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Japan: A Model for an Alt-Right Ethno-State?

On February 3, 2024, writer and journalist Steven Beschloss wrote on Substack about his plans to travel to Japan:

“I asked last year where in the world you might want to visit, but I’m thinking about it again now. I’m happy to say that this week I get the opportunity to briefly visit the place I have dreamed about for a long time. That’s Japan, including a quick visit to Kyoto and its bamboo forest by way of Tokyo and the bullet train.

"As I described last year, I’m drawn to the physical beauty of Japanese gardens and ancient temples. I’m intrigued by the bustling contemporary art scene and the people—and both the hustle and quiet of everyday life. ‘I’m determined to visit.’”
 



When I read Beschloss’s piece, I thought: “How nice! He gets to travel to Japan, and he seems so enthusiastic about it!”

But that's not your reaction if you're a far right ethno-nationalist spreading your ideology at every opportunity.

The Substack account Yuri Bezmenov quote-posted Beschloss’s article to his followers, adding the following comment:

“Japan is not a good place for your Progressive liberal values. It has almost no diversity, immigration, or crime. I recommend visiting vibrant Democrat strongholds like Baltimore, West Philadelphia, and South Chicago. In New York, the best places to stay are the Roosevelt Hotel and Randall's Island.”

Condensed in these three sentences are three tropes popular with the far right: the association of immigration and diversity with crime; the attack on diverse urban centres; and Japan as a model of a safe, ethnically pure, successful country that rejects “progressive liberal values”.

Side note on this account. I don't know who is the author behind it, but it uses the name of Yuri Bezmenov (1939 – 1993), a Soviet journalist and a former KGB informant who defected to Canada in 1970.

The real Bezmenov claimed to have knowledge of a Soviet plan to subvert and demoralise the United States through ideological and psychological warfare. He gave several lectures and interviews in the 1980s, warning about the dangers of Communism and Soviet influence on Western media and culture.

In recent years, Bezmenov has become an icon of the far right. His idea of a secret Soviet plot to brainwash the youth, turning them into US-hating far left extremists, appeals to people who see human rights, diversity and liberalism as the outcome of sinister machinations.

Here is one example of how Bezmenov is used in far right political discourse. In October 2021, Rebekah Koffler wrote on “Fox News” that “President Biden and his coterie of socialists” wanted to transform the US into a Soviet-style system, and, of course, she quoted Bezmenov in order to provide her propaganda with some semblance of authoritativeness:

“Soviet defector and KGB-trained covert-influence expert Yuri Bezmenov warned Americans in the 1980s about a secret Soviet program. This ‘master plan’ was designed to transform the United States, over 30-plus years, from a capitalist to a communist-socialist country through ideological subversion.”

So, when you see an account on Substack calling itself Yuri Bezmenov, you know what to expect: far right tropes, liberalism-bashing, conspiracy theories, ethno-nationalism, and so forth. One of those tropes is Japan as a model ethno-state. As a matter of fact, the Alt-Right (here I use the term as a synonym of far right) has had a long-standing fascination with Japan.

If you are interested in this topic and other topics I write about, consider following me on Mastodon and supporting me.



•The Alt-Right and Japanese Ethno-Nationalism



In 2003, 15-year-old Christopher Poole launched 4chan, an anonymous imageboard inspired by Futaba Channel, a Japanese website that emerged two years earlier from a forum called 2channel.

Like its Japanese predecessors, 4chan too offered a space for so-called “online antagonistic communities”, i.e. reactionary online communities that engage in exclusionary, antagonistic behaviour, which includes trolling, offensive language and imagery, and hate speech. 4chan’s antagonistic communities overlapped with online far right discourse and became conduits for radicalisation.

In October 2011, the “politically incorrect” subforum 4chan.org/pol/ was created. It quickly became a hotbed for the Alt-Right, influencing the development of its distinctive style and tactics, such as memes, juvenile humour, online pranks, trolling, media manipulation and harassment campaigns (see Hermansson 2020, Chapter 15).

One of the Alt-Right’s common tropes is the “fetishisation” of Japan, which is regarded as a model for the type of ethno-state that they would like to engineer in the US and Europe.

