Comments on "Japanese Nationalism: Ancient and Modern" by Robert Borgen.

See papers for links to PDF and web versions

Question raised by Nobumi Iyanaga
Discussants: William Londo, Wayne Farris, Jacques Joly, Royall Tyler, Janet R. Goodwin, Mark Hall, Kendon Stubbs, Roberta Strippoli, Rein Raud

From: Nobumi Iyanaga
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2000 23:30:32 +0900

Dear List members,

I am very pleased by the announcement of the new PMJS e-journal, and I read the paper of Robert Borgen, "Japanese Nationalism: Ancient and Modern" with the greatest interest. It is a fascinating piece of erudition and of a great sense of history and literature. I would like to make some remarks in its praise.

First, the mention of the Joojin's mother and her poem recalled me that my former teacher, the late Professor Bernard Frank, wrote a paper on her. Although I have not yet had the luck of reading it, I am sure that it is very interesting. Here is the reference:

Bernard Frank, "L'experience d'un malheur absolu: son refus et son depassement. L'histoire de la mere de Joojin", Comptes rendus de l'Academie des Inscriptions et Belle-Lettres, avril-juin, 1989, and corrigenta, in novembre-decembre, 1989, p. 472-488.

In the poem quoted, the expression "teru hi-no-moto", "[the land of] the rising sun", reminded me a poem which would have been written by Motoori Norinaga, and which says:

Sashi-izuru asahi-no-moto no hikari yori
Koma Morokoshi mo haru wo shiruran

[I would translate: "Korea and China too will know the [coming of the] spring from the shining light of the [land of the] morning sun"...]

I found this poem in two writings of Uchimura Kanzoo, the famous Christian of the Meiji area, who ascribes it by mistake to Hiraga Gennai: the one is the chapter 9 of his book entitled "Chijin-ron" ["Treatise on the Human Geography"?] written in Meiji 27 [1894]; and the other is a short paper of Taisho 13 [1924] entitled "Nihon no tenshoku" ["The vocation of Japan"] (I found them in the selection of his writing "Uchimura Kanzoo", vol. 38 of the collection "Nihon no meicho" published by Chuuoo kooron-sha, edited by Matsuzawa Hiroaki [I am not sure of the pronunciation of his first name], Tokyo, 1984, p. 410 and p. 467; the editor says that the ascription to Hiraga Gennai is a mistake, and the original poem seems to be one found in "Suzuya-shuu" of Motoori Norinaga). -- By the way, I quoted these writings of Uchimura in a paper "Modern World and Orientalism -- Case studies on Hegel, Uchimura Kanzo and the so called Kyoto-school just before the Second World War" (in Japanese) which you can read on-line.

This poem is clearly "nationalistic", while the poem of the mother of Joojin quoted in Mr. Borgen's paper is not. But anyway, the expression "hi no moto" ("under the sun" or "origin of the sun"...??) as a paraphrase of "Nihon", Japan, seems to me very interesting; it may very easily have a "nationalistic connotation"... Does anyone of the list know of any other example(s) of the use of this expression in Japanese poems or literature in general?

The questions asked by the Chinese court to Joojin and his answers, recorded in Joojin's journal, which Mr. Borgen quotes in his paper, are very interesting also. They constitute one of the rare documents recording the first real contacts between Japan and other countries. Although the period and contents are very different, I think that this document can be compared to the report of the Jesuit Lancilotto on Japan that he sent to Roma in 1548, in which we find questions of Jesuits on Japan, and answers by a certain Yajiroo, or Anjiroo, who was at Goa at that moment...

