In the first century of our relations with Japan, both countries swung from extremes of high hope to despair, and back again to hope. Now, with greater opportunities to know each other and with a dialogue reopened between our intellectuals, there should be wiser calculations on both sides of the Pacific. Instead, we are again moving in different directions and, at least for the moment, there is the danger that high expectations will again founder on misunderstandings.

It is not surprising that we are badly informed about Japan. Our press coverage of the major power in Asia and the fourth greatest industrial power in the world is absurdly inadequate. Only one of the regular American correspondents in Tokyo can speak and read Japanese usefully. American editors seem determined to limit all stories on Japan to the exotic, inscrutable or threatening. Scholarly works, with few exceptions, are becoming increasingly specialized. Despite new attention to East Asia in college and high school courses, it is still hard for the layman to find out what he needs to know about our most important and difficult Asian ally.

The Japanese, it should be added, have done little better. Members of their press corps in Washington speak English badly as a rule, and reach few important sources. Their editors favor critics of the Administration without giving equal space to majority views. Japanese visitors tend to be subjective and emotional when they record their impressions of the United States, and scholars are either specialized like our own or committed to a viewpoint before they arrive. Because of the Occupation and our continuing physical presence in Japan, it is easy for Japanese to feel they know us when often they are dealing in false images.

It may be that we can each survive our misapprehensions, letting the diplomats try to untangle the knots, but it would seem better to try to get the picture in focus now than to face a new round of frustrations later on.


There is a new myth in Washington that Japan is beginning to wake up to the responsibilities of adulthood after fifteen years of passive dependence on American power. According to this myth, an economically resurgent, nationalistic Japan will necessarily play a larger political and perhaps military role in Asia, that such a role will inevitably fit in with our strategy of containing communism, and that it is mainly the political Left in Japan that has been standing in the way of a more useful alliance.

As a consequence of these assumptions, there is a warm feeling in Washington each time Japan raises its defense outlay, buys more sophisticated (American) military equipment, sponsors a conference of Asian nations or shows any other hint of wanting to become involved again in Asian politics. There is happiness when an influential journal publishes "realistic" Japanese thinking about the need for more forceful diplomacy backed by military power. We have been patient long enough, it is said, with idealistic pacifism, and it is time the Japanese were jolted from their dream world and apprised of the nasty facts of political life.

It is true, of course, that Japan has recently shown a greater willingness to take on the burden of its own sea and air defense, and that the naïve pacifism of the postwar period is disappearing. But there is an enormous difference between these halting steps and full involvement in the containment of communism in Asia, and it is this distinction which our policy-makers have failed to perceive.

Ever since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, and particularly since 1953 when Vice President Nixon openly urged the Japanese to change Article Nine of their Constitution, the Japanese have been under pressure from Washington to increase their defense forces. They have responded, but at their own slow pace and in the spirit of former Prime Minister Yoshida, who wrote in his memoirs in 1961, "To me, the idea of rearmament has always seemed to be one verging on idiocy. . . . The necessary wealth is lacking, and, even more than wealth, the necessary psychological background."

Now that Japan seems to be moving toward "realism" about its own security (even Yoshida has changed his position and advocates more arms) there is a tendency in Washington to assume that, with its new muscles, Japan will help the United States balance the scale against mainland China. To the extent that a stronger, independent Japan is by itself a countervailing power, this assumption is correct. But to the extent that it envisions a stronger Japan complementing our own power in the Pacific, and helping the United States to defend weaker Asian nations against the threat of communist aggression, it is highly misleading.

We continue to urge Japan to rearm, not in specific, formal messages, but in the overall thrust of our policies. Yet we have not clearly defined either for ourselves or for the Japanese precisely what it is that we want them to do. We like to hear them talk tough about the communist threat in Asia, but we also want them to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. At the cost of demonstrations and considerable trouble for local authorities, we bring nuclear-powered submarines into Sasebo, to provide rest and recreation for the crews, and as the Navy puts it, to get the Japanese over their "nuclear allergy." Yet, when the Japanese decide to build a nuclear- powered merchant ship of their own, Westinghouse is prohibited from giving Mitsubishi the necessary information on marine reactors. It is clear that we are not urging Japan to acquire nuclear arms, but it is not clear what we want them to do with their stronger conventional forces beyond defending themselves. "It seems," said one official in Japan's Defense Agency recently, "that the Pentagon wants us to play the infield while you play the outfield against the Chinese."

