Beyond Japan Ep. #28: Nihonjinron – the Future of “Japanese-ness” with Prof David Rear

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This week we are joined by Professor David Rear of Chuō University to discuss the once-dominant discourse of nihonjinron, or “Japanese-ness”, which has shaped many aspects of Japanese society over the last century through its ideas of Japanese uniqueness and group-consciousness. David gives us a brief history of the discourse, how a discourse can shape society and new discourses of internationalisation and individuality which he argues have seen the decline, if not the end, of nihonjinron as the dominant narrative. As there are quite a few Japanese terms thrown around in this week’s episode, a brief glossary has been included below.

David’s research profile

Glossary (in order of appearance):

Nihonjinron (日本人論) – literally “theories/discussions about the Japanese”. A genre of texts that focus on issues of Japanese national and cultural identity and how Japan and the Japanese should be understood.

Kokoro (心) – “Heart” or “soul”. Within nihonjinron, it refers to Japanese-ness as being something Japanese are born with. As such, nihonjinron argues that Japan and Japanese people cannot be fully understood by non-Japanese.

Kokusaika (国際化) – “Internationalisation”. Originated in the ‘80s during Japan’s economic boom period to attract foreign investment, divided between “outward kokusaika”, where Japanese learn English and go abroad to promote Japan, and “inward kokusaika”, which created a discursive barrier between Japanese and foreigners arriving in Japan who need to adapt to Japanese culture. More recently it has sought to encourage diversity and almost directly opposes nihonjinron arguments of homogeneity (see tayōsei).

Kosei (個性) – “Individuality”, not necessarily in terms of independence but as skill or talent that can be learned and put to use for the nation when referred to politically.

Jibunrashisa (自分らしさ) – “Being true to yourself”. Can be found in commercial advertising with kosei to refer to putting yourself before society’s demands.

Tayōsei (多様性) – “Diversity”. Used today with kokusaika to encourage assimilation of foreigners into society in the context of depopulation and labour shortages.

Orientalism – Coined by Edward Said in 1978, orientalism refers to the othering and stereotyping of Eastern nations with Western nations as Occident vs Orient, “Us and Them”.

Image credits:

[L] Dándole forma a mi artículo sobre la teoría nihonjinron (me tiene enganchada ^^) by Lau_chan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

[R] Tokyo subway at rush hour by transitpeople is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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