Nakasone's "natural" Japan

The "artificial state" of neonationalism

By William Wetherall

First drafted May 1997
First posted 17 March 2007
Last updated 25 March 2007

From "monoethnic state" to "natural state"

Former prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro (b1925), no longer able to get away with calling Japan a "monoracial [monoethnic] state" (tan'itsu minzoku kokka), had to come up with a new label for the racioethnic Gemeinshaft he equated with Japan. His solution was to view Japan as a "natural state" (shizen kokka) -- whereas countries like the United States and China were "strategic states" (senryaku kokka) or "artificial [man-made] states" (jinko kokka).

Nakasone had long held that Japan's people and territory are bound in the same way that an animal species is bound with its niche. In his view of history, Japan's state is congruent with an ethnic nation that evolved naturally with no need for contracts (United States), ideology (China), or other artifical means of binding territories and their inhabitants.

Nakasone has been fairly consistent and predictble in his veiws over the course of his political career, which began shortly after World War II. See also his 1997 discussion with Miyazawa Kiichi on Japan as a "practically monoethnic nation".

1997 Yomiuri essay

Nakasone most succinctly expressed this view in 1997, a decade after his long incumbency as prime minister of Japan from 1982 to 1987, in an essay called "Kyodotai ishiki tsuchikae" (Foster a Gemeinschaft [community] consciousness). The essay was published in the morning edition of Yomiuri shinbun on 21 April 1997 (pages 1-2).

The essay was part of Yomiuri's "Chikyu o yomu" (Reading the globe) series. Nakasone's contribution marked the 50th anniverasy of the 1947 Fundamental Law of Education (Kyoiku kihon ho) and called for its revision.

Three subtitles read:

Education reform

Revise "Fundamental Law" with no individuality

Respect of culture and tradition

Four subheads read:

Giving birth to poverty of the heart

An ethnicity [we] cultivate ourselves

A uniqueness that [we] ought to value

Public service, dignity of individual

English version

At the end of the article was a notice that an English version appeared in the Daily Yomiuri on the same day. The English Yomiuri ran the "Chikyu o yomu" (Reading the globe) series as "Insights into the World" -- a good example of how translations habitually dumb down metaphors that would travel just as well or better if literally rendered.

The English version -- an loose and lame adaptation, really -- of Nakasone's 21 April 1997 essay filled half of Page 11. It appeared under the title "Reexamine fundamental education law", had no subtitles, and only the following three subheads.

Spiritually poor nation

'Wabi,' 'sabi,' 'mono-no-aware'

Values of the invisible

While the subheads of the Japanese version highlighted Nakasone's emphasis on Gemainshaft consciousness and the cultivation of ethnicity, the English version attempted to impress readers of English with elements of culture like wabi, sabi, and mono-no-aware -- and otherwise drew more attention to such elements than Nakasone had by placing them in quotes.

Metaphor bending

The English version reads with a certain polish, but in fact it is a poor representation of Nakasone's style and metaphors. The English version fails to respect several of Nakasone's key terms. "Kokka", for example, is variously rendered "state", "nation", and "country". Metaphors are also skewed, as when "dohoai" in the context of "minzoku" (translated "race" but used to mean "volk" or "ethnic nation") is rendered "brotherly love" -- rather than "love of fellow countrymen]" -- literally "love of those from the same racioethnic womb".

Another good example of metaphor bending in the English Yomiuri version was the warping of "shizen kokka" into "indigenous state" -- rather than simply "natural state".

Highlights of Nakasone's 1997 "natural state" article
"Those who try to correctly elevate their ethnic nation, those who sincerely and modestly love their state are those who love the world."

Japanese text

The following Japanese text was cut and pasted from a copy of the article posted on the website of Nippon Zaizan Toshokan (Nippon Foundation Library). The downloaded text was verified against a clipping of the article from the 21 April 1997 morning edition of Yomiuri Shinbun.

The web version shows all the subheads but places some of them differently. I have shown them according to their placement in the newspaper version. The kana in parentheses appeared as furigana in the newspaper version.

English translation

All translations of selected paragraphs are mine (William Wetherall). As usual I have stayed very close to Nakasone's phrasing and metaphors in order to capture the rhythms and at times even the elegance of his style.

Such structural literalness results in an "artificial" rather than "natural" English -- but the purpose here is to mirror, in English, what Nakasone wrote in Japanese -- not morph Nakasone's Japanese into structurally different English.


