Nationalism, Materialism, and Preferences
for the US and East Asian Countries
in Japan

Kenichi Ishii, Assistant Professor, University of Tsukuba [About | Email]

Volume 12, Issue 1 (article 3 in 2012). First published in ejcjs on 1 May 2012.


The purpose of this study is to show how preferences for the US and East Asian countries are associated with national attitudes and values in Japan. In early post-war Japan, nationalism was constructed concurrently with American values, such as democracy and materialism. In the 2000s, Japanese nationalistic feelings grew in parallel with anti-Japan movements in China and South Korea. This study uses survey data to test hypotheses regarding the relationship among materialism, national attitudes, media use, and preferences for foreign countries. The results indicate that materialism is positively correlated with national attitudes and a preference for the US. Patriotism is also positively correlated with a preference for the US, while ethnocentrism is negatively correlated with preferences for China and South Korea. Media significantly affects preferences for the specified countries. These results suggest that national attitudes in post-war Japan developed in the context of the embracing of American culture.

Keywords: Japan, US, national attitudes, materialism, values, Americanism, soft-power.


Post-war Japanese nationalism1 was constructed in a unique historical milieu. Following Japan's defeat in 1945, ultra-nationalism vanished from the scene. Occupation authorities were quick to attack the Japanese for their thought-control mechanisms, targeting the education system and State Shinto, in an effort to do away with militarism (Yoshino 1992). Consequently, post-war nationalism in Japan was symbolically linked with the democracy and pacifism that accorded with Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution2 (Oguma 2002). Matsuda (2007) argued that the occupation era reforms were a US-Japan joint undertaking. For example, in a joint effort with the US, Japan created the post-war emperor system, in which the emperor served as a national symbol (Sakai 2007; Dower 2000). Dower revealed that, during the occupation period, the Japanese people embraced the new supreme commander General MacArthur with an ardour hitherto reserved for the emperor and commonly treated the General Headquarters (GHQ) with the deference that they had until recently accorded their own military leaders (Dower 2000:227). Many American experts in Japan-related studies aided the construction of the innocence of Emperor Hirohito, who might otherwise have been prosecuted for war crimes in the Tokyo Trials (Sakai 2007).

These historical facts suggest that pre-war military nationalism was replaced by a new nationalism composed of pro-American values, such as popular culture and pacifism. McVeigh distinguished between pre- and post-war nationalism by coining the terms 'official/state nationalism' and 'non-official/popular nationalism' (McVeigh 2006). Unlike in other Asian countries, national attitudes (e.g. patriotism) in Japan were not associated with protests against colonialism, but, instead, with pro-American values, such as democracy, technology, consumption, and popular culture. In contrast, pre-war values were consciously or unconsciously relegated to the minds of older educators in the self-critical period following Japan's defeat (Yoshino 1992:211). Right-wing expressions of nationalism have been avoided in the official discourse of major newspapers and Japanese history textbooks used for compulsory education. A comparative study of history textbooks in major countries indicated that, based on a quantitative content analysis, only the Japanese textbook was negative with regard to its own history and showed a lower evaluation of its own history than any of the textbooks from other countries, including the US, China, and South Korea (Tsujimura 1987). Recent survey results also indicate that Japanese people are most hesitant in expressing nationalistic sentiments as compared with people in other countries. According to the World Value Survey 2005 only 61% of Japanese respondents answered positively,3 when asked how proud they were to be Japanese. Of all Asian countries, Japan shows the second-lowest level of national pride,4 next only to Taiwan, where national identity has been affected by the controversy between the native Taiwanese and the mainland Chinese. The low level of national pride among Japanese people reflects the fact that aggressive expressions of nationalism have been suppressed in the official discourse of post-war Japan.5

Given the historical background, it is hypothesized that national attitudes among people in Japan are associated with materialism and cultural pro-Americanism. The purpose of this study is to examine how these values are linked to preferences for foreign countries among Japanese people. More specifically, the link between national attitudes, materialism,6 and preferences for East Asian and Western countries will be empirically examined.

Americanism and consumer culture

Given the strong political influence of the US and the close international relationship between the US and Japan, post-war nationalism in Japan has been closely linked to preference for American culture and consumerism. After the war, along with political values-such as democracy, freedom of speech, and women's equal rights-the US also introduced commercialism and materialism to Japan. The majority of Japanese people developed a strong desire to either possess or consume anything that came from the US (Matsuda 2007:239), although many Japanese people continued to prefer the traditional Chinese culture. It must be noted that pro-Americanism means preference for American culture or values, but it does not mean support for American policy. Despite a surge in anti-US movements, which were occasionally sparked in the post-war period (e.g. protests against the US-Japan Security Treaty), Japanese people have basically favoured American culture since the end of the war. In post-war Japan, the consumption and entertainment aspects of American values were emphasized in the media, whereas social and political aspects of American culture were relatively often ignored (Yoshimi 2002). Subsequently, American comics (e.g. 'Blondie') and TV dramas (e.g. 'I Love Lucy') introduced American consumer culture to Japan (Yoshimi 2003). Japanese viewers learned about the American middle-class family life by watching these TV programs. As a result, a new consumer culture largely represented by three durable goods - televisions, washing machines, and refrigerators - emerged in Japan (Yoshimi 2002).