In August 2017, a writer using the pseudonym “Makoto Fujiwara” published a post on the misogynist manosphere blog “Return of Kings”. The article, titled “3 Ways Japan is Naturally Alt-Right”, praised Japan for its anti-refugee policy, ethnic homogeneity, low crime rate – which he considered a result of ethnic homogeneity – and its ability to covertly pursue its own national interest while outwardly paying lip service to the “globalist” agenda (ibid.).

Jared Taylor, a white supremacist intellectual and founder of the New Century Foundation, lived in Japan and reportedly speaks fluent Japanese. In 2016, he described Japan as an “ethnostate” that is “deeply nationalist” and has “resisted the pressure to admit refugees”.

Another interesting aspect of the Alt-Right's fascination with Japan is the fetishisation of Japanese women, and more broadly of Asian women. The reason for this quite counterintuitive attraction towards women who, according to Alt-Right ideology, are supposedly incompatible with white ethnic homogeneity, comes from the fact that Asian women are perceived as embodying traditional gender roles and standards of femininity, such as the stereotype of their supposed submissiveness (ibid.).

Tropes about Japan as an ethno-state are common online and are sometimes propagated by accounts purporting to be Japanese. For example, I have often seen such tropes in the comment section of YouTube videos. Here are some examples: 



  

 

 




Japan has indeed not experienced the same kind of large-scale immigration as other economically developed countries. According to an article published on the website of Tokyo University, in 2021 the number of immigrants in Japan was estimated to be around 1.5 million-2.5 million people, around 1.2 to 2 percent of the population. However, anti-immigration discourse has been rising nonetheless. As the article noted:

“On the internet, as fears of large-scale immigration spread, some people, though small in numbers, have amplified xenophobic sentiments by repeating discriminatory remarks against people of foreign nationalities.”

Kikuko Nagayoshi, associate professor at the Institute of Social Science at the University of Tokyo, explained that:

“Japanese people regard non-Japanese as ‘guests’ who should be accepted as such and nothing more. That kind of sentiment, if stretched to the extreme, would end up in language such as ‘All foreign residents should be excluded from welfare benefits’ and ‘Get out of the country.’ But I feel the source of the sentiment is supported by people who don’t voice extreme thoughts.”

In a 2017 survey conducted by Nagayoshi and fellow researchers, over 60 percent of the 3,880 respondents said that a rise in the number of immigrants would “lead to a spike in crime rates” and “jeopardize security and order.”

The debate around identity and nativism in Japan is similar to that in the US or European countries. The fundamental issue is the identification of the national community with a distinct majority ethnic group that claims political and cultural primacy. One example of this is the recent controversy surrounding the Miss Japan contest.

On January 22, 2024, the crown of Miss Nihon (i.e. Miss Japan) was awarded to Karolina Shiino, a 26-year-old model who was born in Ukraine but moved to Japan at the age of five and grew up in Nagoya.

“There are many people like me who are worried about the gap between their appearance and (who they are),” Shiino told CNN. “I kept being told that I’m not Japanese, but I am absolutely Japanese, so I entered Miss Japan genuinely believing in myself. I was really happy to be recognized like this.”

Her victory sparked a debate online. As the BBC reported, some people in Japan did not view her as a legitimate representative of Japanese beauty:

“This person who was chosen as Miss Japan is not even a mix with Japanese but 100% pure Ukrainian. Understand she is beautiful, but this is 'Miss Japan'. Where is the Japaneseness?” said a post on X.

“If she was half [Japanese], sure no problem. But she's ethnically 0% Japanese and wasn't even born in Japan,” said another comment.

“I think that Japanese people naturally (would) get the wrong message when a European looking person is called the most beautiful Japanese,” another post argued.

Some people alleged that she was chosen for political reasons.

“If she were born Russian, she wouldn't have won. Not a chance. Obviously the criteria is now a political decision. What a sad day for Japan,” one person wrote.

Two weeks after winning the title, Karolina Shiino was caught up in a personal scandal and renounced her title. As Business Insider wrote:

“The foreign-born Miss Japan winner, who shook up the country's sense of self, has given up her title following a newspaper report detailing her alleged affair with a married man.”

The wording of the piece implies that Japan's “sense of self” is based on ethnic origin rather than citizenship.


