VOL. 2, NO. 5, PGS. 5–10


National Identity and Nationalism: A Look Into Japan
A conversation with David Leheny

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

David Leheny is a Professor at Waseda University. He is the author of The Rules of Play: National Identity and the Shaping of Japanese Leisure.

What is national identity? Is it the same as nationalism?

Scholars and analysts don’t really agree on these terms, and it’s probably impossible to come up with a set of definitions that will please everyone. I think of identity itself as the meanings that we ascribe to institutionally defined roles. The modern family is an institution, for example, and I identify as a father, husband, brother, and son. My expectations for how I’m supposed to behave in each of these roles are reinforced by conversations with others, by media representations, and so forth. Similarly, in a modern global system in which political authority rests primarily with states that frequently maintain their legitimacy by claiming to represent nations, there are myriad ways we’re encouraged —by popular culture, by the passport system, by nightly news broadcasts, by history textbooks— to identify ourselves as belonging to a specific nation, whether it’s ostensibly represented by a state (as are Japanese, Venezuelans, Russians, English, Americans, etc.) or not (e.g., the Rohingya in Myanmar, Basques in Spain, etc.).

I would argue that nationalism is the emotional attachment we invest in belonging to a given “imagined community” (to use the term famously crafted by the great political scientist Benedict Anderson). While I love my parents and am proud to be their son, I’m not proud of being in a worldwide community of “sons.” But nationalism expects us to invest something meaningful, often something proud and potentially chauvinistic, in our membership in a massive community of people, most of whom we will never meet but with whom we are supposed to share something in common: We Americans, We Japanese, We Chinese, etc.

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