Asia Program


The People vs. Koizumi? Japan-U.S. Relations and the Struggle for Japan's National Identity

November 24, 2003 // 2:00pm4:00pm

Naoyuki Agawa, Minister of Public Affairs, Embassy of Japan; Toshio Nishi, research fellow, Hoover Institution, and visiting professor, Reitaku University, Japan; Masaru Tamamoto, Senior Fellow, World Policy Institute

Click here to download Special Report #119, with essays by all three speakers.

Is Japan a "normal country," a "sitting duck," a "cheerful land of willful innocence," "America's lapdog," or the world's only "nation without treason"? At a lively Asia Program event, all of these terms were used to describe a Japan struggling to realize its national identity. Emotions were palatable, even raw at times, as the discussion ranged from the meaning of Japanese patriotism to what Japan's role in the world should be.

Naoyuki Agawa pointed out that the majority of Japanese people are consistently opposed to U.S. actions in Iraq and—as in much of the industrialized world—prone to anti-U.S. sentiment. Yet he maintained that Japan is "too realistic" not to support Prime Minister Koizumi in sending Japanese troops to the Middle East. Overall, Japanese people approve of the Japan-U.S. alliance and are increasingly aware of the world's dangers—particularly the perils of a North Korean conflict, he explained.

According to Toshio Nishi, Japan is undergoing a sea change; Japanese citizens are increasingly ashamed and afraid of being "defenseless." He expressed hope that his country would amend the constitution and "legitimize" the Japanese Self-Defense Forces as soon as possible. To help the United States battle terrorism is in Japan's interest, and if China and South Korea object, "let them scream." Nishi maintained that his opinions are no longer considered radical in Japan—up until two years ago his speeches elicited gasps, but now they bring applause.

According to Masaru Tamamoto, Japan has thrived by forging a unique combination of pacifism and economic growth, demonstrating that material wealth does not necessarily drive a country to amass political and military power. Japan has proved that middle-class prosperity is a legitimate aim of government, and has succeeded in exporting this idea to much of Asia, Tamamoto asserted. Since both the United States and Japan benefit from the current state of affairs, why change things to make Japan a so-called "normal country"?

All three speakers advanced their ideas with passion, giving the audience a glimpse of the diversity of opinions in Japan. All gave strikingly different views of Japanese national identity, even as they warmly affirmed the importance of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and friendship.

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

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