•Japanese National Identity




According to Oguma Eiji (2021), Japan's identity has undergone major changes since the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Japan has 47 prefectures created by the merger of 266 feudal domains. A 1966 survey showed that 90.9 percent of men and 92.6 percent of women had married partners from their own native prefecture. Until at least the mid-2010s, the majority of Japan's population (about 77 percent) outside of the three large metropolitan areas lived in the municipalities where they were born (Oguma 2021).

Japan has an indigenous population, the Ainu, numbering about 30,000. There are also 1.3 million Okinawans, who had a separate kingdom until 1879, and about 600,000 ethnic Koreans. Furthermore, the Burakumin (Japanese: “hamlet people”) are a minority group occupying the lowest level of the traditional Japanese social system. They were once believed to be of “foreign” origins, but the scholarly consensus is now that the Burakumin were impoverished people who lived as beggars or performed occupations considered taboo in orthodox Shintō and Buddhism, such as leather making. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

“During the Tokugawa (Edo) period, beginning in 1603, feudal laws cast the burakumin officially into segregated communities and occupations and, by the early 18th century, had forced on them certain badges of status—the wearing of special clothing and hair styles, the avoidance of other households, the observance of curfews, and prostration before their betters.”

The Burakumin were legally freed in 1871 but have continued to face discrimination. The aforementioned scholar Kikuko Nagayoshi became interested in issues of discrimination because she lived close to a Burakumin area.

Oguma argues that different parts of Japan were not culturally homogeneous before the 1860s. The culture and even the language of the feudal domains were different. Chinese characters played an important role in allowing people to communicate with each other. The process of cultural homogenisation began with the Meiji Restoration and accelerated with the economic boom of the post-World War II era.

Japanese politicians and intellectuals developed the notion of a Japanese race in the 19th century in response to Western aggression, a concept that anthropologist Takezawa Yasuko called “Race as Resistance”.

Writing in 1897, the intellectual Fukuzawa Yukichi argued that the “most urgent thing is internalizing the idea of nation” in the minds of the whole Japanese people. In 1885, however, he still lamented that the Japanese “know only old clans and do not understand the new Japan” as a nation (quoted in: ibid.).

The constitutional scholar Hozumi Yatsuka asserted that “the Japanese Empire consists of a great nation of one race that shares the same history and the same pure blood” and that “the ancestor of the Emperor is the earliest ancestor of all Japanese” (quoted in: ibid.). We see here the emergence of a discourse modelled after the Western concepts of race and nation, but with the imperial dynasty as a mythical and exclusively Japanese foundation.

Hozumi claimed that “given the state of things in the world today [meaning Western imperialism], it is clear that now is not the time to criticize patriotism as narrow-minded intolerance, not to weaken our power of solidarity”.

This kind of “nation-building” rhetoric was popular in the 19th and early 20th century in various countries ranging from China to Italy and Germany. I might write about it in a future post, so please let me know if you are interested.

In the Meiji era, Japan underwent a process of rapid industrialisation, enabling it to challenge Western imperialism and then become an imperialist state itself. Japan defeated China in the war of 1894-95, and Russia in the war of 1904-05. It annexed Taiwan in 1895 and Korea in 1910.

Japan's identity continued to be negotiated and adapted during this period. Some Japanese argued for racial separatism between the Japanese and the conquered peoples. Others advocated multiculturalism, or assimilation into the Japanese nation.

Izawa Shūji, who served as Chief of the Education Bureau in Taiwan, stated in a 1897 lecture:

“According to the old nativist scholars, the populace of Japan consists of nothing but the so-called Yamato (old name of Japan) [nation]. However, this interpretation is totally mistaken. The … benevolence of our Imperial Family is not limited to such a small range.... Since ancient times, the number of naturalized foreigners has never been small” (quoted in: Oguma 2021).

When Japan annexed Korea, there was broad consensus that the Koreans could be easily assimilated thanks to the similarity of race, language and customs between the two peoples. Kita Sadakichi, historical geographer and ideologue of Japan's colonial assimilation policy, claimed that the Koreans could be assimilated like the Ainu, who had become “almost indistinguishable” from Yamato Japanese (Caprio 2011, p. 83).

