The transpacific relationship between the United States and Japan has been analyzed, discussed, and diagnosed ever since the U.S. occupation of Japan. Despite the variety and wealth of scholarship on this topic, however, the dearth of comparative studies with respect to fascistic and imperialistic formations in the two countries is striking. This article investigates the formation of Japanese area studies in the United States in view of transpacific complicity between the United States and Japan and considers how certain aspects of Japanese imperial nationalism had to be overlooked in the post-World War II politics of knowledge.

Three authors are singled out for the three periods in the history of Japanese area studies: Robert N. Bellah for the 1960s, James W. Heisig and John Maraldo for the 1980s, and Kevin M. Doak for the 2000s. In no way can these authors claim to be representative of the main tenets covering the entirety of the discipline, but their works show the continuing but increasingly aging fantasies of scholars in the field of Japan. Their scholarly works were shaped by the binary framework of universalism (the West) and particularism (the “Rest”). They were apparently guided by the scholars' desire to project the distinction of the West from the Rest, but most importantly they were designed to deny complicit mutuality between Japan's past and the United States' progressive imperial nationalisms. In an indirect manner they testify to the fact that the discipline of area studies cannot be synthesized with that of American studies—Asian American studies, for instance—because some topics essential for the latter, such as racism, colonial guilt, and the traces of imperialism, have scarcely been addressed in the former.

What is at stake in this article is to assess to what extent the comparison of U.S. and Japanese nationalisms would slacken the disciplinary exclusivity of area studies and transform its mode of knowledge production. The essay is a prelude to a transpacific study in which our historical inquiry will put the United States and East Asia in a continuous field of inquiry.

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