Letter to the FT and Japanese mainstream nationalism

A few posts back, one of the commenters lamented at the phenomenon of “creepy white men” carrying an eternal torch for Japan. So it is not common, or as the Japanese would say “めずらしい” and the Koreans “보기드물다” to see somebody like this .

Japan or “young Japan”, on the other hand, is going through some self-reflection at the moment, with sentiments like these by the footballer Keisuke Honda, who wonders about the (lack of) politicians of calibre, he doesn’t know what they represent. He also wonders why (whether right or wrong) the expression for “love for one’s own country” for example when the Korean player held the Dokdo card, is so lacking amongst the young Japanese. He adds he doesn’t know, but he cannot rule out that he would not have done the same in the same situation because he loves Japan very much.

It’s sort of a mingled article (in Japanese) but I feel like though his heart’s in the right place, he is searching for answers in the darkness. He, like the rest of the young Japanese, does not know or address the real reason for the placid, muted attitude taken by the Japanese by necessity who chose to play victim rather than aggressors, this is the fault of his educators.

Same goes for German nationalism. I was told by my German friends it was only recent that the “flag waving” “proud to be German” feeling was allowed and came back (they point to the last World Cup in Germany when this happened) and before that there was a long time of muted and hushed self-reflection period (in the case of Germany compounded by the division) when any sort of feeling “proud to be German” was taboo.

Finally, this is an interesting article which shows that history seemingly over and settled becomes current again, in Europe too.

  • yuna

    Apologies, for the first link for those not registered with the FT, a google search for “Japan’s not ready to be a reliable ally” would lead straight to the article.

  • PeterDownUnder

    Good read the FT article thanks for putting it up here.

    Japan as a inward looking nation yea, but how about Korea? Koreans definitely do speak better English as well as have a larger more active diaspora, the article criticises Japanese for not being active on international forums as well as having no non Japanese players in Japan.

    Besides Koreas more active global role as well as the perk of Ban Ki Moon, besides the few non-Korean kpop stars are there alot of significant foreigners in Korea?

  • berto

    Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936


    Sounds like some variation to what Lenin said about religion. Something about it being the opiate of the masses?

    Well, religion is still here but communism is deader than disco.

  • berto

    Indeed. One Ism at a time I suppose.
    It’s a quote from an interview with Einstein from……. The Saturday Evening Post?

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Yeah, but Einstein grew up in Germany, so of course he’s gonna say something like that about nationalism.

    Korea used nationalism to develop. It’s a good way to make people do more then they normally would without paying/giving them more. That’s helpful, sometimes.

  • eujin

    Yeah, but you grew up in Korean community, so of course you gonna say something like that about nationalism.

    Einstein would’ve been fully aware of how Germany used nationalism to develop in the 1930’s, by making people do more than they normally would without paying/giving them more. Didn’t turn out very well in the end though.

    Anyway, measles are underrated. Tests show that it might be useful in the fight against cancer. Do I hear a “Einstein hints at cure for cancer with nationalism comment”?

  • yuna

    Didn’t turn out very well in the end though

    Depends on if you were talking to the Greeks or o the Germans.

  • Bendrix

    I’d say a lot of these men, rarely women, grew up in the 80s and 90s, when Japan seemed like it would take over the world with its technology and money. The Japan they love is part myth (the idealized culture and people in their minds, fondness for which is grown by pop culture and sexual fantasy) and part real. Some of them become disillusioned when they actually go live there, some become even more deeply immersed in their obsession, while other more sane people manage to keep their grip on reality. And many of them feel they need to defend her honor. An enemy of Japan is an enemy of theirs. Are they collusionists, toadies, or even racists? Maybe. Some of them have also “become” Japanese to escape the reality of their own lives back home and live out a fantasy in another country, where they can avoid a lot of the social responsibilities and expectations of being a native. And Japan provides a great environment, maybe the best, to do that. Hell, you could even reside there in mind but not body as long as you have access to a store like Kinokuniya, maybe an Asian video store (not as much these days), and an Internet connection. This works best if you are a white male because you are viewed in Japan as having some cultural exchange value and will be treated pretty well, which further reinforces their love of the country. It doesn’t work as well if you are another Asian ethnicity, Hispanic, or black, in that order of caste.

  • Bendrix

    I should specify that is in order of ascending caste, with other Asian ethnicities at the bottom.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936


    Yes I did grow up with Koreans. They used nationalism to donate gold and family heirlooms to raise foreign currency when their nation became insolvent in 1997. They used nationalism to turn mere sacks of concrete into factories and shipyards.

    I offer a different perspective on nationalism than just a European one (and all the sh*tty mistakes they have made with it). Joining the first world ain’t easy. It’s almost an exclusively white club (unless you have billions of barrels of oil under your feet). Korea didn’t have oil or a lot of minerals. It had people, so they mobilized those people via nationalism.

    Methinks that the Greeks and some Latin American countries could use a little positive and constructive nationalism at about this time.

    But nationalism is a double edged sword. I haven’t forgotten it, but neither should you.

