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Reviewed by:
  • Client State: Japan in the American Embrace
  • Christopher W. Hughes (bio)
Client State: Japan in the American Embrace. By Gavan McCormack. Verso, London, 2007. 246 pages. $29.95, paper.

Gavan McCormack has provided us with an important and provocative work. It deserves to be read by academics and practitioners, and is simultaneously [End Page 217] highly accessible to advanced students of Japan and to those nonspecialists who simply want to know about changes in contemporary Japan.

In a series of excellent analytical cuts into Japan under the stewardship of Prime Ministers Koizumi Jun'ichirō and Abe Shinzō, McCormack presents a picture of radical and often sinister transformation in Japanese society, politics, and foreign policy. McCormack's perspective is of a Japan lurching toward neoliberalism and neonationalism under the leadership especially of Koizumi and drawing ever closer to the United States in economic and security matters and thereby distancing itself from its East Asian neighbors.

McCormack illustrates these changes by first examining the "dismantling of the Japanese model" of economic development and the near-slavish attempts to follow U.S. economic prescriptions for economic recovery and the consequent deleterious impact on Japanese social cohesion. He then moves on to examine Japanese foreign policy, contrasting Japan's professed active support for the United States in the "war on terror" with the reluctance of domestic power elites to counter right-wing intimidation or near-terrorism in Japan itself. This is followed by damning criticism of the failures of Japanese policy in East Asia. McCormack sees Koizumi as alienating China and South Korea, wasting opportunities to engage North Korea and instead allowing the right wing to demonize this state, and in general gravitating away from efforts to build a serious East Asian community with Japan at its heart. He proceeds to investigate the debates on constitutional revision in Japan and educational reform to promote a neonationalist agenda. Conceding that constitutional reform is proving a tougher nut to crack than many neonationalists had expected, especially due to resistance from civil society, he still sees a strong impulse in this direction. By contrast, neonationalist education is seen to be progressing apace.

The next and most interesting section of the book deals with base issues in Okinawa, a topic McCormack has long covered with distinction. He again argues that Japan's power elites have utilized Okinawa for their own purposes in order to satisfy U.S. alliance demands, regardless of the financial costs for the Japanese taxpayer or human costs for Okinawans themselves. Once again, he points out the strength of civil society's resistance in foiling many central government plans and sketches an alternative vision of Okinawa free from U.S. bases and more closely integrated into the economy of the South China Sea.

The final substantive chapter examines the civilian and military nuclear issues in Japan. It argues that Japan is now testing its nuclear taboos with more regularity and that it is pouring resources into a civilian nuclear program that is ultimately uneconomical and carries opportunity costs for alternative environmentally friendly energy sources.

The final chapter of the book describes Japan as a "schizophrenic state," [End Page 218] one that is removed from its Asian identity by its dependent status on the United States, but paradoxically at the same time chafing against U.S. dominance in its neonationalist drive for great power status.

McCormack's work, as noted above, is full of stimulating insights and, at times, brilliant prose. He makes a fine job of capturing many of the dynamics of change in contemporary Japan and of pointing out the contradictions and self-defeating aspects of Japanese foreign policy. It contains up-to-date coverage of many issues not often accorded proper attention in the study of Japanese politics, such as educational reform and Okinawa. McCormack's book is also important in challenging from the margins much of the current orthodoxy over Japan's rise as a more assertive diplomatic and military actor. The author significantly critiques those policymakers and academics who argue that Japan is simply "normalizing" in its security efforts in the "war on terror" or that domestic political change and reform in Japan is always to be welcomed. McCormack...


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pp. 217-220
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