In 1921, lawmaker Nakano Seigō claimed that the Koreans should be integrated into Japan, comparing them to the status of the Welsh in Great Britain. “[T]he British Prime Minister, Lloyd-George, is Welsh. Wales is Celtic, not English; and both their language and their tradition are different. They are the Koreans of Britain, so to speak”, Nakano stated (Oguma 2021).

A 1929 article in the right-wing magazine “Japan and the Japanese” claimed that:

“Few nations are a mixture of as many different peoples as the Japanese Minzoku [nation]. In fact, from ancient times, Japan has accepted and embraced a large number of aliens. Some came from the South Seas, some from China, some from Mongolia, some from Manchuria, some from Korea, and some from Siberia. Japan has witnessed the migration of many aliens. In this sense, Japan is just like the USA. However, unlike America, the Japanese Minzoku has never discriminated against or rejected any of these migrants, nor has there ever been the sort of tenacious anti-immigrant movement seen in America” (ibid.).

Multiethnicist, assimilationist reasoning aimed at incorporating conquered peoples into the Empire, and at the same time countering white supremacy in Western countries. In particular, the Japanese had been outraged by the US’ restrictions on Japanese immigration that came into effect with the Immigration Act of 1924.

Another colonial government official, Yoshino Hidekimi, argued that it was “possible to assimilate Koreans and Chinese, who are the same race as the Japanese, into the Japanese” (ibid.).

Despite the rhetoric of assimilation, Japan treated its colonial subjects as second-class citizens or inferior beings. As Peattie (1984) pointed out:

“[T]he actual environment of Japanese colonialism was hostile to any true merger of the Japanese with their dependent peoples on the basis of familiarity or mutual respect. Largely subordinate in position and treatment under separate colonial law, the indigenous populations had no representation in the Japanese Diet, nor any effective legislative bodies of their own. Japanese occupied the overwhelming portion of influential positions in government. Active Japanese discouragement of racial intermarriage and the isolation of colonial Japanese in their tight and exclusive urban communities hardly contributed to easy intercourse between the races. Above all, the attitudes of resident Japanese in the colonies, not dissimilar to those of most colonial elites, undercut the possibilities of real assimilation. Their feelings of superiority, their jealous grip on privilege and position, were insurmountable barriers to mutually responsive communications between colonizers and colonized, and their obvious fear of being swamped culturally and politically by native majorities mocked Japanese assertions of the historic capacity of their race to assimilate foreign peoples” (Peattie 1984, p. 98).

Nevertheless, assimilation achieved some degree of success, particularly in Taiwan. The family of Taiwanese politician Peng Ming-min belonged to Taiwan’s elite during Japanese colonial rule.

When Japan surrendered in 1945 and Taiwan was handed over to the Republic of China, Peng Ming-min was ashamed of the Chinese’ backwardness, corruption and inefficiency, contrasting them with the Japanese. He wrote:

“In the nineteenth century, Formosa [=Taiwan] had been controlled by a disorderly garrison government, notorious even in China for its corruption and inefficiency, but after a half-century of strict Japanese administration we had learned the value of the rule of law. People made contracts and kept them. It was generally assumed that one’s neighbor was an honest man. In the shops a fixed price system had made it possible for every merchant to know where he stood. We had learned that modern communications, scientific agriculture, and efficient industries must operate within a system of honest measurement, honored contracts, and dependable timing. All these standards were ignored by our new masters [the Chinese regime].”

In 2007, former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui (in office from 1988 to 2000) visited Japan's Yasukuni shrine, which honours 2.5 million fallen soldiers, including colonial subjects who fought for Japan, as well as 14 top war criminals from World War II. Lee's elder brother served in the Japanese navy and was killed in 1945.

Japanese ethnic nationalism began to grow in popularity among intellectuals after World War I. Yanagita Kunio, the founder of folklore studies in Japan, believed that the country had had a common distinctive culture in ancient times, prior to the introduction of foreign cultural elements such as Confucianism, Buddhism and Western influence. He argued that the gap between the Westernised urban middle class and the local cultures of the rural communities should be closed by promoting a common Japanese culture.