Because of this historical background, Japanese people have favourable attitudes towards the US, particularly with regard to American culture. Many polls and surveys indicate that the US is the country that is preferred most by Japanese people. For example, according to a recent survey conducted in October 2008,7 most Japanese people (73.3%) feel familiar with the US (Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 2010). Survey results also indicate that Japanese people favour American popular culture. Table 1 indicates that 75% of all Japanese people claimed to like American music, movies, and television. The Pew Global Attitudes Project data reveals that, as a whole, Japan is the Asian country that is most interested in American culture, with the exception of Israel.8 Table 1 also indicates that Japanese people possess the most favourable attitudes towards the American people.

Table 1. Preference for the US by Asian country
CountryNPreference for American music, movies, and television (%)Attitude towards the US *Attitude towards Americans *
South Korea65553.72.62.7
Palestinian Territories73025.11.51.7

Note: *Based on averages from a modified Likert scale (1 = very unfavourable, 2 = somewhat unfavourable, 3 = somewhat favourable, 4 = very favourable).

Source: The Pew Global Attitudes Project (44-Nation Survey Conducted July 2 - October 31, 2002 data downloaded from

Foreign TV programs were one of the most important sources of cultural influence in the early post-war period. Many American programs were broadcast in Japan in the early 1960s, although the number of foreign programs on Japanese TV has decreased since then (Kawatake, Sugiyama, & Hara 2004). Even today, American culture continues to play an influential role in Japanese mass culture. For example, American movies occupy a dominant position. In 2009, foreign movies accounted for approximately 43% of the total sales of movie tickets in Japan ('Box Office Increased for the First Time in Three Years' 2010), and most of these foreign movies were imported from the US. Furthermore, Japanese TV commercials have emphasised Western, particularly American, ideals. Based on a 2003 content analysis of TV commercials, Hagiwara demonstrated that 68.6% of TV commercials produced by Japanese companies contain foreign elements (i.e. models, backdrops, and/or languages), and 73% of the foreign models in TV commercials were Caucasian9 (Hagiwara 2004).

Rising nationalistic sentiments in Japan

Japanese nationalism has recently begun growing alongside an increase in aggressive nationalistic sentiments, which pit Japan against neighbouring Asian countries, particularly China, South Korea, and North Korea. For example, an anti-Hanryu (anti-Korean wave) movement emerged in reaction to the influence of Korean culture in Japan, as epitomised by the popular Japanese comic book entitled 'Manga Kenkanryū (Hating the Korean Wave)' (Hanaki, Singhal, Han Kim, & Chitnis 2007). Representative national surveys also provide evidence of a recent rise in nationalistic sentiments among Japanese people, although most Japanese people do not support the anti-Korea movement. Figure 1 indicates that the rate (%) at which respondents who indicate respect for the Emperor has been rising since 1998. Similarly, the rate of respondents who have an affinity for old Japanese temples and houses, which reflects an affinity for the traditional Japanese culture, has been rising since 1993. In contrast, the percentage of respondents who chose 'deepening friendship with foreign countries' as the most important policy strategy has been decreasing since 1993.10 These results indicate that Japanese people have become more nationalistic since the late 1990s, albeit not drastically more.

Figure 1. Changes (%) in nationalistic sentiments over time in Japan

Ishii, Figure 1

Source: The NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, 2010.

This new growth in nationalistic sentiments was triggered by the rise of the North Korean military threat and the recent anti-Japan movements in China and South Korea. The formerly friendly relationship between Japan and China was reversed in 1998 at the occasion of Chinese President Jiang Zemin's official visit to Japan. Many Japanese people fostered ill feelings towards President Jiang, who repeatedly mentioned problems of historical recognition in his speeches in Japan.11 After 2000, a number of anti-Japan incidents occurred in China in reaction to Prime Minister Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honoured war criminals along with the war dead and was regarded as a symbol of old Japanese militarism. In 2005, approximately 20,000 anti-Japan protesters rampaged in Shanghai, throwing stones at Japan's consulate and smashing cars and shops, and demonstrated against Japan's wartime history and its bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat ('Anti-Japan Rampage in Shanghai' 2005). In response to these incidents, ethnocentric sentiments, which had been suppressed in the major media, were unleashed among Japanese people. Such anti-Asian attitudes (mostly directed towards China and South Korea) remain prevalent, particularly among young people called 'Net Rightists' who exchange aggressive messages online on bulletin board systems (BBSs) such as 'Ni-channel' ('The spirit of the samurai', 2006). Aggressively nationalistic Japanese sentiments are more commonly observed on the Internet than in the mass media, where explicit nationalistic discourses have generally been avoided. Ishii found that, based on a questionnaire survey administered in 2007 and controlling for demographic factors, the animosity directed at South Korea was significantly and positively correlated with the use of BBSs on the Internet (Ishii 2008). Similarly, anti-South Korean sentiments were significantly correlated with negative attitudes towards traditional media outlets.12 Contrary to the popular belief that neo-liberalism is not a nationalistic value, neo-liberalism13 was weakly but significantly and positively correlated with nationalism (r14 = .086, p < .01, N=930) in Japan. The link between neo-liberalism and nationalism is also exemplified by the behaviour of pro-American Prime Minister Koizumi, who introduced neo-liberal economic policies while repeatedly visiting Yasukuni Shrine, the symbol of old Japanese militarism.

