Identity, Culture and Memory in Japanese Foreign Policy

by Michal Kolmaš (Volume editor) Yoichiro Sato (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XII, 210 Pages

Table Of Content

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Yoichiro Sato

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

The return of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power in late 2012 under the leadership of Abe Shinzo left an important mark in Japanese politics. Who would have expected Abe would renew the Japanese record of the longest serving prime minister, previously held by Katsura Taro who led the nation through the challenging war against Russia and for two more terms afterward? Abe’s resignation in September 2007 at less than a year of serving as a prime minister in his first term cited a health issue. The LDP lost power in September 2009 as its two prime ministers after the first Abe Cabinet failed to recapture popular support for the scandal-tainted ruling party amid the stubborn economic deflation and the deteriorating regional security environment.

The typical characteristics of prolonged leaderships in Japan—do nothing controversial to avoid making enemies—is probably not the way most observers would describe Abe. While making compromises is required of him just as his predecessors have gone through, Abe has from time to time pushed through considerable policy changes, such as endorsing the country’s participation in collective defense (Sato 2017b). The conservative vision he presented has guided the policy recourse during the past seven and a half years.

When we held our workshop to critique the initial chapter drafts of this book in November 2018, Japan was booming with international visitors under the government’s drive to promote inbound tourism as a new source of economic revenue. With the upcoming Tokyo Olympic then scheduled in summer 2020, both “whole-of-government” and “public-private” cooperation was at work under the central government’s slogan, “Yokoso [welcome to] Japan.” The reflationist economic policy Abe promoted by placing like-minded Kuroda Haruhiko in the governorship of the Central Bank of Japan brought back a period of economic growth, which albeit limitedly resembled ←vii | viii→the bubble economy boom era from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. All came to a sudden halt in the spring of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic reached the country.

Japan’s responses to the pandemic under Abe have revealed some of its core values. Japan did not have a law that would give its executive leader a power to declare and enforce a mandatory lockdown of any part of its territory for a reason of epidemic. Abe had to propose an amendment to the existing law against influenza epidemic, which was put in place several years earlier to deal with a new more toxic strain of influenza virus, to expand its scope to cover the new coronavirus (SARS COV-2). The law, however, merely authorized the prime minister to declare an emergency to specific municipalities and the relevant governors to request a voluntary curfew and business closures. Success of Japan’s attempt to curb the rise of infections depended on compliance of its citizens. The country’s relatively small number of available intensive care units per population invited a major concern, but in the end Japan wiggled through the tense months of April and May 2020 with one of the lowest rates of deaths per population. Hotel rooms and public halls the municipal governments earmarked for transferring the patients in less serious conditions in order to free up hospital capacities for those in serious conditions were barely utilized. The contrast between Tokyo’s calm restraint and similarly gigantic cities like Wuhan and New York where the infected overloaded the medical systems despite the more forceful lockdown orders was stark.

Japan’s soft approach was not only inevitable because of the lack of a powerful constitutional authority of the executive, but also was realistic given the strong public reservation against giving the executive such power even during a crisis. It is not too difficult to imagine a root of such attitude is found in the country’s painful total defeat in World War II. Abe’s Finance Minister Aso Taro, whose outspokenness earned him a pro-Nazi labeling by some liberal Western journalists, caused yet another controversy when he cynically bragged Japan’s success owed to its “[higher] level of civility” [mindo ga chigau].1 Liberal Japanese media and leftist opposition parties were quick to question Aso’s remark, but the silence of the large segment of the public indicated that the pride is a shared feeling. The Japanese displayed the same sense of pride in their own self-discipline and public mindedness during the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of March 2011.

Outside Japan, the pandemic has sharpened the ideological conflict between the United States and China. The propaganda war over the origin of and responsibility over the pandemic added fuel to the trade war. United States President Donald Trump’s cease-fire after the first stage agreement ←viii | ix→with China to improve the US trade balance is now at the risk of being abandoned. China continues to build up military infrastructure and presence throughout the South China Sea region, and the United States counters the Chinese move by increasing the frequency of its naval transit operations to challenge China’s claims. But, Japan’s previously growing activism in the South China Sea (Sato 2017a) appears to have peaked in the 2017–2018 period. The upgraded bilateral alliance between the United States and Japan as a result of the latter’s reinterpretation of the constitution and the national security legislation in 2015 (Sato 2017b) brings Japan closer to a hypothetical conflict, but a simple neorealist bandwagoning logic does not seem to explain the ways Japan is coping with divergence from its prime ally. Alliance dilemma is present and has grown (Atanassova-Cornelis and Sato 2019), and its material manifestations are inseparable from less tangible ideas, values, beliefs, and cultures. In the ongoing competition for a new order, Japan too utilizes old and new ideas which are consistent with its material interests (Rothman, Vyas, and Sato 2017).

The collection of chapters that follows will illustrate nuanced applications of constructivism and poststructuralism to study of Japanese foreign policy that is more conducive to dialoging with the more traditional materialist-utilitarian theories (Sato and Hirata eds. 2008) as well. We believe that material factors cannot (by any means) give a holistic picture of Japan’s foreign policy behavior, interests, and perceptions; and only through dialogue with these immaterial concepts we can try to grasp hints of Japanese uniqueness and policy conduct. Our collection of chapters brings together scholars of international relations, security studies and policy studies, and offers a compelling food for thought that adds to contemporary debates on Japanese foreign policy and also on Japanese self-perception and understanding of its past.


1Asahi Shimbun Digital, June 4, 2020. https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASN6455 CGN64UTFK008.html.


Atanassova-Cornelis, E., & Sato, Y. (2019). The US-Japan alliance dilemma in the Asia-Pacific: Changing rationales and scope. The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs, 54(4), 78–93.

Rothman, S., Vyas, U., & Sato, Y. (2017). Introduction. In Regional institutions, geopolitics and economics in the Asia-Pacific (pp. 1–10). London: Routledge.

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Sato, Y. (2017a). Japan’s maritime security: Continuity and post-Cold War evolution. In N. Tarling & X. Chen (Eds.), Maritime security in East and Southeast Asia: Political challenges in Asian waters (pp. 125–144). London: Routledge.

Sato, Y. (2017b). Conclusion: Abe’s Japan—Manifestation of a Quiet Transformation in Power and Values. In H. Sato & Y. Sakai (Eds.), Rerising Japan: Its strategic power in international relations (pp. 243–252). New York: Peter Lang.

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We would like to express our thanks to the Czech Science Foundation for its financial support under standard research grant no. 18-05339S. We would also like to thank the Ritsumeikan Center for Asia Pacific Studies (RCAPS) at Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University for organizing a workshop in 2018, which helped us to meet and discuss the initial drafts of the chapters. And our thanks also go to our family members and friends for support and advice.

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Introduction: National Identity and the Study of Japan

Michal Kolmaš

Metropolitan University Prague


Has pacifism retreated from Japan? Is the country returning to its prewar militarist identity, or is it just reacting to the security developments in Asia and in the world? Or are ongoing political changes in Japan merely small steps on a long trajectory of incremental “normalization”? These questions have been in the forefront of Japan research for at least three decades now. The reasons are perhaps straightforward: There is indeed something happening with Japan. Japanese politicians have become less concerned with the promotion of pacifism into the world. They have visited the Yasukuni shrine, where souls of dead soldiers are enshrined, and called for the rejuvenation of Japanese role in the world. They have become critical of the postwar Constitution and its war-renouncing Article 9, which they no longer consider as an asset to Japan’s foreign policy, but rather a hindrance to it. They have changed security legislature in order to allow the Japanese military more freedom in participating in foreign missions.

Indeed, the extent and scope of changes is breathtaking. Japan has become much more active in the world. It has created a first overseas military base in Djibouti and has sent troops in a variety of peacekeeping missions around the world. It has transformed its institutional structure to allow for a better cooperation among ministries of defense and foreign affairs. Under the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it has enacted a series of laws that allow for easier intelligence coordination with its allies, predominantly the United States. But what does that tell us about Japan? Do all these developments signal that the revisionist political leadership has succeeded in transforming Japanese pacifist ←1 | 2→identity? Or is it too soon or even wrong to suggest such a thing? And what would that mean for Japan, Asia, and the world?

There is no consensus on the answers. Some of the commentators (i.e., Dobson 2017; Hagstrom and Hanssen 2015; Hughes, 2015; Schulze 2016) have argued that Japan has indeed transformed into a different country—one that possesses a strong military no matter of the peaceful constitution, that has succeeded in detaching itself from its postwar torpor in foreign and security policy, and whose society no longer feels united under the antimilitarist banner. They have illustrated the ways of how the leading elite—and Abe in particular—have transformed the narrative of Japanese pacifism into Japanese proactive pacifism, which no longer stresses the necessity of following the Yoshida doctrine, but instead calls for a more active and playmaker role for Japanese foreign policy. There are others, however, who are not so inclined to the notion of Japanese change. These scholars (i.e., Oros 2010, 2015; Liff 2015; Lande 2017; Easly, 2017, for a broader discussion on this topic, see Kolmaš 2018, 2019) believe that the change under Abe is much more limited, if happening at all. They speak of Japanese incrementalism and show that the recent security changes are just minor advances on a long journey that started right after the war. Some of them have argued that the Constitution and the institutional brakes that it possesses have—although under attack—remained more-or-less intact in countering revisionist pressures (for in-depth discussion of the continuity/change spectrum see Kolmaš 2019).

Notwithstanding the fact that there is no consensus on the Japanese political trajectory, it is apparent that there is significant interest in the ideational side of Japanese change. The prescription of changing/non-changing Japan simply boils down to the question of Japanese national identity. Since the identity is so closely linked to the postwar constitution and the role of Japanese military, any attempt to transform these is directly linked to the very idea of Japanese self. Aware of this, Japanese politicians aim not only to change Japanese legislature, but also the underlying understanding of Japan as a nation—only by persuading the society that pacifism is no longer necessary—or indispensable—for Japan can they broaden the options for revisionist policy making. We thus believe that it is of utmost importance to engage in the debate of Japanese national identity and its effect on policy making.

We intend to do it by eclectically building on the prevailing scholarship on the role of ideas, identity, and culture in Japanese political change. Our main interest will be in the ideational background of Japanese policy making, but—differently to the abovementioned studies—we aim to broadly analyze these ideas within not merely Japanese postwar pacifism, but also education, ←2 | 3→popular culture, and economic model. We present a collection of chapters connected by the belief that rationality and calculated interests cannot simply explain changing Japanese trajectory. The chapters in our book show that identities and ideas matter, and that they constitute basis from which Japanese state operates. Instead of other identity-based studies, we do not merely focus on the state level of identity, but we illustrate the role of ideas on all levels of Japanese society.

