Thursday, September 4, 2008

Japanese self-images

A Genealogy of 'Japanese' self-images.

Eiji Oguma

Trans Pacific Press

ISBN 1-876843-04-7


Of all the myths propagated about Japan, the one I find most disturbing can be illustrated by a quote by Taro Aso, the man in line to be the next Japanese Prime Minister. He said "“Japan is one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, one race, none of which can be found in any other country”. It is disturbing that even a cursory glance at Japanese history reveals the assertation to be false and yet it is believed by so many, Japanese and other, but it's also disturbing because the idea is the bedrock of the whole "field" of Nihonjinron, and also used to justify Japan's deeply embedded racism. What is more surprising however, is that this idea is very, very, modern, being created in the postwar period but not becoming dominant until the 1960's.

Eiji Oguma's excellent, authoritative study of how the Japanese define themselves follows the debates and lines of thought from the Meiji period up until today, drawing from archeology, history, linguistics, anthropolgy, ethnology, eugenics, folklore and philosophy, and the complete break that occured with Japan's defeat in the war. Prior to that the Japanese defined themselves very much as a "mixed-race" with ancestry traced to north, east, and south asia, as well as ascribing their roots to Greece and Italy!!! Of course this definition allowed them to justify their invasion and colonisation of Korea, Taiwan, and China.

The book fleshes out many of the Japanese politicians and thinkers of the 20th Century as well as proving detailed study of how their colonial citizens were treated, and of course provides the explanation for much of Nihonjinron.


  1. Thanks for the book introduction Ojisanjake. I'll try to get my hands on it right away.

    What's more disturbing to me than the prevalence of notions based in nihonjinron among Japanese themselves, is the way that these notions are uncritically accepted by those outside of the country/culture.

    The book sounds fascinating.



  2. Japan and its history is more diverse and interesting than the propoganda would have us believe.
    It is an excellent book, jam-packed with fascinating details....