hitozukuri" Enzetsu) in 1962, Ikeda implied that Japan's shame transferred not into an economic war of vengeance but into human-resource capitalism: (17)
    Ought we not recall that what brought forth the progress of our
    nation today, despite the fact that defeat in war caused us to lose
    territory and left us surrounded by destruction, is the education
    which our forerunners bequeathed to us?... [I]f we are to build the
    nation of Japan, we must build human beings. Japan is restricted in
    territory and limited in resources, but the Japanese people them-
    selves have an excellent constitution. Through education, the
    Japanese people can continue to cultivate this superb character.

The "human construction" approach to public policy rationalized rather than emotionalized economism. What non-Japanese scholars were then calling economic nationalism, Japanese dubbed my-home-ism, prioritizing household needs for education and consumption (and in effect), creating a discourse to obliterate the tension among the society, the nation, and the individual. The Income Doubling Plan represented a turning point in Japanese society, according to Laura Hein, by mediating tensions among social groups and political rivals and by consolidating those people who would be satisfied with higher consumer welfare. Demonstrations against foreign policy were made less important, or less loud, in overall political news/noise, and critics on the Right who wanted some assertion of nationhood felt reasonably co-opted. (18) The nation's priorities became, for students, exam cramming, and in consumption became the "three treasures" of 1957, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, and a refrigerator, which progressed to the three Cs of the 1960s, a cooler (air conditioner), a car, and a color TV, and then to the three Vs of the 1970s, a villa, vakansu (overseas travel), and visitors (guests for dinner, because your house is now large enough). (19)

In this prioritizing of the household economy, state rhetoric became diametrically opposite from what it was during the years of wartime nationalism. Borrowing Slavoj Zizek's explanation, during the war years the nationalism inculcated by the state functioned as a Hegelian "abstract universal": the nation was the abstract secondary identification toward which primary identification, such as one's family, had to be renounced. (20) Maruyama recalls that popular resistance to state demands for labor, production, and evacuation in the peak of the war years was conducted in the name of protecting families and villages over state interests. (21) As is typical in authoritarianism, however, leaders pressured people to put the nation (as "family state") ahead of actual families. The postwar era witnessed the development of a Hegelian "concrete universal," when primary identification transubstantiated into a "concrete" part of the nation: One's membership and duties in a family were simultaneously those of the nation. (22)

The Japanese postwar state fancied itself a protector of the household, while corporations ironically segregated fathers from families, men from women, educated elites from average people. Power in the postwar state became largely meritocratic, inspiring compliance through the more pseudo-egalitarian development of exam-savvy students, rather than through emotional appeals. Corporations, meanwhile, created their own songs, symbols, and cultures to assure loyalty and sacrifice binding male worker to company family--the shallowness of which has only become apparent since the burst of the Bubble. Company men no longer have the guarantee of lifetime employment; Japanese people are no longer exempt from the necessity to change jobs and adjust skills and interests to rapid globalization.

Economism as a Temporary Passage

The central government has for decades launched a rhetoric against my-home-ism, castigating it as a materialist pursuit and advocating, instead, more qualitatively life-enhanced domestic households. This quintessential doublespeak, in which policy imperatives demand individuation while at the same time warning against the excesses of individualism, was born during Ikeda's administration, through one of the most infamous public-policy initiatives in postwar Japan, "The Image of the Desired Japanese." This comprehensive education report, completed in 1964 and published in a leading newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun evening edition in January 1965, attempted to meld human construction with national construction, in the form of a renewed national identity, without ever making connections from the "Image" to the nation's own economic goals.

