A response to: Yoshio Sugimoto, “Nation and Nationalism in Contemporary Japan,” Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism (2006), pp. 473-487.
In “Nation and Nationalism in Contemporary Japan”, Sugimoto proposes that four main variants of modern nationalism exist in Japan, all of which have slightly different interpretations as to what it means to be Japanese. One of Sugimoto’s main arguments is that multicultural nationalism has been on the rise in Japan since the 1980’s, and that the incorporation of differing ideas and interpretations of “Japanese-ness” can be a form of nationalism in and of itself. I agree that this is not contradictory to the fundamental ideas of nationalism, and that multiculturalism is also a popular tool of American nationalism as well.
From an early age, children in the United States are taught that the country is a nation of immigrants, and that our differences make us a more unique and powerful nation. However, upon closer examination, it can be seen that such immigrants from which mainstream American “pride” is derived are those who emigrated from Western Europe in the 19th Century. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty serve as patriotic reminders of the brave ancestors who traveled to America to start their own businesses, work in factories, and assimilate into American culture. Obviously, numerous Americans’ ancestors came from places all over the world, but these immigrants are not recognized as frequently in the mainstream media’s coverage of America as “a nation of immigrants”. Instead, having ancestors from Ireland, Germany, or The United Kingdom is seen as something inherently American, but what about people whose ancestors were sent to the United States on slave ships, or those whose ancestors had been on “American” land long before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock? Are they seen as less American?
While multiculturalism is celebrated as part of American nationalism on the surface, in reality it is hardly intersectional or inclusive, and still plays into the “us vs. them” mentality that is so integral to actual nationalism. Differences are celebrated, but only within certain bounds. The so-called “Nation of Immigrants” passed laws banning Chinese immigrants from entering the US in the 19th century, and is currently grappling with the idea of building a physical wall to bar Mexican immigrants from entering the country, yet millions of its citizens celebrate their Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day each year. The hypocrisy is obvious and concerning to some while being unimportant to others; this is where the idea of what it means to be “American” splinters into several factions, and where a uniform definition of nationalism becomes harder to outline. There is a fine line between where differences strengthen the nation and where they begin to weaken it.
In theory, multiculturalism can be a key part of nationalism, but in practice, it has been difficult for traditionalists to get on board. Without a consensus, the idea further divides the people in a nation as opposed to bringing them together, causing the ultimate goal of unity to be left out of reach.