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Decoding Boundaries in Contemporary Japan: The Koizumi Administration and Beyond (review)

From: The Journal of Japanese Studies
Volume 38, Number 2, Summer 2012
pp. 473-476 | 10.1353/jjs.2012.0065

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Decoding Boundaries in Contemporary Japan explores political, economic, and social boundaries in Japan to address why these constraints exist as well as how and why some of these boundaries have shifted in recent years. The administration of Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō is taken as a point of departure given that its push for both increased international activity and domestic reform shifted many existing boundaries and created new ones. As Glenn Hook explains in the introduction to this edited volume, “The central argument of the book is that, in order to achieve the twin goals of greater international proactivity and domestic reform, the government and other actors supporting the new direction for Japan pushed forward by the Koizumi administration needed to take action in order to destabilize and reformulate a range of extant boundaries” (p. 2).

Before boundaries can be “decoded,” though, they must be defined. The introductory chapter by Glenn Hook begins this endeavor by asserting “whether physical or metaphysical, boundaries serve most fundamentally to distinguish between insiders and outsiders” (p. 2). Hook then discusses several different types of boundaries: physical, legal, political, social, and symbolic. As Hook points out, many of these boundaries are invisible; indeed, the concept of a boundary is a heuristic used to gain a better grasp of changes occurring at the international and domestic levels in the economic, political, and social realms. At the international level, Hook argues that the initiatives of the Koizumi administration pushed Japan away from the identity of a “peace state” toward the “role for the nation as an international ally of the United States, as seen in the prime minister’s support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq” (p. 4). This shift in policy called into question boundaries set by the constitution and the boundaries of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Unfortunately, the chapters in the volume that focus on international boundaries do little to develop these assertions.

Domestically, Hook argues, structural reform and deregulation led to shifts in the boundaries between state, market, and society. Market and state relations after Koizumi’s reform efforts are explicitly addressed in several of the chapters on domestic politics, most directly in Peter von Staden’s chapter on business and government relations postreform and Hasegawa Harukiyo’s chapter on Keidanren and labor unions. State-society boundaries are discussed in Muto Hiromi’s chapter on municipal mergers, Patricia Steinhoff’s chapter on the criminal justice system, and Roger Goodman’s chapter on education reform.

Although the introduction defines boundaries and provides useful distinctions among types of boundaries, the chapter is rather brief. The theoretical discussion of boundaries is contained in eight pages before the introduction of the chapters to follow. This limited discussion of boundaries provides only a basic theoretical understanding and very little common ground for the chapters that follow. Each contributor adopts the language of boundaries; however, few consider boundaries theoretically. It is not completely clear how one can determine the existence of a boundary or measure shifts that occur. The mechanisms that can lead to shifts in boundaries are also underexplored. On the whole, the book would be strengthened by developing more common theoretical ground up front.

Nevertheless, the boundary heuristic lends itself to the discussion of insiders and outsiders in the international realm. Several of the chapters nicely discuss the negotiation of boundaries in international society. For example, Hugo Dobson’s chapter on Japan’s attempts to influence membership in the G8 argues that in certain instances Japan has been able to instrumentalize liminality to promote the inclusion in the G8 of new states such as Indonesia, Australia, and China, thereby redefining an existing boundary. Still, Dobson acknowledges that in other cases the “nature, membership, and other characteristics of institutions” are more significant in determining inclusion (Russia) and exclusion (North Korea) (p. 31). Overall, the concept of liminality makes a strong contribution to the discussion of the boundaries of multilateralism.

The chapters on piracy and rogue states also lend themselves to the insider/outsider dichotomy of boundaries. Lindsay Black’s chapter on Japan’s response to piracy in Southeast Asia does a particularly nice job of describing the relevant boundaries at play. It details the theoretical boundaries of...

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