Regardless of the metric used, Japan scores very low on nationalism. Its investment in its armed forces as a percentage of national income is small, especially for a country living in close range of two potential war zones (the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan).
Moreover, in the past two decades the offensive capabilities of North Korea against Japan, namely its ballistic missiles and nuclear program, have grown significantly.
China, another potential adversary for Japan, clearly has a much stronger military than 20 years ago. But Japan continues to keep its military investment at around 1 percent of national income (perhaps a little more if other expenses are included).
The phenomenal waste in Japanese procurement programs also shows that the military budget is as much a funding mechanism for Japanese businesses as a tool to build up a strong military.
Moreover, when it comes to dealing with the outside world, Japanese diplomats are as unlikely as those of the Holy See to resort to threats of force. There are no John Boltons in the Japanese Foreign Ministry. This peaceful, low profile reflects a basic fact often ignored by outsiders: Japanese voters favor candidates who care about bread and butter issues over those whose concern is Japan’s greatness and military might.
He attributes this lack of nationalism to an absence of a sense of victimization — as in South Korea and China — and a lack of universal values, a “messianic urge” that lends itself to a desire to seek regional or global domination. It also lacks the need to use nationalism to distract citizens from domestic problems or to promote unity in the presence of social cleavages.
Granted, Japan lacks these factors. But are these the only causes of nationalism? And are the only manifestations of nationalism more expansive defense budgets and a more robust foreign policy? With that phrase “regardless of the metric used,” M. Dujarric manages to duck this question of just what is nationalism.
I would argue that the Japanese people on the whole are quite nationalistic. I think that the Japanese people on the whole are proud of Japan and of being Japanese, if not to the same extent as their neighbors or Americans.
As Yomiuri found in an opinion poll in January of this year, a record number of respondents (1650 out of 1780, 92.7%) said that they felt some or a lot of pride, with a record portion (55%) saying that they felt a lot of pride. That pride, however, did not translate into support for a policy of remilitarization or normalization. Asked what they think about contemporary Japan — i.e., the country of which they are proud — 59.7% saw it as a “peace-loving nation,” followed by 35.9% who saw it as an economic great power, 27.2% who saw it as a country with a high level of culture, and 25.2% who saw it as a democratic nation. Only 2% saw it as a military great power, fewer than those who saw it as an “insular nation.” (Respondents were free to choose as many answers as they desired from a list that also included “nation with a high level of welfare protection,” “nation that is trusted by other countries,” and “independent nation.” Obviously this does not necessarily suggest that this is how the respondents want to be, but it is reasonable to infer that the 1780 respondents to this poll are actually quite proud of Japan’s achievements culturally and economically — and they are proud of Japan’s postwar record of abjuring from the use of force to resolve disputes.
In other words, a Japanese citizen can be nationalistic without sounding like Abe Shinzo. A Japanese can be proud — should be proud — of the Japan that exists, not the beautiful Japan that exists if only the constitution were revised.
Accordingly, it is inappropriate to discuss Japanese nationalism only in terms dictated by nineteenth-century nationalism, the kind of nationalism that helps the state unite the people behind common goals (often involving besting foreign rivals), the kind of nationalism that can be measured by M. Dujarric’s metrics. (Interestingly, both South Korea and China used conscription, that great tool of nineteenth-century nationalism, as a means to tap national power.) Japan obviously has nationalists of the nineteenth-century variety, but they are far from the most numerous variety. They may, however, be the most influential, given their concentration among Japan’s political and media elites. Thanks to the media, they certainly have influence far greater than their numbers.
M. Dujarric suggests that Japanese voters care about bread-and-butter issues, meaning that there is little support for the agenda pushed by hyper-nationalist conservatives, whose nationalism may well be driven by the same sense of victimhood and manifest destiny cited by M. Dujarric as factors in Chinese and South Korean nationalism. But that doesn’t mean that the Japanese people are actively opposed to the hyper-nationalist agenda. They are opposed to governments that neglect bread-and-butter domestic issues — and as Mr. Abe learned, they are willing to punish said governments — but if a government satisfies those needs, the public is willing to give some leeway to the government on foreign and defense policy, leaving a strong nationalist prime minister the freedom with which to pursue the kind of nationalist agenda M. Dujarric claims isn’t an issue in Japan.
Furthermore, as I argue in the current issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, even Japanese citizens who do not support remilitarization or a cold war with China want their government to be more assertive in dealing with Beijing, especially in the case of China’s transnational pollution and tainted products, which have consequences for Japanese households.
The picture is considerably more complicated than that provided by M. Dujarric. Yes, the Japanese public exhibits little of the nineteenth-century nationalism of conservative elites and Japan’s neighbors, but that is quite different from saying that “nationalism isn’t an issue” or relevant when considering how Japanese think about their country’s place in the world.