Examine the usefulness and limitations of the following theory of nation and nationalism with reference to the Japanese experience of nationalism.
(d) Anthony D. Smith's theory of ethnie as a basis of nation
Ethnie is the French noun for ethnic community. According to Anthony D. Smith, it consists of 6 basic elements (Yoshino lecture, 4/14/2017): A collective proper name (extremely important as it was instrumental for ethnic revival in the 20th Century, unlike class distinctions that defined the 19th Century), culture (one or more differentiating elements of common culture; whereby aspects become important depending on the specific ethnic group), a myth of common ancestry, association with a specific homeland, and a sense of solidarity (Yoshino lecture, 4/14/2017).
Smith argues in The Ethnic Origins of Nations (1986) that nations have historical roots and are based on pre-modern, cultural and ethnic communities, which he calls ethnies (Yoshino lecture, 7/21/2017) and it can be argued that the national identity of most states evolved from the concept of ethnie as it became the basis of nation. In reference to the Japanese experience of nationalism, Anthony D. Smith's theory of ethnie is applicable to an extent but nevertheless limited.
The usefulness of Smith's theory of ethnie in reference to the Japanese experience of nationalism can be observed by the fact that the six basic elements can be applied to the Japanese nation. The collective proper name of the nation is nihonjin/日本人 or yamato minzoku/大和民族. A common culture exists that differentiates the Japanese from other peoples (an example of this being the Japanese language). A myth of common ancestry is also present and in the case of Japan it is Shintoism and this was exploited to reinforce loyalty to the nation. According to Joy Hendry: "The Shintō mythological foundations of the nation in the sixth century BC were taught as history in schools during this period, and the people were encouraged to think of themselves as ultimately related through their ancestors to the imperial family." (Hendry, 2013. p. 16). Association with a specific homeland is also obvious in that the Japanese ethnie is most often associated with the Japanese archipelago. Finally, a sense of "solidarity" exists among the Japanese as a result of Japanese "uniqueness" that is in turn the result of all the above factors. These factors all eventually contributed to the formation of a Japanese sense of "nation" and consequently Japanese nationalism as well. In this way the concept of ethnie is useful in analyzing Japanese nationalism as it allows us to analyze its roots.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, (Oxford University Press, 2008. p.545), "nationalism" refers to patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts. It is possible to divide this between "an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries" or an "advocacy of political independence" for a particular country. Within the context of Japanese nationalism, both forms of nationalism can be seen. The former has been more prominent in the past, especially in the days of the Japanese Empire, where, according to W.G. Beasley: "There was still agreement on all sides that Japan must be Great Japan." (Beasley, 1987. p. 176). The latter has become more visible in recent times due to the advent of Globalization and the consequent fear that Japanese traditional culture and identity is eroding in the face of global integration and multiculturalism (Yoshino lecture, 7/9/2017). This has been observed particularly in the 1960s, when the nihonjinron/日本人論 (discourses on Japanese distinctiveness), a text that had a profound impact on Japanese cultural nationalism, once again became widely studied since the end of World War II as a response to the "rapid Americanization" of Japan (Yoshino lecture, 6/2/2017). In more recent times a sense of Japanese exceptionalism has emerged in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Thus, a surge in both aforementioned forms of nationalism have occurred, as Japanese felt the need to reaffirm their sense of superiority and reassert their politically independent existence (Yoshino lecture, 6/30/2017). Japanese nationalism in this sense is difficult to fit into the concept of ethnie since the principle is mainly used to analyze the formation of a community. However Japanese nationalism, despite being the obvious byproduct of a nation's formation, is not always analyzable through the concept of ethnie. Therefore, it is arguable that the concept possesses limitations in the framework of Japanese nationalism.
Ultimately, when evaluating the degree of usefulness of Anthony D. Smith's theory of ethnie as a basis of nation with reference to the Japanese experience of nationalism, it can be argued that the theory is most useful for generically analyzing the very roots of nationalism. However, its shortfalls are that it cannot be used to comprehensively analyze and explain explicit forms or the underlying causes of contemporary Japanese nationalism.
Beasley, W. (1987). Japanese Imperialism 1894-1945. New York, USA: Oxford University Press Inc.
Hendry, J. (2013). Understanding Japanese Society (4th Edition ed.). London and New York: Routledge.
Oxford University Press. (2008). Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd Edition ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.