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Reviewed by:
  • Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose
  • Thomas U. Berger (bio)
Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose. By Kenneth B. Pyle. Public Affairs, New York, 2007. xiv, 433 pages. $29.95.

Kenneth Pyle has done the seemingly impossible: he has taken the grand sweep of Japanese diplomatic history, from the Tokugawa period to today, with all its trials and tribulations, magnificent triumphs and terrible reversals, and produced a powerful narrative that is at once coherent and illuminating. Moreover, he has done so while writing in a style that is simultaneously accessible to those who are uninitiated in the intricacies of Japanese history yet still sufficiently erudite so that even the expert reader will learn much that is new. Although this reviewer has been engaged in the study of Japan and its foreign relations for over 20 years, time and again he was pleased and surprised to discover some new nugget, a telling quote or engaging antidote, that Pyle serves up for his readers.

Inevitably in a work this broad in scope and vision, there are occasional errors and omissions,1 and at times Pyle seems to contradict himself in ways that raise problems for his central argument. Nonetheless, he has written a comprehensive and profound study of the evolution of Japan's foreign relations that, together with recent works by Michael Green, Richard Samuels, [End Page 208] and Christopher Hughes, defines the mainstream of current research on Japan's foreign policy and defense policies.2

Pyle's central argument is that Japan is reemerging as a central actor in international relations, abandoning the Yoshida Doctrine and the low-key approach to foreign affairs it has maintained since 1945. Pyle identifies three key factors he believes make such a development inevitable. First, the crisis of Japanese capitalism after the collapse of the bubble economy in 1991 marked the end of the Japanese model of development and has given impetus to those who want to reform the Japanese social, economic, and political systems to meet new global challenges. Second, with the end of the cold war, the United States is no longer willing to maintain its security commitments in Asia unless Japan increases its contribution to the international security order. At the same time, the end of the cold war has eroded the old left-right polarization of the Japanese political system. Consequently, external pressures have increased for greater burden sharing within the framework of the Mutual Security Treaty system while internal resistance to change in Japanese security policy has decreased. Third, Japan is confronted with a rapidly changing regional situation in East Asia, one characterized by a volatile mixture of increasing multipolarity (the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and India) and growing nationalism. In response, Japan is once again—as it did after 1853 and 1945—recalculating its grand national strategy and recalibrating its social, economic, and political institutions to match. According to Pyle, while "no one can be sure how these changes will play out. . . . [w]hat does seem clear is that after more than half a century of withdrawal from international politics, Japan is . . . preparing to become a major player in the strategic struggles of the twenty-first century" (p. 17).

In particular, Pyle foresees substantial changes in Japanese defense and national security policy, rejecting the arguments of an earlier generation of researchers such as Chalmers Johnson and Hanns Maull that Japan will be the "Venice of the East" or an "international civilian power" (p. 370).3 Implicitly, he also challenges those who argue that post-1945 Japan is hampered [End Page 209] by a culture of "antimilitarism" that causes it to eschew the use of force4 as well as those who claim that the disaggregated character of Japanese policymaking made it prone to paralysis.5

Pyle portrays Japanese foreign policy as the interaction between two sets of variables: the shifting pressures emanating from the international system and the pragmatic response to those pressures by Japan's ruling conservative elite, whom he sees as having guided Japanese foreign policymaking over the last 150 years or more. In emphasizing the role of the international system, Pyle is departing from the dominant tradition...


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