Beyond Methodological Nationalism

Three Directions for Japanese Studies


  • Aike P. Rots University of Oslo



area studies, diversity, essentialism, Japan-making, transnational comparison


This article discusses the problem of lingering methodological nationalism within Japanese studies. It argues that methodological nationalism remains widespread not only in research but also in university teaching and public dissemination, which legitimises popular conceptions of Japan as a singular, unified entity that is essentially different from both the West and continental Asia. This methodological nationalism is a consequence of the ways in which disciplinary structures contribute to the reification, demarcation and naturalisation of ‘Japan’ and ‘things Japanese’ as distinct objects of study in need of their own guild of specialised interpreters. The article argues that to overcome methodological nationalism, scholars of Japan need to reconsider their choice of subject matter and reflect more upon their use of the adjective ‘Japanese’. It proposes three research agendas for the academic study of Japan. First, we should study discursive and institutional processes of Japan-making instead of being complicit in them. Second, we need to rethink ‘Japan’ as our main spatio-cultural unit by focusing on diversity within the Japanese isles and beyond (including migrant and Indigenous perspectives). Third, we should conduct and contribute to comparative research that focuses on both local particulars and transnational connections, rather than using the nation-state as our main unit of analysis.

Author Biography

Aike P. Rots, University of Oslo

AIKE P. ROTS is Associate Professor at the University of Oslo. His research has focused on religious environmentalism, heritage-making and religion, religion in contemporary Vietnam, Okinawan sacred groves, modern Shinto and Japanese Christianity. He is currently PI of the ERC-funded project ‘Whales of Power: Aquatic Mammals, Devotional Practices and Environmental Change in Maritime East Asia’.


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