Memoirs of a Geisha - a movie

Last night I went with my wife and friends to see Memoirs of a Geisha, or "Sayuri" in Japan. Before I saw it I had read several reviews, all having very qualified statements. I can conclude that anyone who has read anything about this movie should see it before they comment.

I have heard two strains of criticisms about this movie. First, many are upset that the leading female roles are played by Ziyi Zyang, Michelle Yeoh, and Li Gong - Chinese, Malaysian, and Chinese respectively. Second, I have heard various criticisms of the accuracy of the dress, or other aspects of the Geisha world.

Immediately, this made me think of another historically based fiction movie: Cold Mountain. Based on the book of the same name, this movie tells the story of a civil war soldier who returns to his hometown to find his love. The lead characters in this movie were Jude Law (an Englishman), Nicole Kidman (an Australian), was filmed in Romania, and included dozens of Romanian soldiers instead of American Civil War Reenactors (as was done in most recent Civil War based productions in the US such as Gettysburg or Gods and Generals). Just like Memoirs of a Geisha (a.k.a. Sayuri) it brought protests, but is entertaining none-the-less.

Just as you don't watch Saving Private Ryan or Pearl Harbor as a substitute for studying World War Two, you shouldn't rely on Sayuri to learn about Japanese culture. Yes, there were mistakes - just as I found the dance in the middle of the movie to be very Chinese. I do think though that this movie very well may set the record straight that Geisha are not prostitutes, as I had thought before I came to Japan and learned more about the culture myself.

What is important to remember that both Sayuri and Cold Mountain are movies based on works of fiction, giving us a double dose of poetic license. Both have strong stories and beautiful scenery, and cannot substitute as a cultural or historical documentary. It is a movie. Moreover, it is an entertaining movie I think is worth seeing, only if you don't take yourself too seriously and remember that it is just that - a movie.

What are they waiting for?

Today my wife and I went to a nicer suburb of Tokyo to see a new movie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It was an entertaining movie, and we both enjoyed ourselves.

However, just watching a movie in Japan one becomes aware of small cultural differences. Movie theaters in Japan are very nice and modern. Unlike the US, they are usually on several floors connected by escalators, but are otherwise very similar. Of course there is popcorn and arm rest cup holders. However, there is also beer in the concession stand and a girl selling ice cream and chocolate covered almonds in the aisles before the movie starts.

However, what has always surprised me at Japanese theaters is at the end. While in America everyone makes a rush for the exits (and the closest toilet) as soon as the movie is over, in Japan the lights stay dark and everyone patiently and politely sits through all of the credits. I understand this in comedies where you can sometimes see extra footage of the funniest parts. However, no matter how funny the movie is (or not) everyone waits in their seats. The best part though is this: after sitting through all 200 or so names for assistant assistant makeup case holders... it dawned on me. These Japanese movie goers were watching thousands of names and titles go by, and 95% of them couldn't understand a word! Some things I will never understand - it is just the way it is.

Ripples of Yasukuni

On a cool rainy morning of October 17 Prime Minister Koizumi made a surprise, but not unexpected fifth visit to Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. It was the first day of the Shrine’s autumn festival, but not an especially significant anniversary of World War II. In August many watchers held their breath not knowing if he would make an appearance at the Shrine on the Sixtieth Anniversary of the war. He didn’t. Shortly thereafter, he called a snap election after dissolving the lower house of the Diet in order to push through his privatization of the Post Office. Throughout the election he was asked if he would visit and replied only that he would make an “appropriate” decision.

Chinese and Korean diplomatic meetings were cancelled. Chinese and Korean citizens protested in the streets. The reaction was harsh and immediate. Every time the Japanese Prime Minister visits the shrine Asia reacts. Just as the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can cause a typhoon in Taiwan, so too does Koizumi’s visit in Tokyo cause a storm across China and Korea.

How do we explain the interactions between these nations in international relations terminology? Is this simply diplomatic posturing, or does Koizumi’s visit represent a serious international relations crisis? How can International Relations theory answer this question: Why does the historical legacy of World War Two continue to adversely affect international relations in East Asia and why is it of such concern?

Why visit the Shrine?

Christopher Bertram, former director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin and current Steven Muller Chair for German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University Bologna Center, points out in the Taipei Times, “Koizumi's visit to the shrine, officially presented as that of a private citizen, was intended to impress the Japanese public, regardless of its effects abroad.”[1] For Koizumi, it is a private and domestic issue. Some LDP members have declared that it is a domestic issue and that protests by China and Korea are interference in domestic issues. For realists too, this is a domestic issue and does not matter. This analysis requires that Koizumi’s reasoning for visiting the shrine is rationally based, and has a purpose. It is not.

Why does he do it? According to an official statement shortly after his first visit in 2001, he declared:
During the war, Japan caused tremendous sufferings to many people of the world including its own people. Following a mistaken national policy during a certain period in the past, Japan imposed, through its colonial rule and aggression, immeasurable ravages and suffering particularly to the people of the neighboring countries in Asia. This has left a still incurable scar to many people in the region.

Sincerely facing these deeply regrettable historical facts as they are, here I offer my feelings of profound remorse and sincere mourning to all the victims of the war.[2]

Although many credit Koizumi’s desire to attract voters of the Japan Association for the Bereaved Families of the War Dead for his visiting Yasukuni, it is not clear that this mattered in his last, post election visit. It is more widely believed that he visits Yasukuni out of pure personal conviction.

In February 2001, shortly before he became Prime Minister, he visited a memorial to Kamikaze pilots in Kagoshima Prefecture. The letters of the doomed pilots to their mothers left him crying. In April 2001, he notified the Japan Association for the Bereaved Families of the War dead that he would visit Yasukuni. A few weeks later, he was elected Prime Minister. House of Representatives member Koichi Kato describes Koizumi as a “politician who depends much on emotion and intuition instead of logic and reason when making decisions.” He follows his heart to Yasukuni.

When Koizumi first visited the Yasukuni Shrine in 2001 rallies in neighboring South Korea and China were very passionate. Then, more than one thousand protesters gathered in central Seoul to denounce the prime minister’s visit to the shrine. Japanese flags were burned in the streets and many young men severed the ends of their fingers in protest.[3] In April of 2005 Anti-Japanese protests rocked China. Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of Japanese diplomatic facilities to lob eggs, stones, and plastic bottles at the buildings. Japanese made cars and businesses, many Chinese owned, were vandalized. The protests were precipitated by the approval of a nationalistic textbook in Japan, an issue directly related to the lack of atonement the shrine visits represent.[4]

Diplomatic protests have become standard practice. However, this goes further than diplomatic posturing. The Christian Science Monitor reports that relations between Koziumi and Jintao are cold, and that the two are barely on speaking terms. Bilateral talks have been refused since 1999. South Korea has followed suit, with the Republic of Korea’s Prime Minister recently announcing the end of all bilateral talks, even on the sides of international meetings. Diplomatic and public relations with its neighbors could not be much worse.

