ZENSHIN ! ~ THE ANIMU

JAPAN’S RUSSIA IMMUTABLE NATIONAL IDENTITY

In general, the socio-cultural discourse on Russia as it re-emerged in the late 1970s narrates Russia as the negative opposite of the universal “self”. Russia’s difference is not framed in the language of ideological confrontation, but in cultural and civilizational terms, drawning on the language and paradigms used in both the positive and the negative nihonjinron. In this process, the inherent jingoism, barbarism and savageness which have been attributed by the Western discourse to both Russia and Japan are transfered as inherently and uniquely Russian characteristics, in this way “rescuing” Japan from the realm of the barbarian “otherness”.

For example, in this construct, the uniquely Russian deep-rooted tradition of inordinate respect of force is seen as one of the dominant sources of Soviet (and later, Russian) foreign policy (Shimizu [1979] 1992:277-83, also Kimura 2000:127 and Sato 2005:82-3. Following the espistemology of nihonjinron, “struggle” is portrayed as the basic norm and physical might as the supreme value in Russian mentality as derived from the climate and the natural conditions. In turn, this mentality produced the norms of respect and obedience to a strong leader as the only way to maintain order (Kimura 1980: 35-7). A “long tradition of Russian xenophobia” is a product of Russia’s unique geopolitical position and is presented as the source of the Soviet mistrust of alliance and reliance on self-help. The geo-political location, combined with Marxism-Leninism, it is argued, has also led to the emergence of a “siege mentality” and generated the recurrence of Russian traditional “suspicions, hostility and distrust of foreign nations” in Soviet and Russian foreign policies (Moritomo 1980:12, Tamba 1984: 8 and Kimura 2000: 41). The main historical factors that have shaped Russian national character are typically seen as the cultural influence of the Byzantine Empire and the political and administrative influence of Mongolian rule. Both of these factors have encouraged the emergence of strong autocracy and the submissiveness of the people, and of a complete absence of individualism and rationalism (Morimoto 1980: 12-13, Kimura 1980:46-55, Ito 1987:16-42, Kimura 1995:13-15 and Hirooka 2000:iv-vii).

The socio-cultural narrative on Russia not only resulted in the Western modes of “othering”, but also projected onto Russia the particular negative characteristics attributed to Japan by the post-war domestic and Western narrations of Japanese culture. Through this, the discourse not only rescued Japan’s culture from the negative “otherness” but also located Japan within the realm of the universal culture. For example, the still influential The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946), written by American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, is arguably one of, if not the most representative texts of the contemporary negative discourse on Japan’s cultural uniqueness. For Benedict, the chrysanthemum represents such positive cultural qualities as aesthetics, politeness, adaptability and hospitability; while the sword represents such negative aspects of the Japanese psyche as militarism, rigidity and conservatism. In a strikingly simial fashion, “Russia”, as narrated by the Japanese socio-cultural discourse, also suffers from a split personality, with the two contradictory characters defined as the “plains character” and the “forest character”. The former embodies such negative characteristics as extremism, hedonism and the desire for freedom from any authority. On the other hand, the “forest character” represents silence, abstinence and mysticism (for example, Shimizu ([1979] 1992: 240, Tanihata and Shimizu 1980 and Morimoto 1989:22). Elsewhere this split personality is presented as a combination of a European identity, which stands for virtue, respect and freedom, and the Asian one, which stands for a primitive, animalistic and fanatical Russia. This psychological imbalance is seen as a main cause of a consistent Russian insecurity regarding self and the outside world, which in turn leads to violent mood swings from docile submission to extreme violence (Kimura 1980: 5–57)

Another key aspect of the negative nihonjinron shared by both its Western and Japanese followers is an unquestioning respect of power, seen as a key feature of Japan’s identity. Along with the hierarchical structure of Japanese society and the hierarchical construction of the world, with Japan at the top, this was identified as a key characteristic of a Japanese culture not only by Benedict (1946) but also by one of the most celebrated of Japan’s post-war critical intellectuals, Maruyama Masao (1914-96). Maruyama, who engaged in an extensive critique of Japan’s prewar nationalism and fascism, traced the origins of these ills to “particular social organization, political structure and cultural patterns” of Japanese society (Maruyama 1963: 136). Out of his desire for Japan to achieve authentic modernity, Maruyama engaged in an extensive research aimed at exposing and clarifying the body of primordial attitudes and values which he claimed were rooted in Japanese minds and which hamper the development of a “truly universal spirit of ethical individualism and genuine democracy (Bellah 2003: 140-9 and Hiraishi 2003: 241-2). In his depiction of the historical back ground for the emergence of Japanese ultra-nationalism, Maruyama wrote :

Consequently, when the premises of the national hierarchy were transferred horizontally into the international sphere, international problems were reduced to a single alternative : conquer or be conquered. In the absence of any higher normative standards with which to gauge international relations, power politics is bound to be the rule and yesterday’s timid defensiveness will become today’s unrestrained expansionism. Naturally, a psychologival complex of fear and arrogance holds sway here as a primitive attitude towards the unknown.

(Maruyama 1963: 140, emphasis added)

In the socio-cultural construction of Russia, these characteristics also feature as an integral part of Russia’s national character. Russia’s vast territory and the struggle with nature and the climate are argued to be the cause of Russian obsession with all things big and the yearning for greatness and might, as well as a worshipful respect of strength and power (Kimura 1980: 68-76 and Morimoto 1980: 190). Territorial expansionism, which in the case of Japan was argued by Maruyama to be a result of Japan’s projection of domestic hierarchy to the international, is likewise seen as an integral part of Russian national character. Russian “traditional expansionism” is traced to the obsession with the idea of establishing buffer zones, the only way of providind security after Russian “emergence” from the forests into the steppes (Tamba 1984: 99-100 and Ito 1987:36). Ironically, Russian inherent backwardness becomes an integral part of the discourse even in terms o military strength; Russia’s inferior military abilities are reflected in the qualitative weakness of the army, consistently poorly managed and underequipped. Russian/soviet victories in numerous wars are attributed solely to the “tenacity and excellent field-craft” of the peasant-soldiers and to overwhelming quantitative superiority (Ito 1987:136-9).

It is also interesting to note the role of history in the discourse. Basically, “history” is mobilized to prove its own irrevelance. Historical transformations are presented as flowing over the surface of the national essence without bringing any substantial changes and hence, basically as irrevelant. Russian national characteristics are unchanged by changes in ruling ideology, be this tsarism, communism or perestroika, and will remain unchanged into the future (Kimura 1993:75-6 and Hakamada 1996:19-20). There is no differentiation between Soviet and Russian leaders (for example, Suetsugu Ichiro in Sapio, 26 November 1997:10-13) or between the Soviet citizens and Russian people (Limura 2000a: 122-57); they are all represented as the same and historically consistent “other”.

Alexander Bukh, Japan’s National Identity and Foreign Policy: Russia as Japan’s ‘Other’, 2009, p.40

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