Empirical studies on materialism and national attitudes

Inglehart and Welzel (2005) conceptualized modernization as a process of two-dimensional cultural change: a shift from traditional values to secular and rational values (industrialization dimension), and a shift from survival values to self-expression values (post-materialistic dimension). According to their theory, nationalism (national pride) represents traditional authority value in the industrialization dimension (Inglehart 1997:82; Inglehart & Welzel 2005:51). It must be noted that the 'materialism' or survival values in Inglehart's study differ from those used in this paper, since Inglehart's materialism includes values associated with basic materialistic needs while materialism in this paper emphasizes values associated with advanced consumption. Although their theory does not assume a relationship between nationalism and post-materialistic values, the World Value Survey data shows a post-materialist index that is significantly and negatively correlated with national pride in major Western countries.15 In other words, post-materialistic people in these countries are less proud of their nations. However, this is not the case with East Asian countries. The post-materialist index and national pride (reversed item) are not significantly correlated in most East Asian countries, including Japan (r = .056, p > .05), South Korea (r = .016, p > .05), and Taiwan (r = .028, p > .05). However, a study of Japan, based on a survey conducted in 2004, found that post-materialistic people were significantly less proud of being Japanese (Takagi, Kashio & Nishikawa 1997). This study suggests that, as in Western countries, patriotism in Japan is associated with materialistic values in terms of Inglehart's cultural change theory.

Materialism has also been studied in the context of consumer psychology building on a theoretical framework that differs from that of Inglehart and Welzel (2005). Richins and Dawson (1992) developed a materialism scale with three components: acquisition centrality, acquisition as the pursuit of happiness, and possession-defined success. Motivated by this materialism scale, numerous studies have explored aspects of materialism. For example, Cristopher and colleagues discussed how personal insecurity may act as a precursor to materialism (Cristopher et al. 2005).

Recently, several scholars have become interested in the relationship between intensified economic globalization and materialism. Based on surveys conducted in South Korea, Alden and colleagues examined how materialism and consumer ethnocentrism affect attitudes towards economic globalization and found that materialism was positively correlated with the tendency of global consumption, while ethnocentrism was negatively correlated with the global consumption orientation (Alden, Steenkamp, Jan-Benedict, & Batra 2006). Similarly, Schaefer, Hermans, and Parker (2004) compared the materialistic attitudes of adolescents in China, Japan, and the US and found a significant difference among these three countries with regard to adolescent values. Relative to those in China and Japan, it appears that American teens were most materialistic. Similarly, Kamano (1999) compared materialism scores among seven countries (France, former West Germany, Great Britain, the US, Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands). According to these results, in six of the seven countries, materialism was negatively and significantly correlated with income levels. Materialism was also negatively and significantly correlated with educational levels in all seven countries. These results suggest that more industrialization evolves the weaker materialism becomes. With regard to gender and age, the results were mixed. Males were significantly more materialistic in France and Italy, while females were significantly more materialistic in Great Britain, the US, and the Netherlands. Further, older people were more materialistic in West Germany, France, and Italy. Interestingly, gender and age had no significant effect on the materialism of Japanese respondents. These studies demonstrate that materialism is rather different across cultures, which suggests that it must be understood in relation to the social and historical background of each country.

With regard to Japanese national attitudes, many empirical studies have been conducted in the field of political psychology. Previous psychological research established patriotism and ethnocentrism as distinguishable concepts. In such studies, patriotism was defined as love for one's country and attachment to national values, whereas ethnocentrism was defined as uncritical acceptance of national, state, and political authorities combined with a belief in the superiority and dominant status of one's nation (Skitka 2005). Based on Japanese survey data, Karasawa (2002) argued that internationalism (i.e. a cosmopolitan belief and willingness to cooperate with other nations) is another independent dimension of nationalistic sentiments. , Conducting a factor analysis, Karasawa found that Japanese perceptions of nationhood comprised patriotism, nationalism, and internationalism. He concluded that internationalism is related to liberal ideology, a high level of media exposure, and knowledge of international affairs, whereas patriotism is positively related to commitment to national heritage. In addition, ethnocentrism has been widely studied in consumer psychology because several scholars were interested in preferences for domestic products over foreign ones. Javalgi and colleagues reviewed several previous studies on consumer ethnocentrism (Javalgi et al. 2005). According to their research, antecedents in studies of ethnocentrism include demographic and socio-psychological variables. With regard to demographic variables, many studies have concluded that education and income are negatively correlated with consumer ethnocentrism.