  • Bendrix

    Are all of you FT subscribers? I couldn’t read the article. As for the young Japanese, what about net uyoku? Are they considered a fringe minority in society that is not representative of nationalism among that age group? They are vocal and proud. I don’t know how the country’s education is seen as having failed in any way on this front. When I lived in Japan, there was a lot of nationalistic stuff on TV, especially when it came to sports victories. I don’t know how many times I saw that Ichiro hit that clinched the WBC win a few years back. Ichiro made nationalistic comments around that time, and Tokyo’s mayor seems to on a daily basis. And the Japanese young dudes I’ve met in New York don’t seem at all bashful about being Japanese, and they are competitive toward other Asians.

    There are still a lot of aggressive displays of manliness happening among the Japanese, though those might be mostly small disturbances among the greater phenomenon of the soshoku danshi. I don’t think Japan’s situation is comparable to young Germans. Japan was not shamed and censured in the same way after World War II and it never expressed the same kind of deep guilt as the Germans.

  • eujin

    The Greeks could do with paying their taxes, but if it makes them feel better to donate gold and family heirlooms then perhaps they should try that as well. What they don’t need is people like Nikolaos Michaloliakos and his Golden Dawn, but I hope they don’t even come close to representing what you call “constructive nationalism”.

    The nationalism that is being alluded to in the FT article doesn’t bode well for the future of Japan, even if they’re not about to repeat the 1940’s, or does your non-European perspective disagree? I’d like to think that a lot of Koreans worked hard and sacrificed because they thought it was the right thing to do and because it would provide a better future for their kids. If they did it mainly to glorify their nation and ethnic group then RolyPoly might be on the right track with some of his predictions for the future of East Asia.

    One way to test your theory that nationalism can turn sacks of concrete into factories, would be to set up a twin experiment. Say we split Korea in half, gave both halves equal doses of nationalism, tweaked a few other minor variables, and waited to see if both were able to join the rich white man’s club (bomb club maybe.) I agree with you that there are many Koreans giving up a great deal in the name of nationalism and their country. All of the northern ones are being duped.

  • yuna

    Hi Bendrix, sorry about that. Try the instruction in my comment #1 but I will also put up the work-around in the main post.

  • http://pawikoreapics.blogspot.com/ pawikirogii 石鵝

    the creeps from the west think that, since they have forgiven japan for what they did to the koreans and chinese, there’s no longer an issue. japan was let off the hook by the west and the problems we see today came from that. the west could do itself a favor and join asians in condemning japan’s lack of remorse and sympathy for the atrocious things they did to their fellow asians. we ain’t gonna shut up about this no matter how many creeps like bevers exist in this world.

    btw, speaking of creepy white guys, go to the sidebar and visit that blog called ampotan. his front page focuses almost exclusively on korea. just as the japanese are becoming shrill, creepo is getting shrill too.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936


    I don’t know if it’s worth my time to debate with you. I like to do so with people who have some understanding of history, culture and political systems. You are clearly alluding to North Korea in your comment above and that’s just not a comparison worth making. North Korea is a pseudo-communist, hereditary dictatorship. It is not a failure of will, but a failure of system.

    Your comments show so little to work with that I just have to leave them unaddressed.

  • Avaast

    @ 2 – There are a handful of relatively high profile foreigners within Korea, but I would be very surprised if any of them are known outside as well. They are mostly famous because they are (to varying degrees) fluent in Korean, some even with amusing Gyeongsang-do accents, but generally are not active in fields that would make them famous overseas as well (although some have made a ton of money).

    A few potentially notable examples might be: Lee Charm, the current head of the Korea Tourism Organization (a naturalized…German, I believe?), Pak No-ja, a naturalized Russian left-wing academic that tried to run in the most recent National Assembly elections, Raimund Royer, the first foreigner (Austrian) to be licensed to practice ‘Chinese’ medicine in Korea…there are probably some others that have slipped my mind.

    There are also quite a few minor foreign celebrities – former tv contestants on 미녀들의 수다 (Pretty Ladies Chat, essentially) that have married and lived on in Korea, Robert Harley, a former ‘lawyer’ that became famous for his folksy southern (Korean, that is) accent in a series of commercials for instant food products and now runs some private international school somewhere, various actors/actresses of mixed heritage.

    So, the answer to your question is probably a ‘no’. But the ones that do reach a certain level of domestic fame have generally done quite well for themselves.

  • tapadamornin


    Every country is nationalistic when it comes to sports. I’m not sure that’s a good way to demonstrate that Japan has a prevalence of nationalism.

    Just as an example, you’d be lucky if you even *saw* a non-US athlete compete during the Olympics; according to NBC, they don’t even exist. And much like the trending of #Japs and #PearlHarbor after the US women’s soccer team beat Japan for the gold medal, things can always take a turn for the worst when it comes to international competitions.

  • Arghaeri

    Tapadamorin, I can assure you we saw plenty of non-americans during the olympic coverage. In fact what we didn’t see were many americans. Lots of Table Tennis though, who knew ut was such a major olympic sport :-)

  • TheKorean2

    WangKon936, its true nationalism shaped Korea as it is now. Without it, S.Korea wouldn’t be S.Korea today. Korean modern nationalism is a bit like Korean exceptionalism.