Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Postwar Japan and "Anti-Americanism Lite"
NAKAYAMA Toshihiro / Professor, Aoyama Gakuin University

October 25, 2010
The Japan-U.S. relationship has been experiencing some turmoil since the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) came into power in September last year. As an indication of the turmoil, the two governments have been talking visibly at cross purposes on the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station out of Futenma, a highly congested urban area in Okinawa. The confused actions of the Hatoyama government (or rather Prime Minister Hatoyama himself) are mostly to blame for this. There is no doubt that the mixed messages coming out from the Prime Minister sent the wrong signals to the parties concerned in both the United States and Japan, especially to Okinawa.

Was this "alliance adrift" simply a case of "Hatoyama adrift"? Though much has been made of the confusion on the part of the Prime Minister himself, there was a certain consistency behind it all. It was that, while casting the Japan-U.S. alliance as the cornerstone of Japan's national security policy, he apparently regarded the alliance as a hurdle that Japan had to surmount. The Prime Minister said clearly in his de facto resignation speech at the meeting of the DPJ members of the two Houses of the Diet on 2 June 2010, "We must strive to arrive at a time some day when we can shape Japan's peace with our own hands. It is not good for us to keep depending on the United States."

This notion of "Japan's unhealthy overdependence on the United States" surfaced in Hatoyama's article in the September 2009 edition of the Japanese monthly magazine Voice, published before the birth of the his government. It is well-known that an abridged version of the article was carried by the nytimes.com, giving rise to the apprehension in the United States that Hatoyama might be an "anti-American politician". Was Hatoyama really an "anti-American politician"? Was it only his unique preconception about the United States that set the Japan-U.S. relationship adrift under his government? Or was Hatoyama's view of the United States in fact the newest (and comical) manifestation of the instability inherent in the postwar Japan-U.S. relations?

When talking about the Japan-U.S. relationship, reference is often made to the annual public opinion poll conducted by the Cabinet Office since 1978 on the fixed question of whether you feel friendly towards the United States (http://www8.cao.go.jp/survey/h21/h21-gaiko/index.html). The percentage points of the affirmative response have been consistently in the 70s, with only a couple of exceptional years when they dropped to the 60s. On this basis, one could rightly argue that the Japan-U.S. relationship has been excellent and stable. However, these numbers fail to capture the subtle nuance lurking under the surface of the Japan-U.S. relationship. To be sure, there is little "politically determined anti-Americanism" in Japan. Nor is there a nation-wide struggle against U.S. military bases rooted in antipathy to the United States. However, what the opinion poll misses is the amorphous "anti-Americanism lite", or "anti-American mood", which is unexpectedly widespread.

In postwar Japan, there was high tension between the idealistic hankering for peace and the realistic choice made by the government and small group of security experts to rely on the Japan-U.S. security alliance. The logic in support of the alliance was sealed off like esoteric canons, without sufficient verbal airing. There developed instead the popular fiction that the Japanese people's ardent "aspiration" for peace alone sustained the peaceful reconstruction of postwar Japan. There was an inherent "warp" in the uneasy coexistence of the two schools, which found its expression in "anti-Americanism lite". When the idealistic precept, elevated to be a "postwar civic religion", was confronted with the reality of the esoteric Japan-U.S. alliance, the simple, visceral reaction was to blurt out "Why in the world do there have to be bases of foreign troops in a sovereign nation like Japan? It must be because we are still sort of occupied." Further, the esoteric canons of the alliance has the potential to negate the logic of the popular gospel based on the notion of pre-established harmony.

The protagonist in this aspiration-driven popular gospel of peace is not the "state", but must be the "citizen". There is little wonder, then, that Prime Minister Hatoyama started the debate on the Japan-U.S. security alliance by focusing on the "pain and suffering" of the citizens of Okinawa. Such "anti-Americanism lite" rarely channels itself into an effective political voice, and is not easily heeded by those who are responsible for managing the alliance. However, such an emotion has been there as an undercurrent of postwar Japan-U.S. relations. Prime Minister Hatoyama woke and unleashed it, unwittingly, even irresponsibly. Once confronted with the overwhelming reality of the Japan-U.S. alliance, this emotional chrysalis has slipped back into its cocoon.

Thus Prime Minister Hatoyama symbolized the inherent "warp" in postwar Japan that had not really been aired. Though Prime Minister Hatoyama has left the scene, the "anti-Americanism lite" is there to stay. Some say that history repeats itself, as a farce the second time around. If a "sophisticated Hatoyama" should appear on the scene, it could well mean something more than a farce.

The writer is Professor of Aoyama Gakuin University
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

中山俊宏 / 青山学院大学教授

2010年 10月 25日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Postwar Japan and "Anti-Americanism Lite"