Several previous studies have argued that media significantly affects Japanese preferences for foreign countries. For example, Park (2005) found that use of domestic media by Japanese students positively affected their intentions to purchase Korean products, while domestic media use by Korean students negatively affected their cultural affinity with Japan. This result probably reflects the remarkable difference between South Korea and Japan in the dominant discourses on nationalism. Hagiwara (2007) demonstrated that the preference of Japanese people for the US, China, and South Korea are negatively correlated with the frequency of viewing TV news, but positively correlated with the frequency of viewing non-news TV programs. Kawatake and colleagues conducted content analysis of TV programs broadcast in Japan in 2001 (Kawatake, Sugiyama, & Hara 2004). The results indicated that 60% of non-news programs described foreign countries favourably, 36% neutrally, and only 3.7% unfavourably. In contrast, most TV news programs were critical of foreign countries. Overall, 48.8% of news programs described foreign countries unfavourably, 46% neutrally, and only 5.3% favourably. Thus, we should distinguish between news and non-news programs when analysing the effects of TV viewing.

As discussed previously, the Internet plays an important role in Japan's growing neo-nationalism. Despite its standardized technology and the global network it provides, previous studies demonstrated that Internet use is not necessarily related to global values or weaker nationalistic sentiments. For example, only 4% of the websites viewed in Japan were foreign language sites (National Institute of Communication and Technology 2001). Contrary to their expectations, Liu and colleagues found that the Internet was more local than global (Liu, Day, Sun, & Wang 2002). According to their study, Internet users remained within their local community, the places to which they related best, where their needs and desires were generated and where they felt a sense of belonging. More importantly, all over the world and in Japan, extreme ethnocentric activities are connected with the use of the Internet-partially because this technology allows activists to avoid national laws and police investigations (Tateo 2005; Xu 2007). As discussed previously, Japanese animosity towards South Korea is significantly correlated with the use of BBSs on the Internet, where messages are replete with anti-China and anti-South Korea sentiments (Ishii 2008).

Research purposes and hypotheses

The purpose of this study is to explore how cultural preferences for Western countries, the US in particular, and East Asian countries are associated with materialism and national attitudes. Few previous studies have examined the relationships between materialism, national attitudes, and preferences for foreign countries among Japanese people. This study tests the hypotheses that originated from these historical studies in order to explore the following research questions:

RQ1: How is materialism associated with preferences for foreign countries (the US and East Asian countries) in the Japanese mindset?

RQ2: How are national attitudes associated with preferences for foreign countries?

RQ3: How are the value-related preferences for foreign countries affected by the use of media (TV and Internet)?

First, this study tests whether Japanese materialism is differently associated with preferences for the US or East Asian countries. Given that materialistic consumption culture was historically introduced by the US, materialism is hypothesized to be associated more with Japanese preference for the US than with Japanese preference for East Asian countries. Thus, the following two hypotheses are proposed:

H1-1: Materialism will be positively correlated with Japanese preference for the US.

H1-2: Materialism will not be positively correlated with Japanese preferences for China and Korea.16

In the early post-war era, nationalism, materialism, and pro-Americanism were developed together under the influence of US soft power. Thus, Americanism and nationalism are closely associated with the identity formation of Japanese people, which occurred during the post-war period (Matsuda 2007). According to Karasawa (2002), patriotism and ethnocentrism are weakly correlated with political conservatism. Thus, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H2-1: Japanese preference for the US is positively associated with patriotism and ethnocentrism.

In contrast, it is widely believed that the recent rise of Japanese ethnocentric sentiments, particularly among youth, is closely associated with anti-China and anti-Korea attitudes. Therefore, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H2-2: Japanese preferences for China and South Korea are negatively associated with ethnocentrism.

Second, I will test the effects of media on preferences for foreign countries. It is hypothesised that viewing TV news is negatively correlated with preferences for foreign countries since, as discussed previously, TV news depicts foreign countries negatively. In contrast, viewing non-news TV programs will be positively correlated with preferences for foreign countries, as non-news programs tend to describe foreign countries favourably.

H3-1: Viewing TV news is negatively correlated with Japanese preferences for foreign countries.

H3-2: Viewing non-news TV programs is positively correlated with Japanese preferences for foreign countries.

We will also test hypotheses regarding the effects of Internet use. Recently, cyber nationalism against anti-Japan countries, namely China and South Korea, has been widely observed in BBSs in Japan. Thus, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H3-3: Internet use will be negatively correlated with Japanese preferences for South Korea and China.


This survey was conducted in 2007 under the auspices of a major Internet survey company. The survey adopted the quota sampling method and drew a total pool of 1,000 respondents living in Japan. The respondents were chosen online according to gender and five age categories (16-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, and 50-59 years). The respondents included 100 males and 100 females in each age category, thereby totaling 500 males and 500 females (the average age was 35.2 years). Of the respondents who completed the survey, 49% were employed full-time, 4% were unemployed, 5% worked part-time, 22% were students, and 19% were classified as 'other' (mostly housewives). Forty-two per cent had graduated from a college or a higher-level education institution, 18% had completed junior college, 37% had completed high school, and 3% were classified as having completed 'less than high school'.