Simply put, the report said it was time for culture to replace the excesses of materialism. It was a classic attempt to contain the field of meaning into a single story to placate the multiple interests converging in 1965. This was the twentieth anniversary of the war's end, as well as the year following the Tokyo Olympics: The role of a reinvigorated Japan in the world was regular headline news. "The Image of the Desired Japanese" begins by warning against the dangers of science and technology, which threaten to "dehumanize" and "mechanize" individuals. In cautioning against the materialistic excesses of economic prosperity, it resolves that to regain a sense of humanity individuals need the state, not consumerism: "It is through the state that we find the way to enjoy our happiness and contribute to human happiness throughout the world. To love our nation properly means to try to enhance the value of it. The man who is indifferent to his own nation is the enemy of his own country." Most controversially, the report's "love" theme also called on educators to recognize that "we must give deep thought to the fact that loving and respecting the Emperor is synonymous with loving and respecting the Empire." (23) Horio Teruhisa, who strongly criticized the state's role in education throughout the postwar era, called "The Image of the Desired Japanese" "an ideological camouflage in the plan for reforming education in senior high schools to meet the demands of the economic world." (24)

Ubiquitous comparisons of quality of life in opposition to material society created the myth of a society that would one day "graduate" from feverish economic pursuits. At least since 1972, the state has been conducting annual measurements of whether people are primarily pursuing material affluence (mono no yutakasa) or spiritual affluence (kokoro no yutakasa). In these surveys, citizens respond to one of two statements (they can say "don't know"):
    Because I have achieved a degree of material affluence, I now wish
    to place importance on such things as spiritual affluence and a
    comfortable lifestyle.

    I still wish to place importance on material matters to achieve
    affluence in my lifestyle.

Since the late 1970s, the pursuit of spiritual affluence gradually gained higher points than material, with 56.1 percent claiming spiritual affluence was more important in 1997, compared with 30.1 percent naming material affluence as "still" their main pursuit. (25) But considering rhetorical, rather than numerical, value, "affluence" or "abundance" (yutaka) appears as a more benevolent attribute than simple financial gain, having the nuance of spirituality or personal wealth in addition to everyday abundance. The long-term tracking of yutaka creates a desentimentalized image of a nation one day overcoming its material pursuits. The mature and "normal" population demonstrates they are gaining in spiritual endeavors.

A grander example of overcoming materialism was promulgated in 1980 under Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi. Titled "The Management of Economics in the Age of Culture" (Bunka no jidai no keizai un'ei), this report inserts the nation's past into specific eras of interconnected "history"--of prewar eras followed by "conflict" (1930-1945). "politics" (1945-1960), "high-growth economics" (1960-1980), and finally from 1980--the era Japan would then pass into--the age of "culture." Regrettably, Japan had reached the saturation point of economic pursuits that involved following the standards of others. Thus the nation should now seek to restore human relationships and cultivate its own traditions and special characteristics. H. D: Harutoonian, who compares Ohira's plan with another "Age of Culture" from the wartime years, notes that the 1980s discourse on culture departs from its prewar antecedent in that the 1980s plan acknowledged its inescapable association with Western epistemology--with rational economic thinking. The latter Age of Culture also accommodated the prospect that Japan would have achieved enough abundance to overcome its resource shortage before moving on to the cultural era. (26)

In response to international pressure, Japan also issued the Maekawa Report (1986) (27) and other documents committing Japan to policies that would ensure better quality of life for Japanese citizens as well as contribute to the needs of the international community--in other words, lessening the priorities on overseas markets. Citizens bonded with the international critique: They disdained their image abroad as "economic animals" and the image of their government as a "checkbook diplomat" (especially during the Gulf War). Economic ideas to serve the nation-state continued to be made intelligible through the kinder-gentler-sounding ideas of "internationalization" (especially during the 1980s) and "respect for the individual" (during the 1990s). By 1992, Japan declared that it should strive to become a "lifestyle superpower" (seikatsu taikoku), to graduate from the economic superpower (keizai taikoku). According to the officially released translation: "We have to change our economy and society on the basis of respect to every individual by shifting our focus from the principles of esteeming mere efficiency to social justice and benefit of consuming public as well." (28)

In this and other similar statements, the government treated the era of "esteeming mere efficiency" as a natural disaster or developmental rite of passage that the nation was forced to endure. That time was over, and the nation was now strong enough to choose a more socially oriented polity.

