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  • Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.–Japan Relations by Michael R. Auslin
  • Carrie Khou
Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.–Japan Relations. By Michael R. Auslin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011. 344 pp. $49.95 (cloth).

“People are different, the cosmopolitan knows, and there is much to learn from our differences” (Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, 2006, p. xv). Appiah’s pointed description of international relations finds its calling in Auslin’s Pacific Cosmopolitans. The latter term considers individuals and collectives as driven by an eagerness to learn about and from the other and by mutual fascination with the other’s idiosyncrasies. These aspects, in turn, constitute the foundation of cultural exchange. Auslin, a resident scholar in Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, traces the chronologies of cultural exchange between Japan and the United States. Auslin’s thesis of cultural exchange as a nonlinear concept and his emphasis on the motivations to conduct this exchange on both sides of the Pacific are central to his extensive analysis. According to Auslin, the dynamics of cultural exchange between Japan and the United States are embedded in the convoluted ties of politics, economic and diplomatic tact, public and private interests, official and unofficial agendas. Thereby he draws attention to the reciprocal entanglement of social and cultural values in the process of establishing or re-establishing cultural exchange. His analysis spans the past 150 years of cultural exchange between Japan and the United States, starting in the mid nineteenth century and ending in the early twenty-first century, offering an extensive view of the topic.

Pacific Cosmopolitans comprises six chapters covering significant stages of historical development seeking to confirm Auslin’s thesis of nonlinear development in the history of U.S.–Japan relations. Throughout the book, Auslin accounts for how cultural bonds between Japan and the United States were, and still are, in a stage of continuous revision. Auslin also refers to different types of exchanges raneing from individuals seeking to discover a foreign land (Americans and Japanese alike), official and formalized exchange stemming from the hands of [End Page 477] organizations, to exchanges serving public agendas. The chapters presented in Auslin’s historical overview tie in nicely with each other and leave no doubt about the coherence of the overall structure.

What is particularly interesting is the ambivalence Auslin points out between Japan and the United States in their history of cultural exchange. On the one hand cultural exchange is described as an ideal which should be pursued independently from economic and political interests. On the other hand, Auslin makes clear that the actual implementations of exchange are strongly dependent on intricate political, economic, and nationalistic decisions. For instance, World War II and Pearl Harbor are described as significant events that set back diplomatic efforts to foster cultural exchange. Whereas the unfolding of these political crises triggered negative responses, the commodification of cultural exchange in the postwar era slowly paved the way for the recovery of shattered diplomatic relations. The reinstatement of cultural exchange came in the shape of consumerism and popular culture—for example, the use of American appliances, such as washers and refrigerators, in Japanese households. American society was influenced, in return, by the establishment of Japanese pop culture, which was marked by the increased popularity of Japanese food and music. