Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Shame to Vengeance: The Grand Cliche of the Japanese Superstate

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Shame to Vengeance: The Grand Cliche of the Japanese Superstate

Article excerpt

    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. …

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