Georgetown prof Dr. Kevin Doak honored by Sakurai Yoshiko’s JINF group for concept of “civic nationalism” (as opposed to ethnic nationalism) in Japan

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Hi Blog.  Dovetailing with our previous blog entry, I noticed within the ranks of Sakurai Yoshiko’s ultraconservative group Japan Institute for National Fundamentals the Guest Researcher Dr. Kevin Doak of Georgetown University.  He was honored by them earlier this year:

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U.S. professor honored for Japan studies
The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun) July 14, 2014
By Rie Tagawa / Japan News Staff Writer, courtesy of JK
http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001422779

A professor of Georgetown University in Washington has been selected for his study of nationalism in modern Japan as the first recipient of a private award established to promote research on Japan by foreign scholars.

“It truly is a privilege and gives me the great confidence to continue my study,” said Prof. Kevin Doak at a July 8 ceremony in Tokyo to announce recipients of the first Terada Mari Japan Study Award established by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a Tokyo-based think tank.

Doak, 54, received the Japan Study Award, top prize, for his 2009 book “A History of Nationalism in Modern Japan” (published in Japanese under the title “Ogoe de Utae ‘Kimigayo’ o”) and other works on Japan. In the book, he says English-language media do not necessarily provide correct explanations about nationalism in Japan. For instance, the book discusses a growing trend of “civic nationalism” in modern-day Japan, a concept opposite to ethnic nationalism. Civic nationalism, Doak writes, is based not on ethnic roots but on civic engagement such as having a sense of belonging to the Japanese community.

Doak further explained this trend in his commemorative speech delivered on the day following the award ceremony, saying that civic nationalism should be attributed to “the lost decade” of the 1990s following an earlier obsession with economic growth as it allowed the Japanese people an opportunity to look for deeper meaning in their lives than merely acquiring material goods.

“Ethnic nationalism was coming into conflict with the reality of a multiethnic, cosmopolitan Heisei Japan,” he said, referring to Japan’s current era.

The Japan Study Special Award, second prize, was granted to Liu Anwei, a 57-year-old Chinese professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, for his research on the life of Zhou Zuoren, a Chinese writer and younger brother of the famous writer Lu Xun, who lived in a turbulent period of relations between Japan and China.

Brandon Palmer, 44, an associate professor at Coastal Carolina University in the United States, was given the Japan Study Encouragement Award for his research on Japan’s annexation of Korea, and Vassili Molodiakov, 46, a professor at Takushoku University in Tokyo, received the same prize for his study on the history of relations between Japan and Russia.

In the pamphlet explaining the award, Yoshiko Sakurai, president of the think tank and a journalist, wrote the award was created to honor foreign researchers specializing in Japan’s politics, history, culture and other areas.

“Japan remains misunderstood on many accounts,” she wrote. “The best way to dispel such misperceptions is to help people abroad increase their knowledge of Japan.”

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COMMENT:  I of course respect the views of an academic colleague who has the training, knowledge, and rigor to express his views in a measured, balanced, and well-researched way.

Dr. Doak has caused some debate regarding his point about civic versus ethnic nationalism.  Here are some points made by colleagues:

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“Kevin Doak, who teaches Japanese history at Georgetown University, is one of the most consistently interesting academic writers of his generation. His research focuses on Japan’s experience of nationalism and modernity.  Doak’s thinking on Yasukuni has been published widely in the right-wing Japanese media such as the Sankei newspaper, and the journals Voice and Shokun. Only recently, however, has he made his views known in English in an important essay entitled ‘A religious perspective on the Yasukuni Shrine controversy.’

“Doak’s position is that there is no constitutional impediment to Japanese Prime Ministers’ visiting Yasukuni; Prime Ministerial visits neither violate the separation of state-religion nor threaten the religious freedom of any Japanese citizen.27 In adopting this position, he is informed by the afore-mentioned Pluries Instanterque, and its acceptance of the Japanese government’s definition of Yasukuni in the 1930s as a civic, patriotic site. As we have seen, it sanctioned Catholics’ visits there as ‘purely of civic value.’ Doak stresses the significance of the re-issue of this document in 1951, and sees it as a natural reflection of the Catholic Church’s tolerant theological thinking, and its broadminded approach to Shinto before, during and after the war…..”  

John Breen, “Popes, Bishops and War Criminals: reflections on Catholics and Yasukuni in post-war Japan,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 9-3-10, March 1, 2010. http://www.japanfocus.org/-John-Breen/3312

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>In adopting this position, he is informed by the afore-mentioned Pluries Instanterque, and its acceptance of the Japanese government’s definition of Yasukuni in the 1930s as a civic, patriotic site. 

“Isn’t this what the Catholic Church swallowed, under entreaty from the Japanese diocese, under fear that to do otherwise would result in Christianity being banned in Japan (again) as the nation geared up for total war?”

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“Kevin Doak is a serious scholar, but I don’t know what has been happening with him in recent years. The Japanese translation of this book is entitled 大声で歌え、君が代 or Lustily Sing the Kimigayo, and it is being marketed as a polemic in favour of patriotism, not as a detached academic tome. In part it seems the book has been hijacked by a publisher with an agenda — the two-star comment on Amazon Jp is instructive — but then how did Kevin allow them to do this? It would be interesting to compare the English and Japanese texts, if only life were not so short. This case bears comparison with the recent hoo-hah about Henry Scott-Stokes’ book, another publisher-driven right-wing venture.”