Throughout the following translation, as far as possible, I have mapped the same Japanese phrases and same Japanese words into the same English phrases and words. The following list shows the most important terms.

国      kuni        country (noun), national (adj)
国家    kokka       [the] state
国民    kokumin     [the] nationals [Constitution]
国民性  kokuminsei  national character
国籍    kokuseki    nationality [Nationality Law]
無国籍  mukokuseki  without nationality [stateless]
- 民    - min       - affiliate
市民    shimin      1. affiliate of "shi" (city) polity [legal term]
                    (not meaning as used in following texts)
                    2. citizen of civil community [not legal term]
                    (meaning as used in following texts)
市民病  shimin-byo  citizens-disease
住民    jumin       residents
民族    minzoku     ethnic [racioethnic] nation [not in Constitution]
民族性  minzokusei  ethnicity [ethnic national character]
人種    jinshu      race [Constitution]
共同体  kyodotai    Gemeinshaft [community, commonwealth]
同胞愛  dohoai      love of fellow countrymen
                    [love of those from same racioethnic womb]
文化    bunka       culture
伝統    dento       tradition
歴史    rekishi     history
運命    unmei       destiny [fate]
人民    jinmin      [the] people
人類    jinrui      humanity [humankind]
人間    ningen      humans
人      hito        persons
個人    kojin       individuals
自由    jiyu        liberty
民主    minshu      democracy
平等    byodo       equality
平和    heiwa       peace
家庭    katei       home [family-courtyard]
天皇    tenno       tenno [emperor, empress]
主権    shuken      sovereignty
Excerpts only -- not complete article
Yomiuri Shinbun text Translation by William Wetherall






Education reform

Foster a Gemeinshaft consciousness

Revise "Fundamental Law" with no individuality

Giving birth to poverty of the heart
What is the most important thing in the politics of Japan at present? It is the establishment of the principles and philosophy of politics, and the presentation of a blueprint for the future of Japan based on them. Regrading this point, I think that what is important in terms of administrative reform is the reform of education. The root [cause of our] having had to [carry out] reforms of present-day circumstances is in the errors or postwar education. The number one fundamental of this education reform is revision of the Fundamental Law of Education.

As to why, the present Fundamental Law of Education is something that was produced having accepted it in 1947, when at the time MacArthur's headquarters was proceeding with Japan's dismantling an education survey team of the United States came. Hence if you look at its content, there are the words humanity [humankind], peace, freedom, and democracy [jinrui, heiwa, jiyu, minshushugi], but not the words state, ethnic nation, culture, history, and home [kokka, minzoku, bunka, rekishi, katei]. To put it differently, at the time, General MacArthur gave to Japan as a recommendation the Fundamental Law of Education as though it would be accepetable in any country. It is like distilled water, it doesn't have the particular flavor of Japan. That at one time Nikkyoso did not sing Kimigayo, and didn't raise the national flag has it's cause in this. The Fundamental Law of Education, a law of general principles based on a now musty classical modernism, was from the start not a law situated with Japan's individuality in mind.


An ethnicity we cultivate ourselves
All ethnic nations, all states, globally begin to have their raison d'etre only when they have particular values. From this the world moves toward a borderless society, a global society, and the hedges of national borders become lower. This is a fine thing.

However, the more democratic values of average stereotypes deluge [the world], the particular spirits and cultures and arts of ethnic nations become increasingly precious. They begin to be esteemed by outside countries only when they have their individuality. Though [we] might take [to other countries] cut flowers of imitations of the United States and Great Britain, [we] would just be laughed at. At the roots of cut flowers of imitations are the stateless-esque [without-nationality-esque] Fundamental Law of Education and Constitution.

In the flower garden of the cultures of the world, [we] have to show the particular flowers we have cultivated ourselves. Thereby the world becomes enriched. Those who try to correctly elevate [their] ethnic nation, those who sincerely and modestly love [their] state are those who love the world.


日本は自然国家である。今から約千五百年前に大和朝廷ができて、それは初め氏族制度であった。その時は政教一致の神政政治的なものであったろう。天皇は . . . 。





Respect of culture and tradition

A uniqueness we ought to value
Japan is a natural state. The Yamato Court was established about 1500 years ago from now, and it was at first a clan system. At the time it was probably a theocracy of government and religion as one. The tenno . . . .

This tenno system, and the arts of wabi, sabi, mono no aware, and other [elements unique to Japan], are historical culture values of Japan history in which [we] ought to take pride. Japan, which has such cultural uniqueness, has been created in a time period of history of one-thousand and a few hundred years, and it [now] faces a juncture at which it ought to increasingly actuate its value as a natural state.