The business community is becoming greatly concerned, just as business opportunities are opening up in China. After Koizumi’s most recent visit Japan Association of Corporate Executives Chairman Kakutaro Kitashiro warned Koizumi to consider the risk it poses for Japan’s strategic interests.[5] Already, the Chinese have used the threat of canceling or not signing large contracts with Japanese companies as punishment for Koizumi’s visits to the shrine. Notably, the Chinese are looking more closely at French high-speed train technology rather than buy Japanese.[6]

Christian Caryl points out in Newsweek that a major dynamic is the changing face of Asia. As the middle classes of Japan’s neighbors grow, the tacit agreement to ignore the history in return for aid is no longer valid. As she quoted, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-Chan said: “We're not asking for money from the Japanese government. We have enough money. What the Korean government wants from Japan is truth and sincerity, and [a commitment] to help develop healthy relations between the two countries.”[7]

Image and Realities of Japan

East Asia today is increasingly well placed to become one of the most developed regions in the world. The formation of a future East Asian community is a common goal for the countries of the region. At this historic turning point, Japan is determined to contribute constructively to the future of East Asia and, to that end, places great importance on its friendly relations with neighboring Asian countries, including China and the Republic of Korea. Japan has demonstrated this spirit through its actions over the past 60 years. The task of further strengthening its relations with neighboring countries and contributing to the peace and stability of the East Asian region is one of Japan's most important policy priorities.
-- Basic Position of the Government of Japan Regarding Prime Minister Koizumi's Visits to Yasukuni Shrine, October 2005
This, the official message of the Japanese government, is in line with the outward image Japan wishes to promote. Only one other nation besides Japan has a “peace constitution.” Costa Rica and Japan both have officially renounced war as a manner of settling international disputes. Japan’s experience of utter defeat, and America’s determination to democratize, disarm, and decentralize Japan, led to writing of Article IX of the Constitution:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

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. – Article IX, The Constitution of Japan
Masaru Tamamoto, Senior Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, states that, “More than any clumsy words of apology, renunciation of war has been Japan’s sure way to atone for the guilt of empire and the Second World War.”[8] According Nicholas Kristof, “Japan is kept so shaken and frail by its wartime legacy that it will be incapable of aggression for decades to come.”[9] In this manner, Japan’s peace constitution serves as a major barrier for Japan’s aggression, both internationally as a symbol of Japan and domestically as a barrier to war.

Evidence shows that Japan has ignored the pacifists, and slowly hallowed out the constitution to respond to its realist tendencies. The ink had barely dried on Japan’s new constitution before the Korean War broke out and led to America’s “reverse course’ vis-à-vis Japan. Richard Nixon called Article IX a mistake in 1953 during his vice presidential visit.[10] Since that time, Japan has debated the reality of Article IX and the nature of its security, and slowly the constitution has atrophied. As McCormack notes, “The gap between the pacifist principle of the Constitution and the reality, once established, grew and widened.”[11]

With the aging of the population, Japanese citizens who witnessed the war firsthand and participated in these debates are disappearing. As quoted by the Christian Science Monitor, Masao Kunihiro said, “I'm a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist. My house in Kobe was burned during the war. But I'm like a dodo bird. I feel that pacifism here is on the edge of extinction.”[12] Japanese youth do not feel a connection to the war, and do not wish to be blamed for the atrocities of their grandfathers.

What happens when this barrier is removed? What does this mean for stability in East Asia? If Japan has fewer pacifists, does the chance for war increase? This is the dilemma for constructivists in explaining why there is continued peace in and around Japan.
There are many changes in the security fabric of East Asia. William Rapp of the Strategic Studies Institute notes:
The current era of North Korean nuclear brinkmanship and the global war on terrorism are likely to provide the impetus for Japan to take major steps towards “normal nation,” and then towards significant maturation of, and greater power sharing within, the U.S.-Japan alliance.[13]
These changes have already begun to take shape, and Japan is moving towards “normal nation” status.

The United States has worked to pressure Japan to make these moves, and Japan itself has sought to achieve a more active role in international affairs. The overseas deployment of the Self Defense Forces in Iraq demonstrates the commitment of the current government to these changes. Thomas Wilborn of the Strategic Studies Institute remarks that although much pressure for Japan’s shift from “idealistic pacificism” to a realist defense policy is the result of U.S. pressure, much also comes from internal pressures.[14] Lieggi and Wuebbels note that, “A new generation of Japanese politicians, taking an increasingly realist approach to defense policy, is gaining prominence in the Diet.”[15]

This movement to the right, and the loosening of Japan’s military constraints are furthered by the debate over the revision of the constitution. The Liberal Democratic Party has approved its draft of the new constitution, and specifically promotes the alteration of Article 9. In particular, they wish to recognize the existence of a Japanese military and eliminate the ban on collective self-defense.[16] As a result, Japan today has one of the largest, well-funded, technically advanced militaries in the world.

The Reality – Will Japan Remilitarize?

In order to give lip service to the peace constitution, Japan has limited its military expenditures to less than 1% of its GDP. Only a few times has it surpassed that level, and only by a fraction. In spite of this, 1% of the worlds second largest GDP is a considerable sum of money. In July 2005, according to the World Bank, Japan’s GDP was approximately $4.6 trillion, leaving $46 billion for military expenditures. With this sizable amount of money to spend on the military, even at 1%, Japan has the fourth largest military expenditure in the world. This is smaller than only the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

Relative to its large budget, the number of uniformed military personnel in Japan is relatively small. The total authorized personnel strength for Japan is 262,073 personnel in all branches of the Self Defense Forces. Staffed around 90%, the actual number of forces is just over 236,000 personnel. In comparison, this is smaller than France, but larger than Italy and the United Kingdom.[18] However, this is significantly smaller than all of Japan’s neighbors, including China (2.4 million), North Korea (1 million), Russia (900,000), and South Korea (665,000). Much of this is to do with the extraordinary costs of equipment and personnel costs in Japan as compared to other countries including the US. For example, vehicle costs are three to ten times that of the US military.[19] On a Purchasing Power Parity basis, Japan Drops from fifth to eighth in spending, smaller than the US, China, India, Russia, France, the UK, and Germany. However, this is still larger than most of the world.

This discrepancy can also be explained by the use of high technology in the Japanese military. Since the early eighties Japan has invested in the newest military technology, often with the support of the United States. For example, the Japanese self defense forces fly F-15J aircraft,[20] sail an advanced equivalent of the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer (like the USS Cole),[21] are building a small aircraft carrier they are calling a destroyer,[22] and are establishing a new elite military unit like America’s Green Berets to fight terrorism.[23]
In October of 2000 the Institute for National Strategic Studies issued ‘Nye-Armitage Report’, a blueprint for the Bush administrations Japan policy. It described the Japanese Self Defense Forces as “well-equipped and competent military.”[24] Only the United States and Japan possess the AEGIS Radar Systems found on these Destroyers.[25] Few countries have advanced fighter jets such as the Japanese F-2 or US F-16, and even fewer countries have aircraft carriers. Its new Destroyers (sic aircraft carrier) will be the largest warships since World War II at 13,500 tons. This is large enough to carry 12 helicopters, and will be larger than aircraft carriers owned by Spain or Thailand.[26] Although there are no plans to do so, it is also capable of carrying vertical takeoff jets like the British and American Harrier.