"Lifestyle" discourse did not go uncriticized as bureaucratically empty and patently deceptive--an economic plan in itself. But it was a safe story, prolonging the myth of depoliticized economism. Conveniently, the "lifestyle superpower" was promoted in the early 1990s, the start of Japan's recession, proclaiming the death knell and reincarnation of the economic superpower that was already disinflating. In further irony, the early 1990s also marked the peak of a U.S., post-Cold War feigned infatuation with Japan's economic prowess. Newly baptized Japan experts hyped the wizardry of Japanese management and the exam results of schoolchildren across the media circuits, less for the purpose of learning about Japan than to spur competitiveness in the people of the United States. (29)

Public initiatives to foster a better quality of life and correct the excesses of materialism continue to be written in Japan, still reminding many of "The Image of the Desired Japanese." Recent plans have promoted "relaxed" education, cutting work and school hours, and cultivating more homebound, devoted fathers. Cloaked with such "quality of life" rhetoric, even when sincere, elites can then put the blame for social ills directly onto people themselves.

Culturalism as Antipolitics

As for patriotic discourse on Japanese national identity, the ubiquitously scrutinized cultural nationalism--nihonjinron (discourse on being Japanese)--also divides elites from the masses. Nakasone Yasuhiro, prime minister during the miracle-high 1980s, epitomized the role of a leader eager to resuscitate old-style national consciousness, restore the favorable meaning of patriotism (aikoku), and blend the old symbols with some new points of patriotic pride; namely, the much ballyhooed Japanese high level of intelligence and superior education.

While other bureaucrats (kan) have also reintroduced national identity and patriotism--namely, via the Ministry of Education--response from the ordinary people (min) has been mixed, perpetuating the traditional split of kan and min exemplified in the saying kanson minpi (respect for bureaucrats, contempt of people). Some people follow the new initiatives such as respecting the flag and the anthem, since after all (such people say) every other country in the world does so. Others have responded with vitriolic protest; some young people have turned neonationalist, and many others continue to keep a safe distance from politics.

Nakasone's nationalism was a grand and delirious political narrative to expound on the virtues of the economic superpower. Street-level, petite nihonjinron boomed in the 1970s and 1980s as oblique culturalism, handy portable stories for the hoi polloi to expound on the special characteristics of themselves, on what Maruyama called the born-again "compressed ... insignificant island country." Such stories circumnavigated the uniqueness of brains, blood, eating habits, language, learning styles, social organization and so on--rarely professing outright politics. Some were fashioned as pseudoscience, others as pop social psychology. They circulated through the rhetorical territories of the taxi driver, the bar hostess, the overseas salariman, the Japanese language teacher and other pedestrian ambassadors. Every foreign resident in Japan becomes familiar with this veritable tyranny of triviality, culturally self-deprecating to the speakers but which in toto conveys to foreign listeners, "You can't understand us/you can't cross our boundary." Rather than the literal state described as a metaphoric body, the literal human body becomes the metaphoric state.

While exclusionary, however, petites nihonjinron are not always intended as cultural assertions to defend Japan's greatness, nor are they necessarily causal formulae: i.e., "our cultural attributes created our economic miracle," though this is implied. Few discourses of nihonjinron ordinaire mention state-inspired economics at all--even while people wax on the resource poorness of their country or their ever-present inferiority complex that must be acknowledged among Westerners. Dominated by geographical and sociobiological myth, the pedestrian variety of nihonjinron was perhaps a conduit for the summit-level Nakasone Nationalism (and this must be true to some extent)--yet it is also entirely plausible that some forms of "Japanese character" conversation are purposely intended as a corrector of the excesses of Japanese economism. Like many overseas Japanese in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, playwright Yamazaki Masakazu became frustrated by the lack of cultural conversation topics while working abroad. Every other nation has their special characteristics, Yamazaki claimed (in the center-right publication Jiyu)--that there are the fashionable French, the logical Americans, and so on--but Japanese are known only by their hard work and economic activity. A "salespoint" identity was needed beyond that of the economic animal, he ironically intoned. (30) Cultural discourses gave Japanese something to talk about with foreigners, resisting ubiquitous impressions that Japanese are incomprehensible except for their knowledge of markets, profits, golf, and shopping.