In contrast with this, the United States and China are strategic states, are artificial [man-made] states. The United States is as in its constitution a country, of contracts, established by [im]migrants. It is an artificial country with [just] a faint coloring of natural growth. China is an artificial state of Communist Party ideology. Such artificial states have an unusual strategic character, and have [an unusual] mobility. Natural states are sometimes toyed with by strategic states, and it is time that we ought to ourselves awaken and boost the dignity of this natural state [of ours].

The first point of issue with the Fundamental Law of Education is that the vantage point of publicness and Gemeinshaft are wanting. These in reality are the state, are the provinical land [village land, native province]. I am affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party. The present-day world respects freedom-ism, democracy-ism as universal political values. However, actually freedom and democracy cannot be quickly fused. Freedom advocates individuality and [being] unique, and democracy leans toward equality and solidarity. That they can fuse is because in their foundation there is a Gemeinshaft. That is, a group [collectivity] of humans who have the same language and culture, and who try to live together sharing [the same] fate, has historically come to be cultivated. This is a Gemeinshaft, it becomes [became] an ethnic nation, it formed a state. Precisely because it is such a Gemeinshaft, love of fellow countrymen [love of people from same racioethnic womb] is born. Thus do freedom and equality link. Ethnic nations and states are formed in this way. The foundation of a Gemeinshaft [community] is common experience, is gemein [communal] history.

When looking at recent writings of young politicians, the concept of Gemeinshaft is sparse. Accordingly, ideas about history, tradition, and culture are few. Evening looking at writings on state reform, the feeling of a present-day edition of archipelago rebuilding is strong [Note Allusion to Tanaka Kakuei's 1972 best-seller "Nippon retto kaizo ron" (On rebuilding the Japanese archipelago)]. As for [their] advocations of citizen-ism [shimin shugi], [these writings], from a reflex in which with influences of Marxism [they] see the state as an apparatus of evil, [they] avoid [expressions like] state [kokka] and nationals [kokumin] and rely on the abstract anti-authority intellectual expression citizen [shimin]. If [we] make thoughts like this fundamental, a true idealistic dream and emotion will not be born. Dreams and emotions germinate in the fusion of family province [family-village, native province] and terrestrial nature and humans at the time one is young. The feelings of that time are [your] roots. Politics is not about loss and gain, but about emotions based on passion. I cannot forget the words I learned in the past from Matsumura Kenzo sensei [1883-1971, Minister of Education at the end of World War II and Minister of Welfare immediately after]. "Nakasone kun, politics is feelings." Doesn't the turnoff toward politics in present-day Japan come from the lack of emotions between those who conduct and those who receive politics?



[ 終わり ]
Public service, dignity of individual
Humans love [their] provinical land [village-land, native province] which has history and tradition, and revere nature, and fathom the dignity of the individual, and together with [these] the concept of serving the public has to become the fundamental of education. And it is important that in the practice of education [we] place importance on the value of things invisible to the eye, and inculcate the religiosity and idealism that we infinitely long for. This is the foundation of moral education.

As for the philosophy that Japan ought to have from now, first is naturalism. [We] respect nature, and we co-exist with nature. Second is history-ism. [We] cherish the tradition and the history of [our] ethnic nation. Third is science-ism. [We] cannot throw out the aspect of reason-ism [rationalism]. Fourth is cosmos-ism. Existence, from DNA to the corners of the cosmos, has come to be elucidated. It is not that we were born Japanese having desired to. [That] is something which has been given [to us] by the great providence of the macrocosmos. In the manner of the discharged bullet that Hegel spoke of. [We] are living fated to advance heading toward the infinite from the instant [we] were given life. The content of this life has been given to [us] from beyond the infinite which passes through [our] DNA and other [elements of our existence], and goes back to generation after generation of ancestors. Each and all of our goals are born wherein we infinitely advance, [each and all of our] ideals and hopes and occur [there]. Desperate resignation emerges as [they did] for Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky, but this too is a product of the course of the infinite. [This] is a cosmos-ism in which we are embraced by this great cosmos, covered [nurtured] [by it], and survive [live through our existence] heading toward the infinite as humanity [humankind].

As for the Fundamental Law of Education, [we] have to look at it once again, from a world with such breadth and depth. The present Fundamental of of Education is a product of postwar classical modernism and clerical bureaucratism, and it is something that will not be enurable in Japan of the 21st century.

[ END ]