9 Jun 2022


Tracing Nationalist Ideology across the Decades

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Academic level: College

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Nationalism and national identity in Japan assert that Japan is a united nation and promotes the maintenance of Japanese culture and history by citizens. It is a set of ideas that the Japanese people hold, drawn from their culture and history. Japan’s concepts of nationalism are about the divinity of the emperor and supremacy of the people. Japan’s search and maintenance of a national identity have been a lengthy process. The geographical location of Japan on the outskirt of an area dominated by Chinese culture has been a driving force in its resolve to maintain its identity. The fact that Chinese culture has not influenced Japan shows the importance of national identity to the country. The threat of colonization and influence from the West farther strengthen Japan’s resolve for nationalism and national identity. 

The Meiji Era played a significant role in shaping Japanese national identity and nationalism. Social and economic development characterizes the Meiji period. Promulgated in 1889, the Meiji constitution declared the uniqueness of citizens of Japan and the importance of harmony for the Japanese. 1 The Meiji era is divided into two periods, the early and the late period. This time consisted of an adoption of local and imported ideas to promote national unity. The Empire of Japan was under the threat of colonization in the early Meiji period. This warning prompted the restoration of the emperor's authority in the Meiji Restoration. 2 In the later Meiji period, Japan fought against the Chinese and Russia and won both wars. This was also a period of great economic consciousness. The ideas of Civilization and Enlightenment and Rich Nation, Strong Army, were common. John Lu explains that Japan intended to catch up with the Western world industrially without compromising its identity. The same idea is clear in his analysis of the coastal defense. Japan planned to do business with other countries as long as Christianity was not brought to its people. 

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However, the two aspects differ slightly on their approach to nationalism and national identity. While during the Meiji period there was an emphasis on education and enlightenment, this attention is missing in the coastal defense. Additionally, during the period of the coastal protection, foreign influence was entirely shut out, and interaction was minimized to business. However, in the Meiji era, some aspects of western culture were incorporated in the industrialization, and the constitution too had similarities to Western constitutions. 

The Constitution of the Empire of Japan declares the uniqueness of the people of Japan. The constitution requires the citizens to stay loyal to the emperor. They also have to coexist in harmony with each other. The constitution restores authority to the emperor. Article 37 of the Imperial Diet states that every law requires the consent of the emperor. 3 This statute is a crucial feature of the Japanese identity. The Constitution bears similarity to Lu’s texts on their approach to nationalism and national identity. The three texts identify Japan as a unique state with its own culture and people. Additionally, the spirit of patriotism is further emphasized through loyalty to the emperor. 

In the study of Selections from the Kokutai No Hongi, the authors allude to the fact that most of the evils in the Japanese society today are due to deviation from the original Japanese culture. 4 Since the Meiji period, the European culture and American lifestyles have been rapidly imported into Chines society. A majority of the ideologies infiltrated Chinese society through the enlightenment campaign. Current ideologies like communism, socialism, and anarchism have negatively impacted the Japanese community. Their recommendation is the creation of Japanese culture through adoption and sublimation of Western culture with Japanese polity. 5 National polity is the qualities that make the people of Japan unique. This Study sheds light on how the Japanese intend to adapt their culture to fit into the modern world trends. It’s clear from the text that a different approach is being used by the authors addressing nationalism and national identity in Japan. Unlike the other documents explored, the real problems affecting nationalism in Japan have been addressed and a possible solution put forward. 

Kakuzo explores Japanese culture and ideas while comparing them to continental Asia. He says that ideologically, Asia is one, only the Himalayas divides them geographically. 6 According to Kakuzo, ancient art and in all the regions of Asia is almost similar. Only the Western culture is a threat to Japanese identity, not Japans Asian neighbors. Again, this author introduced a new dimension to the Japanese nationalism and national identity. The ideas in this text area stack contradiction of Lu's texts. Lu was of the opinion that Japanese identity was unique and different from that of any of her neighbors, more specifically China. The approach to nationalism is Kakuzo’s text is different from that used in the other literature explored in this paper. 

In conclusion, Japan’s resolve to maintain its nationalism and national identity can’t be overstated. All the literature reviewed in this paper point to this fact. The texts approach this issue differently, with some similarities in the different authors' ideas. More important, they agree that Japan is not willing to lose its national identity. Even though the European and American influence is eroding Japan's national identity, it remains to be seen if it can stand this test. 


Gordon, Andrew. A modern history of Japan: from Tokugawa times to the present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Lu, David John. "Social and Economic Development in the Meiji Era." In Sources of Japanese history. 73-79. McGraw-Hil, 1974.

Lu, John David. "Tokugawa Nariaku to Bukufu: Coastal Defense." In Sources of Japanese History 9-15. McGraw-Hill, 1974.

Miyoji, Ito. 2004. The constitution of the Empire of Japan.

Okakura, Kakuzo. 1903. The Ideals of the East with Special Reference to the Art of Japan.

Theodore de Barry, Carol Gluck, Arthur Tiedemann. Selections from the Kokutai No Hongi, 1937. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2005.

1 David John Lu, "Social and Economic Development in the Meiji Era," In Sources of Japanese history. , 73-79, [McGraw-Hil, 1974.], 74.

2 Ibid.,74

3 Ito Miyoji, 2004. The constitution of the Empire of Japan

4 Theodore de Barry, Carol Gluck, Arthur Tiedemann, Selections from the Kokutai No Hongi, 1937, [ Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2005], 1.

5 Theodore de Barry, Carol Gluck, Arthur Tiedemann Selections from the Kokutai No Hongi, 1937 , [Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2005] 5

6 Kakuzo Okakura, The Ideals of the East with Special Reference to the Art of Japan, 1903 , 1.

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StudyBounty. (2023, October 17). Tracing Nationalist Ideology across the Decades.


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