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

Author:Thorsten, Marie
 
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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...

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