Japan can also boast domestic production of these advanced military technologies. Mitsubishi builds the F-15J and much of its internal technology. Likewise, Japanese Naval vessels such as the “Kongo” Class Destroyer are based upon American designs and are manufactured in Japan.[27] The only weakness to the modern Japanese military is that it relies heavily on the US defense industry for design work, but much of the actual construction is conducted in country. A recent example of this arrangement includes a project by United Defense to build a component of shipboard vertical launch missiles. Japan will fund 26% of the project.[28]

The Theories

Both realist and constructivist scholars have addressed the source of Japanese security policy. For constructivists, Japan is a prime example of how norms and domestic politics can restrain tendencies for Japan to rearm itself. Jennifer Lind says, “Constructivist scholars argue that since World War II, domestic Japanese norms have prevented major expansion of Japanese military capabilities and roles.”[29] However, for realists Japan is or wants to be a “normal nation” that seeks to secure itself with military power. Lind calls this passing the buck: “Both schools [offensive and defensive realists] argue that security concerns trump other factors in the development of foreign policies.” Evidence shows that both are taking place.

John Ikenberry points out that there are reasons to believe that realism is a valid explanation for Asian-Pacific International Relations Theory: “The region [East Asia] continues to hold the potential for traditional security conflicts that result from dynamics such as major power rivalry, competing territorial claims among sovereign states, and the operation of the security dilemma.”[30]

"However, it is also true that Koizumi's visits to the shrine are not in Japan’s interest. A Brookings Institution Report says it well: “Article Nine is the backbone for an attractive Japanese national identity that stands foursquare for peace and non-proliferation—two highly admirable values. It is, moreover, a potential "soft power" resource—even if it has never been wielded to great effect.”[31]

Katzenstein and Okawara call for an eclectic analysis of East Asian security. Specifically, they call for a problem driven approach to solving the problems of East Asia. Neither realist theory nor the constructivist approach alone can explain why Japan has one of the strongest militaries in the world or why and with what result the Prime Minister of Japan will visit Yasukuni Shrine. An advantage Katzenstein and Okawara note is that “a problem-driven approach to research has one big advantage. It sidesteps often bitter, repetitive, and inherently inconclusive paradigmatic debates.”[32]

Japan is a land of contradictions, and the paradigm of pacificist state with a strong army is yet another contradiction. In order to understand this phenomenon it is not possible to rely upon a single strain of International Relations theory. International, domestic, security, cultural, and historical considerations are all critically important in the understanding of not only the potential for war in East Asia, but also for understanding why Koizumi goes to Yasukuni.

End Notes
[2] “Statement by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi” Speeches and Statements by Prime Minister Homepage. August 13, 2001.
[3] Jong-Heon, Lee. “Anti-Japanese sentiment surging in S.Korea.” United Press International. August 14, 2001.
[8] Tamamoto, Masaru. “A Land Without Patriots.” World Policy Journal. Fall 2001. pp. 33-40
[9] Kristof, Nicholas D. “The Problem of Memory.” Foreign Affairs. Nov/Dec 1998; 77, 6.
[10] McCormack, Gavan. “The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence.” London: M.E. Sharpe, 1996. p. 191.
[11] Ibid., p. 193.
[12] Marquand, Robert. “Pacifist Japan beefs up military.” The Christian Science Monitor. August 15, 2003.
[13] Rapp, William E. “Paths Divergent? The Next Decade in the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance.” Strategic Studies Institute. National Defense University. 2004. p. 7.
[14] Wilborn, Thomas. “Japan’s Self-Defense Forces: What Dangers to Northeast Asia?” Strategic Studies Institute. May 1, 1994 p. 21.
[15] Lieggi, Stephanie and Mark Wuebbels. “Will Emerging Challenges Change Japanese Security Policy?” Center for Nonproliferation Studies. December 2003. p. 1.
[18] “The World Fact Book.” Central Intelligence Agency.
[20] “F-15 Eagle.” Military Analysis Network. Federation of American Scientists.
[21] “DDG Kongo Class.” Global
[22] Sherman, Kenneth B. “A Carrier Named Destroyer.” Journal of Electronic Defense. March 2004. Vol. 27, Issue 3, p. 24.
[23] “Japan to Create Its Version of Green Beret Unit.” Jiji Press English News Service. Tokyo: March 18, 2004. pg. 1.
[24] “The United States and Japan: Advancing Toward a Mature Partnership.” INSS Special Report. National Defense University. October 11, 2000.
[25] Glosserman, Brad. “Making History the Hard Way.” Comparative Connections. Pacific Forum: CSIS. 4th Quarter, 2001.
[26] Moffett, Sebastian and Martin Fackler. “Active Duty: Cautiously, Japan Returns to Combat, IN Southern Iraq.” Wall Street Journal. January 2, 2004. pg. A.1
[27] “DDG Kongo Class.” Global
[28] “US DOD: Contracts.” M2 Presswire. Coventry: March 9, 2004. p. 1.
[29] Lind, Jennifer. “Pacifism or Passing the Buck?” International Security. Sumer 2004, 29:1, pp. 92-121
[30] Ikenberry, G. John and Michael Mastanduno. “International Relations Theory and the Asia-Pacific.” New York: Columbia University Press. 2003.
[32] Katzenstein, Peter J and Nobuo Okawara. “Japan, Asian-Pacific Security, and the Case for Analytical Exlecticism.” International Security. Winter 2001/02, 26:3, pp. 153-185.


Musashino city passed an ordinance in the last few years forbidding smoking in front of the stations. There is a small area within one block of the station where you aren't allowed to smoke on the sidewalk, except for at the "manner point." There are ash trays located near the entrance where people can do their business.

However, people still smoke. Since this is a city ordinance, the police don't get involved - they are at the state level. No one says a word, even though the city has hired these young girls who wear bright yellow jackets (see photo) and hand out nose tissues with information on the law. However, they seem to hand out tissues to only those who don't smoke (and are suffering from smoke allergies...). Note the old man standing in the photo smoking, just next to the "don't smoke here girls."

I guess I needn't mention that the sign in between them says, "don't park your bike here" even though there are hundreds of bikes lined up just in front of the next sign.

Foreign Language Requirements

The Kentucky Board of Education has proposed that all Kentucky High School students must learn to read, write, and speak a foreign language before they graduate. When I was a high school student at du Pont Manual high school, I thought I would never need to learn another foreign language. How wrong I was.

