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Japan in the World

Japan in the World

by Masao Miyoshi
Since the end of World War II, Japan has determinately remained outside the current of world events and uninvolved in the processes determining global history and politics. In Japan and the World, distinguished scholars, novelists, and intellectuals articulate how Japan—despite unprecedented economic prowess in securing dominance in the world's


Since the end of World War II, Japan has determinately remained outside the current of world events and uninvolved in the processes determining global history and politics. In Japan and the World, distinguished scholars, novelists, and intellectuals articulate how Japan—despite unprecedented economic prowess in securing dominance in the world's market—is caught in a complex dependency with the United States. Drawing on critical and postmodernist theory, this timely volume situates this dependency in a broader historical context and assesses Japan's current dealings in international politics, society, and culture.
Among the many topics covered are: racism in U.S.-Japanese relations; productivity and workplace discourse; Western cultural hegemony; the constructing of a Japanese cultural history; and the place of the novelist in today's world. Originally published as a special issue of boundary 2 (Fall 1991), this edition includes four new essays on Japanese industrial revolution; the place of English studies in Japan; how American cultural, historical, and political discourse represented Japan and in turn how America's version of Japan became Japan's version of itself; and an "archaeology" of hegemonic relationships between Japan and America and Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.

Contributors. Eqbal Ahmad, Perry Anderson, Bruce Cumings, Arif Dirlik, H.D. Harootunian, Kazuo Ishuro, Fredric Jameson, Kojin Karatani, Oe Kenzaburo, Masao Miyoshi, Tetsuo Najita, Leslie Pincus, Naoki Sakai, Miriam Silverberg, Christena Turner, Rob Wilson, Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto

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Japan in the World

By Masao Miyoshi, H. D. Harootunian

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8180-8


Japan in the World

Masao Miyoshi H. D. Harootunian

During the Cold War the two superpowers were forced to compete for the allegiance of the Third World countries. As could be expected, they reacted by manipulating the bipolar tension to their own economic advantages. With the end of the Cold War, dramatically marked by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, this situation was irretrievably altered. Since neither the United States nor the Soviet Union required the support of the Third World countries any longer, they radically reduced the material assistance they had provided during the previous four decades. The collapse of the Soviet Union exacerbated this process of abandonment. Left alone, several nonindustrial nations slipped into uncontrolled and, possibly, irreversible balkanization and fragmentation, if not famine and starvation. Thus the end of the Cold War deprived many Third World nations of even the illusion of an opportunity for industrial development. With the decline of bipolarism, the world now seems to be heading toward some sort of division among powerful economic powers. The United States and its North American neighbors, the European Community, and Japan with its NIEs now present the possibility of tripartite regionalism. The Second World—with the possible exceptions of the People's Republic of China and Cuba—are virtually being absorbed into the ranks of the Third World.

In the new global paradigm, Japan is being compelled to define its position in the world for the first time since the end of World War II. And yet, as its conduct during the Gulf War demonstrates, it has not been forthcoming with a clear enunciation of its political role in the shaping of a new world system. During the Gulf War, Japan was regarded as an ally of the "U.N. forces," making contributions of well over ten billion dollars for the war expenses, but refused to send ground troops because its postwar constitution explicitly prohibits the use of armed forces, as further explained below. A mere two years later, however, Japan grudgingly yielded to international pressure toward participation in the U.N. peace-keeping organization and embarked upon a different course of action. Without full debate or resolution of the issues concerning the dictates of the constitution, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) passed a bill authorizing the dispatch of peace-keeping forces to Cambodia. Although the deployment is officially claimed to be only for noncombative purposes, the fundamental change in Japan's military policy since the Gulf War is indisputable, and the reversal seems unalterable. This ambiguity surrounding Japan's foreign policy, including its military planning, is also evident in the U.S.-Japan agreement regarding the stationing of U.S. troops in Japanese territories. Now that the obvious threat of a hostile superpower no longer exists, the maintenance of a large-scale U.S. military presence for the protection of Japan is simply inexplicable. The Japanese government, however, shows no sign of raising this issue any time soon.