According to the philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō, Japan's climate had created a unique national character, and the principle of the divinity of the Emperor had “emerged from the foundations of the Japanese national community.” He was therefore opposed to the assimilation of peoples in the Empire into the Japanese nation (Oguma 2021).

During the era of military expansion, Japanese imperialists developed the idea of Pan-Asianism, which promoted Japan's leadership in Asia and opposition to Western colonialism. During WWII, Pan-Asianism was the basis for the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”, the concept of a unified and self-sufficient bloc in the Asia-Pacific region under Japanese control.

Japanese imperialism was highly contradictory. On the one hand, it promised equality and assimilation of the peoples of East Asia. On the other hand, it was a project of Japanese supremacy and domination. As Szpilman (2007) put it:

“Japanese Pan-Asianism was a contradictory doctrine. It aimed to bring eternal peace to Asia, yet was discredited by its war-time association with Japanese militarism and aggression. It was anti-Western, but was partly inspired by Western writings. Though it proclaimed egalitarian Asian brotherhood, it insisted on Japanese superiority. Initially, such contradictions remained hidden from sight, but domestic and international developments brought them into the clear. Over time, they proved impossible to reconcile; Japanese nationalism prevailed and proclamations of Asian brotherhood and Asian liberation were turned into slogans to legitimize aggression in Asia. The thought and behavior of most pan-Asianists reflected these contradictions” (Szpilman 2007).

This is not the place for an in-depth discussion of Japanese imperialism and its atrocities. The point I am trying to make is that, for several decades, there was a debate in Japan regarding assimilation and multiethnicity in the context of empire, which shows how flexible the notion of identity was in a society where ethnic and cultural homogeneity is today presumed to be an obvious fact.

The narrative of homogeneity gained momentum after WWII, when Japan was confined to its pre-1895 territory.

In 1948, Watsuji Tetsurō argued in the book “The Symbol of National Unity” that “Nations are cultural communities which share the same language, customs, history, and beliefs” (Oguma 2021).

The notion of Japan as a homogeneous nation was initially limited to elite discourse, but it started to gain popularity in the 1950s. The economic boom in the 1960s, marked by the widespread adoption of home appliances and increased diffusion of the standard Japanese language through increased television ownership, led to a homogenisation of culture.

For example, the introduction of refrigerators allowed the popularisation of sushi, which had previously been a local dish in coastal areas. What we consider a symbol of Japanese cuisine today, used to be regional. The mass media, mostly based in Tokyo, also contributed to the construction of a homogeneous Japanese culture.

The discourse around Japanese national identity was further fueled by influential intellectuals such as the writer Mishima Yukio and the historian Masuda Yoshiro, and the proliferation of Nihonjinron literature.

Nihonjinron (日本人論, “theories of Japaneseness”) is a genre that emphasises the unique character and homogeneity of the Japanese people. The popularity of Nihonjinron books in the 1970s and 1980s solidified the view of the Japanese as a homogeneous group, ascribing the country's stability and efficiency to this homogeneity (Oguma 2021).

The influential writer Mishima Yukio, a homosexual whose first novel dealt with the need to hide one's sexuality from society, was drawn to extreme nationalism and militarism, which he saw as superior to consumerism and Western influence. He embraced Western culture in his personal life, but despised Japan’s emulation of it. He wanted to abolish the post-WWII Constitution, restore the divinity of the Emperor (which Emperor Hirohito had renounced in 1945), and he admired samurai ideals.

He devoted himself to the traditional Japanese martial arts of karate and kendo. In 1968, he created a private militia of about 80 young students, the Tate no Kai (Shield Society), to shield the Emperor from any leftist or Communist threat. He was fascinated by the ritual suicide of a Japanese soldier during a violent mutiny by Emperor-loyal junior officers in February 1936. He wrote the story “Patriotism” about this episode (see Huffman 2013).

In the political manifesto titled “Geki” (Outrage), Mishima claimed:

“We have seen that the postwar Japanese have opportunistically welcomed economic prosperity, forgetting the principles of the nation, losing their native spirit, pursuing the trivial without correcting the essential, indulging in momentary convenience and hypocrisy, and leading themselves into spiritual emptiness. Politics has been solely devoted to the covering up of contradictions, the protecting of the self, the desire for power and hypocritical ideals, while we have stood by like helpless bystanders, biting our teeth hard, passively witnessing the sell-off of our national politics over the last 100 years, deceiving ourselves about the humiliation of defeat in the war rather than confronting it - the Japanese themselves have assaulted their own history and tradition” (quoted in: Iida 2013, Chapter 1).