I now speak three languages, including English. In my last year of high school I went to Germany as a high school exchange student where I learned to speak German. In college, I returned for another year in Germany where I worked for Vermont-American and as an intern at the US Consulate General. After college, I came to Japan to teach English and to learn Japanese. I am now studying at a Japanese Graduate school as a Rotary World Peace Fellow. Unfortunately, I had to leave Kentucky to get this language preparation.

These opportunities came to me because there was a shortage of people with the required language abilities. These opportunities have benefited me, but they demonstrate the woeful preparation Kentuckians have in foreign languages. Kentuckians in particular are less prepared than most of the nation. No one expects anything more from Kentucky. People are shocked and surprised when I tell them I am from Kentucky – they have never met someone from Kentucky who can not only speak several languages, but who also does not have a strong accent.

I can attest that I have benefited from learning foreign languages. It not only allowed me to learn those languages, but also gain a strong background in my own language. When I traveled abroad I learned to see my own country and state from a new perspective. I came to love my home even more after I went abroad. I was able to do this because my parents and my teachers believed in me and encouraged me to do it. The leaders of Kentucky should do no less for all of our students. If we expect mediocrity we can only expect to mediocre.

I think it would be extremely wise for Kentucky to require its students to learn foreign languages. The world is flat, and this is necessary for the success of our youth in the future. To do this now would put Kentucky and its students at the forefront of the nation rather than being 47th or 48th. No one bets on a losing horse!

There is nothing more valuable than our human resources, and this is one of the best ways we can develop what we have into an amazing asset for the future. It may not be easy at times, but I think Kentucky will be far better off if the Board of Education elects to require foreign language mastery in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

(Published by the Courier-Journal, letters to the Editor, November 6, 2005)

Golf Diplomacy

The Japan Times reports today a simple economic formula: in South Korea there are only 147 golf courses and more golfers than you can swing a club at. In Japan, only a short flight away, there are more than 200 times as many inexpensive yet high quality golf courses. South Koreans find it easier to hop over to Japan for a round of golf or two and a soak in an onsen (hot spa) before heading home.

However, the reception is not nearly as hot as the onsen. First, they article noted that the caddies are not the young women they would prefer, but instead have aged with the golf industry. (Most caddies in Asia are young women.) One golfer procliamed, "it is like golfing with your older sister." They're bossy, and also don't speak Korean.

Very little is being done to cater to these willing spenders, not even providing menus in Korean at the clubhouse. However, the Koreans aren't interested in a cultural experience - they simply want a round on the greens. However, there is a great opportunity lost here. As long as Japanese businesses maintian a tone of superiority towards their soon to be richer neighbors, it is a chance of people diplomacy lost.

By the way, the photo is of a Russian sumo wrestler playing golf in Japan (

he Chinese Draw

Karen Hughes, bushes new "minister of information," is travelling the world trying to improve the face of America. She is failing horribly. Her next target in Asia will be Malaysia and Indonesia where she will make yet another attempt to get them to like America.

China, on the other hand, is doing little but is gaining popularity around the world. As the San Jose Mercury News reports, students from Chicago to Kuala Lampur are rallying to study Chinese. However, they are doing little to cash in on the worlds awareness of Panda Bears, Kung Fu, and kung pao chicken. On the other hand, there are no major Chinese companies the world can call their own. China doesn't have McDonalds, Microsoft, Toyota, or Sony.

However, at some point this will change. At some point, the new China will become visible to the world. At some point, the Chinese will add to their multi-lateral approach efforts at promoting themselves.

The article also notes though that China's only attraction remains economic opportunity. There is no draw of "freedom" or "democracy." This is what Mrs. Hughes is selling to Indonesia and Malaysia, yet it falls on deaf ears. Perhaps the US should learn from CHina, and focus on the simple. Rather than trying to sell big ideas, perhaps American should try to live by them and let the actions speak for themselves.

英語できますか ー Can you English?

I was meeting with an English student and friend recently, and we discussed the low English ability in Japan again. She made an interesting observation that I have thought of before. The question I posed to her a week ago is: why, after spending so much money, can't Japanese people speak English. She noted that the only time she speaks English is our time together each week. I take this for granted in the bilingual world I live in.

She noted that Japanese people don't speak English because they don't have opportunities. To a point, I agree. Japanese television is all in Japanese. Although Japan is Hollywood's second largest market, the movies are subtitled or sometimes dubbed and my Japanese friends tell me they ignore the speaking part in order to read the subtitles anyway. Often, the translations are incorrect, but I can't see how they even translate what Chris Rock says into Japanese. I know many students who simply do not speak English when they can, even though they are spending thousands of dollars to study English. Others go abroad to study, but don't try here at home.

I saw this in Europe where Germans, French, Spanish, and Italians (with their large populations) do not speak English as well as the Dutch, Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians who watch non-dubbed TV and movies. Is there a pattern here?

Perhaps TV is not the only source. There is certainly no shortage of English in Japan. JR (the train service) does a fine job of providing signage in roman characters, and many restaurants where I live have English menus, albeit with mistakes, typos, and outright mistranslations. Many Japanese artists incorporate English into their songs, or have English band names, but also with variability in accuracy and meaning, and usually with katakana sub-titles.

However, mistakes proliferate and no one seems to notice. My favorite is in Kyoto station where a sign will direct you to the "sabway." You can have your hair cut at several "Bar Bers." In Yokohama you can ride the "Sea Bass," but I am not sure if the mean bus or bass (the fish). My wife recently bought some wet towels that are labeled "cleaning seats" instead of sheets.

The local hand written signs by someone who really tried their best does not upset me. I commend them for the effort. Also, I understand when I see that a store is "close" rather than "closed." In Japanese this is communicated with the verbs 開ける and 閉める, not the English adjectives. However, misspellings of single words that can be found in a simple dictionary is a problem - like the barber or subway. Dictionaries are free online, and are much cheaper than the expensive sign.

At times I am extremely frustrated that after spending so much money, most Japanese cannot master a rudimentary level of English as is noted in the disparity of TOEFL scores. Some do quite well (like a couple of my students and a friend who writes for the Japan Times). However, so many get so little for their money. What needs to change?

English can no longer be the ends and not the means in Japan that it is today. Executives will no longer be able to slough off onto a translator or interpreter. The move from seniority to results driven promotions will reward the fluent. In short, the competition from China will force Japanese to become a necessity and no longer a luxury of bored but rich housewives.

Who's in charge?

The blame game is now delayed - rathar than pointing fingers, everyone is taking responsibility for the failures. To be more specific, everyone is taking charge of "fixing the problems." Today on CNN Chertoff refused to take responsibility for personal mistakes.

A former professor had an interesting comment related to my federalism comments from a few weeks ago. R Payne points out that the people who left New Orleans are not refugees, but internally displaced people. Moreover, responsibility lies then with the federal government (especially since these people were not displaced within Louisiana, but went to more than 23 other states).

Now, let's see where Rita ends up and what happens...

