Although the American media remains myopically focused on trade issues with Japan, the current crisis in Japan's democratic institutions raises more fundamental questions: How deep are the roots of democracy in Japan? Will much-needed democratic reforms prosper? Is a return to militarism possible? Can this self-absorbed country shed its insularity? What are the prospects for revitalizing the U.S.-Japan alliance?
All of these issues are addressed in this lively and readable book by a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who spent ten years in Japan during the course of a diplomatic career and has recently contributed to projects on Japan for several American think tanks.
The author is very much aware of what could go wrong, but he is cautiously optimistic. The reform process in Japan, he says, is irreversible because public and elite attitudes have changed and because the new electoral system will require politicians to become more responsive to the electorate. Prospects for deregulation of the economy are good because there is considerable support for it among business and the media and even in some sectors of the bureaucracy. Within Japan the ground of debate has shifted from how to deal with U.S. pressure to whether Japan, in its own interests, should open its economy.
Still, there is a worst-case scenario: a withering of Japan's democratic institutions in a climate of public apathy and degradation of Japan-U.S. ties, each reinforcing the other. The author concludes with a plea for "modernizing" the U.S.-Japan alliance, a job that will require a new jointly devised agenda and a substantial increase in Japan's contribution to aid to developing countries, support for the global environment, and assistance to the U.N. system.