Identity, Culture, and the Study of Japan1

Identity will serve as the main conceptual tool for our understanding of contemporary Japan. For most parts of the twentieth century, however, identity has been overlooked as a concept of interest for international relations scholars. Dominated by rationalist theories, International Relations (IR) scholars were interested in power, cooperation, institutions, and anarchy, rather than identity. If studied at all, state identity was understood in terms of power (superpowers, middle powers, small states, etc.). The surge of interest in identity and its relationship to foreign policy has resulted from the fourth great debate in IR theory during the 1980s and 1990s. The debate emancipated rationalists’ post-positivist enemies; and theories such as social constructivism, post-structuralism, environmentalism, and gender theory became more-or-less widely applied in international relations. Identity has been one of the key concepts these “new” theories worked with. Social constructivists, in particular, have been widely interested in the way how identity works and how it influences individual and state behavior. Building on sociology and psychology, constructivists focused on the context in which meanings are created and believed that this context (cultural, historical, and discursive) is essential for our understanding of the world—and IR.

Although sharing the conviction that identity is—and should be—a fundamental concept in IR, constructivists were far from consensual on the meaning of this term. Paul Kowert (1998: 4) wrote that identity is a “notoriously slippery concept on a par with the much maligned political culture.” Berenskoetter (2010: 3598) noted that even after “a decade of using it, the concept remained vague and its analytical role difficult to grasp, prompting some disillusionment among IR scholars.” Nicholas Onuf (2003: 26), one of the pioneers of constructivism, went as far as to say that identity is “one of the most fashionable,” but also “one of the murkiest concepts”—“so difficult to fathom” that he has been “reluctant to use it.” Similarly, Abdelal, Herrera, Johnston, and McDermott (2006) argued that the insufficient analytical grasp reminds of a “definition anarchy,” which hampers further attempts at conceptual clarity. One of the reasons for this inconsistency might lie in the ←3 | 4→fact that identity is very difficult to identify. Not only we have problems recognizing identity (What constitutes it? How do we define it? How do we see it?), we have further problems in defining what it leads to and what it does. Is identity a basis of national interest? Can identity be understood as a causal link to state’s foreign policy? Is identity produced through history, culture, and socialization of a certain community, or is identity a simple “practice” defined on various policy and social levels? Does identity exist outside of our interactions with others or does it exist only within it? Is there only one identity or are there infinite identities that materialize in various settings? (Kolmaš 2018, 2019).

The questions connected to our study of identity are simply numerous. As Paul Kowert (1998: 4) notes then, it is no surprise that “even those otherwise prepared to make distinctions among national identities might well balk at the sheer implausibility of devising acceptable definitions.” It should thus be of no surprise that there is a plethora of various understandings of national identity and its role, almost as many as there are authors focusing on it. Some of them try to answer the questions of what states are through connection to power (as abovementioned Waltz 1979; Mearsheimer 2001). Others (Kowert-Legro 1998; Onuf 1989; Wendt 1999; Guzzini 2000) connect identity to social rules, orders, and norms. There are researchers who try to understand identity in its historical and cultural context (Katzenstein and Okawara 1993) and others who aim at the same but do it through discursive interpretations (Herrmann, Isernia and Segatti 2009; Wodak, de Cillia, Reisigl and Liebhart 2009). Some go as far as to shed any grounding of national identity and believe that identity resides exclusively in its practice (Campbell 1998; Hansen 2006; Suzuki 2015, Kolmaš 2019).

Japan, in particular, has emerged as a widely used case study for national identity theorizing. This is perhaps not too perplexing given the radical transformation of Japanese self pre- and postwar and the fluidity and evolution of Japanese state (in terms of both economy and policy) in the last couple of decades. Initial interest in Japanese national identity came when realist prescriptions of Japan did not pan out. Realists believed that rising Japan would eventually shed the constraints placed on its foreign and security policy and reemerge as a powerful actor in world politics. Once their prescription did not materialize, they began to speak of Japan in the terms of abnormal or an anomaly (i.e., Green 2001; Kennedy 1994; Waltz 1993). Social constructivists tried to rescue realism from this situation. By departing from the concept of identity, constructivists believed that the sluggish change in Japanese politics can be explained by the existence of pacifist norms they called the “culture of antimilitarism” (Berger 1993, 1998; Katzenstein 1996; Katzenstein and ←4 | 5→Okawara 1993). These norms were, according to them, grounded in Japanese domestic politics, or transferred from abroad and sedimented within the domestic politics. Most notably, these authors were interested in the norms sedimented in Japan’s war-renouncing constitution. Although written by American lawyers, constructivists traced how these norms eventually became intersubjectively shared within Japanese policy-making institutions. In doing so, they approached the norms as a form of independent variable, which helps to explain the limited nature of Japanese change (dependent variable).

There is much to be grateful to social constructivists for their study of Japan. They have emancipated the study of culture and identity as key concepts for IR and thus tried to bridge the gap between IR and area studies. Their interpretation of Japanese change was a huge improvement on the preceding realist interpretation. And yet, their take on identity had several shortcomings that became apparent a bit later on. Namely, constructivists overstate the importance of the state and its domestic structure and underplay the constitutive relationship with Others. Since constructivists approach identity in terms of singular entities (states), they are prone to simplification stemming from labeling these entities in binary terms. Constructivists’ idea that the Japanese Self was created in the wake of World War II dwells on a distinction between militarist prewar Japan and antimilitarist postwar Japan. But it would be misleading to say that postwar Japanese society was simply antimilitaristic and prewar simply militaristic. Many studies (i.e., Miyashita 2006) have illustrated that postwar Japanese society was far from antimilitaristic. There was a significant popular support for the Self-Defense Forces, and the peaceful war-renouncing Constitution was heavily disputed in the first years after the occupation for speaking in a foreign language and stripping Japan of its autonomy, identity, and foreign policy. It took more than two decades for Japanese pacifism to root into the society. Political institutions were supporting this process, with the Yoshida Doctrine (Yoshida Rosen), Eisaku Sato’s three nonnuclear principles or Miki Takeo’s one percent cap on defense spending aiding the promotion of Japanese pacifism.

Second point of criticism to constructivist interpretation points to its preoccupation with domestic institutions. Katzenstein and Berger define the cultural norms of antimilitarism as a product of the postwar peaceful Constitution, and the resulting foreign policy as a product of these intersubjective norms. Here it is fair to say that neither Katzenstein nor Berger believe that the Constitution is a purely domestic normative source. Quite to the opposite, constructivists believe that norms are fluid and constituted through connection to other (outside). But once the norm becomes sedimented, they prescribe only a limited possibility for change, which can happen only ←5 | 6→gradually (through cultural change) or via systemic shock such as a war. But contemporary Japan and its perception of pacifism surely seems different from that of fifty years ago: The narratives have changed, values associated with pacifism have too, and political actions once thought unthinkable (such as sending troops abroad to collective security operations) now seem normal. Post-structural interpretation is perhaps better in accounting for this change.

This approach builds on dynamic, relational approach to studying identity and accounting for its influence (Kolmaš 2019). Post-structural authors (see, i.e., Campbell 1998; Hansen 2006; Neumann, 1996, 1998; Rumelili 2004; Suzuki 2007, 2015; Tamaki 2015; Waever 2002) believe that identity is constantly produced and reproduced within a performative practice. It is, in fact, ritualized—the Self is being constantly contested and negotiated through interactions with broadly defined Others. The interactions are formulated within discourse and only there the identity exists. There is no objective component of identity, and there is no distinction between identity, interests, and ideational and material factors (discourse defines interests—the very notion as security might mean something completely different for different identities). Everything is a mere product of othering—a practice in which identity is created through distinguishing. Post-structural authors have identified a variety of others to which the Japanese self differentiates. Some were spatial (The West, the United States, China, and Russia); others were temporal (Japan’s past such as Showa or Meiji Japan); or ethnical/societal (the Ainu, Korean, or Okinawan minority in Japan, etc.). They have shown that the definition of Japanese self is created (and constantly contested) through the discourse on these others. In this vein, even antimilitarism/pacifism is a product of the discursive practice and exists only within it. Since the narratives seem to have changed (Japan no longer sees pacifism as an asset to foreign policy), the very notion of pacifism, according to them, has either disappeared or has become severely limited.

Post-structuralism has succeeded in defining Japanese identity (identities as there are various discourses through which various identities are formed) in fluid and dynamic terms. They have discarded constructivist preoccupation with culture, history, and the postwar Constitution and have shown that Japanese antimilitarism/pacifism is actually a very contested concept that has been under constant pressure throughout the second part of the twentieth century. But they have overstated the defining factors of the narratives. Although it is true that the discussions about pacifism have changed very much over the past decades, the policy—and society—changes have been much slower. A vast majority of Japanese still oppose the change to the constitutional Article 9, Japanese soldiers are dispatched only with limited ←6 | 7→mandates and are under heavy popular scrutiny, and every revisionist law that Japanese administration proposes is met with significant popular protests. Thus it seems far-fetched to speak of Japanese pacifism as nonexistent.

In short, both theories have greatly helped us to understand contemporary Japan and its identity. There are still challenges, however, that contemporary identity research tries to overcome. These can be broadly summed up in three discussions: (1) the role of identity entrepreneurs (agents) in identity change, (2) hierarchization of identities, and (3) the role of popular emotions. Our chapters, as will be illustrated later, touch upon these broad discussions.

Japanese Identity and Agency

First, the use of agency in the identity discussion is based on the claim that agents are aware of how identity entrepreneurship can help them achieve their goals. These goals and strategies on how to achieve them take place in the least sedimented level and take on the form of contestation politics of identity (Campbell 1998: 218; Neumann 1996: 165; Guillaume 2011). Agents realize that much is at stake in the battle for the narrative of the state Self, and act accordingly. The form of the narrative can be more or less instrumental depending on the qualities and interests of particular agents. Their aim may be to describe, interpret, or straightforwardly formulate political issues. They use discursive practices such as naming, dramatization, comparison, exaggeration, or downplaying in order to inscribe their visions of state’s Self into the state identity. This is what post-structuralists call the practice/performativity of identity in which the Self of the state resides (Campbell 1998: 218). Agents of this performativity do not necessarily have to take form of the elite representatives of the state such as the president, government, or the parliament. Media, epistemic communities, businesses, etc., might possess and entrepreneur their own visions of identity. Bukh (2015), for instance, showed the process in which local politicians of the Japanese Shimane prefecture incorporated the disputed Takeshima (Dokdo in Korean, officially known as Liancourt rocks, i.e., Kim, 2016) islands into Japanese national identity (vis-a-vis Korean Other) by the adoption of the so-called Takeshima Day in 2005. Subsequently, the prefecture pressured on the national government in Tokyo to accept this narrative in order to strengthen Japan’s claim over the contested islands and question the Korean claim (Kolmaš 2019).

