Itamar Zadoff 2016

Shinto, Martial Arts and Nation Building in Early-Meiji Japan

In his influential Imagined communities, reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Benedict Anderson suggested that modern Japanese nationalism was created by direct government guidance from above. Japanese nationalism, he argued, was the product of official ideology that had been propagated by state institutions. Hence, Anderson dubbed it “official nationalism.”

My paper re-evaluates Anderson’s thesis by three case studies that draw upon the martial-arts world: 1) The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, among the most influential organizations in shaping the modern martial arts (particularly Kendo and Kyudo); 2) Sumo, Japan’s national sport; and 3) Judo, the first modern martial art and Japan’s contribution to the Olympic Games. The paper demonstrates their role in the creation of modern Japanese nationalism, no less than their inherent relation to the national Shinto religion.

The three case studies reveal different facets of Japanese nation-building: Sumo emphasizes the power of the emperor and the Meiji government in shaping Japanese national character through the martial arts; Butokukai demonstrates the power of the individual and the common masses; and Kano’s Judo indicates that Japanese nationalism is not necessarily emperor-related.

Itamar Zadoff is a graduate student in the Department of East Asia studies of Tel Aviv University, working under the guidance of Prof. Meir Shahar and Prof. Irit Averbuch. He is a teaching assistant of Prof. Liora Safati in the “Introduction to Japan” course.

His research focuses on the early-twentieth-century Japanese martial arts.

He studied Aikido under Shimamoto Katsuyuki Shihan (8th Dan), and Koryu En-shin Ryu under Soke Tanaka Fumon in Osaka, Japan. He is the Head of Wadokan Dojo, Pardes Hanna.

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