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four Shield Society followers stormed the headquarters of the Army Self-Defence Forces and took a general hostage.

Mishima gave a 10-minute speech from a balcony to about a thousand assembled soldiers, urging them to overthrow the Constitution. When they heckled him, he called them “American mercenaries”, and withdrew into the general's office. Mishima then committed ritual suicide. He disembowelled himself with his sword and was beheaded by one of his followers (Huffman 2013).

Mishima's views were extreme and did not enjoy much support at the time. But some of those views were extreme versions of mainstream ideas.

Race played an important role in the Nihonjinron genre. As Yoshino (2005) pointed out:

“The mode of thinking as manifested in the nihonjinron of the 1970s and the 1980s may be characterised not only as that of culturalism but also as what may be called 'race thinking'. At the base of the nihonjinron is an assumption concerning the 'racial' nature of Japanese identity. Built on this assumption is belief in the uniqueness of Japanese culture, the aspects of which have already been discussed. Let us now enquire into the 'racial' assumption in Japanese perceptions of their uniqueness” (Yoshino 2005).

In September 1986, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone said in a speech that the level of education and intellect in the United States was low because of its large black and Hispanic populations.

John Burgess, writing for the Washington Post, remarked at the time that: “In the view of many Japanese, Nakasone was simply talking common sense, saying that ethnic diversity creates confusion and discord and that societies function best when people look, think and act alike, as they do in Japan.”

Nakasone’s comments caused controversy both in the US and in Japan, where some members of the Ainu minority protested. But mainstream newspaper Asahi Shimbun defended the PM’s assertions.

Today's far right in the US and Europe would certainly agree with Nakasone's attack on the multiethnic society.



•Is Japan Really a Model of an Alt-Right Ethno-State?



The answer to this question is not straightforward. In some aspects, Japan could be considered close to the Alt-Right’s ideals of an ethno-state. It has low immigration and is culturally conservative. As we have seen, there is no lack of ethno-nationalist rhetoric throughout Japan's post-1868 history.

However, Japan is also a liberal democracy, at least as of the time of writing. The peculiar element of the Alt-Right’s agenda in the US and Europe is its strong illiberal, authoritarian ideology, its destructive tendency. Therefore, I would argue that:

1 –Japan is a liberal democracy, the Alt-Right is authoritarian;


2 –Strict immigration is different from using state power to engineer an ethno-state;


3 –In the contemporary world, no liberal democracy can be homogeneous;


4 –Ethno-nationalist views on economic success and crime do not hold up to scrutiny.


I will now briefly discuss these points.


1 –Fundamentally, Japan is a liberal democracy with socially conservative traits. By contrast, the Alt-Right tends to be authoritarian, glorify violence and harassment, restrict civil rights and liberties. This can be clearly seen by comparing Japan and Hungary.

In 2023, Freedom House ranked Japan as “free”, with a score of 96/100. “Japan is a multiparty parliamentary democracy,” Freedom House’s report explained. “The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has governed almost continuously since 1955, with stints in opposition from 1993 to 1994 and 2009 to 2012. Political rights and civil liberties are generally well respected.” However, the report also noted that there are “outstanding challenges”, which include “ethnic and gender-based discrimination and claims of improperly close relations between government and the business sector.”

In 2023, Hungary was ranked by Freedom House as “partly free”, with a score of 66/100. Freedom House's report states: “Since taking power in the 2010 elections, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Alliance of Young Democrats–Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz) party pushed through constitutional and legal changes that have allowed it to consolidate control over the country’s independent institutions, including the judiciary. The Fidesz government has since passed antimigrant and anti-LGBT+ policies, as well as laws that hamper the operations of opposition groups, journalists, universities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are critical of the ruling party or whose perspectives Fidesz otherwise finds unfavorable.”

Orban's government in Hungary is a darling of the far right. In January 2024, Donald Trump praised Orban, saying:

“There is a great man, a great leader in Europe — Viktor Orban. He is the Prime Minister of Hungary. He is a very great leader, a very strong man. Some people don't like him because he's too strong.”