Here, however, lies the question to what extent is it possible to distinguish agents and a specific kind of narrative/system in which they operate. Some authors (ie. Kowert and Legro, 1996) argue that agents are independent on the structure and thus capable of consciously manipulating identity to reach ←7 | 8→their own goals. Others (Hagstrom and Gustafsson 2015: 8–9; Wodak, de Cilia, Reisigl and Liebhart 2009) believe that there is a limit to the identity agency. According to them, agents operate in a specific discursive field/narrative, which agents transform, but also accept and thus his actions can be traced to a particular underlying identity. Ruth Wodak (et al. 2009) illustrates this issue on the example of postwar American foreign policy, in which agents pursuing changes to security identity constructed the image of the American Self vis-a-vis the Soviet Other; yet only in compliance to the broader practice of American identity as constructed against the Other defined as a lack of order. Referencing to the National Security Council (NSC-68) documents, Wodak argues that the Soviet Union might have played the role of a significant Other, in distinction to which American foreign policy narrative was constituted; however, American politicians themselves admitted that the absence of order, possibility of anarchy, fear of totalitarianism, and other negative elements were more sedimented fears for them than the fear of Soviets. Even if the Soviet Union would not exist then (and American identity could not have been constructed vis-a-vis the Soviet Other), United States would still pursue similar foreign policy focused on eliminating the absence of order (Kolmaš 2019; Wodak, de Cilia, Reisigl and Liebhart 2009: 31–32).

The agency discussion helps us in two ways: First, contrary to much of postmodern thinking, it allows us to focus on individuals and not be utterly preoccupied with structure. Second, it differentiates between the actors we understand as key in identity formation and reformation. Both of these ways allow us to be ontologically clear.

Japanese Identity and Hierarchy

Understanding national identity in its discursive formulation always resides on the interplay between various others and various selves. Constructivists (i.e., Hopf 1998) believe that this struggle is in a relational form, but that does not necessarily have to be a hierarchical positioning for an identity to emerge. In case of Japan, however, hierarchization has played a key role in the formation and recreation of national identity. The deepest sedimented identities, such as modern state, have been produced hierarchically, by distinguishing from both Asia and the West. This struggle for meaning started with the Meiji restoration, but even before the restoration, Japan found itself in constantly contested hierarchical position within the Chinese tributary system. Understood as a “border case,” Japanese elites often made an explicit distinction between Chinese civilization, which they revered, and the Chinese state, which they often held in contempt (Kang 2010: 593–594).

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For most parts of Japan’s modern history, the narratives compared Japan to a broadly defined superior and inferior states. These categories changed over time, but ultimately, Japanese identity has been produced within these hierarchical contestations. The West (superior) and Asia (inferior) have served for much of Japan’s post-Meiji identity production and have contributed greatly to Japan’s colonial ventures. Tokyo legitimized its World War II offensive by arguing it is “liberating” Asia from Western “predators,” and argued that the struggles between Japan and China are no more than a rivalry between older and younger brother in one household (Ajia no ikka, see Tamaki 2015). After the war, Japan found itself in a hierarchical position toward the United States, and much of the postwar discussions on Japan’s role in the world revolved around the key issue of whether Japan had been robbed of its identity and autonomy. The postwar Constitution and its war-renouncing Article 9 were—and still are—key to these discussions. Many leading LDP members including Kishi and Yoshida protested against the Constitution and argued that “It is not the policy of an independent nation to have troops of a foreign country based on its soil” (Samuel 2007: 30). What is often missed in these discussions is the fact that they originate in the fear of losing “autonomous” identity. As Suzuki (2015: 100) wrote: “Whatever one’s political colors were, debates surrounding Article 9 were intimately linked to a persistent fear that Japan had a ‘weak’ or ‘subservient’ identity that allowed it to be dominated by foreign powers” (for a broader discussion, see Kolmaš 2018, 2019).

The Yoshida doctrine and the 1960 defense treaty in many ways codified this status and the debates became muted. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of 1990s, discussions about Japanese autonomy and independence returned. Advocated of autonomy (including Ozawa Ichiro, Shinzo Abe, Shintaro Ishihara, and others) criticized the US-imposed Constitution and postwar masochistic (jigyakuteki) regime that has robbed Japan of its place in the world. They argued that this “robbery” has placed Japan in a victim position to the dominant United States, and thus the country needs to detach itself from the postwar torpor on foreign and security policy, stand up again and become a self-confident and “normal” nation. Security reconstruction was framed as a “normalization” of Japanese identity, which, in itself, was produced through hierarchical position of Japan vis-a-vis its various others. Although the United States served as the most significant other for Japan for much of the second part of the twentieth century, since the end of 1990s, China has gradually emerged as the key other for Japanese hierarchical positioning (see Suzuki 2015).

This Japanese case reflects a broader theoretical discussion regarding identity production and change. Traditional constructivists generally believe ←9 | 10→that identities are not necessarily always hierarchical; and in some cases, identities of individuals can exist without others to confirm them. When describing individual identity, Alexander Wendt (1999: 226) wrote that “The characteristics that underlie type identities are at base intrinsic to actors. The qualities that make Max a teenager exist whether or not Others are present to recognize them as meaningful, and to that extent he can be a teenager all by himself.” Post-structuralists reject this claim and instead believe that there are hidden hierarchies in every aspect of human life, including identity formation. Chapters in this book, albeit loosely tied to either constructivism or post-structuralism, highlight these hierarchical discourses, as will be illustrated later.

Japanese Identity and Emotions

Analyzing emotions has become increasingly popular in contemporary international relations literature (see, i.e., Coicaud 2014; Herrmann, Isernia and Segatti 2009; Mercer 2005). For most parts of the modern IR history, however, we have tended to disregard emotions as a constitutive part of national identity and/or foreign policy. The big IR theories such as realism and liberalism were preoccupied with the notion that states are unitary actors that behave rationally, and neither the emotions of the population nor the discursive interpretation of the emotions of the state played any role in foreign policy practice. Since the end of the 1990s, new approaches emerged which transcended/criticized the rationality of states and began to advocate for a range of emotions stemming from shame, anger, sympathy, or friendship. Ted Hopf (2010), for instance, came up with the concept of habit as a possible motivation for state behavior. Hopf believed that in some instances, neither logic of consequentialism nor the logic of appropriateness can provide a plausible explanation of the construction of political decision. He described cases of long-term cooperation or conflict, in which rationality presupposed by other logics of behavior does not exist and states behave instinctively. He used the term “habit,” which—according to him—manifests as amity or enmity toward other states based in emotion, rather than instrumental rationality (Hopf 2010: 541). The habitual affect against particular Other presupposes the existence of particular identity—depending on the context, it can define states as friends, enemies, but can also influence/define behavior among identities such as Christian, Asian, modern, democratic, etc.

The relevance of Hopf’s study does not only discard the preoccupation with rationality, but also shows how the very rationality/irrationality nexus is constituted by identity (and thus there is no objective rationality). This is ever ←10 | 11→more apparent in defining collective identity. In the formation of international organizations, or building up classical alliances among states, identity can form the emotional feeling of belonging similarly as within the groups of individuals. According to Jan Assmann (cited in Wodak et al. 2008: 7–8), “collective identity is a matter of identification on the part of the participating individuals. It does not exist ‘in itself’, but only ever to the extent that specific individuals subscribe to it. It is as strong or as weak as it is alive in the thoughts and actions of the group members, and able to motivate their thoughts and actions.” When one identifies with a particular notion, one feels part of a certain collective. It follows that without emotional attachment, identities are difficult to construct. In such a situation, identity entrepreneurs appear more seldom and are much less likely to succeed (Hagstrom and Gustafsson 2015: 10). This, however, works both ways—in the cases of a highly passionate situation (emotional debates), there is the highest possibility of agents trying to instrumentalize these for their visions of identity (clearly visible in discussions of migration and identity). In the case of Japan, there is growing distress regarding the rise of China and its perceived undemocratic, irrational, bullying, or unlawful behavior, which constructs Japan as a democratic, rational, and lawful country (for this discussion in detail, see Kolmaš 2019, Suzuki 2015).

But emotional interpretation of states or a collective of states is not the only place in which emotions influence/form identities. Emotions can very well be found on intrastate levels as well. Emotions are connected to ways how individuals, groups, or social classes perceive facts or even construct meanings of social events and/or history. Several chapters of this collective monograph make use of emotions in their identification of historical memory, understanding, and reconciliation with Japan’s past mistakes.

Outline of the Book and Chapter Summary

This book is rather a collection of chapters dealing with different aspects of Japanese identity, ideas, and emotions. It does so on a variety of levels described above. Some (such as Hosoda, Yoshimatsu and Kaseda’s) focus on the state level of identity production and deconstruct discursive interpretations of Self and Other and social norms constituting these distinctions. Others (Heo, Kozisek and Sykora’s) are more interested in substate narratives of belonging and forgetting and the ways these interact with official discourses. Many of these studies apply the identity framework for specific parts of foreign policy in order to better understand changing Japanese trajectory.

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An example of this approach is Yoshimatsu Hidetaka’s chapter titled “National Identity and Asian Diplomacy under Abe.” Yoshimatsu examines key characteristics of Japan’s national identity pursued under the Prime Minister Abe in its Asian diplomacy. He shows the complicated nexus between Japan’s autonomous identity, its Asian belonging, and the alliance with the United States. Yoshimatsu shows how Abe’s identity was represented within his value-oriented diplomacy, which later transformed to the currently much-mentioned concept of Indo-Pacific. Yoshimatsu shows how Abe has projected his vision of identity into Japan’s foreign policy, namely the relationship with India and the proposed Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).

Similarly to Yoshimatsu, Utpal Vyas presents a chapter that builds on constructivist identity framework in order to interpret contemporary Japanese foreign policy. Vyas’s chapter is titled “Japan-UK Relations before and after the Brexit Referendum” and tries to understand the sudden change in Japanese perception of the relation with the UK after the Brexit referendum. Although Japan-UK relations were amicable before the referendum, Japanese reaction has been rather cautious and incredulous. The referendum created a confusion and surprise in a country that craves stability and reliable partners outside of its own tense region. Vyas shows how Abe’s vision of identity helps us to understand this confusion and argues that Japan’s identity drives for diversification of its international partners and lesser reliance on the United States.

The chapter of Yoshinori Kaseda looks more closely on the change that has been ongoing in Japan’s security policy. But instead of focusing solely on security evolution, Kaseda investigates the role of ideas in the constitution of these changes, that is, how has Abe’s nationalism created Japan’s security renaissance. Kaseda does a holistic and thorough evaluation based on a variety of primary sources of all the components of this ideational change and argues indeed there is a strong ideational background, rather than a simple strategic interest, in the ongoing policy change.

The chapter by Yoichiro Sato investigates the change within the realm of economy. Japan has been praised for its “East Asian miracle” of intense economic growth in the postwar years. This “high growth” helped Japan to recover pride in its achievements, and was more or less successfully emulated by many other Asian countries. In the chapter, Sato analyzes how this economic model reflects Japanese identity and how it has been transformed because of its interaction with Chinese mercantilist, and American liberal economic models.

The chapter of David Kozisek looks at Japanese identity through its discursive interpretation. Differently to the two abovementioned chapters, ←12 | 13→David adopts a post-structural othering framework in order to illustrate how Japanese perception of China changes, and how this leads to changes in Japanese perception of self. This is by no means involuntary, but rather a product of a revisionist state policies and narratives spearheaded by the Prime Minister Abe. Methodologically, David Kozisek dissects media discourse and shows the ways in which media contribute, or hamper, positive/negative images of the country and ruling elites.