The hope in Washington for a stronger Japan to complement American power in the Pacific arises, understandably, from our frustration and sense of isolation in Viet Nam, from our eagerness to share the burden, from our conviction that Asians should be more interested in their own security, and from our feeling that the Japanese have had a long free ride. But it runs headlong into the mood of Japan today.

The essential point about Japan and the United States today is that while we are becoming more deeply involved in Asia, the Japanese, despite a few tentative and cautious moves toward regional coöperation, are absorbed more than ever in their own domestic problems. Ironically, it is partly because we are the predominant power in Asia that Japan abstains from playing the role that its economic power could support.

Japan's introspective mood should not be surprising. Critics who charge that its foreign policy is figured on an abacus tend to forget the wrenching changes that rapid modernization has brought to Japan, and to overlook the tensions in Japanese society that still persist from the war, total defeat and occupation.

Far from designing a bolder foreign policy, the Japanese are trying to cope with problems involved in rapid urbanization, the huge gulfs between generations, civilian rule, the shallow bases of political parties, the democratic process in an hierarchical society, the role of the individual where the group prevails, the breakup of the traditional family structure and the loss of an entire value system. For the first time they are enjoying each other-even their domestic squabbles-liberated in an explosion of energy from rigid class divisions and police-state repression. Although there has been no great social upheaval, the prewar military and imperial household élites have suddenly disappeared, leaving the bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen to fight it out at the top.

Unlike other elite groups in Asia, Japan's leaders must respond to the popular will, and that will has made itself felt again and again: it is against war, against taking risks abroad, against rocking the boat in any way that could threaten the new prosperity, against foreign commitments that could drag Japan into a war that did not involve its immediate interests. The consumer-voter is learning to make his will felt at the polls, and the politicians are learning to respond.

Japan's "economic miracle" has left serious problems in its wake. The public sector has been neglected, and taxes, which have been going down for a decade, are scheduled to go up in the next decade. The additional revenue will go not to defense or foreign aid, but to roads, schools and hospitals. A third of Tokyo's eleven million citizens live in housing that is considered substandard, and those with decent homes still face a daily penance of smog and traffic jams. The farms are being deserted for the cities, rural poverty is widespread, small businesses are folding, larger ones are merging in the face of capital liberalization policies, the debt structure of private business is staggering and juvenile delinquency is on the rise. This is not a nation that is about to embark on a drive to influence the rest of Asia.

Considering all these problems, the political scene has been remarkably stable. But the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, in power for almost twenty years, has been more of a steward than a producer of dynamic leadership. Government policy has been set by a consensus among the new élites, and initiatives have been trimmed to the lowest common denominator. The highly competitive factions within the party tend to cut down the overly ambitious, and there is no de Gaulle or even a Thanat Khoman on the Japanese horizon. There has been broad agreement on the general guidelines for economic growth, and the factional struggles are not about what shall be done but who shall do it. It has not been the leftist intellectuals so much as the ingrained bureaucratic caution of the conservative leaders themselves that has checked new initiatives abroad.

Recent developments have further reduced opportunities for forceful leadership. The conservatives, for the first time since the war, won less than 50 percent of the popular vote in the general elections of January 1967 and, despite their majority in the Diet, they will be more dependent than before on bargaining with the opposition. The "Yoshida School," of which Prime Ministers Ikeda and Sato have been the star alumni, has nearly run out its string, and a new generation of politicians is adding further uncertainty to the political scene. None of the leading candidates to succeed Sato advocates significant change in foreign policy.

The leading opposition party, the Socialists, lost ground in the January elections and buried the old myth that time, youth and urbanization would inevitably carry them to power. This and the advance of two minor parties, the Democratic Socialists and the Komeito (Soka Gakkai), with 30 and 25 seats respectively in the lower house, have opened up new possibilities for fluidity, leading perhaps to coalitions and shifting alliances-again scarcely the conditions for new undertakings abroad.

The primacy of domestic politics in Japan is evident most clearly in the fact that foreign ministers in recent years have almost all been chosen from the thick of domestic politics. They are often without experience in foreign affairs, and usually unable to speak any language but Japanese. The opposition has shown much the same concern for domestic politics: a Socialist leader travels to Moscow, Peking or Hanoi not so much to exchange views or cement ties as to get the better of a competing domestic faction. This is not to suggest that Japan has been standing still diplomatically, but that its foreign policy reflects the popular conviction that the tasks of rebuilding and adjusting to changes at home must come first.