In 2023, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in Hungary. Orban gave a speech attacking liberalism, “woke culture”, migration, transgender and LGBTQ+ rights. CPAC will take place again in the country in 2024.

The Japanese model is culturally conservative and strict on immigration. But the Alt-Right has gone way beyond that and pursues an authoritarian project.


2 –There is no question that Japan’s state discourages immigration. But I would argue that this is not an Alt-Right political position per se. In the US and other countries, there tends to be polarisation between those who want to stop immigration and those who want open borders. These are two diametrically opposed, maximalist views on the issue. But there is also a middle ground position which allows immigration under a strict legal framework.

I think that a debate on the level of immigration is a legitimate part of the political process. But once again, the Alt-Right goes beyond that. It wants to diminish the rights and freedoms of citizens, it targets the free media, promotes discrimination, and even resorts to violence, as was the case on January 6, 2021, in the US.

There is a fundamental difference between regulating immigration and using the power of the government to engineer an ethno-state.


3 –No liberal democracy can really be homogeneous. Even if a government keeps immigration low, there are always going to be immigrants, and there are always going to be citizens intermarrying with people from other countries. A government can change the pace of this process, but it cannot stop it.

Creating an ethno-state is only possible if the state uses authoritarian methods, such as laws that restrict the freedoms of citizens, or outright ethnic cleansing. Or if a state is isolated. In the era of affordable long-distance travel, intermixing between peoples from different regions of the globe is simply going to be ever more common.

As we have seen, there exists in Japan ethno-nationalist thinking and anti-immigrant sentiment. Immigration poses questions of national identity. From this viewpoint, people in the Alt-Right sphere may feel affinity for the conservative mindset of some Japanese, and for Japan's approach to immigration.

But the peculiarity of the Western Alt-Right is that its hatred against immigrants has led it to abandon liberal democratic values, that it wants to oppress people on a domestic level, and impose some form of authoritarianism. They are extreme nationalists and reactionaries, rather than traditionalists or conservatives.


4 –On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs took the stage at the Macworld conference and expo in San Francisco and announced that he had "three revolutionary products" to introduce. He then proceeded to unveil the iPhone, a device that combined a phone, an iPod, and a web browser in one sleek package. The iPhone was indeed a revolutionary product that changed the world. Sometimes, I struggle to explain to people born before the iPhone, or too young to remember its launch, how life was like before there were smartphones.

Steve Jobs' biological father, Abdul Fattah Jandali, was an immigrant from Syria. The story of Steve Jobs is just one of the countless examples of individuals from different ethnic backgrounds thriving in open democratic societies.

In 1856, the American nativist Thomas R. Whitney denounced European immigration into the US. He wrote:

"To believe that a mass so crude and incongruous, so remote from the spirit, the ideas, and the customs of America, can be made to harmonize readily with the new element into which it is cast, is, to say the least, unnatural … A single savage may be readily civilized; a whole tribe never … European immigration is unquestionably the 'Grecian horse' of the American Republic … Probably the most accurate data on which an opinion can be based is the enormous disproportion of European criminals in the United States, as compared with those of American birth.”

The same arguments have been repeated decade after decade since the 19th century by opponents of immigration with the same arbitrary demonisation of individuals on the basis of prejudice. Nowadays, some descendants of those Europeans who were accused of being uncivilised criminals are agitating for the creation of an authoritarian ethno-state.

Japan is an interesting case study that does not fit neatly into present-day left vs right discourse in the West. Japan is a liberal democracy, but it strictly regulates immigration. It has a mainstream traditionalist and ethno-nationalist discourse, yet so far its society has not channelled these ideas into a destructive, authoritarian political movement. It is a country where I would like to live, while I would certainly not want to spend much time in far right strongholds like Hungary or Russia.

• • •

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• • •

Referenced books (affiliate links)


•Caprio, M. (2011). Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945.


•Hermansson, P. et al. (2020). The International Alt-Right.


•Huffman, J. L. (2013). Modern Japan. An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Nationalism.


•Iida, Y. (2013). Rethinking Identity in Modern Japan: Nationalism as Aesthetics.