Getting better in the Big Easy

Things are getting better in New Orleans. Finally, the city is dewatering, and people can think of returning soon. However, now it is time for the fingers to REALLY start pointing in all directions.

One of the primary arguments that are sure to arise are the very issues that took the United States to war in 1861. Not slavery, but the very nature of federalism are at the heart of the response to Katrina. The Republican Party has sought to defer responsibilities to the states and the private sector. Appartently, they didn't get the message in New Orleans.

However, the reality is that no city or state could ever be prepared for such an immense disaster without being accused of greed. The costs to rebuild New Orleans, even without the loss to income they will face, far outstrip their financial abilities to pay. THe costs to the nation, however, are much greater. New Orleans is among the largest ports in the US and even the world, moving billions of dollars worth of goods throughout the middle part of America.

This loss is to the nation, and as such the nation bears a responsibility to help rebuild New Orleans. The City of New Orleans mustn't be rebuilt so that America has a place to party come February; the city must rebuild for the health of the national economy.

Approval? reports today that the National Forest Service offered use of firefighting planes to extenguish several fires raging in teh city. The local fire department is not able to respond - I am sure it is a mix of not being able to get equipment to the fire, not having firefighters on site, and lacking water pressure.

However, the Department of Homeland Security has not approved their use. Yes, they are waiting on approval. This is unacceptable. Mayor Nagin is correct - there are too many chefs in the kitchen. The disaster area is spread across at least three states, but the majority of this problem is within one state. The governor can't seem to handle this; General Honore is quite in charge, but only the military side; FEMA is supposed to be in charge, but is in abstentia and relies upon other leaders. Mayor Nagin has been stellar - the captain at the helm - but is cut off and can't rally his resources. They are dispersed and now tired- some police officers have resigned.

WWL Radio just noted that we didn't just have two days to know this storm was coming; we had 35 years. I am not even from New Orleans, and I knew that this could happen. Having been to the city, it is obvious that there is water everywhere. Why wasn't the state and federal government ready? Why are they waiting for approval?

The current government is woefully unprepared - they're distracted. While the DHS sits on the front porch with a shotgun waiting for a terrorist to come walking up the sidewalk, this hurricane has slipped in the back door and wrecked the house. We can only suspect another terrorist attack - we've known this hurricane is coming for years. We know another earthquake can hit LA or San Francisco at any time. The New Madrid Fault, straddling Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky is another earthquake risk zone.

Why is it we must wait on official requests when their is a problem? Why isn't there one agency or individual who can call these shots and send the appropriate resources to the appropriate place? Why aren't the structures already in place to allow resources to surge to one place? Why was it that Sheriffs from Loudon County Virginia were turned away?

This bureaucratic crap is just that. I certainly hope that when the Big One hits Tokyo, the officials here are much more prepared. I have my map ready to find my way home when I walk home from downtown. 100's of thousands practiced this on September 1, the anniversary of the last major earthquake here in Tokyo.

"This is not Iraq!"

After September 11, 2001 Rudolph Giuliani was the hero of the day. He served as the primary leader and motivating force.

Today, that man is Lieutenant General Russel L. Honore, native of Lakeland, Louisiana. As the Mayor of New Orleans said, " he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he's getting some stuff done". He is the leader shining in this sea of desparation.

As I write, according to CNN, the General is standing on a street corner directing traffic himself. He is directing several dozen military vehicles all filled with MPs. They are going to the convention center to create a beachhead, if you will, of order before they deliver food to the starving peole holed up there.

What an amazing moment... things are going to change on the American landscape.

Bad times are rolling...

Chaos... Anarchy... Urban Warfare...

Are these the words we must use to describe one of my most beloved cities? Is it possible? As I sit here in Tokyo, I am shocked, enraged, and most of all embarassed. Is this my country?

The Washington Post reports today that this is the largest displacement of Americans since the Civil War 140 years ago. Tens of thousands of people are abandoning the New Orleans area. They are spreading out across the South, and into other regions of the United States. The impact will be huge.

First, many tens and thousands of these people will start to reconstruct their lives wherever they have landed. If you live from paycheck to paycheck, you will simply stay where you are once you get a job. The population will turn to a small town over the next week, but over the next six months I do not suspect the population will return to what it was a few days ago. This will have huge raminfacations for the tax base and planning of N.O.

In the communities where these people are going, life will not be the same. A sudden growth of 10,000, 20,000 or more people to Houston, San Antonio, Little Rock, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Birmingham, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and other cities throughout the region will rock local economies. Where will these people live? Where will they work?

Even in other cities where the population growth will not be as large (a few hundred or a few thousand) the sheer poverty will be a strain. Shelters in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky are braced to accept stragglers who make the 1000 mile journey there. This will be a short term burden, but certainly can be overcome.

For the city of New Orleans though, this loss will be irreparable. The people who live in N.O. do so because they love the city. However, many people (a large percentage of the city was below the poverty line, and now below the water line too) will leave and never come back. Will cities attempt to relocate what will become unwanted refugees?

Another issue that is fuming under the surface is racism. The people who didn't or couldn't get out or wouldn't get out are the poorest members of the community. 2/3 of N.O. was African American. Many of them were poor, and most of the lowest lying neighborhoods were mostly (90% or more) African American. These are the people suffering the most.

For racists across the country, the images seen on TV will confirm their negative stereotypes. I know that not all the looting is committed by African Americans, but when the poorest and the blackest are who remain to loot, that is the image that will be captured.

As for the nation as a whole, the gas prices are real crisis. Prices have doubled in just a few months, and will not retreat to their former prices. Those gas guzzling Ford Expiditions and Explorers will become hugely unpopular. A trend of moving from these monsters to fuel efficient cars like the Toyota Prius will continue, and speed up. Most likely, Ford will close its two factories in my hometown, two of the largest employers in the city.

Both my father and my brother rely heavily on their vehicles for work - my brother is a police officer and as such works out of his car and my father works throughout central Kentucky, often driving a few hundred miles a day from worksite to worksite. These costs will be passed onto the taxpayers of my hometown and those who use the phones. Once winter sets in, heating oil and natural gas too will spike.

This is a doomsday situation for the Republican Party. Why is it we can send the U.S. military (and more importantly the health and welfare support they have with them) anywhere in the world, but we can't get food and water into N.O.? Why is it U.S. soldiers in Iraq have access to Subway, Sony Playstations, large screen TVs, not to mention a nightly buffet, but we can't get drinking water to N.O.? The response has been large and relatively quick, but the suffering has been worse. Something must be done, and must be done soon to help the people of New Orleans.

I am glued to the TV. N.O. isn't my hometown, but I proposed to my wife there. Just next to the Convention center there is balcony that overlooks the Mississippi River. That is where I did it - today the stores adjacent to that balcony are surely looted, the street is covered in feces, and people are living worse than animals. That is about as close to hitting to home I can imagine...

The shadow is fading...