Japan's increased international involvement over the past three years has been more a matter of winning friends than influencing people. The major moves have been joining O.E.C.D. in 1964; accepting, as a member of the Development Assistance Committee, a pledge to raise foreign aid to 1 percent of the national income; normalizing relations with the Republic of Korea in 1965; quietly opposing the Chinese Communists at Algiers in 1965; calling a conference on Asian agricultural development in 1966; joining in multilateral aid to Indonesia in 1966-67; joining the Asian and Pacific Council (ASPAC); pledging $200 million to the Asian Development Bank and providing its president; and promising $100 million to the special agricultural fund in 1967. Lately Foreign Minister Miki has put forward the idea of an Asia-Pacific sphere, calling for closer consultation among the five advanced nations and the less developed countries of the area. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from all this that Japan is about to jump back into the power politics of Asia.

For one thing, Japan's aid to the less developed countries was only $520 million in 1966, or 0.69 percent of national income, a slight drop from the previous year. (About half of this aid went to Asian countries.) This is a respectable showing (fifth in the free world) for a country that ranks twenty-second in the world in per capita national income. But it is not likely, even when combined with trade and technical assistance, to give Japan a major voice in Asian politics in the near future, and it is not likely to rise dramatically in the short run. Leading politicians predict that the public will strongly oppose any attempt to raise the figure substantially. Some of them even admit that the concept of Pan-Asian solidarity is more a dream of the left and right fringes than a popular guide to action.

The new relationship with the Republic of Korea brings economic benefits to both sides, but it does not necessarily foreshadow a convergence of foreign policies and it will surely not lead, as some have speculated, to joint security arrangements. Japan joined ASPAC reluctantly, and only after the Koreans and Thais agreed not to give it a strong anti-communist coloration. As one senior Japanese diplomat put it, "We are on the extreme left in ASPAC." The Japanese role will continue to be one of blocking ASPAC from taking a strong anti-Peking line.

Nothing could illustrate Japan's wariness of political involvement with its neighbors better than a tea party that took place in Seoul on July 2 this year. Vice President Humphrey, Vice President C. K. Yen of Nationalist China and Prime Minister Sato were attending the inauguration of President Park Chung Hee, and a meeting of the four leaders was proposed. Japan agreed to attend a tea party, but only on condition that wives might also attend. The purpose of this condition, according to Asahi Shimbun (July 3, 1967), was to avoid the political coloration that might otherwise attach to such a gathering. Observers in Tokyo could recall no other occasion when the Japanese had been first to suggest bringing wives along.


There have, however, been three major changes of attitude in Japan that could affect foreign policy in the future. The first is the rise of national self-confidence, a continuation of the trend that began with the economic boom of the late 1950s, found expression in the security-treaty riots of 1960, was notable at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and continues to grow with the new generations that never knew war and defeat. The massive inferiority complex of the postwar decade has given way to a more relaxed and stable public mood. Japan no longer panics at the first rise in international tension, no longer sees its economic quarrels as affairs of national honor. With new confidence and national pride, the people have learned to live with dissension at home despite their traditional love of consensus.

The new mood seeks a greater voice for Japan at international councils, but not at the price of risky commitments or costly ventures, or of going beyond Article IX, the war-renouncing clause of the Constitution. For example, while the United Nations has always been popular, any suggestion that Japan might contribute to a United Nations peacekeeping force is enough to set off a furor. The present self-defense forces have won over 80 percent public acceptance in the opinion polls, but only a small minority would like to see them strengthened. The army has never been able to recruit enough volunteers to fill its quota. The conservative leaders, far from being nostalgic about the good old days of national power, are acutely conscious of the dangers of usurpation by the military in a land that has known military supremacy for centuries. They scrutinize each new budget request from the Defense Ministry with jaundiced eyes. The new nationalism in Japan does not translate quickly or easily into a desire for more military power.

The second trend, related to the first, is an eagerness to escape from the shadow of American power, to prove to the world and to itself that Japan is not an American puppet, to disengage emotionally from the overwhelming influence that economic, military and cultural ties have exerted in the past 22 years. The trend was inevitable, and even therapeutic in view of the larger-than-life role we played during the Occupation and afterwards. But in the last two years, uneasiness, mistrust and in some quarters hostility have been added largely as a result of Viet Nam.