Preference for foreign countries. Preferences for four major countries, two Western (the US and Italy) and two East Asian (China and South Korea), were measured using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly dislike, 2 = dislike, 3 = neutral, 4 = like, 5 = strongly like). Italy was selected as the representative European country because it has a relatively large population and a culture that is different from Anglo-Saxon cultures, but it is not a politically very influential country.

Materialism. The materialism scale was constructed using six items translated from Richins' Materialism Measure (Richins & Dawson 1992). These items included 'It is important to me to have really nice things', 'I would like to be rich enough to buy anything I want', 'I'd be happier if I could afford to buy more things', 'It sometimes bothers me quite a bit that I can't afford to buy all the things I want', 'People place too much emphasis on material things', and 'It's really true that money can buy happiness'. These statements were rated using a Likert scale ranging from 1 (completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree). Cronbach's alpha (.747)17 indicates this scale is reliable. In addition, an item addressing preference for luxury brands ('I like luxury brands') was also rated using a 5-point Likert scale because several researchers have argued that Japanese attitudes towards luxury brands were associated with preference for Western cultures.

National attitudes. In the present study, national attitudes refer to attitudes regarding one's nation, including patriotism, ethnocentrism, and internationalism. Previous psychological research has identified different dimensions in national attitudes. Patriotism is defined as a love for one's country and attachment to national values, whereas exclusionism is defined as uncritical acceptance of national, state, and political authority combined with a belief in the superiority and dominant status of one's nation (Skitka, 2005). Based on the work of Karasawa (2002), three national attitude scales were constructed: ethnocentrism, patriotism, and internationalism. The ethnocentrism scale was constructed for measuring consumer ethnocentrism with a high reliabililty (Cronbach's Alpha = .867) on the basis of five questions18 which were originally used in Shimp and Sharma (1987). The patriotism scale was defined as the summation of three items (Cronbach's alpha = .836): 'I like my country, Japan', 'If I were born again, I would choose to be Japanese again', and 'I am proud of Japan's traditional culture'. Lastly, the internationalism scale was constructed using two items (Cronbach's alpha = .781): 'Japan should accept more foreigners' and 'Japan should have a more positive attitude with regard to embracing foreign companies'. Apart from these psychological scales relating to national identity, a question regarding the Yasukuni Shrine, which has caused serious controversy in Japan, was also included and measured using the 5-point Likert scale, since it is well known that Prime Minister Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni drew angry criticism from China and South Korea.

Media use. Respondents were asked, on average, how many hours per day they spend doing the following activities: using the Internet, reading newspapers, watching TV programs, and watching TV news programs.


Table 2 presents descriptive statistics and correlations among the main variables used in this study. As expected, ethnocentrism is negatively correlated with internationalism and positively correlated with patriotism. The attitude towards the Prime Minister's visit to Yasukuni Shrine is negatively correlated with preferences for China (r = −.145, p < .001) and South Korea (r = − .154 , p < 0.001) and positively with preference for the US (r = .177, p < .001). The attitude towards the Prime Minister's visits is positively correlated with both ethnocentrism (r = .216, p < .001) and patriotism (r = .321, p < .001) as well as marginally and negatively correlated with internationalism (r = −.070, p < .05). Materialism is positively correlated with ethnocentrism (r = .164, p < .001), internationalism (r = .180, p < .001), and patriotism (r = .183, p < .001), as well as with Japanese preference for the US (r = .116, p < .001) and Italy (r = .127, p < .001), but not for China and South Korea. It is unique to Japan that materialism is positively correlated with ethnocentrism and patriotism because previous studies regarded materialism as a value opposite of ethnocentrism (Richins & Dawson 1992).

Table 2. Correlations among main variables
(1) Materialism20.0 3.97 .16*** .18*** .18*** .17***.12*** .13*** -0.04–.03
(2) Ethnocentrism13.4 3.83 1.00–.11*** .14*** .22***0.070.04−.16***–.10**
(3) Internationalism6.32 1.59 1.00.08* −.07*.17*** .13*** .26***.28***
(4) Patriotism10.9 2.47 1.00.32***.21*** .18*** 0.020.00
(5)Attitude towards Yasukuni 2.871.121.00.18***.09**−.15***−.15***
(6) Preference for the US3.37 0.89 1.00.38**** .16***.21***
(7) Preference for Italy3.54 0.74**
(8) Preference for China2.59 0.93 1.00.67***
(9) Preference for South Korea2.76 0.99 1.00

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Among the four countries included in the questionnaire, Italy was most widely preferred (M = 3.54), followed by the US (M = 3.37), and South Korea (M = 2.76), while China was least preferred (M = 2.59). Factor analysis indicates that preferences for foreign countries are characterized by two factors: preferences for Western countries (the US and Italy) and preferences for East Asian countries (China and South Korea). This demonstrates that preferences for Western and East Asian countries are separate dimensions.