Sixty years ago this week the second and third nuclear tests were conducted over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Hot searing gases burst forth from a hypocenter nearly 1,000 feet above the ground. The glazing on roof tiles bubbled up. Houses burst into flames. The skin of people on the ground flash boild and started dripping to the ground. A shadow was burnt onto the stairs of a bank - a customer sitting on the front step, waiting for the bank to open, left her shadow for eternity.

However, this shadow had started to fade and the bank was rebuilt. The artifact must be preserved indoors. This is not the only shadow fading...

The shadow of Hiroshima represents the awareness of the people of Hiroshima, Japan, and the world. I think of the motto of the POW/MIA movement: "We shall not forget." However, we are forgetting. The realities of the war are horrendous, so many prefer not to hear about the zombie like figures wondering the streets of Hiroshima with their skin dripping off their outstretched arms. This is war! We prefer not to think about it.

It is important to remember the costs of war - including on the soldiers who carry it out on both sides. It is important not to forget what price has been paid to settle disputes by women, children, peace lovers and war mongers alike.

People in Hiroshima are forgetting what this meant - and people in many other parts of the world have never learnt the lessons of war. We rely again and again on the hard power to bandage over misunderstandings...

Return on your Yen

The going rate for a private English tutor in Japan is about JPY3000, or nearly US$30. Being on the winning side of this equation, I am not complaining. I teach English a few hours a week - as somone once told me, I'd be a fool to forego this goldmine. When I teach, it is not uncommon to see another Japanese-Western pair with the obligatory dictionary and notebooks.

Likewise, nearly every station in Tokyo has a NOVA, GEOS, or Shane's English school within walking distance of the station. Some stations have all three, or even several offices of the same company. Japanese job boards for foreigners list hundreds if not thousands of English teaching jobs.

Since 1987, the Japanese government has imported Assistant English Teachers who in turn teach at Elementary, Junior High School, and Senior High Schools across the country. As of the last year, there are over 6,300 individuals, mostly from English speaking countries, on one to three year stints. Universities too hire non-Japanese instructors to teach their English classes.

In short, the Japanese government and people spend what amounts to the GDP of several small nations in order to support this army of native English speaker college-graduates working in Japan. What do they get for their money? Not much.

According to ETS, the Japan ranks second from the bottom for average TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores in Asia. North Korea squeeks in just below Japan. Around the world, only Niger, Mali, and a few other poor nations do worse. Korea, China, and Taiwan all do much better than Japan, for much less money.

What is the problem here? There are thousands of critiques of the Japanese education system, however, this single demonstration of English ability attests to very poor investments. Perhaps the quality of teachers could improve - usually the only qualifications sought are that one be a college grad and a native speaker. (Non-native experts in English language education, Linguistics, or other expertise need not apply). This is true, however, that still does not explain such a low performance. The college admissions tests and thus the primary and secondary education systems that are tailored for such test also must be revised. This too does not fully explain the poor performance. Many test takers are post University students. Why then, I ask, does Japan spend so much money but have so little to show for it?

Are the aides freaking?

It's official - it is a war on terror. It isn't a crusade, and it isn't just a mere "global struggle against violent extremism." Bush has spoken - the United States is engaged in a neverending war on terror. Why this switch? Why this sudden "flip-flop?"

In January of 2003, Bush established the Office of Global Communications to coordinate the international message of this Administration. Staying "on message" is of considerable importance in the WH. Nearly everyday, this office issues the "Global Message of the Day." Curiously, the last message was March 18, 2005.

Likewise, only recently was Bush's friend, Karen Hughes, confirmed by the senate as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. From the time of Margaret Tutweiler's sudden departure nearly a year and one half passed.

This lack of direction sounds oddly familiar. This lack of control sounds somewhat like recent stories out of Hollywood - maybe, something like Tom Cruise's recent parting with his long-term publicist Pat Kingsley. Without her advice, Cruise has drawn unwanted attention from the media, particularly regarding his Scientological beliefs.

Perhaps a lesson for Bush here is that to keep on message, he needs to figure out this communication stuff. Luntz and the others have figured this out in the domestic market, but actions still speak louder than words overseas. When will they ever learn?

New Policy Directions

The contradiction between the “widening” and “deepening” of security perplexes the Japanese security debate. On one hand, it is unthinkable that any nation in the world would attempt to invade Japan in a D-Day like landing. Only the United States could carry out such an attack, and the forces that would do this are already stationed in Okinawa. On the other hand, Japan faces these real threats as demonstrated in 1998 when People’s Democratic Republic of Korea launched a long-range missile across Japan into the Pacific Ocean. The Cold War has not yet ended on the Korean Peninsula. The ongoing abduction issue only magnifies feelings on this issue. Japan has not fully abandoned its former definitions of security, recently stating that the objective of its national defense is, “to prevent direct and indirect aggression, but once invaded, to repel such aggression thereby preserving the independence and peace of Japan founded upon democratic principles.”[1] The basis of this policy is reliance upon the United States for deterrence of such an attack.

The 1995 Kobe Earthquake response, the 1995 Sarin Gas attacks, and the attacks of 9/11 prove that traditional conceptions of deterrence are no longer fully applicable. Concerns of international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery technology keep Japanese defense planners awake at night. Japan cannot move beyond the Cold War paradigm, but must respond to the new security paradigm as well.

The examples represented here are only a few of a plethora of challenges facing the Japanese Gaimunsho. Christopher Hughes described this challenge best when he said,

Thus the challenge for contemporary security policy globally and across regions is to respond to intermingling issues such as high- and low-intensity unconventional and conventional military conflicts among state, intrastate, and nonstate actors; economic exclusion, disparity, rivalry, and dislocation; migration, organized crime, and piracy associated with economic integration and disintegration; and of natural and manmade disasters, infectious diseases, and environmental destruction.[2]

In short, Japan must balance a myriad of threats within the two paradigms.

Anthony DiFilippo has outlined two options for Japanese security in the post-Cold War era.[3] Either it can stay its current course with the United States, or it can work to redefine its security role in East Asia. The status quo is, of course, easier, but not without its own costs. A major change, he argues, includes abandoning the U.S.-Japan agreement in order to resolve several contradictions. DiFillippo lists five contradictions between Japanese policy and actions:

1. Opposing nuclear weapons, but relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella

2. Opposing use of force in resolving problems, but relying on the US’s use of force to resolve problems.

3. Promoting nuclear non-proliferation, but “remaining more rhetorical than substantive.”[4]

4. Supporting the UN as arbiter of international disputes, but focusing on the U.S. for resolution of those disputes.

5. Maintaining article 9, but financing the eighth highest level of military spending on a PPP basis.[5]

DiFillipo’s recommendations are that Japan’s choices are among these two extremes: either stick it out or abandon the security alliance. He notes, “Japan’s two major security options leave little ambiguity about directions for policy development in the twenty-first century. Staying the present course, that is, maintaining the existing alliance with the United States means that Japan has selected to sustain a regional environment that perpetuates distrust and tension.” Japan seems to have chosen a path between these contradictions. On one hand, Japan realizes it needs to build relations with its neighbors in order to guarantee its security. Yakushiji Katsuyuki notes that throughout the 1990s Japan attempted to balance its choices. He said, “in the 1990s, the Foreign Ministry groped for a new post-Cold War foreign policy, looking to develop an autonomous foreign policy along with strengthening U.S.-Japan alliance.”[6] However, Japan balances this with the fear that the U.S. would abandon Japan in its greatest time of need. Lieggi and Wubbels of the Nonproliferation Center note, “If this uncertainty spurs a push for self-reliance within the Japanese government, efforts to strengthen Japan's military forces are likely to increase.”[7]