On the pacifist side, moreover, Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo was likewise distraught about his countrymen being recognized only as "competitive traders" with the lingering "inscrutable Japanese character." Speaking to a U.S. audience in 1990, he made this urgent plea for a new discourse on being Japanese: (31)
    Japanese writers and intellectuals need to respond to this crisis
    [of the Japanese image] and, using a range of strategies, compel a
    majority of politicians, bureaucrats, and business leaders to put
    forward a more accurate image of Japan and its people. What
    Europeans and Americans should clearly see is a Japan possessing a
    view of the world richly shaped by both traditional and foreign
    cultural elements, and a will to work as a cooperative member of the
    world community, to make an independent and distinctive contribution
    to the environment of our shared planet.

Oe's suggestion is noteworthy in that it links discourses on Japanese national identity to political responsibility. The more typical effect of dwelling on essentialized "culture," in contrast, is to remove human agency from connection to corporate/state power. Street-level nihonjinron is criticized so extensively because so much of it exemplifies the atomized nationalism spoken of by Maruyama--hidden in the social base, seemingly apolitical.

In contrast to Oe's plea, a former trade official, Amaya Naohiro (writing in the same year, 1990), attempted to give the economic animal a legitimizing narrative, albeit in the twilight of the miracle. In response to the rise of Japan-bashing, he articulated an unofficial pedagogy to defend Japan's resource-finite mercantilism, bringing it to a higher level of political sophistication. Writing independently from his experience at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Amaya's method to segregate economism from politics was to say that the former is exemplified by Japan as a merchant nation, the latter by the United States (or others) as warrior nations.

Amaya had been responsible for protecting Japan's energy needs at the time of the Iran hostage crisis, when Japan was censured for importing Iran's oil at a high price just after the United States announced an embargo. Japanese banks also took steps that resulted in canceling out the freeze on Iranian assets intended for punitive leverage. The United States, he summarizes, was motivated by historically entrenched missionary zeal, whereas the Japanese position was rooted in "a crisis of survival." Politically, he argues, the United States should have offered Japan compensatory measures and aired grievances diplomatically, rather than through the mass media. In a press conference. Amaya, vowing never again to allow the oil companies and banks to repeat such behavior, added, "I would like to appeal to you, the people of the U.S., to bear in mind the stark and somber fact that the free world economy, including the Japanese economy, cannot survive without a reasonable supply of oil from the Middle East, including Iran." (32)

Amaya was subsequently criticized for subservience to the United States, to which he retorted in his essay. "Which does the Japanese nation want, to live as a 'merchant' or as a 'warrior?'" Japan, he said, is "a plump hare" in the global semijungle, and in order to survive it needs.
    superb information-gathering ability, intuition, diplomatic skill,
    and at times, whining sycophancy. Mere mouthing of pretty phrases
    about justice, peace, freedom, nondiscrimination, and other niceties
    will never guarantee a prosperous life for merchant or hare.

To Western-educated students, such skills sound as political as Machiavelli, but in Amaya's mental map the political territory is occupied by the warrior, with hares as the underdog. Amaya explained that the downside of Japan's role as a merchant was its self-absorption in single-issue matters with little relation to international politics, ranging from various corruption scandals to the United States's own Three Mile Island tragedy to the death of Lan Lan, the giant panda. (33) The gulf between the self-absorbed apolitical merchant and the politically aware warrior should be bridged, he advised cautiously, by Japan taking on the role of a more assertive "merchant prince." (34) This would not involve a full switch to the warrior position unless Japan would take on a more fundamental change in values, ambiguously implying that mercantilism means both pacifism and passivism, thus denying to the merchant his already political character. (A decade later, following the trajectory of his thoughts expressed in this essay. Amaya railed against the role of Japan as a merchant nation in the Gulf War.) (35)

Japanese politicians successfully created an economic superpower while managing nationalism's discontinuity, the complex social responses to Japan's shame of defeat and the turbulent politics that followed the nation's tethering to the United States during the Cold War. Japan's political and corporate leaders appeased both the U.S. cold warriors and their own citizens, offering a new economic front that encouraged corporatism, consumerism, and credentialism while reducing political noise from numerous factions of pacifists and old-style nationalists. This was accomplished in public discourse by distancing economism from prewar nationalism, emphasizing Japan as an insignificant state in a way that encouraged the people to be apolitical, the society peaceful, and the government stable. Economism was rationalized at the household level, while the term economic nationalism had no popular currency, and thus nationalism retained its mostly wartime association.