The chapters of Jan Sýkora and Emilia S. Heo engage with the discussion on historical memory and identity change. They investigate how much have shared understandings and feelings influenced the ways in which we perceive the past. Jan Sýkora’s chapter focuses on the shared understanding and perceptions of Japanese surrender in 1945. The event has been dramatized by several movies both in Japan and abroad, which significantly contributed to the stereotypical myth in which the historical figures were labeled as heroes or villains. Sýkora’s chapter analyzes the different images of the two controversial historical figures involved in the tragic endgame of the war in Japan, namely Emperor Showa and the Minister of Army General Korechika Anami, as portrayed in two film adaptations (1967 and 2015) of the Kazutoshi Hando’s book “Japan’s Longest Day.” The different approaches to the historical facts reflect the changing content of war narrative and explore the process of the recreation of the national identity through the myth making in the contemporary Japanese society.

Emilia S. Heo’s chapter titled “Through the Eyes of Others: Postwar Reconciliation Narrative in Contemporary Japan” explores to what extent Japanese youth’s understanding about the country’s past affects the way they perceive their relations with neighboring countries today. Working with data through an online survey and multiple class observations, Emilia elucidates that Japanese university students, especially those exposed to a global educational environment, display critical engagement with conflict knowledge acquired at school and the way it is taught. The research outcome also shows how they connect themselves with the country’s past influences their perspective on what role youth can play in promoting peace with former enemy states. Learning history with and through others is crucial for younger generation to become an active agent of reconciliation.


1This section is a shortened and revised version of my earlier book National Identity and Japanese Revisionism, which was published by Routledge in 2019.

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1.National Identity and Asian Diplomacy under Abe

Hidetaka Yoshimatsu

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University


In the 2010s, Japan’s diplomatic policies and relations have collected keen interests in the world in general and in Asia in particular. This is largely because the Abe administration has implemented distinctive diplomatic policies that have had significant impacts on regional politics and the global political economy. Shinzo Abe has assumed a prime ministerial post for more than eight years including one year of the first administration in 2006–2007. The Abe administration has presented distinctive diplomatic ideals towards Asia such as value-oriented diplomacy and the Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

Prime Minister Abe is known as a conservative nationalist who puts stress on Japan’s traditional values and national pride. Abe’s particular personal identity should have had meaningful impacts on Japan’s national identity shown in its diplomacy towards Asia. Moreover, the external policies and relations of Japan, like other middle powers, have been constrained by great power politics. Under such constraints, Japan’s national identity has swung in relation to two great powers, the US and China. While the US has been a sole ally with close political and economic ties, China’s growing power and presence have significant influences on Japan’s diplomatic stance and external relations.

This study seeks to examine the key characteristics of Japan’s national identity pursued by the Abe administration in its Asian diplomacy. In so doing, this chapter takes into account two analytical angles. The first is relevant to the “layered identity” of state and state leader. The national identity is a state’s identity that is developed in historical sequences and social and cultural contexts as well as social interactions with other states. The national ←17 | 18→identity is formed as the structure with stable and fixed character at the more institutionalised layer. The heads of state and government, agents of the state, are, in a normal condition, unable to establish or transform state identity. However, the production and reproduction of state identity might become possible under a strict condition when the state holds a distinctive political leader who has a strong aspiration for remodelling the state, high capabilities to employ languages for discourses to mobilise resources in the public space, and a long-term reign enough to realise political goals. Such identity entrepreneurs who operate at the less institutionalised layer can construct, reproduce, and alter state identity at the more institutionalised layer (Hagström and Gustafsson 2015: 8).

Abe has a distinctive character as prime minister. He is a “thoroughbred” politician with prime minister Nobusuke Kishi as a grandfather, another prime minister Eisaku Sato as an uncle, and Shintaro Abe, foreign minister and a faction leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as the father. In September 2006, Abe became the youngest prime minister in Japan’s post-war period. Since coming back to power in December 2012, Abe has enjoyed a solid political position. Within the Diet, the fragmented opposition parties have never challenged the dominance of the LDP. Within the LDP, the Seiwa-kai, a faction to which Abe belongs, has maintained the dominant position. Abe as a determined political leader has specific ideals and identity, and his identity is reflected in his administration’s foreign policy. Abe as an agent seeks to reflect his own identity on Japan’s status in the international arena through the advocacy of specific ideals. The diffusion and acceptance of the ideals and the embeddedness of such ideals into regional institutions are effective means to influence the international system in which Japan is located.

The second aspect is relevant to “relational” national identity. The national identity is formed intersubjectively through interactions with other actors in the social sphere (Suzuki 2007: 25). Accordingly, the national identity requires both a state’s self-perception and the understanding and acceptance of such perception by other states. This implies that the national identity is produced and developed in relation to a state’s surrounding fellow members through social interactions and social contestation. Given a state’s imperative to maintain national interests under constraints from uneven distribution of power, it has to pay due attention to relations with great powers, which involve not only linkages in material terms but also an ideational perception. Under such conditions, the state tends to regard one great power as a senior fellow that shares the sameness and/or another great power as one with the otherness.

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In the post-Second World War period, the political and security partnership with the US has been the primary pillar of Japan’s foreign and security policy. The conservative LDP regime has put stress on the stable alliance with the US, and Japan’s foreign and security policy has been tuned with the political and security partnership with the US. Japan has maintained an identity as a Western ally and a junior partner of Washington in the hierarchical international system. At the same time, several Japanese leaders have pursued Japan’s autonomous status by emphasising its identity as an Asian nation. This was typical for Yukio Hatoyama who asserted a shift to the self-reliance diplomacy from America-obedient one, and pursued a closer affiliation with Asian nations through an East Asian community (EAC). As will be explained in the following section, Abe is a conservative nationalist, who has been eager to preserve Japan’s traditional social and cultural values, and enhance Japan’s national pride and self-confidence. Abe has accepted the value of the alliance with the US particularly as the great power to counter the China risk. But, Abe is likely to pursue the enhancement of Japan’s autonomous identity when he considers that the partnership with Washington undermines Japan’s national prestige. It is necessary to examine whether this is a case when Abe pursues a more autonomous identity in relation to the US.

Before investigating the Abe administration’s concrete external policies towards Asia, the following section explores Abe’s personal identity.

Abe’s Identity as a Conservative Nationalist

Abe is regarded as a conservative nationalist. Abe’s nationalist belief is strongly influenced by his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who assumed prime ministership from February 1957 until July 1960. Abe recalls that growing up amid critical comments that his grandfather was “the embodiment of reactionary conservatism” or “a class-A war crime suspect” might bring about “the opposite effect of making me embrace ‘conservatism’” (Abe 2006: 18–19). Abe’s advocacy of “departure from the postwar regime” is consonant with Kishi’s thirst to break the San-Francisco regime, and Kishi and Abe share a strong aspiration to revise the US-imposed post-war Japanese Constitution.

Abe as a conservative nationalist sought to re-establish Japan’s national identity, seeking “to transform Japanese society and state into a more confident, autonomous, but also traditional and unique entity” (Kolmaš 2020: 187). Abe’s such desire was revealed in the slogan of departure from the post-war regime, the revision of the Basic Education Act, and an attempt to revise the Japanese Constitution (Kolmaš 2020; McNeill and Lebowitz 2007; Ryu 2018). The concepts such as respect for history and culture, the ←19 | 20→spirit of the public, and the importance of nature were stressed in the revised education act (Togo 2015: 6). These elements are also emphasised in the LDP’s draft of the revision of the Japanese Constitution (LDP 2012). Abe’s conservative identity has been also embedded in his affiliation with various conservative political groups. Abe is the founder of an arch-conservative political association, Sosei Nippon (Reborn Japan), as well as a key member of the Diet’s cross-party Alliance for Promoting the Assessment of a New Constitution (Hughes 2015). The concrete policy directions and affiliation with conservative political groups surely indicate Abe’s identity as a conservative nationalist.

In external relations, Abe has maintained the LDP’s long-honoured tenet to maintain close political and security ties with the US. However, Abe has maintained a historical revisionist posture, which was demonstrated, for instance, during his formal visit to India in 2007. Abe made a visit to the bereaved family of Chandra Bose who fought against the British army in collaboration with the Japanese army during the Pacific War. Abe also visited the son of Radhabinod Pal, an Indian Justice of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East who asserted innocent of class-A war criminals of the Pacific War. These visits could be interpreted as linking to Abe’s affiliation with Kishi and revisionist historical views. Bose died in Taiwan due to an airplane accident in August 1945, and his remains were buried in a temple in Tokyo because India was under the control of Britain. Kishi and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru undertook a ceremonial service at the temple during Nehru’s visit to Tokyo in October 1957 (Kusaka 2014: 67).

In addition to the character of a conservative nationalist, Abe is also regarded as a pragmatist who seeks to protect Japan’s interest in evolving political and security environments in Asia (Mochizuki and Porter 2013; Nilsson-Wright and Fujiwara 2015; Pyle 2018). Even during the first administration in 2006–2007, Abe exhibited this pragmatism by respecting the 1993 Kono statement and the 1995 Murayama statement, which enabled him to make an “ice-breaking” visit to Beijing in September 2006 (Mochizuki and Porter 2013: 35–36). After forming the second administration, Abe’s pragmatism became more salient. His pragmatism and learning were shown in the composition of the second Abe cabinet. While the cabinet included vocal conservatives such as Tomomi Inada (Regulatory Reform) and Hakubun Shimomura (Education), it also contained moderates such as Fumio Kishida (Foreign Affairs) and Sadakazu Tanigaki (Justice) (Nilsson-Wright and Fujiwara 2015: 4).

Abe’s pragmatism had much to do with learning. Abe, who learned from his failure to manage the government skilfully during the first administration, ←20 | 21→has been very careful in governing policy formation and political interactions after returning to power. Abe recalled later that the setback and experiences at the time of the first administration that lasted for one year became an important fertiliser for six years after the start of the second administration (Sankei Shimbun 2018). As for the formation of the cabinet, Abe also learned from the failure of Kishi who was forced to step down as prime minister in July 1960 because of a broad spectrum of conservative politicians within his cabinet that later invited an internal party rebellion (Nilsson-Wright and Fujiwara 2015: 5).

In summary, Abe has a distinctive identity as a conservative nationalist who puts stress on the preservation of a strong and prestigious Japan. At the same time, he is a pragmatist who adjusts policy stances flexibly aiming to gain practical outcomes by observing the reality of complicated political conditions. The following sections analyse how Abe’s identity has been reflected in the development of Japan’s diplomacy towards Asia.

National Identity and Value-Oriented Diplomacy

In the 2000s, the Japanese government began to show new diplomatic postures to take advantage of Japan’s specific identity. A representative is value-oriented diplomacy during the first Abe administration in 2006–2007. The administration stressed value-oriented diplomacy, a particular type of diplomacy that puts emphasis on universal values such as democracy, freedom, human rights, and rule of law. As a strategy to promote the liberal values of democracy, human rights, and rule of law, Foreign Minister Taro Aso stressed the necessity of building an “arc of freedom and prosperity” around the outer rim of the Eurasian continent through diplomacy that would emphasise these universal values. The arc of freedom and prosperity was a marked diplomatic ideal in Japanese diplomacy in the sense that it combined the geopolitical perspective and ideational values.

