Human sciences and national identity in modern Japan: Who defined the 'Japanese tradition'?

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With the spread of globalisation the relation between national identity and modernisation has become one of the central problems of our time. This paper discusses modern Japan's experiences in defining that relation. Japan was the only Asian state that managed to escape colonisation by Western countries and actually went on to align itself with imperialist powers. Japan modernised itself rapidly and successfully under its central government leadership, which emphasised national traditions and a Western style of modernisation at the same time. The formation of national identity in modern Japan has thus been characterised by such contradictory situations. These situations have had much to do with an ambivalence of identity in the popular Japanese psyche. The perceived notion of a dichotomy between 'Western, white, developed, imperialistic rulers' on the one hand, and 'Eastern, coloured, developing, colonised subjects' on the other does not seem to define an unequivocal position for Japan to occupy in the configuration of states. It is just for this reason that in modern and contemporary Japan intellectuals, policy makers and other opinion leaders openly debate whether Japan should behave like a quasi-Western advanced/imperialistically domineering power or like a prospective leader of the Eastern/Oriental world as opposed to the Western/Occidental. This article seeks to analyse that debate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-251
Number of pages13
JournalChina Report
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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