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“Translating “nation” and “nationalism” into Japanese has always been problematic. 国家主義 is literally “statism” but is one common translation. 民族主義 is ethnicity, or ethnicism, but is so traditional for “nationalism” that the traditional term for the post WWII African nationalist movement is 民族主義運動, despite its being opposed to ethnic nationalism. “Nationality” in the UN discrimination treaty is translated 国籍 despite its clear reference to ethnicity, and Soviet “nationalities policy,” which translation is used to give the Japanese government its excuse to pretend that ethnic discrimination isn’t covered by the treaty and they only have to take refugees persecuted for their citizenship in their own country, not those who are persecuted for their ethnicity, i.e. nobody. Recently there’s been a trend to using ナショナリズム in katakana, especially when talking about multiethnic nationalisms like Indian, US American, Brazilian, etc. 

“One possible interpretation of this news article is that Doak is saying Debito’s campaign for awareness of diversity in Japan is having some impact on Japanese self-perception. I’m not sure how true that is, or even whether that’s what Doak means, but without knowing which Japanese terms are being talked about it’s impossible to know. 

“BTW, if the “nation state” is 国民国家, not 民族国家, would “nationalism” then be 国民主義?The whole thing strikes me as an example of Japanese failure to understand the off-island world, like insisting that an American county is a 郡 but a British county is a 州 but an American state is the same 州 and then actually insisting in English that British counties and American states are equivalents. Not everyone actually thinks like that, of course, but there are plenty who do.”

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“Doak is to be taken seriously, and this is precisely the problem as I see it. A very good historian who is basically a nice guy nevertheless sees in historical revisionism a source of rejuvenation for Japan. He quoted my first book, Marxist History and Postwar Japanese Nationalism, in his own Nationalism book. He is to be watched, just as Abe is to be watched and, hopefully, rebutted.”

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“Who funds/endows his Georgetown chair?”  “It is the Nippon Zaidan.”

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My closing comment is that his concept of civic nationalism (according to the Yomiuri writeup above) not being “based on ethnic roots, but on civic engagement such as having a sense of belonging to the Japanese community”, doesn’t quite square with my research on how “Japaneseness” is enforced not only through “Japanese Only” signs and rules, but also through the structure and enforcement of Japan’s legal and administrative systems.   That I believe goes beyond civic engagement and into issues of ethnicity (and racialization processes).  Perhaps someday we’ll have a chat about that.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

4 comments on “Georgetown prof Dr. Kevin Doak honored by Sakurai Yoshiko’s JINF group for concept of “civic nationalism” (as opposed to ethnic nationalism) in Japan

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Oh, right, let me get this guy straight;
    Japanese nationalism is based on civic inclusion, not ethnicity? WTF?
    We all know that no matter how long you live in Japan, whether you’re married and have kids, and no matter how well you try to fit in, as an NJ you’re playing a losing game because for the Japanese, it’s ALL about ethnicity (your legally Japanese kids are ‘half’ BTW, see what I mean?).

    This is a perfect example of post-modern Japan’s tatemae being the exact opposit of the truth.

    Assuming, of course, that the guy hasn’t been mis-translated, and assuming that if he has, when he finds out, he won’t buy into it in a bout of Scott-Stokism.

  • Being part of the “Japanese community” has the prerequisite of being ethnically Japanese, so civic nationalism would by definition equate to ethnic nationalism. As far as I see, everything falls apart after that.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Jim Dr Griz,

    >Japanese nationalism is based on civic inclusion, not ethnicity?

    Um, I don’t think that’s exactly what Doak says in his research, since he recognizes the role of ethnicity in constituting “Japanese nationalism” in his previous works. I think his “civic nationalism” is derived from Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Community”(1983/1991), which characterizes the concept of nationalism based on citizen’s ability to constitute the network of language community. Anderson discusses the origin of nationalism from the development of print capitalism. I don’t have an issue with that.

    I would take an issue with Doak if he deliberately distinguishes nationalism based on race/ethnicity from nationalism based on civic engagement as a completely separate entity. In my opinion, the former could be either dissociated from or collapsed into the latter depending on the choice of one’s perspective (i.e., state, organizations, or citizens). We can argue that citizens can create and preserve nationalism as fiction of national culture through sense of crisis, safety or whatever to counter the movements that will challenge them. In that respect, particular group of people can merge the concept of “race/ethnicity” into their sense of community obligation derived from safety, identification with Shinto God or whatever to counter the movements that challenge them.

    Here’s an interesting article on construction of nationalism you might want to check out with google scholar.

    Jennifer R. Mercierca. “CHOICE, LOYALTY, AND SAFETY IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF A DISTINCTLY
    AMERICAN IMAGINED NATIONALISM” Rhetoric & Public Affairs Vol. 9, No. 2, 2006, pp. 279-299.

    The last couple of paragraphs best summarizes the gist of argument (See, p.298-299).

  • I find a lot more people in Japan are actually getting to grips with gaijin and treating them normally and as equals, not batting an eyelid, etc. – i.e. not treating me as a gaijin but as a person.

    But for every one of those there are a half a dozen or a dozen others who won’t. The point is that exclusion, othering, putting barriers between people, not treating them as “normal” is government policy. I would like to have concluded that if I became a citizen, then I would expect to be treated as others. But then there is the personal and in-depth racism practiced with the fact that on a number of occasions now, my child has been treated perfectly normally (she “looks” Japanese, as well as being, arm, actually Japanese) until people see the parent, then comes the exclusionary behavior, the reversion to monkey type sign language, saying how cute she is as a “hafu,” etc.

    So the Japanese ‘normalcy’ in social behavior is racist and exclusionary to someone who does not fit in with a cultural norm, i.e. “look Japanese” or suffer the disqualificationary penalty of being only half Japanese because of foreign blood. Based on that premise, I feel it’s not too much of a reasonable interpretation to say that if civic behavior only includes people who look Japanese, or who don’t have foreign parents, then the idea of civic nationalism as not being normal nasty nationalism is built on a house of cards.

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