Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan

The Ideology of Kokugo
Available for the first time in English, The Ideology of Kokugo: Nationalizing Language in Modern Japan, translated by Maki Hirano Hubbard, is Lee Yeounsuk’s award-winning look at the history and ideology behind the construction of kokugo (national language). Prior to the Meiji Period (1868–1912), the idea of a single, unified Japanese language did not exist. Only as Japan was establishing itself as a modern nation-state and an empire with expanding colonies did there arise the need for a national language to construct and sustain its national identity.

Re-examining debates and controversies over genbun itchi (unification of written and spoken languages) and other language reform movements, Lee discusses the contributions of Ueda Kazutoshi (1867–1937) and Hoshina Koichi (1872–1955) in the creation of kokugo and moves us one step closer to understanding how the ideology of kokugo cast a spell over linguistic identity in modern Japan. She examines the notion of the unshakable homogeneity of the Japanese language—a belief born of the political climate of early-twentieth-century Japan and its colonization of other East Asian countries—urging us to pay attention to the linguistic consciousness that underlies “scientific” scholarship and language policies. Her critical discussion of the construction of kokugo uncovers a strain of cultural nationalism that has been long nurtured in Japan’s education system and academic traditions. The ideology of kokugo, argues Lee, must be recognized both as an academic apparatus and a political concept

October 2009 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3305-3 / $58.00 (CLOTH)