Famed Neomarxisme insurgent commenter alin wrote the following in our debate about Dentsu (literally, the world’s largest ad firm) the other day:
but see japan too is basically a minor country and I’m very politically motivated to support that in whatever way i can whether , whether it’s against ‘japan as number one’ sick japanese or americans who need a fictional arch-competitor in order to function.
While I do not agree with alin’s statement, I think he may have just hit at the very crux of the ongoing debate here: Is Japan a major country or a minor country?
If Japan is a major country — like the United States or Germany — we have obvious reason to show concern over unchanging political and economic systems in the face of serious social breakdown, the rise of rightism in the LDP, and the pervasiveness of organized crime, etc. If Japan is a minor country — like Portugal or Albania or Laos — constructive criticism would amount to little more than nit-picky bullying.
My thesis adviser Prof. Merry White once said something like, at the beginning of her academic career, studying Japan was considered to be “anthropology” because Japan was a third-class country, but when the economy bounced back, Japan research became “sociology” — the change from tribe to complex society.
Of course, the question of major/minor is interesting because Japan has straddled the line for the last 150 years. First, Japan was a backwater empire closed off from the world. By the early 20th century, however, “minor” Japan defeated “major” Russia and inspired the non-European world that a new era of fighting imperialism is at hand. Then Japan went so major that they invaded China in imitation of major countries, attacked the U.S., and became the strategic partner of übermajor Nazi Germany. When the war ended, Japan went back to being “minor” for twenty years — finally regaining the underdog sense of rising glory at the ’64 Olympics. Then Japan went from a “miracle economy” to a strong #2 to Japan as Number One to buying major U.S.’s major real estate. Then the Bubble burst, ten years of recession, a declining population… Does Japan want to gun it again to retain their major status or enjoy the gentle slide into minor territory?
From any rational perspective, Japan is absolutely a major country: the #2 economy, a larger population than any of the non-Russian European states, an important producer of electronic goods for the world at large, and a Top Five supplier of pop culture. A symbol of success in Asia, the Japanese model of economic development became successfully adopted in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong. But Japan’s retention to what is generally understood as a minor-to-major development state economic model is exactly the issue at hand: When will Japan’s economy start to work with the globalized “major” system? Japan has never had the foreign policy influence of a major country — mostly due to being stuck under the American security umbrella. Questions of constitutional revision reference the word “normal country,” but they are basically asking the same thing: When will Japan’s major status be reflected in the defense structure?
Going minor clearly has its advantages — responsibilities on the international stage tend to go away and everyone leaves you alone (actually worst case scenario, invades you). Nations, however, do not have to be military and economic bullies like the U.S. to be “major.” France holds on to its major country status due to its culture and tradition. Germany expertly combines economic superiority with a leading edge on progressive areas like environmental policy.
So, does Japan reform in order to catch up to the other “major” countries? Does Japan proudly sink into “minor” obscurity? Do you protect Japan’s minority status as a way to protect the streams of diversity contained within? Do we analyze as compared to other “major” countries in order to understand the barriers that prevent Japan from reaching its economic and strategic goals? Is Japan having it both ways by feigning to be a minor underdog while being #2?