Hughes again notes that Japan is hedging its bets by both supporting the United States in hopes of receiving support in case the North Korean threat worsens. However, Japan is also working on building relations with its neighbors such as joining the revolution in military affairs (RMA); improve intelligence (as seen in recent satellite launches); participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); and support the U.S. in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Richard Tanter of the Nautilus Institute calls this new buildup the “Heisei Militarization.” This new militarization of Japan is in step with the United States and its move towards a new kind of military establishment for responding to old nuclear threats and new threats such as terrorism. These changes compose what the United States Pentagon calls “transformation,” or an ability to respond rapidly to a variety of military threats. For Japan, it means building destroyers that carry up to six helicopters, in addition to other hardware that extends Japan’s reach.

This buildup and reversal towards the Cold War paradigm is not without its dangers. As Japan defends itself against military threats, it risks sparking a new Cold War in East Asia (or at least protracting the former conflict). Simultaneously, Japan is allying with an increasingly unpopular regime. Mark Selden compares the U.S. and Japan in his book, “War and State Terrorism.” He notes the U.S. has been a protagonist throughout East Asia and has built a necklace of bases around the edge of the Pacific. He describes Japan:

By contrast, a semisovereign Japan, with the no war clause in its U.S.-imposed constitution and U.S. troops permanently based on its soil, has been at “peace” for nearly six decades, albeit a peace in which it provided critical economic, technological, diplomatic, and other support for every U.S. war in the region.[8]

Prime Minister Koizumi has chosen to side with the Bush Administration as demonstrated by his loyalty following the September 11 attacks and the subsequent military actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq. There is a danger, implied by Selden, that Japan will be seen more as an aggressor as it both militarizes itself and strengthens its alliance with the United States.

For now, this balancing act between the Cold War paradigm and the new security paradigm will work. However, Japan seems to be sliding in reverse towards the Cold War mindset. If it continues on this path, Japan will need to answer the United States continuing call for revision of Article 9. According to Balbina Hwang of the Heritage Foundation, in return for security provided Japan the United States wishes to eliminate “structural factors that impede full cooperation—for example, land and basing access for military maneuvers, and constitutional limitations.[9]

Is Japan willing to accept this cost? Can Japan both defend against its threatening neighbors without causing others to feel threatened? Shall Japan be a leader in Asia, or will it cede this right to the U.S.? These tough questions are not being answered as Japan sits on a fence between the old Cold War paradigm and the new post 9/11 paradigm of insecurity.


[2] Hughes, Christopher W. Japan’s Security Agenda: Military, Economic, and Environmental Dimensions.” Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. P. 235.

[3] FiLippo, Anthony. “The Challenges of the U.S.-Japan Military Arrangement.” Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe. 2002. p. 158

[4] DiFillipo, p. 165.


[6] Katsuyuki, Yakushiji. “Japanese Foreign Policy in Light of the Iraq War.”


[8] Selden, Mark and Alvin Y. So, Eds. “War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century.” Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2004. p. 35.

[9] Hwang, Balbina H. “The Evolution of the U.S.-Japan Alliance and Future Prospects.” Heritage Lectures. The Heritage Foundation. No. 861. December 21, 2004.

Paradigms of Security

The reality of Japanese security is that it lies between two paradigms. The first is a deeply rooted understanding of traditional security of the Cold War. Traditional national security studies have been concerned with military threats and interactions between nation-states, such as the nuclear threat that has defined East Asian and Japanese security policies for the last sixty years. According to Michael Sheehan,

During the long domination of academic international relations by realism (approximately from the late 1930s to the late 1970s), the working definition of security was a strictly limited one, which saw its nature as being concerned with military power, and the subject of these concerns as being the state, so that the concept was routinely referred to as “national security.[1]

This paradigm of security studies is central to understanding the security situation of East Asia throughout World War 2 and the Cold War era. This is especially true for Japan, which lies in an especially insecure corner of the world.

As the United States claimed victory in Europe, the focus of World War 2 shifted east. At the Yalta Conference, the United States requested Russia assist in its campaign against Japan. The Russians advanced southward into China, the Korean Peninsula, and Sakhalin Island towards Hokkaido. In return for its assistance against Japan, the U.S. promised Russia possession of most of Japan’s occupied territories including Manchuria, the Korean Peninsula, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands. The two nations were allies.

With the death of Roosevelt, and the rise of Truman as president, the situation drastically changed. In August of 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, swiftly ending the war while simultaneously signaling to the Soviets in an act of “atomic diplomacy.” A key concept of national security played out; the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union began. The end of World War 2 was a race for property and influence between the United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republic. This division sparked on the Korean peninsula, a once contiguous land dominated by the Japanese nearly a century ago. The Korean War initiated the division of the Korean Peninsula just a few short years after the end of the war.[2]

In 1947, Japan ratified its current pacifist constitution. However, “the ink had hardly dried”[3] before the United States and other parties began to demand revision of the constitution in order for Japan to raise an Army and fulfill traditional security roles, especially in order to defend the new found “democracy” being inculcated in Japan. Bruce Cumings notes that a mere five years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States was again threatening to utilize nuclear weapons only a few hundred miles to the West in Korea in order to do this.[4] Although Eisenhower did not coin the phrase until 1954, the U.S. feared The Republic of Korea would become the first domino to fall to the “soviet threat.”

Meanwhile, in 1951, the United States and Japan signed documents ending the postwar occupation, but beginning another in the form of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance. This alliance has been the backbone of Japanese security ever since. According to Yukio Okamoto, special advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi’s Task Force on Foreign Relations, “Since abandoning its sovereign right to the use of force other than for purely defensive purposes, Japan considers the alliance the sine qua non of the country’s security.”[5]

A unique aspect of this alliance is that it is extremely unbalanced. Ted Osius notes, “the original security treaty was more like a basing arrangement than a traditional alliance agreement, as a joint response was required only if an adversary attacked Japanese territory.”[6] This has allowed the U.S. to maintain bases in Japan, currently including the only permanently forward deployed aircraft carrier (U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, Yokosuka Japan) and the accompanying seventh fleet. This is only the beginning of a long list of Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines permanently stationed throughout Japan, from Misawa Air Base in the north to the dozens of bases throughout Okinawa. Why are they still here? What is the reason for the longevity of this alliance?
The U.S. military presence in Japan has fulfilled two purposes. First, the U.S. served as a nuclear deterrent for first the Soviet Union, then China, and now People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. Second, the base has also allayed fears among Japan’s neighbors of “potential” Japanese aggression and militarization. The security relationship with the United States has presented Japan with a unique opportunity to address broad security threats through a variety of means. Specifically, “the alliance framework with the United States that emerged out of the 1951 San Francisco System has proved to be the optimal instrument for putting into practice Japan’s mercantilism.”[7] This allowed Japan to focus first on economic growth (almost religiously) and later to offer Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to neighboring countries. The San Francisco Accords also alleviated Japan’s responsibility for crimes against its neighbors.