Materialism and preferences for foreign countries. In order to examine the relationship between materialism and preferences for foreign countries, partial correlations were computed while controlling for gender, age, education, and income levels. Because causal directionality between materialism and nationalism cannot be identified, partial correlations were employed rather than regression models. As hypothesized in H1-1 and H1-2, materialism is positively correlated with preferences for the US (r = .127, p < .001) and Italy (r = .116, p < .001), but it is not significantly correlated with preferences for China and South Korea (Table 3). In other words, materialism is significantly correlated only with preferences for Western countries; hence, H1-1 and H1-2 are supported. Table 3 also indicates that, as expected, Japanese national attitudes are differently associated with preferences for Western and East Asian countries. Ethnocentrism is negatively and significantly correlated with preferences for China (r=−.14, p<.001) and South Korea (r=−.09, p<.01), whereas patriotism is positively and significantly correlated with preferences for the US (r=.20, p<.001) and Italy (r=.18, p<.001). These results are notably consistent with H2-1 and H2-2. An even more contrasting result was obtained from one of the most controversial issues in Japan regarding nationalism-the Prime Minister's visit to Yasukuni Shrine. The attitudes towards this are negatively correlated with preferences for China (r=−.15, p<.001) and South Korea (r=−.15, p<.001), while they are positively correlated with preferences for the US (r=.18, p<.001) and Italy (r=.09, p<.01). These results suggest that the strong anti-Japan stance of the Chinese and South Korean governments fuelled by this issue may have led to a weakening of Japanese preferences for these two countries, particularly among Net Rightists.

Table 3. Partial correlations among materialism, nationalism, and preferences for the US, Italy, China, and South Korea—controlled for gender, age, education, and income
USItalyChinaSouth Korea
Materialism.13 ***.11 ***−.05 −.04
Preference for luxury brands.16 ***.11 ***−.04.01
Ethnocentrism−.01.05−.14 ***−.09 **
Internationalism.18 ***.13 ***.25 ***.28 ***
Patriotism.20 ***.18 ***.03 .00
Attitude towards the Prime Minister’s
visit to the Yasukuni Shrine
.18 ***.08 *−.15 ***−.16 ***

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

The effects of media on preferences for foreign countries. Partial correlations indicate that national attitudes (ethnocentrism, patriotism, and internationalism) and materialism are not significantly or only weakly correlated with media use (Internet, TV news programs, non-news TV programs). Ethnocentrism is negatively and marginally correlated with the viewing of non-news TV programs (r = .08, p < .05) and materialism is positively and marginally correlated with TV news viewing (r = .08, p < .05).19 However, against the prediction by the cultivation theory, materialism is not significantly correlated with the viewing of non-news TV programs (r= .01, p > ,05). Internet use is not significantly correlated with any variable of national attitudes and materialism. These results indicate that the effects of media use on these values are limited.

In order to test the effects of media use on preferences for the four countries, regression models were estimated using four demographic factors (gender, age, education, and income), materialism, nationalism (ethnocentrism, patriotism, and internationalism) and three variables for media usage (Internet use, viewing of non-news TV programs, and TV news viewing time). Table 4 indicates that females are more likely to prefer Italy (beta20=0.153, p<.001) and South Korea (beta=.087, p<.01), and older people are significantly more likely to prefer the US (beta=.071, p<.05) and less likely to prefer Italy (beta=−.080, p<.05). Respondents' education levels have only a limited effect on preferences for foreign countries. Only preference for Italy is weakly correlated with educational level (beta=.084, p<.05), although Japanese education seems to have focused on the adoption of Western technology and cultures since the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Table 4. Standardized regression coefficients (beta) predicting preferences for the US, Italy, China, and South Korea
Gender.045.153 ***.039.087 **
Age.071*−.080*−.049 −.025
Education.014 .084 *−.008 −.015
Income.022 .014 −.032 −.003
Internet use−.016 −.058 −.081 **−.096 **
TV non-news viewing time.089 *.039 .015 .062
TV news viewing time−.008 .009 −.027 .011
Materialism.067 *.058 −.083 *−.090 *
Ethnocentrism−.053 .004 −.126 ***−.068 *
Patriotism.197 ***.152 ***.052 .006
Internationalism.151 ***.091 **.239 ***.278 ***
R.303 .153 .311 .328

* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

With regard to media effects on preferences for foreign countries, Internet use is negatively and significantly correlated with preferences for China (beta=−.081, p<.01) and South Korea (beta=−.096, p<.01), but not with preferences for the US and Italy. In other words, Japanese people who use the Internet regularly are significantly more likely to dislike China and South Korea. Thus, H3-3 is supported. In addition, the amount of time spent of viewing non-news TV programs is significantly and positively correlated with preference for the US (beta=.089, p<.01), whereas TV news viewing time is not significantly correlated with preference for any nation. Thus H3-1 is not supported, while H3-2 is only partially supported.

