This article shows how inaccurate the category of nativism—derived from American historiography—is when applied to the Japanese context prevailing when National Learning (Kokugaku) was flourishing. It argues that violence is not a distinctive feature of Kokugaku and suggests that the association between nativism and Kokugaku in Japanese studies is flawed. This is further complicated by examining instances of physical violence directed at foreigners and Japanese alike, which surged during the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate, when the slogan “revere the emperor and expel the barbarian” (sonnō-jō’i
) resulted in extreme violence and assassinations. Victims of such attacks were not limited to Westerners, since Katsu Kaishū was almost killed by Sakamoto Ryōma. While significant portions of the Japanese elite began to advocate opening the country (kaikoku
), many among them remained divided in their attitude toward Western learning and its necessity. This leads to the conclusion that Kokugaku was not an example of Tokugawa nativism, let alone the
example of Tokugawa nativism, and that it would be better to develop a hybrid category of nativism applicable to that era. Such category results from combining Ralph Linton’s concept of nativism with John Higham’s characterization of nativism as marked by extreme hostility.
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