Like No Other: Exceptionalism and Nativism in Early Modern Japan
304pp. November 2015
Like No Other: Exceptionalism and Nativism in Early Modern Japan
Author: McNally, Mark Thomas;
Like No Other: Exceptionalism and Nativism in Early Modern Japan focuses on the ideological category of exceptionalism and applies it to the study of Tokugawa Japan—a first in Japanese studies, as the concept has most often been connected to Japan’s postwar period by non-Japanologists. One of the best examples of Tokugawa exceptionalism is the early modern intellectual movement known as Kokugaku, which already occupies a prominent historiographical position in Japanese studies as “nativism.” Uncovering profound differences that cast serious doubt on this position, Mark McNally contends that what Japanologists view as nativistic about Kokugaku were actually more typical of what Americanists call exceptionalism, where the unique characteristics of a nation ostensibly exempts it from forces that otherwise affect other nations.

Rather than argue that the intellectuals associated with Kokugaku were somehow nativists and exceptionalists at the same time, McNally demonstrates that the category of nativism has been misapplied to Tokugawa Japan; a misapplication that both betrays a misunderstanding of the ways in which nativism is understood outside of Japanese studies and ultimately distorts the true ideological character of Kokugaku. By severing the link between Kokugaku and nativism, he is able to explore within early modern Japanese history instances that were more genuinely nativistic, such as the upheaval associated with the intercultural encounters with Westerners during the 1850s and 1860s that culminated in the overthrow of Japan’s last shogun.

One of the larger goals of this study is to de-emphasize Kokugaku's historiographical prominence, the result of narratives focusing on the development of the Japanese nation-state, in favor of an increased attention on the central role of Confucianism in the history of Tokugawa exceptionalism. By doing this, the book effectively blurs the distinction between Confucianism and Kokugaku—a distinction that has been critical to the efforts of scholars seeking to preserve the idea of Japan's exceptionality (and superiority) in the world.
Author: McNally, Mark Thomas;
Mark Thomas McNally is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. He received his B.A. from Pomona College in Asian Studies and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA. He is the author of Proving the Way: Conflict and Practice in the History of Japanese Nativism (Harvard Asia Center, 2005). He has been a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies (Harvard University), a Foreign Research Scholar at the Historiographical Institute (University of Tokyo), a Guest Professor at the Eberhard Karls University, Tūbingen, and a Fulbright Scholar.