The elusive capitalist power and its yet unknown nouveaux riches begged a story, nonetheless; the world looked upon both as an inscrutable and devised cliche to articulate and ease anxiety. Awed and threatened by the spectacle of "Japan Inc.," Western popular (mis) perceptions imagined Japanese people as bound in loyalty and duty around state economic principles, anachronistically shouting "banzai!" to the high ideals of Japan, Inc. Japanese people meanwhile created their own points of conversation, their own discourses on being Japanese, at least in part to respond to the perception of themselves as economic animals. Mystery became myth.


Earlier versions of this article were presented to annual conferences of the Japan Association of International Relations and the International Studies Association. I would like to thank Kathy Ferguson, William Callahan, and Steve Welch for comments on earlier drafts. At the top of the article, the first epigraph is from "Japan--Salesman to the World," Newsweek, March 9, 1970, cited in Herman Kahn, The Emerging Japanese Superstate: Challenge and Response (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), p. 38. The second epigraph quotes Julie McCarthy, on NPR, Morning Edition, April 15, 1999.

1. Akutagawa, Ryunosuke, Kappa, trans. Geoffrey Bownas (Tokyo: Tuttle, 2000).

2. Maruyama Masao, "Nationalism in Japan: Its Theoretical Background and Prospects," trans. David Titus, in Maruyama Masao, Thought and Behaviour in Modern Japanese Politics, ed. Ivan Morris (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), pp. 150-151.

3. John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: Norton/New Press, 1999), pp. 97-105.

4. Maruyama, note 2. p. 148.

5. Ibid., pp. 150-151.

6. For example, see Norma Field's interview with Motoshima Hitoshi, mayor of Nagasaki, in Norma Field, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: Japan at Century's End (New York: Vintage, 1993), p. 254. A noteworthy and recent example from Japan is Takami Koushun's novel Battle Royale (trans. Yuji Oniki [San Francisco: VIZ Communications, 2003]: see also a film version directed by Kinji Fukasaku [2000]): forty-two junior-high students, electronically collared and monitored by a central bureaucracy in a fictitious, Japan-ruled "Republic of Greater East Asia" are ordered to a game of fatal "survivor." The somewhat cliched story becomes a potent allegory for the Japanese educational and governmental system, especially from the viewpoint of junior-high students studying for entrance exams. The novel can also be read as an allegory of global economic power. Importantly, it demonstrates the extraordinary disconnect between the alleged dictator (an empty center?) and the subjects, and it does not refer to the economic invasion of the United States.

7. Samuel P. Huntington, "Japan's Role in Global Politics," International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 1. no. 1 (2001): 139.

8. Chalmers Johnson. Japan: Who Governs? The Rise of the Developmental State (New York: Norton, 1995), pp. 97-98.

9. See William A. Callahan's "National Insecurities: The Politics of Shame: Humiliation, Salvation, and Chinese Nationalism" in this issue of Alternatives.

10. The themes of soft and hard Cold War policies are insightfully developed in John Dower, Japan in War and Peace (New York: New Press, 1993), pp. 162-189. The outbreak of the Korean War and the signing of the San Francisco peace treaty marked the beginning of a more nominally integrated regional policy toward security.

11. Bruce Cumings, "Japan's Position in the World System," in Andrew Gordon, ed., Postwar Japan as History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 38. This document, Cumings notes, became the basis for NSC 13/2 in October 1948, establishing the new orientation toward the occupation in the context of the Cold War.