One possible explanation of this persistent ambivalence derives from Japan's postwar relationship with the United States. Since the war, Japan has been wholly under the political, economic, and cultural hegemony of the United States. As a result of this relationship, Japan has not yet been able to achieve true independence and autonomy, even though by all agreement American occupation ended long ago and the Japanese have declared an end to the postwar era. The American occupation early imposed a constitutional framework on the defeated population of Japan. This constitution, specifically its Article 9, prohibited the Japanese from future remilitarization. A consequence of this clause was to divide Japanese thinking into two quite distinct camps: those who were fully convinced that Japan's total defeat resulted in the imposition of an alien principle and the loss of national autonomy; and those who believed that the renunciation of arms was absolutely vital to the maintenance of a peaceful world order, despite the foreign origins of the principle embodied in the constitution. In a sense, the Japanese commitment to peace was seen by the latter group as a uniquely enlightened example for the rest of the world to follow.

The same constitution also redefined the nature of political authority by recoding the Japanese emperor as a "symbol of the State and of the unity of the people," whereas before the war he had been the sole authority, sacred and inviolable. Yet this effort to retain an archaic imperial institution, while weakening it by removing its original source of divine legitimation, created still another ambiguity in Japan's national consciousness. Nobody foresaw in 1946 what now appears as an inherent disposition to continue the myths employed by the prewar Japanese order. The consequences of establishing a symbolic emperorship have proved to be far more pervasive and serious than anyone suspected at the time. Ramifications have touched every aspect of Japanese society. As Japanese prosperity began to invite closer attention from the world, it became evident that one of the enabling factors of this economic order was the recycling of the older elements in the national myth of racial homogeneity and familial consensuality, symbolized by the imperial family, that were capable of eliminating opposition and criticism and allowing claims to cultural uniqueness. These ideologies have combined to establish a society marked by a network of tight social relationships modeled after the patriarchal household. From the academic world to industrial and financial organizations to political parties and government structures, there are no relations unmarked by this patriarchal/ familial principle. It should be reiterated that the reification of this model of social relationships was fundamentally legitimated by the machinery of neo-emperorism. While it is undeniable that this network of relationships has resulted in guaranteeing minimal security and welfare for every Japanese by incorporating all into a national program, this very hegemonism has also severely inhibited the spirit of criticism and opposition within all areas of Japanese society. This effort to make the Japanese appear as members of the vast "middle stratum" has been reinforced immeasurably by an ideology of cultural exceptionalism that has sought to construct a national subjectivity devoid of class and gender divisions (Nihonjin-ron). Furthermore, it has enabled Japanese society to resist all outside intervention and interference, which invariably means that any view expressed or articulated by foreigners will be dismissed as uninformed, inaccurate, and thus invalid. Yet the Japanese, by the same measure, have too often appropriated foreign views and analyses, especially to answer critics when it was convenient or when the views were capable of affirming more indigenous pieties.

It is not an accident that Japanese social relationships are condensed into a form of "gangsterism" (yakuza), in which behavior is codified and ritualized. It is an institution that, though often dismissed as marginal, is in fact a vast shadowy organization of political power and economic influence. The yakuza is closely affiliated with the ruling conservative party at many levels, serving to bridge the once again increasingly forceful right-wing elements with corporate entities. This was dramatically shown in the summer of 1992 with revelations of collusion between the LDP and the yakuza. The case against the LDP kingmaker, Kanemaru Shin, for accepting a four-million-dollar bribe and using yakuza assistance was initially allowed to end with his payment of a fine of less than $2,000, without any further penalty. No government agency was willing to investigate or prosecute the scandal further. The government's inability to determine the nature of what might be regarded elsewhere as a criminal conspiracy unmistakably proves that those occupying the seat of power in Japan are invulnerable. Such an arrangement has been made possible at least in part by the uninterrupted monopoly of power by the LDP since 1955 and the installation of what has been called single-party democracy. This systemic immunity is a reflection of the deeper logic of structural exemptionism and metalegality that can be explained only in relation to emperorism. The possibility of rooting out the system of gangsterism seems remote as long as emperorism is permitted to persist in Japanese society.

That the yakuza does not often display bloody traces of destruction means little; gangsterism manipulates with the invisible but ever-present threat of violence. The media and social analysts are intimidated, bowing to the pervasive paradigm of taboo and self-censorship. In the spring of 1992, Itami Juzo, the noted film director, was stabbed by yakuza thugs as a warning against making anti-organized crime movies. While the event was reported even in the American media, no widespread outrage was expressed in Japan. Furthermore, gangsterism structurally enacts the rule of unity and conformity: One either accepts what he or she is told or becomes ostracized. This same principle of exclusion and inclusion, which is governed not so much by argument and contestation as by consent and consensus, works to a surprising degree in every segment of Japanese society. In the academic and intellectual precincts, for instance, the spirit of hierarchic order and tribal loyalty persists to discourage free exchange of criticism and opinion. Ironically, the Japanese intellectual and academic world functions much like an industry to produce probably more formal oral exchanges than any other society. These exchanges are regularly transcribed and published in opinion magazines that attest not to the existence of criticism but to mutual agreement. Graduate students seldom express disagreement with professors; book reviewers rarely do more than register approval of a book's content; discussion in the Diet is always perfunctory.

