Calling someone a "nationalist" is a very serious indictment. How well does "国家主義" translate as "nationalism"?

For example, is this sentence so extreme as to imply something like:
"Mr. Tanaka wants to re-build the Imperial Japanese Empire."?

What about the difference between 国家主義 and ナショナリズム? The latter is not easily said nor "spelled" in Japanese. What is the difference between the two?

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    「田中さんは国家主義のある人です」という文はおかしいです。(「〇〇主義のある人」「〇〇主義がある人」とは言いません。)普通は、「~さんは国家主義です」のように言います。 – Chocolate Feb 18 '17 at 4:16

Even for me (as native Japanese), it's very difficult question. But I also find this kind of interesting, so I will try to answer your question.

In regular conversation, we (at least I) don't mind if you translate "国家主義 = nationalism".

Regarding of Wikipedia, 国家主義 considers the country (or the government) is the first in everything, but ナショナリズム is the word for activities of concert, freedom, and departure...etc.

Wikipedia binds the 国家主義 page to the statism page, not the nationalism page.

It's my understanding that 国家主義 (statism) is part of nationalism.

  • To be clear then, if you don't mind translating "国家主義" as "nationalism" then, in your opinion, "国家主義" is a very bad thing. "Nationalism" is a very negative word in English. – Just Someone Feb 17 '17 at 23:18
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    In regular conversation (not critical situation), I don't mind. Even online dictionary site 国家主義 at ALC and Google translate 国家主義 at Google Translate translate to "nationalism" – wf9a5m75 Feb 17 '17 at 23:47
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    @wf9a5m75 He is asking whether 国家主義 is a bad thing or not. – Aeon Akechi Feb 18 '17 at 0:22
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    @Nothingatall If you have another opinion, you should post your answer. The word 国家主義 is not good word, I know. But how to translate about you? If I am requested, I would translate as nationalism. This is my opinion. – wf9a5m75 Feb 18 '17 at 0:25
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    ^ If you have another opinion, you should post your answer. @Nothingatall was just trying to help... 😢 – Chocolate Feb 18 '17 at 4:19

The root of this answer lies in the word "nation," which has several translations into Japanese. When you look up "nation" in a J-E dictionary, several words come up: 国家 (state), 国民 (citizen[s]), 民族 (slightly outdated translation: ethnic group, e.g. "Hebrew nation"). On Wikipedia, "nation" corresponds to 国民. There is no word for "citizen-ism" based on this 国民 because that doesn't really make sense logically.

Statism 国家主義 implies mostly the belief that the state being the supreme force for order, so it's somewhat akin to the "statism" which you hear libertarians and separatists complain about. It doesn't have the implication of "nationalism" in the sense of imperialism and supremacism, but it does include criticizing political activities which would subordinate local identities to citizen identity.

The old translation of "nation" is 民族 "ethnic group", and a word exists 民族主義 for "ethnicism" (e.g. Zionism, pan-Slavism), but this was never a major partisan force in Japan so it is not used in a critical sense.

The word "nationalism" as used in a left-critical sense doesn't seem to correspond to anything in the Japanese language, so it is best to use the foreign loan word, ナショナリズム. This is the proper translation of "nationalism" according to Wikipedia etc. Now, whether this foreign loanword actually corresponds to anything a politician actually believes in real life is another question.


How can we be asking whether "国家主義" means "nationalism", when the meaning of nationalism itself is very fluid? You have provided one context sentence to fix your particular meaning of nationalism: "wanting to re-build the Imperial Japanese Empire". But that can surely be described specifically as as "imperialism" and "militarism". Is "nationalism" equivalent to "imperialism" and "militarism"? It is true that in times of large scale political change, we are likely to see "nationalism" and "imperialism" and "militarism" appearing more often (along with several other ism's as well). So there is correlation, but correlation does not imply causation.

We are now living in the age of Globalism, a term that includes a range of phenomena extending from higher ideals such as global cooperation on climate change, global peace, elimination of disease and hunger, all the way down to the race to the bottom in workers wages and working conditions, sweeping of industrial pollution under foreign carpets, and under-utilization of human potential in advanced nations.

We now see Nationalism rising in response to the darker side of Globalism. Maybe, instead of reacting violently against either, we need to find a way to let the better parts of Nationalism and Globalism coexist, while leaving the worst of both behind.

We shouldn't be in any rush to define "国家主義" as something a priori bad. It's one the many natural ~主義 in our social gut which when holistically well balanced keeps us healthy, but when not makes us sick.

Edit: According to Wikipedia, "nationalism can be positive or negative".

Nationalism is a complex, multidimensional concept involving a shared communal identification with one's nation. It is a political ideology oriented towards gaining and maintaining self-governance, or full sovereignty, over a territory of historical significance to the group (such as its homeland). Nationalism therefore holds that a nation should govern itself, free from unwanted outside interference, and is linked to the concept of self-determination. Nationalism is further oriented towards developing and maintaining a national identity based on shared characteristics such as culture, language, race, religion, political goals and/or a belief in a common ancestry. Nationalism therefore seeks to preserve the nation's culture. It often also involves a sense of pride in the nation's achievements, and is closely linked to the concept of patriotism. In these terms, nationalism can be positive or negative.

  • I'm only considering this in terms of daily conversation, not political science. These days, in western culture, "nationalism" is perceived as very bad. A native speaker says "国家主義" is more or less equally so. good enough for me. – Just Someone Feb 18 '17 at 2:35
  • I believe you that the term "nationalism" when used in the social circles you have selected, is perceived as something very bad. However, the social circles you have selected do not encompass the entirety of modern western culture. As proof, I have modified my answer to include part of the explanation of Nationalism found in Wikipedia. If you don't understand all the common meanings of nationalism, then there is no basis for your question about how it relates to "国家主義". – Craig Hicks Feb 18 '17 at 3:53
  • I noticed that you used a leading question (actually a blatant statement) to wf9a5m75 , fishing for the answer you wanted: "To be clear then, if you don't mind translating "国家主義" as "nationalism" then, in your opinion, "国家主義" is a very bad thing." In a fair system of justice, the resulting confession would be thrown out of court. – Craig Hicks Feb 18 '17 at 3:54

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