12. Summarized by Kenneth Pyle, The Japanese Question: Power and Purpose in a New Era, 2d ed. (Washington: AEI Press, 1996), p. 25.

13. Ibid., p. 21.

14. Ibid., p. 28.

15. Nukazawa Kazuo, "The Japanese Economy: From World War II to the New Century," Japan Echo 25, no. 2 (1998):

16. Ibid.

17. "Prime Minister Ikeda's Campaign Speech for the Upper House of the Diet" ("Hitozukuri" Enzetsu), Sengo Nihon Kyoiku Shiryo Shusei 7 (Tokyo: Sanichi Shobo, 1983), pp. 62-63, trans. James Vardaman, in Edward R. Beauchamp and James M. Vardaman Jr., eds., Japanese Education since 1945: A Documentary Study (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1994), pp. 154-155.

18. Laura E. Hein, "Growth vs. Success: Japan's Economic Policy in Historical Perspective," pp. 114-115; and J. Victor Koschmann, "Intellectuals and Politics," p. 412, both in Andrew Gordon, ed., Postwar Japan as History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

19. Adapted from Carol Gluck, "The Past in the Present," in Andrew Gordon, ed., Postwar Japan as History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 75 n.

20. Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (London: Verso, 2000), pp. 90-91.

21. Maruyama, note 2, p. 147.

22. Zizek, pp. 90-91.

23. The full text of "The Image of the Desired Japanese" (Kitai sareru ningenzo) was first published in Asahi Shimbun Yukan, January 11, 1965, p. 3. I borrow the title of this document from Plazer, note 24, because there the passive verb kitai sareru is literally rendered as desired. Other citations from the "Image" text are borrowed from Vardaman's translation in Beauchamp and Vardaman, note 17, pp. 164-167. Vardaman uses the Ministry of Education's 1966 version of the document.

24. Horio Teruhisa, Educational Thought and Ideology in Modern Japan: State Authority and Intellectual Freedom, trans. and ed, Steven Plazer (University of Tokyo Press, 1988), pp. 158-159.

25. Sourifu kouhoushitsu (Prime minister's office public information bureau), ed., "Kokumin seikatsu" ("People's lives"), Youron chousa (Public opinion research) 30, no. 10 (1998): 29, 51-52.

26. H. D. Harootunian, "Visible Discourses/Invisible Ideologies," in Masao Miyoshi and H. D. Harootunian, eds., Postmodernism and Japan (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1989), pp. 78-86.

27. Named after Maekawa Haruo, former Bank of Japan governor, the report's general aim was to stimulate domestic demand to "transform the Japanese economic structure into one oriented toward international coordination." See report of the Advisory Group on Economic Structural Adjustment for International Harmony (Tokyo, 1986), p. 2.

28. "Outline of the Five Year Plan for a Better Quality of Life" (Tokyo: Economic Planning Agency, 1992), in Nippon 1993 Business Facts and Figures (Tokyo: JETRO, 1993), p. 3.

29. Marie Thorsten, "Once upon a TIMSS: American and Japanese Narrations of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study," Education and Society 18, no. 3 (2000): 45-76.

30. Yamazaki Masakazu, "Kao no nai nihonjin" (Faceless Japanese), Jiyu (December 1971): pp. 44-45.

31. Oe Kenzaburo, Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself: The Nobel Prize Speech and Other Lectures (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1995), p. 54.

32. Amaya Naohiro, "Japan as a Merchant Nation," Japan Echo 22, special issue, "Japan's View of the World" (1995); reprinted from Japan Echo 7, no. 2 (1990); abr. and trans. from "Choninkoku, Nihon' tedai no kurigoto," Bungei Shunju, March 1990.

33. Amaya Naohiro, "Japan as a Merchant Nation," ibid., pp. 93-94.

34. Ibid., p. 95.

35. Introduction to special issue "Japan's View of the World," Japan Echo 22 (1995): 9.

Marie Thorsten*

* English Department, College of Liberal Arts, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan; e-mail:
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Publication:Alternatives: Global, Local, Political
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Date:Mar 1, 2004
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