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Language and cultural capital in the discursive maintenance of Japanese identity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2023

Paul Capobianco*
Nanzan Anthropological Institute, Nagoya, Japan
Author for correspondence: Paul Capobianco, E-mail:


This paper explains how the possession of linguistic and cultural capital, real and imagined, works to “make” people Japanese and reify the boundary of Japanese identity. Drawing on case studies of celebrities with multiple heritage and ethnographic data, this paper shows how discursive associations with possessing cultural capital (re)create boundaries of Japanese identity, incorporating potential out-group members and excluding ostensible in-group members. The paper argues that the possession of native-level cultural capital will become an important way of differentiating “Japanese” from Others henceforth. These discursive processes apply old hegemonic ideologies in novel ways, allowing for the perpetuation of extant identity discourses and cultural institutions to be reproduced with new faces. It also argues that cultural capital is a more practical way of categorizing Japanese people from Others than identity constructions such as race and ethnicity. In doing so, it also demonstrates how Japanese people possess multiple understandings of Japanese authenticity, which both facilitates and hinders the absorption of potential Others into the collective.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press

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