Another interesting point for me in Mr. Borgen's paper was the word "Dai-nihon-koku" ["Great Japanese Nation"] that Joojin uses in his diary. As I am especially interested these last years in the beginning of medieval Shintoism and its relation with Buddhism, this word recalls me immediately the famous medieval Buddho-Shintoist doctrine of Japan as the "Original Land of the Buddha Mahaavairocana" ("Dainichi no hongoku"). As Itoo Satoshi has shown in his paper on the myth of Maara of the Sixth Heaven, the first occurrence of this doctrine seems to be a passage of "Shingon Fuhoo San'yoo-shoo" written by the Shingon monk Jooson, in 1060 (Taisho Canon No. 2433, vol. 77, p. 421c2-4; cf. Itoo Satoshi, "Dairokuten Maoo setsu no seiritsu -- toku-ni Nakatomi no harae kunkai no shosetsu wo chuushin toshite", Nihon Bungaku, May 1995, p. 69a). Mr. Borgen says that "Reading too much into this term is dangerous. [...] Joojin was merely imitating Chinese usage. If Japan is "The Great Japanese Nation," China is "The Great Song Nation," a term Joojin also adopts. Joojin is simply attempting to put Japan on an equal footing with China, not asserting Japanese superiority." He is certainly right. He says also that "The oldest example of "Great Japanese Nation" cited in the authoritative dictionary Nihon Kokugo Daijiten is a document dated 1046, a mere 26 years before Joojin used the term", and quotes a prayer to Hachiman Daibosatsu. Anyway, the work of Jooson is a little earlier than the diary of Joojin. And there, the term "Dainichi no hongoku = Dai-nihon-koku" is clearly
related to Amaterasu...

In Nakatomi no harae kunkai (p. 45 in the edition of Nihon Shisoo Taikei, vol. 19), which seems to have been written between 1081 and 1178, we can read:

"Land of Four Directions" (yomo no kuni): it is the Continent of Dai-nihon (Dai-nihon shuu nari); it is the palace of [the Buddha] Mahaavairocana (Dainichi guu); it is the land of the world (sekai no kokudo nari).

Here, Dainich and Dai-nihon are clearly associated. I would not say that it is simply "nationalistic"; it is rather an expression of a kind of a very special "metaphysical/mystical nationalism".

I don't think that Joojin's usage of the term "Dai-nihon-koku" had the same connotation; yet, it seems to me very interesting that the same term, with a very strong mystical meaning, was used just at the same period...


I am sorry for this lengthy posting. I hope some of you, readers of Mr. Borgen's excellent paper, find it of some interest.

Best regards,

Nobumi Iyanaga

From: M.Joly Jacques
Date: Sat, 08 Jul 2000 21:16:11 +0900

I just wanted to insist on the fact that the use of the term Dainihon or Dainihonkoku, before the Meiji Restoration clearly does not possess any nationalistic meaning . It reminds me of a remark done by Timon Screech to the Emjnet members. I hope he will pardon me to directly quote him but I think it is the best thing to do because his remark is very enlightening for our context :

there is the issue of the term Dai-Nihon. In this context, I take issue with Arai Hakuseki who said Dai-Nihon was a solecism. In fact, all North-East Asian states have used dai-X to mean something very like our idea of country. This survives vestigially, for example, in Korean Airlines (Dai-Kan kouku - in Japanese pronunciation); this doesn't mean Great Korea, but just Korea, as in Dai-Ming Dai-Qing etc. This dai- became misunderstood (perhaps deliberately) in Meiji, when the quite erroneous translation of 'Great Japan' was cointed, which in itself was based on a misunderstanding of the name Great Britain (so-called not from megalomania, but because the part of France closest to England is called Britain - Bretagne - too).

From: Wayne Farris
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 07:30:19 -0400

Dear list members,
I have previously published some information which I believes bears on this discussion of ""Nihon" and "Ancient nationalism."

First of all, let me say that I found Bob's paper to be excellent and I learned from it. He has raised an interesting question (among others): How did the residents of the archipelago think of themselves? Did they have a political identity? As I think Bob already knows, I'm not much of a believer in nationalism before the late nineteenth century in Japan. To cite just three examples:

1) It is well-known that in the Edo period, peasants, chonin, and samurai thought of themselves as residents of their domain, first and last. There was very little sense of a larger entity called Nihon. This loyalty to the greater entity (or the Emperor Meiji) had to be created after 1868. To me, that's what Carol Gluck's book is all about.