Fear is not the only instrument of the rulers: nostalgia is used, too, with surprising efficacy. The idea of reifying a tradition of village life on the basis of a pastoral model has been important in reinforcing the principle of social cohesion by appealing to historical continuity and identification of the past with the present. In recent years, for instance, the government has made an immense number of grants to village communities for any project devoted to the resuscitation of village life, ranging from the construction of a village archive to the reenactment of a traditional festival.

As discussed earlier, Japan's desire to present itself as a player among the leading First World nations has led to the establishment with Europe and the United States of a trilateral hegemony, which at the same time has resulted in distancing Japan from the Third World. This alienation from the non-West is based on Japan's refusal to articulate its relationship to the non-West, especially Asia, both in the past and in the present. To this day Japan has not accepted the responsibility of accurately accounting for its actions during World War II. It might be pointed out that early in the postwar years Japan began to conceal its wartime role as the victimizer of Asia under the new guise of Japan as the victim of the inhumane U.S. atom bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as of the earlier Western imperial hegemonism. This displacing of roles has resulted in historical forgetfulness and revisionism. History has become merely an arena for national politics. For example, the Japanese have been embroiled in a controversy with the Chinese and Koreans over the textbook representations of the imperial atrocities committed on the continent during the war. The officially approved history textbooks have consistently denied the savage acts of the imperial forces, from the rape of Nanjin to biological experimentation and chemical warfare. As another example, cases of Korean women forced to serve as prostitutes in government sponsored "comfort stations" for the Japanese troops recently came to light despite repeated attempts to suppress evidence and deny official complicity. It should be pointed out that while memories of wartime brutalities are still vivid among members of the older generations, there is a younger generation of Asians willing to forget Japan's dark past in lieu of the promises of capital, technology, and consumer goods. Nevertheless, unskilled "guest laborers" from South Asia and elsewhere, like Koreans and outcast populations long residing in the country, have been subject to what can only be described as racial discrimination.

Japan's foreign aid is now impressively higher than any other country's, yet it has been intimately tied to Japan's industrial trading agenda. One might view in a similar light the policy of internationalization recently enunciated by the Japanese government. The policy was prompted in part by the long-standing foreign complaint that Japan plays no responsible political or diplomatic role in the world commensurate with its economic presence. Thus the program has called for a greater involvement of the kind that might show Japan as a responsible member of the First World bloc. This program of so-called internationalization, however, has resulted only in the expansion of tourism and trade, which in turn necessitates importation of cheap foreign labor. While it is true that there is a genuine aspiration to flee from insular provincialism, and public and private institutions in Japan have invited numerous foreign artists and writers and sponsored countless international conferences, they have not as yet produced any serious exchange. Moreover, internationalization has often been used to mask Japan's further penetration of foreign markets and acquisition of technologies. The funding of academic institutions and the media abroad must be mentioned in this connection. The leading business and engineering schools in the United States regularly receive a large number of Japanese students who are sponsored by their firms for advanced graduate training. In addition, an increasing number of small, financially suffering schools in the United States are being purchased by prosperous Japanese institutions.

For Japan, the world is the United States. World War II, of course, created grounds for this perception and its persistence. Europe, on the other hand, has been adamant in refusing to recognize Japan as either a significant culture or a politically important state. Serious studies of Japan have been principally concentrated in the United States since the end of the war. In Europe—and Britain to some degree—any interest in Japan still takes the form of Oriental studies.


Excerpted from Japan in the World by Masao Miyoshi, H. D. Harootunian. Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Meet the Author

At the time of his death in 2009, Masao Miyoshi was Professor of Japanese, English, and Comparative Literature at the Univesity of California, San Diego. He is coeditor, with Fredric Jameson, of The Cultures of Globalization, also published by Duke University Press.

H. D. Harootunian is Director of the Program in East Asian Studies at New York University.

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