For most Japanese, the war is seen primarily as white men shooting Asians, Westerners using sophisticated weaponry against nationalists defending their homeland. Above all it is unpopular because it could lead to a wider war involving Japan, though this fear has subsided somewhat in recent months. Among Japanese leaders, other considerations have entered the picture; some of the sting is removed by our war-related spending in Japan, estimated at $600 million last year. Some leaders have been impressed by the fact that the United States appears determined to stay in Asia for the long haul Still others are noting that, by its inability to win a quick victory, it is proving itself less than omnipotent. It is too early to say which of these calculations will be more important in the long run, and much depends on the outcome of the war.

In any event, for the first time in many years, the United States is no longer the nation best liked by the Japanese people, having been replaced by Switzerland, according to at least one poll.[i] Increasingly, our shortcomings are noted in the press while our successes are belittled or ignored. American importations which are admirable are now so familiar as to seem Japanese, while the side effects of modernization such as juvenile delinquency are blamed on American influence. Individualism is still suspect as profit-seeking egoism. When Stalin's daughter came to America, members of the establishment in Japan spoke of it in the same vein as Pravda: it was a C.I.A. operation and she was unstable and greedy. A leading newsweekly ignored the story as "insignificant." When the Marines entered the Demilitarized Zone in Viet Nam, it was the United States that committed "dangerous escalation," not the entrenched North Vietnamese regulars.

When President Johnson was planning a visit to Korea after the Manila Conference of October 1966, consideration was given to a visit to Japan. The reaction in Tokyo was prompt: "inconceivable." The Japanese Government wanted no part of a visit that would have linked it, however remotely, to American military strategy in Asia. Even today, with Prime Minister Sato scheduled to pay his second formal visit to Washington, an attempt by President Johnson to visit Tokyo would set off bloody rioting and end in cancellation. It is possible that these tensions will disappear with the end of the fighting in Viet Nam, but for the moment, the United States Government's image in Japan is at a postwar low.

The third change in attitude, also related to nationalism, is truly revolutionary: for the first time since 1949, there is widespread disillusionment with Communist China, which recently replaced the Soviet Union at the bottom of a popularity poll. Persecution of intellectuals, excesses of the Red Guards, the blatant power struggle and Mao's unexpected fallibility have combined to reduce the former awe and respect for the Chinese revolution even among the progressive intellectuals. And the Japanese Communist Party, once putty in the hands of Peking, has declared its independence. Still, as noted below, Japanese views of the future of China are vastly different from our own.

These changes in Japanese thinking have recently permitted a group of younger intellectuals to advocate publicly a more assertive diplomacy supported by more military power and possibly even nuclear weapons-ideas that were previously taboo. The new debate, which has been cheered from the sidelines by Washington, examines Japan's potential as a Gaullist power, ponders the uncertainties of relying on the United States for long-range security, and usually accepts the premise of Japan as a "better because more independent" ally of the United States. The new realists, as they are called, have exerted little influence on Government leaders, who have been privately considering these arguments for years, but it may be significant that they are getting space in the journals that once belonged exclusively to the pacifist left wing. The debate has gained impetus in the past months from public discussion of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. In a remarkable show of unity, all parties except the Communists have indicated reservations about signing the treaty without commitments from the superpowers to disarm.

Yet, for all the debate, there is no important politician in Japan today who would dare openly to advocate nuclear weapons for Japan, and even the realists agree that the obstacles to joining the nuclear club are enormous. Article IX of the Constitution and the Basic Atomic Energy Law would have to be revised, at the cost of huge demonstrations and strikes. Agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency and with the United States would have to be revised or broken. Nuclear fuel would have to be imported with no strings attached. A testing site would have to be found. It is questionable whether enough Japanese scientists, who incline to the left, could be induced to coöperate. The expense, while not prohibitive, might run by one current Japanese estimate to $300-500 million a year for twenty years, and even then the nuclear force would be equal only to that of England or France. Against whom would it be used, and how? And would it not revive fear and suspicion of Japan without adding to Japan's actual ability to influence events in Asia?

And so while the nuclear-shy Japanese are having their first open debate on these questions, the fact is that government leaders have concluded that the time is not ripe to start producing nuclear weapons. The most positive of them ask only that the options be kept open, and this of course is being done: Japan is moving forward rapidly in the development of nuclear power and rocketry; in fifteen years it may be the world's leading producer of nuclear energy for peaceful uses. It is estimated that if and when Japan decided to become a nuclear power, weapons could be produced in about two years. Meanwhile, the defense budget remains at the relatively low figure of 1.1 percent of gross national product, and this percentage is not expected to rise much during the current defense plan (1967-71).

