Asia Program

Events

Undercurrents in Japanese Foreign Policy: Psychology, Gender and Culture

February 26, 2004 // 2:30pm4:30pm

How does culture influence international affairs? How do a nation's historical experiences impact its leaders' decisions and its negotiators' expectations? How does male dominance of society contribute to the behavior of the foreign relations establishment? The three panelists discussed these and related issues in the context of Japanese policy.

Peter Berton began with an overview of post-WWII research on the "psychology of Japanese foreign policy." He explained basic core concepts such as amae (dependency) and hierarchy in determining Japanese attitudes toward the United States. He defended the usefulness of such concepts, while admitting that younger Japanese diplomats resist being characterized as submissive toward the American "big brother." Berton argued that anti-Americanism is unlikely to reach the levels of endangering bilateral relations―more than 70 percent of Japanese continue to express "good feeling" toward the United States in public opinion surveys. Just as in the 1960s, anti-Americanism is often a manifestation of frustration toward Japan's own government, he maintained.

Mike Blaker characterized Japanese foreign policy as reactive or "defensive," and suggested that this pattern persists under Prime Minister Koizumi's leadership. According to Blaker, the biggest tactical error the United States can commit is to treat Japan inconsistently―to lift the bar unexpectedly or flip-flop in making demands. He also pointed out that U.S. policymakers can best influence Japanese decision makers at the nemawashi (consensus building) stage, not at the negotiating table. He pointed out that language and culture continue to plague understanding between the two nations. The U.S. assertive manner of foreign policy could not be more different than Japan's low-profile, risk-avoidant style, which is partly the result of its WWII defeat.

Yumiko Mikanagi took a feminist perspective, arguing that Japanese foreign policy―especially the preoccupation with hierarchy―reflects basic patterns of male domination in society. These patterns are unlikely to be changed by the success of a handful of female diplomats. However, Mikanagi suggested that younger generations are shifting away from authoritarian and hierarchical relationships (in families, schools and the workplace, for example) to more horizontal social structures in which women feel more comfortable. As society changes, so may Japan's foreign policy.

In discussing public attitudes, Makanagi and Berton pointed out one aspect of Japanese "psychology" that is little understood by Americans―the lack of a sense of threat amid the North Korean stand-off. Berton explained that Japan's physical and political isolation in Asia has contributed to a feeling of being insulated from foreign dangers.


Robert Hathaway, Asia Program Director, 691-4012
Drafted by Amy McCreedy

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