The stress on universal values is based on Japan’s national identity as a law-abiding democratic nation that shared similarities with Western democracies and political commonalities underpinning international cooperation and the rule of law. This identity is expected to develop close partnerships with democratic nations such as the US, Australia, India, and the European Union (EU) members. In fact, strength in diplomatic ties with Australia and India—in addition to the US—became crucial diplomatic goals during the first Abe administration (Yoshimatsu 2012).

The value-oriented diplomacy had two distinctive characteristics. The first is that it was a means to preserve Japan’s self-image as a great nation. ←21 | 22→Japan had maintained an identity as an economic great power with the world’s second-largest economy since 1968. However, it is projected that this status would be superseded by China soon, and India would follow. Moreover, its long-term economic recession and growing financial deficits led to the reduction of official development assistance (ODA), Japan’s key diplomatic tool. Japan’s ranking in terms of ODA provision declined from the first in 1989 to fifth in 2005. Under such environments, the Japanese government needed a new diplomatic vision to articulate Japan’s presence in the world and inspire the Japanese people. Second, the value-oriented diplomacy implied a departure from Japan’s past diplomatic posture. Japanese diplomacy was called “leadership from behind” or “quiet diplomacy”, which indicated invisible and passive posture in the surface (Hook et al. 2011; Rix 1993). However, the advocacy of value-oriented diplomacy meant an assertive diplomatic posture, helping other countries proactively to pursue specific ideals that were linked to Japan’s identity and its past experiences of nation-building.

The value-oriented diplomacy represented Abe’s long-term perception of Japan’s national identity. Abe ascribes, in a book published just before becoming prime minister, distinctive features of the Japanese society that pays respect to freedom, democracy, and fundamental human rights on the basis of rule of law (Abe 2006: 157–161). Abe also expressed a strong desire to convene a summit or ministerial meeting among Japan, Australia, the US, and India with an eye to holding talks on how to contribute to and cooperate on the sharing of these universal values with Asian countries. Abe’s perception of value-oriented diplomacy, which was linked to Japan’s national identity, was so strong that he located it as a key diplomatic pillar even in the second administration that began in December 2012. At the Diet speech in February 2013, Abe stated that “my diplomacy is based on ‘strategic diplomacy’”, “diplomacy that emphasises universal values”, and “insisting diplomacy” to “protect national interests. I will rebuild the injured Japanese diplomacy and clarify Japan’s firm position standing in the world” (Abe 2013a).

The value-oriented diplomacy represented a common national identity between Japan and the US. The realisation of values of democracy and human rights could be regarded as Tokyo’s effort to underpin the military alliance with Washington “in terms of democratic principles and shared political values” (Mochizuki and O’Hanlon 1998: 128). Moreover, the value-oriented diplomacy had strategic implications. The arc of freedom and prosperity accorded with the geographic areas of an unstable belt that the US government showed in the 2001 Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR), and was resonant with an idea with “a growing community of democracies” in the ←22 | 23→2006 US National Security Strategy (Hoshiyama 2007: 10). Japan’s explicit support for universal values was particularly important in the trend that the Bush administration was losing its international credibility under the strong criticism of the Iraq War. Besides, the value-oriented diplomacy was expected to strengthen the “bilateral-plus” approach in that the new security links outside the US-Japan alliance could be developed as drives to strengthen the alliance’s bilateral efforts (Suzuki 2010: 506–507).

The value-oriented diplomacy incorporated nuanced identity relations with China. The first diplomatic task for the Abe administration was to reconstruct damaged diplomatic relations with Beijing during the previous Koizumi administration. Abe selected China as the first destination of foreign visit and established a “mutually beneficial relationship based on the strategic interest”. Afterwards, he carefully avoided obvious anti-Chinese rhetoric, even making it ambiguous whether he would visit the Yasukuni Shrine (Park and Vogel 2007: 29). However, Abe perceived Japan’s specific identity in relation to China. In his 2006 book, Abe allocated one chapter to “Japan and Asia/ China”. In discussing Japan’s relations with China, Abe stressed that “for the past 60 years, Japan humbled itself for nation-building and international contribution under freedom, democracy, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Japan has never shown a militant attitude, such as once” (2006: 150). This passage indicates his hope to articulate Japan’s national identity as a pacifist democratic nation in contrast with China, an authoritarian state.

While stress on universal values through the value-oriented diplomacy surely served to highlight China’s “other” nature as a dissenter from common values represented by Japan and its allies, Abe’s first term in office was too short to articulate components of China’s otherness (Hemmings and Kuroki 2013: 61). Such an articulation was done just after the beginning of the second administration. During a visit to Southeast Asia in January 2013, Abe prepared for a planned speech entitled “The Bounty of the Open Seas: Five New Principles for Japanese Diplomacy”.1 In this speech, Abe presented five principles for Japanese diplomacy to build the future. The first three principles were “protecting freedom of thought, expression, and speech”, “ensuring that the seas, which are the most vital commons to us all, are governed by laws and rules, not by might”, and “pursuing free, open, interconnected economies as part of Japan’s diplomacy” (Abe 2013b). The stress on free, open, interconnected economies and freedom of thought, expression, and speech as well as the governance of seas by laws and rules, not by might, aimed to delineate China as the other. This approach sought to highlight the contrast between Japan and its regional and global partners, on the one ←23 | 24→hand, and an authoritarian China, on the other (Nilssen-Wright and Fujiwara 2015: 9).

National Identity and the Free and Open Indo-Pacific

In 2016, Prime Minister Abe advocated a new ideal that has significant implications for the international relations of Asia. In August, Abe presented the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy at the 6th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) held in Kenya. The FOIP strategy is based on an assumption that the peace and prosperity of the international society are reliant on the free and open maritime order, and thereby such a maritime order should be fostered from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. In this strategy, Japan intended to promote concrete policies such as: the promotion of basic values of the rule of law; democracy and freedom of navigation; the fostering of economic prosperity through the strength of infrastructure in ports, railways, and others, and enhanced economic partnerships; and strength in cooperation in the field of maritime safety such as maritime law-enforcement capabilities, piracy combating, and counter-terrorism.

The FOIP derived from Abe’s long-term perceptions of two terms, “Indo-Pacific” and “free and open”. Abe’s use of the Indo-Pacific has a relatively long history (Yoshimatsu 2019). During the first administration, Abe made a formal visit to India in August 2007, exactly half a century after Kishi’s visit to the country. An epoch-making event during this visit was a 25-minute speech at the Indian Parliament entitled the “Confluence of the Two Seas”. The Confluence of the Two Seas was a new policy idea to comprehend the Pacific and Indian Oceans as a united geographical zone. After forming the second administration, Abe gradually developed the Confluence of the Two Seas into a new geographical concept. In a speech at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in February 2013, Abe spelled out Japan’s task to remain a leading promoter of rules “when the Asia-Pacific, or the Indo-Pacific region gets more and more prosperous” (2013c). Abe used the term, Indo-Pacific, for the first time in a speech as prime minister. The FOIP is an extension of the Confluence of the Two Seas from the Pacific and Indian Oceans to Africa. Abe stressed the FOIP’s key role in creating regional stability and prosperity through confluences between the “two continents” of Asia and Africa and the “two oceans” of the Pacific and Indian.

The free and open is a normative belief that is applied to the management of maritime affairs. The “free and open” implies freedom of navigation and rule of law, specific norms that Abe advocated to maintain the stable ←24 | 25→maritime order. Abe had stressed the importance of such norms before the launching of the FOIP idea. At the Shangri-La dialogue in May 2014, Abe presented the Three Principles on the Rule of Law at Sea: states shall make and clarify their claims based on international law; states shall not use force or coercion in trying to drive their claims; and states shall seek to settle disputes by peaceful means. The FOIP strategy could be regarded as a broader and comprehensive means to diffuse and consolidate the principles.

In terms of national identity, the FOIP had two-level implications. The first is a bilateral partnership with India. In speeches during his visits to India, Abe has often introduced a boyhood episode that his grandfather Kishi talked about how he was impressed by Indian Prime Minister Nehru’s warm welcome during his visit to New Delhi in 1957. The introduction of the episode is a way to demonstrate how Abe has a long-term link to India through his grandfather. In advancing the FOIP, Abe regarded India as a key partner. For instance, at the Japan-India summit in September 2016, Abe stated that India was the most important country in terms of linking Asia and Africa, and Japan and India would coordinate closely to make the FOIP strategy a reality. During Abe’s visit to New Delhi in September 2017, Abe and Modi issued a joint statement. The FOIP was incorporated into the title of this statement—“Japan-India Joint Statement: Toward a Free, Open and Prosperous Indo-Pacific”. This implied that the two leaders shared the value of the FOIP vision, which could be used as a banner for promoting cooperation on maritime security, connectivity development, and stronger ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

India’s importance as Japan’s partner in advancing the Indo-Pacific comes from the pragmatic calculation. Both Japan and India have common interests in countering China. Japan was apprehensive about China’s aggressive diplomacy and offensive actions regarding the South China Sea in terms of sea-line security and likely impacts on the East China Sea dispute. China’s maritime behaviour was growing anxiety for India as well. Beijing extended its footprint in the Indian Ocean littorals with the development of ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. In the vision statement on the special strategic and global partnership issued at the summit meeting in December 2015, Abe and Modi, “noting the developments in the South China Sea”, called on all states “to avoid unilateral actions that could lead to tensions in the region” (MOFA 2015). Japan and India also shared concerns about China’s growing economic presence in Eurasia and Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In the November 2016 summit in Tokyo, Abe and Modi agreed to promote collaboration in Africa, particularly the development of industrial corridors and networks under the name of the Asia ←25 | 26→Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). The AAGC concept was announced just after Modi refused to join the BRI international forum in Beijing, accusing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This timing could be interpreted as India and Japan’s willingness to employ the AAGC as a counterweight to the rising Chinese influence through the BRI.

In addition to geostrategic and geo-economic imperatives, national identity played a crucial role in developing the Japan-India partnership, particularly under the Indo-Pacific vision. Even during the first Abe administration, Abe sought to deepen the relationship with India on the basis of national identity. When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a formal visit to Tokyo in December 2006, Singh and his counterpart Abe issued the joint statement towards Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership. In this statement, the two leaders affirmed that “Japan and India are natural partners as the largest and most developed democracies of Asia”, and that the Japanese-Indian relations are “underpinned by a common commitment to democracy, open society, human rights, rule of law and free-market economy” (MOFA 2006). The common national identity assumed a more explicit position in Abe-Modi relations. The two leaders have confirmed a common identity as a democratic nation that pays respect to human rights, the rule of law, and the value of freedom. For instance, the 2015 joint statement contained a phrase that “Japan and India uphold the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity; peaceful settlement of disputes; democracy, human rights and the rule of law; open global trade regime; and freedom of navigation and overflight”.

