Aha Moment

How Research Begins

This blog post is about how I came to begin, but not quite finish my research.

Let me explain.

Almost a year and a half ago, Professor Marcus Holmes, my Introduction to International Politics professor, asked me if I would be interested in conducting an independent research. As a sophomore and history major, I was reluctant to accept. Since I enjoyed research, I figured I could transfer my passion for history into exploring historical perspectives of international relations. I accepted the invitation.

Before the spring semester of 2014 started, I wrote out a short biography about myself and some of the topics I was interested in researching. When the semester began, I enrolled in the Political Psychology and International Relations Lab, with Professor Holmes as my advisor. Being one of twenty or so student researchers, I was placed into a group of students who wrote similar biographies and research topics. My three initial research topics were on the impact of natural disasters on national confidence, protection of privacy over the Internet, and how students can change the views of national government.

As we discussed with the group about our research ideas, one group member stood out to me. She was interested in researching the politics of an apology between Japan and East Asian relations. Despite being a Japanese-American with an extensive knowledge of Japan, I was unaware of the political climate between Japan and other East Asian countries. Curious, I asked if I could work with her on the project.

We began by researching the politics of apologies (or apologizes), a relatively new area of study in International Relations. In fact, warring countries only began to expect or require an apology from the perpetrators after WWII. During and Second Sino-Japanese War and into WWII, Japan committed various wartime atrocities such as enslaving young women for prostitution (most commonly known as the Comfort Women) and conducting dangerous and unethical experiments on war prisoners. Still, seventy years after the war, China and Korea continue to distrust Japan’s intentions and are demanding an apology for wartime actions. Although my partner and I initially agreed to research together, we soon realized that we wanted to focus on different aspects of the Japan’s international relations. As a result, we decided that it was best to research the topics separately.

Independently, I created an “Idea Conceptual Map,” webbing out topics I believed to be related to Japan’ public apologies. I began to identify the different aspects that a political apology may have in the context of Japan, by looking into different examples of political apologies, cultural understanding of apologies, and the impact of who is communicating the apology.

After creating my conceptual map, I made an annotated bibliography as my first step of my literature review. I knew that literature on the politics of an apology were going to be limited, but I wanted to know broadly the impact of apologies in Japanese culture and how apologies influence people’s perception. I looked at mostly scholarly articles and a few newspapers and government notes. The articles I read ranged from how Eastern and Western cultures interprets apologies differently, to specific reasons for Japanese apologies, and to the different interpretations of wartime memory. All of the articles articulated Japan’s relationship and understanding of a political apology.

The more I researched, the more questions I had about Japan and the implications on the politics of an apology. Why did Japan just not apologize? Who is apologizing and who is receiving the apology? What is the focus of the apology? Realizing that I had more questions than answers, I decided to talk to Professor Holmes about narrowing down my research. As we talked, he suggested looking into Japanese national identity as a way to understand Japan’s reluctance to apologize. We predicted that Japanese national identity correlated to Japan’s reluctance to apologize, so I decided to look into how Japanese national identity changes overtime and measure their willingness to apologize for World War II atrocities. By the end of spring semester, I was committed to looking into the change in Japanese national identity between the nineteenth and twentieth century and how this change influences Japan’s willingness to apologize for past actions. I hoped to see a change or pattern in when the Japanese are more willing to apologize.

When fall semester began, I decided that my plan of looking at two centuries worth of national identity to be too ambitious to complete in a semester. Instead I decided to compare the national identity of Japan between 1995 and 2015. 1995 was the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war, and also when the Prime Minister of Japan made the first public apology for wartime atrocities. In 2015, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo made another public apology for the seventieth anniversary.

However, these two apologies were met with very different national and international reactions. Comparing these two years appeared to be more manageable than looking at a broader time period. At this time, I also began emailing Professor Ted Hopf of the National University of Singapore and Bentley Allan of Johns Hopkins University to better understand how to measure national identity. These two academics were researching how to quantify national identity to help Constructivist theories ground their framework in quantitative data. In international relations theory, Constructivism rests on qualitative rather than quantitative understandings. By quantify national identity, a sound basis is produced for constructivist arguments. This processing of contacting Dr. Allan and Dr. Hopf slowed down my initial attempt to understand how to approach understanding national identity. In addition, this semester’s course work kept me overwhelmed, limiting the time I had to spend the time to complete my research.

In hopes to better understand Japan’s history and political climate, I took a class in the fall semester on Modern Japanese History and Politics of China and Japan, . I learned a lot about specific Japanese ideologies and approaches to political topics, especially when it came to international relations. These two classes, however, clarified my original question to me as to why Japan refused to apologize for World War II atrocities. As it turns out, the differing wartime memory and thawing of the Cold War, resulted in the re-emergence of unresolved issues between Japan and East Asia in political disputes. The largest problem between Japan and East Asia appears to be Japan’s interpretation of the war. Due to the complex nature of Japan’s fascist military regime and disconnect with the people, the Japanese government has chosen to gloss over Japan’s wartime action in East Asia and emphasize Japan’s victimization by the atomic bomb in their history textbooks. To publicly apologize for wartime atrocities committed during the war, Japan will then also have to change their national historical understanding of the war, which they are not willing to do. In the end, I realized that national identity has nothing to do with Japan’s willingness to apologize, but rather historical understanding of wartime action and the politics surrounding this understanding limits Japan’s willingness to apologize.

With this newfound understanding of Japan and the politics surrounding their apology, I talked to Professor Holmes about what the next step would be for me to take. Since we were both still curious about Dr. Hopf and Dr. Allan’s work on national identity, we decided to continue working on that aspect of my research. Instead of comparing Japan’s national identity, we hoped that we could at least learn to code Japanese national identity using the method Dr. Hopf and Dr. Bentley created.

Making Identity CountThis brings us to this semester, spring of 2016. Professor Holmes and I were lucky enough to receive a proof of Dr. Allan and Dr. Bentley’s upcoming book on national identity. In the proof, they listed a brief process of coding national identity and a chapter on their analysis of Japanese national identity. Their method of coding does not consist of a list of categories but rather three ways to approach topics: valence, aspirational versus aversive, and significant others. Valence assess whether or not the identity is a good or bad feature. Aspiration versus aversive is a comparative measure in whether or not the feature is something to strive for or avoid. Lastly, significant other is another comparative assessment in who or what they are measuring up with. All three of these topics can be used together to create a national identity category.

This method uses a mix of state documents and speeches, newspapers, popular books and movies, as well as textbooks. Once a list of codes is made, the top twenty are used as a basis of analysis. Although this method is subjective to the individual coder, the final product is largely an averaged understanding of national identity. Using this method of coding, the chapter on Japan addressed twenty-three national identity categories. There were four major topic categories, economic identity, state power, social identity, and other identities. The coder was able to conclude that the Japanese national identity consists of pride and the public prioritizes social issues over economic issues.

From the methods of coding and categorizing national identity in Dr. Hopf and Dr. Allan’s book, Professor Holmes and I agreed to continue looking at how to expand on their findings. I noticed that, despite the fact that the coding material consisted of material from 2010, most of the sources were not popular online media or television shows. As one of the most technologically advanced state, I assumed that there is a wealth of information that can help identify Japanese national identity online. I believe by further investigating online media sources, perhaps there is more to be learned about Japanese national identity. Therefore, I plan on looking into popular blogs and television programs such as anime, drama, and variety shows to expand on the national identity found in Dr. Hopf and Dr. Allan’s book.