A recent lecture in Sydney by Meiji University Professor Keizo Yamawaki reminded me that every country has its myths or somewhat warped perspectives concerning its own national identity. Australia’s include the idea that it was traditionally English at its core, even though many of its organising principles – egalitarianism, respect for the state, yet a certain larrikanism – were arguably Irish (Patrick O’Farrell, The Irish in Australia, 3rd ed 2000, UNSW Press, Sydney, p 21). Another was that Australia centres on rural communities and ‘the bush’, even in the case of its greatest sporting hero (Brett Hutchins, Don Bradman: Challenging the Myth, 2001, Cambridge UP). A related but debatable motif is that Australia can and should enlighten the world - be “better than the British”. Such thinking underpinned the Chifley government’s push to entrench human rights in Europe and the fledgling United Nations, and to promote a politically radical labour movement in Occupation Japan. Yet the latter policy also involved deeply pragmatic assumptions (Christine de Matos, Imposing Peace and Prosperity, 2008, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne). And the former push has failed to result, even now, in an enforceable Bill of Rights throughout Australia itself (Geoffrey Robertson, The Statute of Liberty: How Australians Can Take Back Their Rights, 2009, Vintage, North Sydney).
In Japan, one of the most persistent myths or over-exaggerations has been that of national homogeneity. Yet this is being increasingly undermined by new initiatives to bolster long-term immigration into Japan, building off a significant rise in foreign residents since the 1990s.