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World maps produced in Japan often center on the Pacific Ocean, just as maps produced in the Western world typically center on Europe.

Japanocentrism is the ethnocentric belief that Japan is, or should be, at the center of the world in one way or another. This may manifest itself as the pursuit of Japanese economic, cultural, or political hegemony.

Early forms[edit]

The first historical expressions of Japanocentrism may be found in the treatment of Ainu, whom the Japanese perceived as uncivilized and unable to use land productively (see terra nullius). These attitudes, still somewhat common today, facilitated the gradual appropriation of Ainu farmlands and the relegation of Ainu to northerly areas. In many circles, Ainu are still viewed as noble savages, best suited to a wild, foraging existence, in spite of the fact that Ainu have traditionally been a settled, agrarian people.

Industrialization and Expansionism[edit]

Unlike China, which developed its own ethnocentric beliefs, Japan was, for most of its history, divided between scores of regional warlords. Its geographical isolation and political instability resulted in a culture that was both insular and expansionistic. During the Meiji period, Japan became an industrialized power, capable of extending its influence beyond its borders. Japan was arguably the first non-European nation to possess this capability, and following the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan was virtually unopposed in East Asia.

Expansion of the Japanese Empire

The Japanese colonial period was brief, but intense. Between 1931 and 1945, Japan conquered a vast Asian empire, much of it seized from Western colonialists. The Japanese introduced the concept of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, whereby Asian nations would join together and be freed from Western colonial influence. Naturally, the linchpin of this scheme was the military dominance of the Empire of Japan. Many people in Japan continue to characterize Japanese wartime actions as counter-colonial measures, undertaken to liberate Asian peoples from European domination. The Yasukuni Shrine, for instance, publishes a pamphlet stating that the war was "...a really tragic thing to happen, but it was necessary in order for us to protect the independence of Japan and to prosper together with Asian neighbors." The refusal of many Japanese to admit to wrong-doing is a continuing source of tension between Japan and its neighbors, especially China and South Korea.

The belief that Japan has a central role to play in world politics, whether as a bulwark against Western hegemony or as a force in its own right, remains a central issue in Japanese politics, particularly for right-wing nationalists. The rise of the People's Republic of China as a global power has only intensified many of these feelings, as many Japanese now view their country as a check on Chinese power in the region.

Post-War Economic and Political Japanocentrism[edit]

Japan's devestating defeat in WWII put an end to its imperial ambitions, but its post-war economic boom returned it to economic dominance in East Asia. As an ally of the United States, it held a privileged trading position, not to mention a massive strategic advantage. For many years the only significant liberal power in East Asia, Japan enjoyed an unchallenged central position in the Asian economy for decades. Even with the rise of the East Asian Tigers in the 1960's and the collapse of Japan's bubble economy in the early 1990's, Japan has remained at the heart of the Pacific economic scene. The Tokyo Stock Exchange remains a major factor in the Asian (and worldwide) economy. As the Japanese economy recovers its strength, it faces competition from China (both the PRC and Taiwan), South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other erstwhile uncompetitive economies.

Its prosperous but turbulent economy, along with the pressures of globalization and a low birth rate, have made Japan increasingly dependent on foreign workers and international cooperation. Its corporate culture, which has long favored protectionism, job security, and close cooperation with government, has strained to adjust to unfamiliar conditions. A central focus of Japan's corporate culture has traditionally been the preservation of Japanese culture, by such means as strict immigration controls. A recent influx of Korean and Taiwanese nationals into the workforce, though necessary to remedy the labor shortage, has met with major resistance at all levels of society. The presence of these so-called sangokujin (三国人; "third country nationals") has been characterized as a disproportionate source of criminal activity. Foreign laborers, particularly the Korean Zainichi, are regularly accused of disloyalty and even sedition. Shintaro Ishihara, while addressing members of the Japanese Self-Defense Force, once remarked that "With Sankokujin and foreigners repeating serious crimes, we should prepare ourselves for possible riots that may be instigated by them at the outbreak of an earthquake." Ishihara's comment should not be construed to represent the attitude of the average Japanese, although similar, less extreme opinions are common across the political spectrum. Earlier, in 1986, Prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone had gained notoriety for proclaiming that Japan was successful because it did not have ethnic minorities, like the United States. He then clarified his comments, stating that he meant to congratulate the US on its economic success despite the presence of "problematic" minorities. For more, see the main article on Racism in Japan.

Japanese Self-Image[edit]

Like most languages, Japanese has many terms to refer to outsiders and foreigners. Japanese is remarkable for a rich lexicon of terms that specifically refer to Japanese and non-Japanese people and things. The well-known term gaijin (外人), often translated as "foreigner", would be more accurately translated as "non-Japanese person", since, unlike the English term, it is applied absolutely, not relatively. Japanese tourists in New York, for instance, might refer to New Yorkers, but never themselves, as gaijin. If a Japanese referred to himself as a gaijin, it would most likely be in an ironic sense. This is true of all words beginning with the kanji gai- (外), which literally means "outside". A more polite term, more common in modern discourse, is gaikokujin (外国人), which literally means "outside country person".

Within Japan (and consequently, throughout the world), the study of the origin of the Japanese people and their language is often deeply entangled with Japanocentric and counter-Japanocentric ideas and assumptions. Japanese are often reluctant to accept that their language or could be related to another extant tongue, particularly that of a rival like Korea. Conjectures like the Altaic theory receive little exposure in Japan, and are often dismissed out of hand as anti-Japanese propaganda. Many are reluctant to accept that a close genetic relationship exists between Japanese and neighboring Asian peoples. Indeed, for some very conservative Japanese, the mere suggestion that the Japanese people originated on the Asian mainland is viewed as insulting.