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I heart cherry blossoms — the rise of Japan’s petit nationalism

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

My friend Naoki has a new strategy when it comes to getting dates; these days he says the best bet is to kusuguru (くすぐる, tickle, or appeal to) a woman’s sense of aikokushin (愛国心, patriotism).

This seems like a risky undertaking, considering that aikoku (愛国, love for one’s country) used to be a dirty word. Back in the 20th century, the combination of the kanji characters ai (愛, love) and koku (国, country) immediately alerted one to the presence of uyoku (右翼, right wingers), which meant the yakuza (ヤクザ, gangsters) couldn’t be far behind. Normal, law-abiding young women professed zero interest in anything remotely wa (和, specifically Japanese) and poured their energies into procuring Italian handbags.

Before minshu shugi (民主主義, democracy) set in, chūkun aikoku (忠君愛国, loyalty to the emperor and love for Japan) was hammered into each and every kokumin (国民, Japanese citizen). Among other things, it encouraged zettai fukujū (絶対服従, absolute obedience) to power and authority. After World War II, the Allied Occupation put a rapid stop to that, and aikoku was replaced by kojin-shugi (個人主義, individualism) which implied among other things, that it was best to keep one’s national identity under wraps. Admitting to one’s Japaneseness came with a pretty heavy burden, having to do with buryoku (武力, armed force), haisen (敗戦, defeat) and kutsujoku (屈辱, humiliation).

And now here we are, at a point in time when our own shushō (首相, prime minister), Shinzo Abe, is definitely not shy about being a staunch (if very cheerful) nationalist dude, breezily stirring up trouble with our neighbors and refusing to apologize for visiting that eye of the aikoku storm Yasukuni Jinja (靖国神社, Yasukuni Shrine). In short, he’s acting like some captain of the football team on American TV and it’s said a lot of old politicians are secretly punching themselves for not doing the same when they had the chance. Heck, Abe even got a spot on “Waratte Iitomo” (「笑っていいとも」, a lunchtime variety talk show hosted by Tamori, that recently ended after 32 years) and talked about how he wants to build a tsuyoi Nihon (強い日本, strong Japan). For better and worse, the man has made nationalism trendy.

Among Japanese women in their late 20s to 40s, a more toned down and kawaii (かわいい, cute) brand of aikoku has been embraced (so Naoki isn’t far off the mark). The joshi (女子, young women) of today go for the puchi aikokushin (プチ愛国心, petit dose of patriotism). This means they’re not interested in the kōzoku kankei (皇族関係, Imperial Family goings-on) unless it has to do with the relationship between Crown Princess Masako and her seemingly devoted husband. Nor are they into holding racist placards in Koreantowns such as Shin-Okubo in Tokyo or Tsuruhashi in Osaka. They are, for the most part, women who buy kokusan (国産, domestic), have a vast, first-hand knowledge of nihonshu (日本酒, sake) and consider frequent onsen (温泉, spa) soaks to be their birthright. Naoki explains these joshi as: Nihon-ga sukide, Nihon no koto-wo yoku benkyō shiteiru hitotachi (日本が好きで日本のことをよく勉強している人たち, They love Japan, and make a point to know their country).

The petit aikoku joshi are often rekijo (歴女, women who love history). Not only do they have an impressively extensive knowledge of Japanese history, they almost always have their own favorite warlord. Naoki, whose knowledge of history is sadly limited since it wasn’t on his juken kamoku (受験科目, subject for college entrance exams) list, has now awakened to the warmongering males who shaped Japan and the Japanese: Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda Nobunaga and that cunning tanuki (狸, raccoon) whose family shut down the nation for 260-odd years: Tokugawa Ieyasu. “Izakaya de rekishi-no hanashi-wo suruno-ga sukininatta” (「居酒屋で歴史の話をするのが好きになった」 “I’ve come to like discussing history in pubs”), Naoki says, and last week he managed to hook up with an attractive rekijo who held that Japan should have done the kaikoku (開国, opened its doors to the west) thing a good 50 years later, and then the disaster of World War II could have been averted.

Arigatai kotoni (ありがたいことに, thankfully) the days when chūkun aikoku was the greatest of virtues is over and done. This time around, the patriotism thing is far less threatening and in-your-face. “Jibun no umareta kuni-wo sukidato omoitai” (「自分の生まれた国を好きだと思いたい」 “I’d prefer to feel that I like the country of my birth”), says Naoki, giving voice to the dominant, puchi aikoku note that has been playing in the air for the past few months. We can only pray the tune doesn’t change into something ugly.