•Oguma, E. (2021). Racial and Ethnic Identities in Japan. In: Weiner, M. (Ed.). Routledge Handbook of Race and Ethnicity in Asia.


•Peattie, M. R. (1984). Japanese Attitudes Toward Colonialism, 1895-1945. In: Myers, R. H., Peattie, M. R. (Eds.). The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945.


•Szpilman, C. W. A. (2007). Between Pan-Asianism and Nationalism. Mitsukawa Kametarō and His Campaign to Reform Japan and Liberate Asia. In: Saaler, S., Koschmann, V. (Eds.). Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History.


•Yoshino, K. (2005). Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary Japan.

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Living in Taiwan: Seven Reasons Why It's Good to Be Here

Chinese New Year can be a pretty boring time for a foreigner. All of my friends were celebrating with their families, and since I have no family here, nor have I a girlfriend whose family I could join, I had nothing special to do. Shops and cafes were closed - apart from big chains like McDonald's or Starbucks, which were overcrowded anyway. So I had a lot of time to think. On Saturday evening I went out to buy my dinner. While I was walking around, I heard the voices of the people inside their homes, the sounds of their New Year celebrations. Then I suddenly asked myself: "What on earth are you doing here? Why are you still in Taiwan?"  Before I came to Taiwan, some Taiwanese friends of mine had recommended me their country, highly prasing it and going so far as to say that Taiwan is a "paradise for foreigners" (bear in mind that when I say foreigners I mean 'Westerners').  "It's easy for foreigners to find a job," t

Is China's MINISO Copying Japan's MUJI, UNIQLO and Daiso?

Over the past few years Japanese retailers such as UNIQLO and MUJI have conquered foreign markets, opening shops in cities such as Paris, Berlin or New York and becoming household names in several countries. But the success of their business model seems to have inspired people with dubious intentions. As the website Daliulian recently showed, a new chain called MINISO, which claims to be a Japanese company selling ‘100% Japanese products’, seems to be nothing more than a knock-off of UNIQLO, MUJI and Daiso, copying their logos, names and even the layout of their stores. The company’s webpage proudly announces – in terrible English – that “ MINISO is a fast fashion designer brand of Japan. Headquartered in Tokyo Japan, Japanese young designer Miyake Jyunya is founder as well as the chief designer of MINISO, a pioneer in global 'Fashion & Casual Superior Products' field. ” According to the company’s homepage, MINISO advocates the philosophy of a simple,

Macau: Gambling, Corruption, Prostitution, and Fake Worlds

As I mentioned in my previous post , Macau has different faces and identities: there is the old Macau, full of colonial buildings and in which the pace of life seems to resemble a relaxed Mediterranean town rather than a bustling, hectic Chinese city, such as Hong Kong or Shanghai. On the other hand, there is the Macau of gambling, of gigantic hotel and casino resorts, and of prostitution. These two Macaus seem to be spatially separated from each other, with an intact colonial city centre and nice outskirts with small alleys on the one side, and bombastic, modern buildings on the other.  The Galaxy - one of the huge casino and hotel resorts The Importance of Gambling for Macau's Economy Dubbed the 'Monte Carlo of the East', Macau has often been portrayed as the gambling capital of China. Media reporting on Macau tend present pictures of the city's glistening, apparently luxurious skyline. But a visit in Macau suffices to realize that it is fa

Trip to Tainan

Tainan Train Station Last weekend I made a one day trip to the Southern Taiwanese city of Tainan (Chinese: 臺南, pinyin: Táinán), the former capital and one of the most important centres of culture, history and architecture of the island. This blog post is also intended as a special thank to Grace, a Taiwanese friend who was so kind to show me around, and very patient, too. Since Tainan doesn't have an extensive public transport net, Grace picked me up at the train station with her motorcycle, a vehicle that, along with cars, is regarded by locals as indispensable for living comfortably in Tainan. To my great embarrassment, though, I had to admit that I cannot ride a motorcycle. That's why we had to take busses to move around. It was the first time she ever took a bus in Tainan. And now I know why: busses come more or less every half an hour, and service stops early in the evening. No wonder Tainanese snob public transport. Grace had no idea about the routes and about whe