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Oct 31, 2005 1:28 am


Nationalism and Oedipal Conflict in Japan



Nationalism is strongly resurgent in Japan, and seeking the roots of this resurgence, I could not help thinking about it Freudian terms.

Many Japanese people believe that they have forgotten something vital to their identity. They want to remember, even though doing so runs the risk of un-doing the post-war generation’s carefully constructed image of Japan as a modern capitalist nation based on individual freedoms and human rights. The will to overcome this cultural amnesia and remember an identity now deemed authentic is couched in terms that are strikingly Oedipal.

The Japanese who identify themselves as the grandchildren of the Pacific War generation are in rebellion against, and seek to replace, their own fathers -- the generation defined as the architects of Japan’s contemporary society and economy, with its accompanying emphasis on war guilt and individual liberty. A generation of “sons” thus resolves its ambivalent anger and consequent guilt toward their fathers by leapfrogging a generation and identifying with their grandfathers, the members of the war generation but also, in the view of increasing number, the last generation to be authentically and genuinely Japanese.

As Streek-Fischer writes, commenting on the rise of Hitler-worshipping skinheads in post-unification Germany: “Adolescents seek continuity and identity. If they do not find any appropriate perspectives in their family and society, they look for it in the past – in their family’s and society’s ‘past.’” The same thing can be said of contemporary Japan.


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William Marina - 10/31/2005

My most embedded memory of Japan relates to when I was a guest of the Mayor of Amari and also visiting the research facilities around that Bay.
1) On a bridge in the city was a huge vase, worth thousands of $$. It had been there for years unguarded. It would have been stolen or smashed for fun on the first night in the USA -- no need to a Katrina to rationalize it.
2) I stopped in a pottery store on the highway. They had a bin on the outside with some beautiful items in it. When I attempted to purchase several, I was given them because each had a slight flaw that meant it didn't meet their aesthetic sense of beauty.


Jonathan Dresner - 10/31/2005

the post-war generation’s carefully constructed image of Japan as a modern capitalist nation based on individual freedoms and human rights.

Capitalism isn't a major component of Japan's national identity, unless you heavily qualify it with significant social values and governmental guidance.

Individual Rights are enshrined in the Constitution, but Japan's "identity" is much more strongly tied up with collective and institutional ties.

The rhetoric of "real Japanese" has never gone away, and the values which are seen as fundamental are often strongly identified with the totalitarian era, both in terms of institutional behavior and in terms of cultural creativity.

Indeed, the very concept of a "true identity" which could be forgotten has its roots in the Emperor cult....


Jonathan Dresner - 10/31/2005

Given that Freudian concepts hardly ever explain anything, one would think it was unnecessary in any event.

The shame-guilt dichotomy is decidedly overdrawn, honestly; it's a useful distinction only if you don't actually try to use it for much of anything....


William Marina - 10/31/2005

As has been pointed out often, Japan is a culture based on "shame," rather than "guilt."Given that reality, one does not need Freudian concepts to explain Japanese behavior.