Discussions and conclusions

Overall, the results are consistent with the hypotheses. As projected on the basis of previous historical studies, Japanese materialism is differently associated with preferences for Western and East Asian countries. Preferences for the US and Western countries are associated with materialism, but preferences for East Asian countries are not. On the other hand, preferences for the US and Western countries are positively correlated with Japanese patriotism, but preferences for East Asian countries are negatively correlated with ethnocentrism. These findings align with previous historical and psychological studies. For example, Kosakai suggested that a Japanese preference for luxury products (products not used in daily life) is associated with a preference for the West (Kosakai, 1996). As many previous historical studies demonstrate, Americanism, materialism, and nationalism have been closely linked in the historical process of post-war Japan. Although the present study does not directly test the process of value formation, the results are rather consistent with the theoretical projections of previous studies.

In many Asian countries, nationalistic sentiments are associated with anti-US attitudes. For example, Chinese nationalism was expressed most strongly through anti-US and anti-Japan movements, such as the protest against the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 (Xu 2007). In China, ethnocentrism even affects the purchase of American products negatively (Ishii 2009). However, this is not the case with Japan. Contrary to Chinese nationalism, Japanese nationalistic sentiments have been associated with pro-US attitudes and materialism, which the US introduced during the early post-war era using US soft power to support cultural policy (Matsuda 2007). Such a unique association between national attitudes and pro-US attitudes suggests that post-war Japanese national identity was developed in a distinct historical context.

As mentioned previously, some evidence suggests that a change in preference from the culture of the West to that for the culture of the East (in particular, from a preference for American culture to that for East Asian culture) has already occurred. In Japan, American TV programs were most popular in the 1960s when the TV rating of "Ben Casey" was 50.6%.21 Since then, the number of American TV programs has steadily decreased. However, as suggested in this paper, the influence of American culture has persisted, and American culture remains associated with the materialism of Japanese people, despite the fact that Japan has recently strengthened its economic ties with East Asian countries.

The results of this study indicate that Western and Eastern countries are differently associated with values among Japanese people; preference for the US is positively correlated with materialism, whereas preferences for East Asian countries are negatively correlated with materialism, albeit not significantly. Differences such as this can be explained by Ogburn's 'cultural lag' theory, which predicts that cultural changes lag behind technological and economic changes (Ogburn 1957). The cultural lag theory explains why there is a large perceptual gap among Japanese people between American and East Asian products. Although Japan's economic ties with other Asian countries have been strengthening, values and attitudes towards foreign countries have not yet caught up with these changes. In other words, the values of Japanese people lag behind the economic changes and still depend, to a great extent, on the specific historical experience in which the US introduced post-war values using its strong soft power influence. In this sense, it will take a long time for China to exert such a strong influence on Japanese values even if China becomes the world's greatest economic power. This study found evidence of significant media effects on preferences for foreign countries. In opposition to the cultivation theory, the time of non-news TV program viewing is not significantly correlated with materialism. However, non-news TV viewing time is positively correlated with preferences for the US. Internet use was also found to be significantly associated with anti-China and anti-South Korea sentiments (Table 4). These results suggest that the media does not directly affect fundamental values, such as national attitudes and materialism, but significantly affects preferences for specific countries. It is likely that it will take a long time to change fundamental values, while preferences for specified countries will be more subject to change in the short term. Survey results indicate that American culture is associated with many current Japanese values. As discussed in historical studies, these effects were generated as the result of a complex historical process. Each country has accepted American cultures in different ways simply because the historical context is different for each country. In summary, the acceptance of American culture is not a one-way process as conceptualized by the pseudo-concept of 'cultural imperialism' (Ogan 1988); it is a complicated process of adaptation and assimilation that depends on the social and historical background of each country. As Cohen argued, the Americanization of Asia 'happened because the peoples of East Asia wanted it'; and in this vein, Japanese people chose to adopt those elements of American culture that appealed to them (Cohen 2002:77-78).

Finally, it must be noted that this study has some methodological limitations. First, the study's non-experimental research design implies that the findings must be interpreted with caution, particularly in terms of causality. The hypotheses of this study did not explicitly assume a cause-and-effect relationship between the variables, since nationalism, materialism, and cultural pro-Americanism were instigated simultaneously during the early post-war era. It is also essentially difficult to test the dynamism of the historical process with one-shot survey. Next, our research did not use a probabilistic random sample. For example, the respondents do not include non-Internet users; thus, the effects of Internet use may be underestimated. Future studies must test hypotheses on the basis of a probabilistic sample. Furthermore, the questionnaire only measured preferences for four countries. More countries must be included in future studies in order to obtain results that are more generalizable with regard to preferences for foreign countries. Moreover, it may be useful to conduct a comparative study in other Asian countries in order to understand the similarities and differences in each country's adoption of elements of American culture.