The second is a multilateral partnership. The FOIP and common values were used as linchpins to develop deeper trilateral cooperation among Japan, India, and the US. When the second Japan-US-India Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held in New York in September 2017, the three ministers confirmed that “Japan, the United States, and India are partners in the Indo-Pacific region and share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law, as well as strategic interests” (MOFA 2017a). Such a common value-oriented partnership developed in relation to Australia as well. In June 2015, Japan, India, and Australia held the first trilateral dialogue at the vice-minister level in New Delhi, and afterwards, the trilateral dialogue was organised three times in February 2016, April 2017, and December 2017. During the meetings, the three vice-ministers confirmed that shared basic values and strategic interests would lead to cooperation to secure a free and open order based on the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific. More significantly, Japan proposed the establishment of a quadrilateral security dialogue among Japan, the US, India, and Australia; and this proposal was realised through ←26 | 27→the holding of the first Australia-India-Japan-US Consultations on the Indo-Pacific on an occasion of the 12th EAS in the Philippines in November 2017. The senior officials discussed “measures to ensure a free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific” (MOFA 2017b).

The quadrilateral partnership is based on Abe’s long-term vision of common values. As already explained, Abe had a strong desire, even during the first administration, to establish a strategic partnership among the US, Japan, Australia, and India, all of which are democratic nations. Abe fostered the importance of the quadrilateral framework further, which was shown in “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”, a strategic idea that Abe showed in an article on the website of the non-profit Project Syndicate in late December 2012. This article collected interests as it represented Abe’s balancing strategy against China with the passage that “the South China Sea seems set to become a ‘Lake Beijing’”. Abe himself and his entourage did not hope to pursue the democratic diamond concept further because they feared that the concept might serve to create a hawkish image of the second Abe administration and narrow the diplomatic latitude of the administration (Suzuki 2017: 138–139). Five years later, Abe moved the idea with the banner of the FOIP.

After the emergence of the Trump administration in the US, the Abe administration revised its regional strategy. In order to counter the protectionist policy adopted by the Trump administration, the administration pursued the early conclusion of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. These commitments were derived from Abe’s determination to maintain a liberal economic regime with countries that share open and liberal principles in the Asia-Pacific and Europe. In relation to China, Abe moved to re-establish stable political relations with Beijing, proposing collaboration between the FOIP vision and China’s BRI. The new developments stemmed from Abe’s pragmatic calculation to hedge against uncertainty and unpredictability in the Trump administration’s diplomatic postures. It is less likely to change the perception of relational identity regarding the US and China.

Abe’s Discourses on Asian Identity

As the previous sections confirmed, Abe has adhered to universal values in its diplomacy from his first administration in 2006–2007, and sought to embed the values into a diplomatic vision towards Asia. The FOIP is an advanced regional vision that incorporated a universal value of “free and open”. The quadrilateral security dialogue on the basis of the FOIP is Western value-based ←27 | 28→cooperation. In this sense, Japan’s national identity as a democratic nation constituted the base for the FOIP and the quadrilateral partnership.

An interesting aspect in relation to national identity as a democratic nation is that Abe, in partnership with Modi, pushes forwards the importance of Asian values with universal applicability. The 2015 India-Japan joint statement includes a phrase that “the peoples of Japan and India are guided by common cultural traditions including the heritage of Buddhism, and share commitment to the ideals of democracy, tolerance, pluralism and open society” (MOFA 2015). The 2018 joint statement mentions that “the universal values of freedom, humanism, democracy, tolerance and non-violence, which have been shared between Japan and India … underscore the principles for the two countries to work together for the benefit of the Indo-Pacific region and the world at large”. Thus, Abe and Modi have incorporated the Asian elements of tolerance and non-violence as key components of values that developed in Asia and have universal applicability.

Abe’s successful prime ministership is contrasted to another Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s leadership who advocated the ill-fated EAC (Yoshimatsu 2018). Hatoyama’s EAC vision was based on the recognition of a common cultural identity among Asian nations. This point was revealed in his statement at an international conference on the Future of Asia in May 2010 that “one characteristic of Asians is that we do not perceive ourselves and others or humans and the environment in a Western dualistic manner, but rather attach importance to the sameness between the two ….This will surely also serve as a launching point for a ‘cultural community’” (Hatoyama 2010). Hatoyama repeated distinctive characteristics in Asia’s common culture even after he resigned from the prime ministership. At the Asian Leadership Conference held in Seoul in March 2012, Hatoyama stated that “while the West achieved economic growth on the basis of competitive dualism between nature and human beings, Asia traditionally kept respectful, not adversarial, relations between nature and human beings” (Hatoyama 2012). Hatoyama considered that Asia’s holistic approach that contrasts to the West’s dualistic approach can constitute the base for a harmonious relationship among the people and the building of a community. Abe is regarded as a realist in contrast to Hatoyama, an idealist who regarded yuai (fraternity) as the key political belief (Hatoyama 2009). Importantly, Abe is less explicit in advocating the Asian cultural tradition than Hatoyama, but he also recognises cultural commonality in Asia.

Abe and Modi’s stress on Asian values has much to do with the perception of a democratic nation. In 2015, Abe and Modi agreed to hold a regular symposium called the “Samvad” series of dialogue to discuss conflict-avoidance ←28 | 29→and the philosophical and cultural heritage of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two dominant religions in Asia.2 Significantly, Abe envisions an Asian-style democracy. At the second Samvad Conference in January 2016, Abe stated that “Be it lovingkindness, benevolence, fraternity, or harmony, I believe that in Asia, there extends an underground rootstock of thinking that supports democracy and values freedom and human rights” (2016). At the fourth Samvad Conference in July 2018, Abe stated that “Democracy not as a ‘foreign species’ introduced from the West. Democracy that is spoken of not in translation, but through our native words and concepts” (2018). Abe clearly recognised that Asian values are in no way undemocratic, and democracy is an evolving concept as Asian values must be taken seriously with so much of growth in Asia (Gupta 2018).

It is unclear how Abe reconciles an individual autonomy-based democracy in Western society and a collectivism-oriented democracy in Asian society. A crucial point is that Abe gradually incorporated Asian flavour into universal values and the concept of a democratic nation. This tendency might produce subtle issues in relation to the US and China. The stress on Japan’s identity that has realised an Asian-style democracy might be regarded as an aspiration to raise Japan’s autonomy in relation to the US. According to Abe’s interpretation, Chinese traditional philosophical thoughts that constitute a crucial pillar of Asian values could be regarded as universal values. This provokes the issue of how Abe regards the national identity of China, a nation that has assumed a central position in East Asia with producing significant cultural impacts on its neighbouring countries including Japan.


In this chapter, I examined the development of the Abe administration’s foreign policy towards Asia and its relevance to national identity. It explored the implications of value-oriented diplomacy during the first administration, and the FOIP and discourses at the Samvad conferences during the administration after December 2012.

The study confirmed that the Abe administration has pushed forwards Japan’s unique identity as an Asian nation that has realised universal values such as freedom, democracy, rule of law, open and liberal ideals, and fundamental human rights. This identity constituted the base of the advocacy of value-oriented diplomacy. The advocacy of the FOIP was also based on Japan’s identity that has developed a free and open society.

Abe’s personal identity as a conservative nationalist led to the administration’s advocacy of Japan’s distinctiveness as a democratic nation that has ←29 | 30→paid respect to freedom, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. On the basis of the identity of a democratic nation, Abe pursued close partnerships with Australia and India, the two democratic nations that share universal values, and even the quadrilateral partnership among Japan, the US, Australia, and India. A particularly important partner is India. Abe, who developed a favourable image of India from his personal experiences, regarded the country as a key partner to advance the FOIP. Abe’s special attention to India was based on the perception of the country as a nation that holds the same identity as Japan in that both countries have realised an Asian-style democracy that combines universal values and Asia-originated values such as tolerance and non-violence.

In Japan’s identity politics, relationships with the two great powers—the US and China—are important. The US has been regarded as the key partner that cherishes democratic principles and shared political values. In contrast, China has been considered as a country that represents otherness, a dissenter from democratic principles and liberal political values held by Japan and its security partners. After the emergence of the Trump administration in the US, the Abe administration has strengthened political linkages with China. This policy shift derived from Abe’s pragmatism, and it is uncertain to what extent Japan intended to pursue an independent identity from the US.

A crucial issue in relation to national identity is that Abe envisions an Asian-style democracy and stresses Asia-originated values such as tolerance and non-violence. As shown in discourses at the Samvad conferences, Abe considers that Japan’s unique national identity lies in the realisation of a stable and peaceful society by integrating universal values and Japanese/Asian traditions. The stress on Asian values and an Asian-style democracy is likely to require the Abe administration to give careful consideration to relations with the US and China.


1Abe was unable to deliver this policy speech because he was forced to go back to Tokyo due to a hostage incident involving the Japanese in Algeria.

2Four conferences have been held in New Delhi (2015), Tokyo (2016), Yangon (2017), and Tokyo (2018).


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2.Ideational Factors behind the Erosion of Japan’s Pacifism

Yoshinori Kaseda

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University


After its devastating defeat in World War II, Japan underwent a significant transformation during the occupation effectively by the United States (U.S.), from an authoritarian, militaristic state to a democratic, pacifist state. The transformation resulted largely from its adoption of a new constitution in 1946, which had been drafted mostly by the U.S. and became effective in 1947. The new regime based on the constitution came to be called the “postwar regime (sengorejīmu).”

The new constitution made the Japanese government peace-oriented externally, in its relations with other countries, and internally, in its relations with the Japanese people, by preventing it from making military aggression at another country and from violating the human rights of the Japanese people. Thus, the postwar Japanese pacifism consisted of external and internal pacifism. Although it was drafted mostly by the U.S., the new, democratic, pacifist constitution received strong support from the Japanese people, who had suffered “the horrors of war through the action of government” of imperial Japan as stated in the preamble of the new constitution.

However, the postwar Japanese regime with the new constitution started with an internal contradiction because of the change in the U.S. policy toward Japan. Although it had disbanded Japan’s armed forces, in response to the breakout of the Korean War in June 1950, the U.S. made Japan rearm itself through the establishment of the National Police Reserve (NPR) in August 1950 and the Coastal Safety Force (CSF) in April 1952, which were merged into the National Safety Forces (NSF) in October 1952 and then reorganized into the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in July 1954. Meanwhile, Japan regained ←35 | 36→its sovereignty in April 1952 when the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, both signed in September 1951, went into effect.

The Japanese government regarded the SDF as constitutional, arguing that the constitution did not forbid Japan from exercising the right to individual self-defense and therefore did not prohibit Japan from possessing forces exclusively for self-defense, protecting itself when it is attacked by external forces. On the other hand, the Japanese government long held that the constitution did not allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. Hence, the Japanese government called its security policy “exclusive defense.” This exclusive defense policy has been the foundation of Japan’s external pacifism and was the essence of the so-called “Yoshida Doctrine” of giving priority to expanding Japan’s economic power over military power.

The second Shinzo Abe administration (December 2012 to the present) significantly weakened this external pacifism of Japan, first by adopting a new interpretation of the constitution in July 2014 that it does not prohibit Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense to deal with the situations that gravely threaten Japan’s national security and then by enacting new laws to legalize the new interpretation in September 2015. Furthermore, the Abe administration has deviated from the long-held exclusive defense policy by strengthening Japan’s offensive capabilities.