Without its own nuclear force, and with Communist China building a strategic force of its own, the Government continues to believe that the only practical alternative is the security treaty with the United States and the American nuclear umbrella. A sudden withdrawal by the United States from the Pacific or a serious threat from China could change these calculations, but at the moment most conservative leaders favor continuing the treaty after 1970, when it can be legally terminated on one year's notice; even left-wing leaders doubt that the riots of 1960 will be repeated.

The Government, however, is as usual out ahead of the public in its support of the treaty. A poll taken earlier this year shows that only 37.7 percent of the people actually support the treaty, 13.9 percent are opposed, 18.2 percent consider it unavoidable, 7.9 percent have other opinions and 23.1 percent don't know. Despite Diet ratification of the revised treaty in 1960, there is still a feeling among many Japanese that the treaty serves American interests more than their own. Far from being seen as a munificent gift from Washington in return for which the Japanese should be happy to play a supporting role, it is at best a burden that defies the new nationalism, and at worst a lightning rod that in a world war might attract a hail of missiles.

In the United States we tend to feel that we should have a voice in Japan's military posture since we provide most of its security; many Japanese feel, rightly or wrongly, that their tolerance of foreign bases and troops in Japan for purposes going beyond the defense of Japan evens the score. Because of these attitudes, the Government is severely restricted in its ability to play a more active role within the framework of the current treaty.


It may not, after all, be so important that Washington continues to lecture Japan on the virtues of "defense-mindedness," since the days when we could influence Japan's policies are largely over. It is worth remembering, though, that our involvement in domestic issues has brought some unexpected results. Consider, for example, the fact that the United States was instrumental in setting up Sohyo, the huge (4.5 million) labor federation, which promptly became the leading opponent of the security treaty and has fought it ever since. There is, of course, a fine irony in the fact that by urging Japan to rearm ever since 1950 we have unwittingly thrown the weight of nationalist sentiment to the side of holding down the size of the army. And there is irony, too, in the fact that those in the Pentagon who have led the drive to induce Japan to rearm will be the first to shout betrayal should Japan use its new arms to pursue independent or competitive objectives.

It would be well if all parts of the American Government could find common answers to two questions: First, how do we want to see Japan's new power used in the future? And second, to what extent, if any, can we influence the directions it will take?

If my assessment of the direction of popular attitudes and political trends is correct, it is inconceivable that Japan will agree in the coming decade to associate itself more closely with our strategic objective of containing Communist China. And as the desire to get out from under the American shadow grows, as it surely will, Japan will be even less content with a subordinate role. Fields other than conventional military power, such as space, technology and economic prosperity will be found to satisfy the need for international prestige.

It may be that by asking for less, we will gain more. It could be that after Viet Nam, we will redefine our own concept of power in Asia, relying less on conventional military force and more on economic development to deal with the predictable insurgencies of the future. In such an event, and assuming that Communist China continues to be contained by our nuclear deterrent and the Seventh Fleet, a stable, wealthy and independent Japan could be more valuable to us than a closely allied and more heavily armed Japan. It could be a magnetic attraction as Asia's first and most successful open society, in stark contrast to the dreary alternative of communism on the mainland. Its very lack of offensive military power might actually make it a more trusted source of capital and technology. Its own experience in rapid modernization in an Asian setting, its relevant agricultural experience and its racial affinity would all add to its influence.

Finally, a Japan that is not closely tied to our military containment strategy might in the long run prove to be the link by which the Chinese return to the real world. Already Peking is looking to Japan for technology, and if it is true that a developing China is less dangerous to world peace than a hungry and frustrated China, Japan might serve as a useful bridge. Once before, at the turn of the century, Japan briefly played a similar role, educating a generation of Chinese leaders in Western technology; a more rational régime in Peking might turn again toward Tokyo for assistance. While all this is speculation, it is interesting to note that even in the current furor of the Cultural Revolution, conservative Japanese leaders are thinking along these lines. Despite our efforts to make them fear Peking, most Japanese believe that their long-range interests will be better served by building closer ties to the mainland and trying to moderate China's current militancy.

Our special relationship with Japan will survive the war in Viet Nam and could ultimately be the basis for peace in Asia. But it is going to take hard work on both sides, and out of habit and frustration we will continue to advise the Japanese on defense and security problems. Whether we are right or wrong may not matter very much, because they will make the decisions. But it is worth considering the possibility that they may be on the right track.

[i] Poll taken by Central Survey Institute in January 1967, published in Shukan Jiji, February 4, 1967.

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