2) In the early 1860s--I don't recall the exact date--Choshu samurai set an expulsion date to chase away the hairy barbarians and opened fire upon US ships passing through the Straits of Shimonoseki. The Europeans and Americans were naturally angered, and set an international fleet to teach those uppity Choshu samurai a lesson. As I recall, and I think the details are in David Earl's EMPEROR AND NATION, when the fleet arrived and attacked, Choshu residents appeared at the scene of battle and sold food and other wares--to both sides. In other words, no sense of us vs. them.

3) Finally, from the Kamakura period, when the Mongols invaded in 1274 and 1281, the bakufu had a devil of a time getting samurai to show up for battle. Thus the start of the the practice of CHAKUJO-CHO (the right term, I think), wherein bushi promised to show up to fight. Not only does this reflect on the so-called "professionalism" of the samurai class, but if samurai won't even show up for an invasion thought to endanger the entire island chain, what do you think the average commoner thought? I'm inclined to agree with Amino Yoshihiko in his classic MOKO SHURAI, that for most residents of the archipelago, they couldn't care less about the invasion.

Now, having disagreed (or maybe not?) about the existence of nationalism before the late nineteenth century, let me be perfectly inconsistent and cite an example which fits into Bob's schema. When Emperor Shomu left his short-lived capital at Kuni in 744, some commoners saw his palanquin, and according to the SHOKU NIHONGI, they shouted "Long live Shomu" SHOMU TENNO BANZAI. What was on their mind? Was this mere dynastic loyalty? or something greater?

Finally, for all of you searching for early uses of the characters NIHON, some may be found in the law codes, under the chapter on Documentary Forms (KUSHIKI-RYO). This chapter of the codes lists the precise forms to be followed for various documents, among other things. If you look in the KOKUSHI TAIKEI version of RYO NO SHUGE, under the very first form (p. 774), the form is given for imperial edicts (CHOKUSHI). According to the version I was taught, the official title for such utterances from the tenno was AKITSU MIKAMI SHIRASHI MESU YAMATO NO SUMERA MIKOTONORI. The characters for YAMATO are NIHON and SUMERA is TENNO. Since the exact same phrase is cited in KOKI, the commentary on the Taiho Codes, we know that the phrase was in the 701 Taiho Codes as well.

Moreover, the gloss YAMATO for NIHON gives us a clue about the meaning of the term. In other words, NIHON refers to the dynasty, or its ancestral home in Yamato Province, or both. To me, any references to NIHON KOKU before the Edo period anyway, refer to the dynasty and go no further than the Kinai.

I should, however, note that the SHISO TAIKEI version of the CHOKUSHI passage gives the gloss HI NO MOTO for NIHON. But KOKUSHI TAIKEI versions of SENMYO from the late seventh and eighth century all gloss NIHON as YAMATO. (By the way, I should add that many Japanese ancientists have complained to me about the pompous and inaccurate glosses in SHISO TAIKEI.)

Finally, (sorry for the long message, but I woke up early), on the same page, the very same KOKI discusses what NIHON means. In a passage that I have also quoted in SACRED TEXTS AND BURIED TREASURES, the legal commentator asks: "How is SHIRASHIMESU YAMATO NO SUMERA different from "nearby" and "barbarian countries" (KOKU)? The answer comes: "The country next door (RINKOKU) is the GREAT TANG, the barbarian country (BANKOKU) refers to Silla." To me the implication is that country refers to the area directly controlled by the dynasty, in Japan's case perhaps no more than Yamato or the Kinai. And perhaps a cynic would say that this sense of "country" is merely the literate dynasts saying: "We control so much land and have the right to control the tax-producers living thereon." What the residents thought is not noted anywhere, that I'm aware of.

I have herewith exhausted my thoughts on this subject. Hope this was worth your time.
Wayne Farris

rough and ready version put on line 2001/03/27