Prime Minister (PM) Abe named his policy “sekkyokuteki heiwashugi,” whose direct translation is “proactive pacifism,” apparently to disguise its deviation from the long-held “pacifism” based on the constitutional ban on “the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” The government translates the Japanese expression to “proactive contribution to peace.” Yet, “proactive military contribution to international peace” would be more accurate. Thus, Abe’s policy has departed from the Yoshida Doctrine and could be called the Abe Doctrine (Hughes 2015: 1–7). Not surprisingly, the erosion of Japan’s external pacifism under the Abe administration has attracted strong attention of international observers (Hughes, 2015; Maslow, 2015; Oros 2017; Smith 2019). In contrast, much less international attention has been paid to the erosion of Japan’s internal pacifism. However, Japan’s internal pacifism has been seriously eroded as well by the Abe administration. It implemented changes, such as the enactment of a new secrecy law in 2013 and the revision to the anti-organized crime law in 2017, and thereby significantly increased the power of the government over the people and weakened the democracy and human security in Japan.

One can think of different factors affecting public policy. Abe’s policies to weaken the constitutional constraints on Japan’s military operations, to enhance Japan’s offensive capability, and to strengthen its alliance with the ←36 | 37→U.S. can be seen partly as its response to changes in international conditions, such as the rise of the military power of China and North Korea and the U.S. demand for Japan’s greater military role in the international order led by the U.S. Against the backdrop of these changes, Japan has gradually expanded its military operations overseas as can be seen from: its dispatch of minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1991; the participation of the SDF in UN Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) since 1992; the dispatch of the SDF to the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support (from November 2001 to January 2010) for the U.S.-led multinational forces engaged in the War on Terrorism; another dispatch of the SDF to Iraq for similar operations (from December 2003 to February 2009) after the onset of the Iraq War in March 2003; and a yet another dispatch of the SDF to the Gulf of Aden to join international anti-pirate operations (from March 2009 to the present) that accompanied construction of an overseas base in Djibouti. Therefore, Abe’s military policy can be seen as just a recent development of Japan’s military transformation that had already started since the end of the Cold War (Hughes 2009) and appears to be consistent with structural realism.

However, structural realism has difficulty in explaining Japan’s international security policy under the Hatoyama administration (2009–2010) that adopted a policy to improve Japan’s relationship with China and other East Asian countries in order to create an East Asian Community. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who had long advocated a Japan-U.S. alliance without continuous stationing of U.S. forces in Japan (Hatoyama 1996: 126–127), attempted to relocate the U.S. Futenma base out of Okinawa despite the bilateral agreement to relocate it within Okinawa made by PM Ryutaro Hashimoto of the LDP in 1996 and kept by the succeeding premiers all from the LDP. Thus, there is no denying that the personal views of policy-makers, particularly the head of the executive branch, can play a crucial role in policy choice.

Needless to say, structural realism and other systemic theories are not good at explaining changes in domestic policies, such as a change in the relative power of the government over the people. Compared to international policy, changes in domestic policy tend to be influenced more by the personal views of policy-makers, particularly the head of the executive branch. Therefore, it is important to examine the impact of the personal views of Prime Minister Abe and other leading LDP lawmakers on the policies of the Abe administration that undermined Japan’s pacifism. Hence, this chapter intends to examine the impact of personal views of PM Abe and other leading LDP lawmakers on the erosion of Japan’s pacifism with a greater focus on its internal pacifism because much less international attention has been paid to its erosion than to the erosion of its external pacifism.

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My basic contention is that PM Abe and other LDP lawmakers have been critical of the three pillars of the current constitution—external pacifism, the sovereignty of the people, and fundamental human rights—and have attempted to undermine them. This chapter first explains the concrete policy measures taken by the first and second Abe administrations (September 2006–September 2007 and December 2012–the present) that eroded Japan’s external and internal pacifism. Then, it examines the underlying personal views held by Abe and other LDP lawmakers on which their criticism is based. Those views will be identified from their personal remarks and writings as well as official documents. In the process, particular care will be taken to distinguish between their real opinions and their political rhetoric.

One can think of intervening variables such as various domestic actors and factors that influence the causal relations between the independent variables (the policy preferences of the prime minister and other policy-makers) and the dependent variables (the concrete policy measures implemented in such a form as the enactment of a new law and military operations). In fact, it is hard to find those works that examine this kind of political process concerning the erosion of Japan’s pacifism under the Abe administration, while there are more works of this kind concerning Japanese politics in general. However, this chapter does not intend to clarify such a domestic political process. Instead, it focuses on clarifying the personal views of PM Abe and other LDP lawmakers that underlie their policy preferences, for instance, their personal views underlying their preference to make Japan militarily normal. Other actors are deemed influential in the erosion of Japan’s pacifism, such as the ministry of foreign affairs and conservative groups such as Nippon Kaigi (Asahi Shimbun Seijibu Shuzaihan 2015; Hirata 2017; Sugano 2016). However, this chapter limits its focus primarily on PM Abe and secondarily on other leading LDP lawmakers because of their greater influence on policy making than other actors.

An Overview of Japan’s Pacifism

This section presents a brief overview of Japan’s pacifism before explaining how it has been eroded by the Abe administration in the succeeding sections.

As mentioned above, the pacifism of the postwar Japan is founded on its constitution adopted during the occupation period and had two ←38 | 39→aspects: external and internal pacifism. Its external pacifism consists primarily of its self-imposed prohibition of offensive use of force at an external entity; that is, the self-imposed limitation that permits use of force only for self-defense in response to attacks by an external entity, which is called “exclusive defense.” This self-imposition is based on the constitutional renunciation of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. Until 2004, the Japanese government took that the position that the constitution only allows Japan to exercise the right to individual self-defense in response to attacks by external forces but prohibits it from exercising the right to collective self-defense. Japan’s internal pacifism consists of protection of fundamental human rights through democratic governance based on the sovereignty of the people.

The external pacifism founded on the constitution led not only to the policy of the exclusive defense but also to other policies: (1) peaceful use of space based on the Diet resolution of 1969 that limited the use of space only for peaceful purposes; (2) prohibition of arms exports adopted by the Eisaku Sato administration in 1967 and then strengthened by the Takeo Miki administration in 1976; (3) prohibition of possessing and producing nuclear weapons and that of accepting foreign nuclear weapons into Japan (the three non-nuclear principles); and (4) the policy not to use Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) for military purposes based on the ODA Charter adopted by the Kiichi Miyazawa administration in 1992.

The internal pacifism founded on the constitution was augmented by the Basic Act on Education (Kyōiku Kihonhō) of 1947 that replaced the Imperial Rescript on Education (Kyōiku Chokugo) of 1890 in which the Emperor gave his subjects (Japanese citizens) an instruction: “should an emergency arise, offer yourselves to the state loyally and bravely and thus support Our Imperial Throne coeval with the Heavens and the Earth.” The imperial Japanese government required the students to memorize it (Suzuki 1999: 47–61) and made them willing to sacrifice themselves for imperial Japan. Besides, it required each school to enshrine a copy of the Imperial Rescript together with a photo of the Emperor and the Empress in a special small building called Hōanden. In June 1948, both houses of the Diet adopted a resolution to nullify and discredit the Imperial Rescript.

Erosion of External Pacifism

As explained above, the erosion of Japan’s external pacifism started in the early 1990s at the latest. However, the extent of erosion under the Abe administration is particularly significant.

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Exclusive Defense

At a cabinet meeting in July 2014, the Abe administration adopted a new interpretation of the constitution that it does not prohibit Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense to deal with the situations that gravely threaten Japan’s national security. It argued that the policy change was necessary to deal with the fundamental transformation in the security environment surrounding Japan due to the shift in power balance, rapid technological advancement, and the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) (Kantei 2014: 1). Essentially, the administration justified the policy change as a necessary measure to deal with the threat posed by China and North Korea.

Then, in September 2015, it enacted new laws to legalize this new interpretation, and in September 2016, it agreed with the Obama administration to revise the Japan-U.S. Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) of 1999 (which revised the original 1996 version), which enabled the SDF to provide the U.S. forces with materials such as munitions and fuels even if Japan is not directly attacked. Furthermore, two days after North Korea’s threat to launch several missiles around Guam on August 8, 2017, then- Defense Minister Onodera stated at a Diet meeting that such a missile attack could be regarded as a national emergency that would legally permit the SDF’s Aegis destroyers to launch intercepting missiles (Sankei News 2017a), which means exercising of the right to collective self-defense.

Offensive Capability

In December 2018, the Abe administration adopted the new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the Midterm Defense Buildup Program (FY2019-FY2023), in which it made public its policy to strengthen Japan’s offensive capabilities, for instance, by transforming the existing two Izumo-class helicopter carriers into full-fledged aircraft carriers and purchasing eighteen F-35B STOVL for them (totally forty-two in the long run), doubling the number of airborne refueling aircraft from four to eight, and deploying long-range missiles.

Use of Space

The policy of peaceful use of space was eroded by the Keizo Obuchi administration’s decision in November 1998 to develop information gathering satellites (IGS), de facto spy satellites in response to North Korea’s launch of Taepodong over Japan in August 1998. During the Yasuo Fukuda administration, the Diet resolution of 1969 was replaced by the Basic Act on Space (Uchū Kihonhō) in May 2008, in which contribution to Japan’s national ←40 | 41→security was included as one of the primary objectives of Japan’s space development. The Taro Aso administration compiled Japan’s first Basic Plan on Space in June 2009. The Abe administration revised it three times in January 2013, in January 2015, and in April 2016, strengthening the policy of using space for security and commercial purposes, for instance, by deploying more spy satellites and conducting research for future deployment of early-warning satellites.

Arms Exports, Nuclear Weapons, and ODA

In April 2014, the Abe administration adopted a policy of promoting arms exports and nullified the long-held arms export ban. With regard to the three nonnuclear principles, the administration has not changed them, but in the context of North Korea’s nuclear development, leading LDP lawmakers, such as former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, started arguing the need to consider redeploying U.S. nuclear weapons in Japan (Sankei News 2017b). Ishiba was a leading candidate for the next prime minister. As far as the ODA policy is concerned, in February 2015, the administration revised the ODA Charter of 1992, making contribution to Japan’s national security a primary objective of its ODA and enabling the use of ODA for the military development of recipient countries.

Erosion of Internal Pacifism

Under the Abe administration, Japan’s internal pacifism has been significantly eroded as well.

Democratic Decision-Making

The Abe administration implemented other security policies that weakened the democratic decision-making on Japan’s basic security policy and military actions. First, in January 2007 the first Abe administration (2006–2007) transformed the Defense Agency to the Ministry of Defense. Then, in December 2013 the second Abe administration (2012–the present) reorganized the Security Council into the National Security Council (NSC), concentrating the decision-making power to four ministers (prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, and chief cabinet secretary) in order for the government “to make quick response to diplomatic and national security matters under strong political leadership” (as explained by PM Abe) (Kantei 2013). However, discussions at four-minister meetings have been undisclosed, and no minutes have been made for future disclosure. In addition, the ←41 | 42→administration revised the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Defense in June 2015 in such a way as to weaken the civilian control of the SDF and thereby enabled more rapid deployment of the SDF. To be more concrete, before the revision, high-ranking civilian officials had been placed between the Defense Minister and the four top officers of the SDF (the Joint Chief of Staff and the Chiefs of Staff of Ground, Maritime, and Air SDF). Yet, the revision lowered the position of the civilian officials and enabled the top SDF officers to directly discuss military strategies, plans, and operations with the minister. Consequently, the revision enabled the minister to decide how to mobilize the SDF without any consultation with the top civilian officials.

