The eyes of the world will be upon Japan next summer when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Of that, the country is acutely aware. Barely a week goes by without mention of the attention that the games will bring. This has been used to argue for everything from curbs on single-use plastic to changes in the way Japanese names are written in English. The country is not accustomed to being centre stage. Its response betrays its insecurities, not least because Japan is no longer the leader in technology it was when it last hosted the summer Olympics, in 1964.
All countries ponder their identity but Japan does so more than many. An entire genre of literature, Nihonjinron—“theories about the Japanese”—is dedicated to the question of what defines the country and what it means to be Japanese. Both locals and foreigners have gamely tried to come up with answers.