The discursive construction of Japanese identity and its haunting others

Yoshiko Yamada, Florida International University


This dissertation examined the formation of Japanese identity politics after World War II. Since World War II, Japan has had to deal with a contradictory image of its national self. On the one hand, as a nation responsible for colonizing fellow Asian countries in the 1930s and 1940s, Japan has struggled with an image/identity as a regional aggressor. On the other hand, having faced the harsh realities of defeat after the war, Japan has seen itself depicted as a victim. By employing the technique of discourse analysis as a way to study identity formation through official foreign policy documents and news media narratives, this study reconceptualized Japanese foreign policy as a set of discursive practices that attempt to produce renewed images of Japan's national self. The dissertation employed case studies to analyze two key sites of Japanese postwar identity formation: (1) the case of Okinawa, an island/territory integral to postwar relations between Japan and the United States and marked by a series of US military rapes of native Okinawan girls; and (2) the case of comfort women in Japan and East Asia, which has led to Japan being blamed for its wartime sexual enslavement of Asian women. These case studies found that it was through coping with the haunting ghost of its wartime past that Japan sought to produce "postwar Japan" as an identity distinct from "wartime imperial Japan" or from "defeated, emasculated Japan" and, thus, hoped to emerge as a "reborn" moral and pacifist nation. The research showed that Japan struggled to invent a new self in a way that mobilized gendered dichotomies and, furthermore, created "others" who were not just spatially located (the United States, Asian neighboring nations) but also temporally marked ("old Japan"). The dissertation concluded that Japanese foreign policy is an ongoing struggle to define the Japanese national self vis-à-vis both spatial and historical "others," and that, consequently, postwar Japan has always been haunted by its past self, no matter how much Japan's foreign policy discourses were trying to make this past self into a distant or forgotten other.

Subject Area

Asian Studies|International Relations

Recommended Citation

Yamada, Yoshiko, "The discursive construction of Japanese identity and its haunting others" (2013). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3567371.