Government Transparency

In December 2013, the second Abe administration enacted a new special secrecy law called the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (SDS Protection Act). Reportedly, the law was in response to the U.S. demand for Japan’s stricter protection of the military secrets provided by Washington based on the Japan-U.S. General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) that the first Abe administration had concluded in August 2007 (Huffington Post 2013). The new law enabled government agencies to classify a wide range of national security-related information as “specially designated secrets (SDS)” and obliged the court to severely penalize those who leaked or stole the secrets (the jail sentence of up to 10 years or a fine of up to 10 million yen). After its introduction to the Diet for deliberation, the legislation met strong objections by the opposition and the public, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, because of the lack of transparency and objectivity in the classification of SDS (Nihon Bengoshi Rengōkai, n.d.a). The new law also received international criticism. For instance, Morton Halperin, who worked for the U.S. National Security Council, maintained that the law deviated from the Tshwane Principles in many ways and was the worst among the equivalent laws of the U.S. allies and those countries close to the U.S. (Halperin and Hofsommer 2014; Kanagawa Shimbun 2014). In effect, the law enabled the government to hide important information from the public, thus weakening democratic control over the government, particularly its national security policies.

Power of the Police and Intelligence Agencies

Furthermore, in June 2016, the Abe administration revised the Wiretap Law in such a way as to expand the scope of wiretapping. Then, allegedly to prevent terrorist acts, in June 2017, it revised the Law on Punishment of ←42 | 43→Organized Crimes. By creating “the offense of preparing terrorist acts and so forth” (Tero tō junbi zai), it enabled the government to arrest and prosecute a group of people who plan and prepare to commit any of the designated 277 offenses, many of which are unrelated to terrorist acts, such as copyright violation, capturing endangered species, and violating the Consumption Tax Law (Nihon Keizai Shimbun 2017). The two revised laws have significantly increased the ability of the police and intelligence agencies to collect personal information and criminalize suspects of a wide range of offenses unrelated to terrorist acts (Nihon Bengoshi Rengōkai, n.d.b). Not surprisingly, both laws met strong criticism from the public, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Critics called the revised Law on Punishment of Organized Crimes a modern version of the prewar Maintenance of the Public Order Act (Chian Iji-hō) abused by the government to oppress those who were deemed critical of the government (Shibata 2017).

In this connection, in his official blog on November 29, 2013, Shigeru Ishiba, then the secretary-general of the LDP and the defense minister between 2007 and 2008, called the popular demonstrations against the bill for the SDS Protection Act, “not so different from terrorist acts in nature.” Those demonstrations were peaceful and very different from violent protests such as the “yellow vest protests” in France that started in November 2018. Ishiba was a member of the LDP committee that drafted the revised constitution of 2012 and, as mentioned above, a leading candidate for the next LDP president and prime minister.

Nationalistic Education

In December 2006, the first Abe administration revised the Basic Act on Education of 1947, which was the first revision since its enactment. Together with the current constitution, PM Abe had regarded it as a symbol of the postwar regime imposed on Japan during its occupation by the U.S. (Abe 2013: 32). The revision added development of morality and the attitudes of contributing to the society based on public spirit and “respecting for Japan’s tradition and culture and loving our country and regions that have nurtured them” to the existing goals of education (for more detailed analysis of the revision, see Ouchi 2017). Then, in March 2015, the administration changed the status of moral education from a special subject without evaluation of students to a regular subject with evaluation of what they learned in the subject. It was also decided that this new moral education would start in AY2018 at the elementary schools and AY2019 at the junior high schools. One of the stated objectives of the renewed moral education is to nurture the mind of ←43 | 44→loving “our country and regions.” It should be noted that the promotion of love for Japan is one of the objectives included in the LDP’s founding policy platform of 1955.

This could be seen as a revival of the prewar moral education, based on the Imperial Rescript on Education of October 1890, which aimed at fostering nationalism in the minds of the students and making them willing to sacrifice themselves for imperial Japan. Just before the change to moral education, at a meeting of the Committee on Education, Culture and Science of the House of Councilors held on April 8, 2014, Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, a well-known nationalist politician close to PM Abe, revealed a new stance of his ministry to allow schools to use the Imperial Rescript on Education, saying that it was no problem for schools to use it because it contained something universal and applicable today. On March 31, 2017, PM Abe himself made public his position that the Imperial Rescript could be used as a foundation of education, by stating that although it would be inappropriate to regard the Imperial Rescript as the only foundation of education in our country, it was permissible for schools to use it as an educational material in such a way as not to contradict the Constitution and the Basic Act on Education (Shugiin 2017). Not surprisingly, the Abe administration allowed schools to require their students to memorize the Imperial Rescript, which was widely practiced in the moral education of imperial Japan.

As another measure to foster a nationalistic mind, the Abe administration strengthened the policy of urging schools to hoist the national flag (Hinomaru) and let their students sing the national anthem (Kimigayo) at commencement ceremonies and other occasions, which had started after 1998 when a law had been enacted to designate Hinomaru as the national flag and Kimigayo as the national anthem. The administration first targeted elementary schools, junior high schools, and senior high schools. Then, in June 2015, Education Minister Shimomura urged the national universities (86 in total) to hoist Hinomaru and let their students sing Kimigayo at commencement ceremonies. Then, in March 2017, the Abe administration revised the guidelines for nursery schools and kindergartens, requiring them to familiarize their pupils with Hinomaru and Kimigayo.

The Role of Universities

In a democratic society, intellectuals perform an important role in critically reviewing government policies. In fact, intellectuals in Japan, particularly university professors and students in the fields of education, humanities, and ←44 | 45→social sciences, led the public criticism and protests against the special secrecy law of 2013 and the security laws of 2015 when they were under deliberation at the Diet because they were deemed threatening to Japan’s external and internal pacifism.

Against this backdrop, in June 2015, the Abe administration made public a new education policy of urging national universities to abolish undergraduate and graduate programs in education, humanities, and social sciences or reorganize them into other programs that are socially in greater demand by using the stick and carrot of selectively allocating government subsidies depending on the progress of implementing the new policy. It is conceivable that the real intention of this policy is to weaken the social role of the universities to critically review public policies and educate people to develop critical thinking. It should also be noted that this is a revival of the failed proposal of abolishing non-science programs by the education minister of the Kishi administration in 1960 (Mainichi Shimbun 2015).

Military Research

Furthermore, in 2015, the Abe administration initiated a new grant scheme for universities and other research institutes. Under the scheme, the Ministry of Defense allocates the grant to the researchers who conduct basic research on state-of-art technologies that can be militarily exploited. The grant amount was 300 million yen in FY2015 and 600 million in FY2016, but it rose to 11 billion yen in FY2017. The public subsidies for public and private universities have continued to decline over the years as government debts have expanded. In such dire financial straits, the new grant is attractive to many of them. If more and more Japanese universities become reliant on it, they would feel more reluctant to critically evaluate various public policies.

Personal Views behind the Erosion of Pacifism

The previous sections clarified the extent of erosion of Japan’s external and internal pacifism by the policies implemented by the Abe administration. This section examines the personal views of PM Abe and other leading LDP lawmakers that led to those policies. The basic contention presented here is that PM Abe and other major LDP lawmakers have implemented those policies because they are critical of the three pillars of the current constitution—external pacifism, the sovereignty of the people, and fundamental human rights. This section substantiates this contention and looks into their fundamental views that underlie their critical views.

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Escape from the Postwar Regime

Generally speaking, the erosion of Japan’s external and internal pacifism under the Abe administration can be ascribed to its political objective of “escape from the post-war regime” (sengo rejīmu karano dakkyaku). The postwar regime is the political regime based on the current constitution drafted by General Headquarters (GHQ), which was approved by the Imperial Diet in October 1946 and then went into effect in May 1947.

PM Abe has maintained that “escape from the post-war regime” is the most important task for Japan (Abe 2013: 254). The LDP has shared this objective. In fact, its party platform adopted at the time of its formation in 1955 (Jiyuminshuto 1955) calls for developing an independent regime by revising the constitution and reviewing various laws adopted during the occupation period. Thus, “escape from the post-war regime” primarily means creating a new legal system by revising the current constitution and reviewing various laws created during the occupation period. There are different reasons why PM Abe and the LDP want to do so.

Reasons for the Escape from the Postwar Regime

One reason for PM Abe and other LDP lawmakers’ desire to escape from the postwar regime is their view that a country should make its constitution independently. In the words of PM Abe, “The Japanese citizens themselves should create the framework of their country from scratch. Thereby, Japan can truly restore its independence” (Abe 2013: 33). However, if they are satisfied with the content of the constitution, then they would not make such an argument. Therefore, one can infer that PM Abe and other LDP lawmakers have been unhappy with the constitution and can ask why.

In fact, they have criticized the three pillars of the constitution: external pacifism, the sovereignty of the people, and fundamental human rights. For instance, at the 3rd study session of Sosei Nippon held in Tokyo on May 10, 2012, Jinen Nagase, who was the Justice Minister of the first Abe administration (September 2006–August 2007) and a graduate of the University of Tokyo’s law department, argued that “the sovereignty of the people, and fundamental human rights, and [external] pacifism are the essences of the post-war regime that had been forced upon Japan by MacArthur and must be abolished in a truly independent constitution” (Sosei Nippon 2012). This remark was made in front of Shinzo Abe, the LDP president, and many other well-known LDP lawmakers such as Hakubun Shimomura, Seiichi Eto, and Shoji Nishida, and Hirofumi Nakasone, all of whom were members of the LDP committee that compiled the draft constitution in April 2012, which ←46 | 47→revised the previous draft compiled in October 2005, fifty years after the LDP’s foundation. The following subsections explain why they are critical of pacifism, the sovereignty of the people, and fundamental human rights.


XII, 210
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2021 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 210 pp., 2 b/w ill., 7 tables.

Biographical notes

Michal Kolmaš (Volume editor) Yoichiro Sato (Volume editor)

Michal Kolmaš holds a Ph.D. in international relations from Charles University in Prague and is currently an associate professor at Metropolitan University Prague. His articles on Japanese foreign policy appeared in journals such as The Pacific Review , Cambridge Review of International Affairs , Japanese Journal of Political Science and others. His latest book National Identity and Japanese Revisionism was published in 2019. Yoichiro Sato holds a Ph.D. in political science from University of Hawaii and is currently at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. His more than ten published books include Regional Institutions, Geopolitics and Economics in the Asia Pacific (co-edited, 2017) and Re-Rising Japan (Peter Lang, 2017).


Title: Identity, Culture and Memory in Japanese Foreign Policy