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

Heisei was an Era Marked by Japanese Soft Power
WATANABE Yasushi  / Professor, Keio University

June 18, 2019
Soft power is the power of attraction (rather than coercion and payments), or in other words, the ability to win the “hearts and minds” of others and thus secure an optimal policy environment in which to pursue national strategic objectives. Culture, political values, and foreign policy are the primary resources of soft power.

In this regard, I feel that Heisei was an era marked by Japanese soft power —in both passive and positive terms.

Passive in the sense that Japan’s hard (economic and military) power was in relative decline during the Heisei era, especially vis-à-vis that of emerging states and regions. Japan needed to offset the impacts of that decline by underscoring soft power.

Positive in the sense that the power of shaping realities, setting agendas, and making rules increased its gravity in international relations when economic power became more interdependent and military power more costly to exercise. It was a welcome and worthy change for Japan to exploit actively.

The question then is how well Japanese soft power has worked to the benefit of Japan and the international community.

My answer is “enormously.”

A number of statistical data suggest that Japan and its culture have gained significant attraction over the past decades. According to the comprehensive annual soft power index by Portland Communications, Japan ranks fifth (2018), following the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the United States. Other surveys yield similar results. According to Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), the number of international travelers to Japan was 5.2 million in 2003 when the “Visit Japan Campaign” kicked off. It hit an all- time high last year of 31.2 million. The number of international students in higher education was 31,000 in 1989 when the Heisei era began and was 208,000 last year—another record high. Japan’s creative industries, including fashion and architecture, are well received in many parts of the world. The first “Japan House” opened in Sao Paulo in 2017, attracting more than one million visitors in one year whereas internal estimates were closer to 150,000.

Until several years ago, Japan was mocked as the most stable failed democracy in the world. Now, Japan is often complimented as one of the most stable democracies in the world, without being afflicted by rising (negative) populism. Japan has successfully advanced free trade initiatives with Europe and across the Asia-Pacific. Although Japan is a close ally of the United States, Japan remains committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history on November 20, 2019 and will soon be the longest-serving head of the state at the G7 summit.

Many countries have their own “history issues,” and Japan is no exception. I am well aware of a strong and persistent inclination among some pundits to pigeonhole Japan into a “nationalist” or “militarist” box. One should remember, though, President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor in 2016. Although the case of Franco-German relations is often referred to as a model of post-war reconciliation, the case of Japan and the United States is no less dramatic and historic, particularly when cultural differences and geographic distance are taken into account. In 2015, Japan reached a historic agreement on the “comfort women” issue with South Korea. It is no secret that there was a strong voice against the agreement among some Japanese pundits, but Prime Minister Abe bucked the right to sign it, partly in order to maintain trilateral cooperation with South Korea and the United States.

When the Heisei era started, Japan was under pressure from the United States and Europe to assume more responsibility as a member of the international community, for example, in the form of peacekeeping operations and overseas development assistance. Japan has certainly made steady progress in this arena so far as its constitution allows. In addition, from the introduction of a “maternal-child health handbook” in more than 30 countries to disaster reduction workshops held in Southeast Asia, Japan has made sober but solid contributions to human security.

Soft power is not a zero-sum game and increases when nations work together. The concept of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” was originally proposed by Japan during Prime Minister Abe’s first term of office in 2006-07. It is an important initiative in ensuring the liberal international order in the region, jointly with the United States, India, Australia, France, and other like-minded states. Such a collaborative, multilateral approach is, I believe, what Japanese soft power should pursue further in the Reiwa era—the era of beautiful harmony.

Yasushi Watanabe is Professor of Public Diplomacy, Graduate School of Media and Governance, Keio University. This article has been adapted from his contribution to Debating Japan, Volume 2, Issue 5, May 15, 2019.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渡辺 靖 / 慶応大学教授

2019年 6月 18日










ソフトパワーはゼロサムゲームではなく、国々が力を合わせればそれだけ増大するものである。「自由で開かれたインド・太平洋」構想は2006−07年の第一期安倍政権の下で日本が提案した。これは、米国、インド、オーストラリア、フランスなど考えを一にする国々と一緒になってこの地域においてリベラルな国際秩序を確保するに当たっての重要なイニシアティブである。このような協調的な多国間のアプローチこそ、美しい調和(beautiful harmony)を意味する令和の時代に日本のソフトパワーが追求するべきものと信じる。

筆者は慶應義塾大学大学院政策・メディア研究科教授(パブリック・ディプロマシー)。本稿はDebating Japan, Volume 2, Issue 5, May 15, 2019に掲載された記事を一部修正したものである。
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Heisei was an Era Marked by Japanese Soft Power