This paradigm work well throughout the Cold War period; however, it has not worked well in the interim fifteen years. Susanne Klein illustrated this point well when she said, “As long as the Cold War world order lasted, Japan’s close cooperation with the U.S. proved to be the ideal framework for implementing Japan’s mercantilism, but since the beginning of the 1990s, Japan’s alliance with the U.S. has increasingly become a target of criticism.”[8] The United States wants Japan to carry more of its own weight.

In 1989, the war between the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, ended. An opportunity arose for scholars to challenge the conceptions of security studies. Although Barry Buzan first proposed a broadening of the academic definition of security in the mid seventies, the end of the conflict allowed actual application. Christopher Hughes notes that, “it was not until the 1990s that alternative security concerns were able to reemerge in the mainstream security agenda.”[9] He further notes that the debate between ‘widening’ security and ‘deepening’ it still rages. On one hand, there is still a strong focus between “the defense of the nation/sovereign state from external military threats” and “freeing and protecting human welfare from all forms of potential or actualized threats.”[10]

As Germans celebrated the fall of the wall, and later reunified, the Japanese could only hold their breath. Although there was great rejoicing in Europe, and the U.S. closed dozens of bases throughout Bavaria, little changed in East Asia. Worse of all, the People's Democratic Republic of Korea lost its sponsor, and an age of instability settled across East Asia. In addition, China began to experience strong growth throughout the nineties, and has had record growth since its admission to the WTO in 2001. However, five specific events rocked the Japanese sense of security.

First, the First Gulf War in 1991 raised many questions for Japan and its security partnership with the United States. With the decline of the soviet threat, the unequal nature of the agreement became clear. The United States expected Japan to assist in the war, but because of its pacifist Article 9, it could not. Instead, Japan opted for “dollar diplomacy,” whereby it became the greatest financial contributor towards the war effort in addition to post-conflict minesweepers.[11] However, global opinion greatly criticized Japan for its lack of participation. The financial contribution was too little, too late.

A RAND Institute report noted three lessons for Japan. First, the end of the Cold War did not necessarily guarantee peace dividends. Second, Peacekeeping Operations through the UN were where the action was. Third, “Japan learned that, in a crisis, the soldier gets more respect than the banker.”[12] The events of the Gulf War shook up Japan, and fed an ongoing debate about Japanese identity and its role in the world.

The second and third major events that shook Japan both took place in 1995. On January 17 of that year, a large earthquake struck the city of Kobe, Japan. It was a major shock to the nation of Japan. It stands as the single most expensive natural disaster of all times.[13] Furthermore, it illustrated what kind of response the nation could expect from its government in a major disaster, or similarly, an attack from abroad. “They failed miserably.”[14] The San Jose Mercury News noted a couple years later that, “…more than just Kobe collapsed with the Great Hanshin Earthquake, as it is called here. Nationwide, the disaster toppled the Japanese people's self-confidence and certitude in their unique government and social system, a partnership that created so much economic wealth so quickly, but responded so miserably in a pinch.”[15] This only sealed the fate of the bursting bubble that took place throughout the 1990s.

Later that same year, just two months after the earthquake, a man-made disaster struck the heart of Tokyo. In the largest post-war attack on Japan, a handful of Aum Shinrikyo members released Sarin gas on the Tokyo Subway system. Again, the state did not know how to respond. Kaplan and Marshall note that, “The performance of Japanese police, so abysmal as to defy belief, is now part of the historical record.”[16] Together, both events illustrated how ill prepared the government were to protect the people of Japan. The latter also illustrated a new kind of threat – a threat the American nuclear umbrella or security agreement did nothing to address.

One change that resulted from the utter failure these events demonstrated was a strengthening of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office. Under Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto (1996-1998), major reform was sought, and finally achieved in 2001. A direct result of the 1995 Kobe disaster, the Hashimoto reforms included revision of the Cabinet Law to streamline authority for policy initiatives by the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretariat along with a reorganization of the Secretariat. “The revised law supported a more decisive role for the prime minister.”[17] Lessons learned from the prior events and these changes allowed for a much different response to the next event.

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked in the United States, three of which were successfully flown into their designated targets, the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. Japan’s response was relatively fast, especially as compared to its response to the Gulf War. The reforms enacted a few years before allowed for swift action – immediately the Government of Japan issued a statement acknowledging the attacks, and the National Security Council of Japan met and adopted six measures, two of which entered Japan into the “War on Terror.”[18]

This is not a comprehensive list of challenges that faced Japan throughout the 1990s, but it is illustrative of the new challenges that faced the nation. These changes forced Japan to understand new kinds of security threats beyond traditional security scares. As in the overall debate on security, Japan witnessed insecurity as demonstrated by non-traditional military threats, environmental scares, and terrorism.

[1] Sheehan, Michael. “International Security: An Analytical Survey.” Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 2005. p. 5.

[2] Markowitz, Norman. “The Yalta Conference and International Cooperation.”, Marxist Thought Online.

[3] McCormack, Gavan. “Emptiness of Japanese Affluence.” Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. P. 191.

[4] Selden, Mark and Alvin Y. So, Eds. “War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century.” Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2004. p. 70.

[5] Okamoto, Yukuio. Japan and the United States: The Essential Alliance.” The Washingotn Quarterly. Vol. 25, No. 2, Pg. 59. Spring 2002.

[6] Osius, Ted. “The U.S.-Japan Security Alliance: Why It Matters and How to Strengthen It.” Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. 2002. p. 2.

[7] Klein, Susanne “Rethinking Japan’s Identity and International Role: An Intercultural Perspective.” New York: Routledge. 2002. p. 165.

[8] Klein, p. 166.

[9] Hughes, Christopher. Japan’s Security Agenda: Military, Economic, and Environmental Dimensions.” Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 2004. p. 7.

[10] Hughes, p. 9.






[16] Kaplan, David E. and Andrew Marshall. “The Cult at the End of the World.” New York: Crown Publishers. 1996. p. 293.

[17] Shinoda, Tomohito. “Koizumi’s Top-Down Leadership in the Anti-Terrorism Legislation: The Impact of Political Institutional Changes.” SAIS Review, vol. 23, No 1 (Winter-Spring 2003). P. 26.


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