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[1] This paper defines nationalism as positive national attitudes (attitudes toward one's nation), and not as political ideology. Nationalism or national attitudes have three different aspects, patriotism, ethnocentrism, and internationalism, which are partially overlapped, as will be discussed below

[2] Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution states the following aspects: (1) Sincerely aspiring to international peace on the basis of justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

[3] The respondents were requested to choose from four items: 1) Very proud, 2) Quite proud, 3) Not very proud, and 4) Not at all proud.

[4] 2005 World Value Survey data is provided on the website or

[5] Recently, feelings of national pride have been weakening in Japan, which reflects the country's weakening economic status. The NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute (2010) has continued conducting 'Surveys on Japanese Value Orientations' every five years since 1973. The questionnaire includes questions regarding nationalism and ethnocentrism. According to this survey, national pride ('Japan is a first-class country') peaked in 1983. The percentage of those who agreed with this statement rose from 41% in 1973 to 71% in 1983. However, since 1983, the percentage declined to 51% in 2003 and then rose to 57% in 2008. Younger people have less confidence in their country than older people.

[6] Materialism refers to a mindset or constellation of attitudes regarding the relative importance of acquisition and possession of objects in one's life (Richins & Dawson 1992, p.307). Note that this concept differs from the 'materialism/post-materialism' in Inglehart and Welzel (2005).

[7] The Japanese Cabinet Office annually publishes a survey report on familiarity with foreign countries (Japan's Public Opinion Survey on Diplomacy).

[8] Survey data (Summer 2002 Survey Data) was obtained from and analysed by the author using SPSS. This survey was conducted worldwide in Spring 2007.

[9] Kosakai explained the popularity of Western models by distinguishing between the ordinariness and unordinariness of the products (Kosakai, 1996). He argued that Western elements are more widely incorporated in commercials for unfamiliar products. For example, TV commercials for automobiles, hi-tech products, and cosmetics include more elements that are Western, while commercials for drugs and foods have fewer Western elements. This suggests that Western culture is closely associated with Japanese consumer culture, albeit in a somewhat localized form.

[10] These results are shown in the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute (2010). The questions and answer categories (in parentheses) used in Figure 1 are 'Do you have affinity for Japanese old temples and houses? (yes)', 'How do you feel about the Emperor? (I have respect for the Emperor)', and 'What is the most important thing Japanese politics should do? (deepening friendship with foreign countries)'.

[11] Jiang rehearsed Japan's wartime militarism even in the presence of the emperor and empress at a court banquet (Kuhn, 2004).

[12] Statements such as 'I hate South Korea' and 'The major media like the Asahi is too tolerant of China and South Korea' were rated on a 5-point Likert scale. These two items were significantly correlated (r = .356, p < .0001).

[13] Neo-liberalism was evaluated on the basis of four paired statements using a 10-point Likert scale. These statements include 'Incomes should be made more equal' versus 'We need larger income differences as incentives for individual effort', 'Private ownership of business and industry should be increased' versus 'Government ownership of business and industry should be increased', 'The government should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is provided for' versus 'People should take more responsibility to provide for themselves', and 'Competition is good. It stimulates people to work hard and develop new ideas' versus 'Competition is harmful. It brings out the worst in people'. These statements were translated from the World Value Survey questionnaire (

[14] "r" denotes Pearson's correlation coefficient, which is a measure of the correlation between two variables, giving a value between +1 and −1. "p" denotes significance on the statistical test of a Pearson's correlation coefficient.

[15] Correlations between the post-materialist index and national pride (reversed score) were calculated by the author using World Value Survey data f2005 (available at These two variables are significantly and positively correlated in most Western countries, including the US (r = .302; p < .001), Spain (r=.301; p<.001), and Germany (r = .209; p < .001), thereby indicating that post-materialism is negatively correlated with patriotism in these countries.

[16] Note that these hypotheses do not assume a cause-and-effect relationship.

[17] Cronbach's alpha is a coefficient of reliability. A scale with Cronbach's alpha coefficient of .70 or higher is considered "acceptable" (

[18] These five items include 'I buy things made in Japan wherever possible', 'To reduce unemployment in Japan, I think we should avoid buying imported goods', 'As a Japanese person, I don't think it's good to buy many imported goods', 'I think we should buy imported goods only when similar products made in Japan are not available', and 'I buy things made in Japan rather than imported goods if the quality is the same'.

[19] These partial correlations are controlled for gender, age, educational level, and income.

[20] Beta (standardized regression coefficient) measures the impact of a unit change in the standardized value of independent variable (gender) on the standardized value of the dependent variable (preferences for Italy).

[21] It is still the highest TV rating for American dramas in Japan according to Video Research Ltd. (

About the Author

Kenichi Ishii is Assistant Professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Tsukuba in 2000. His research interests include Japanese and Chinese nationalism, nation branding, effects of communication technology, and transnational flow of cultural products. He was published in various journals including Journal of Communication, Telecommunications Policy, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Journal of International Consumer Marketing, Social Indicators Research, and Social Science Research.


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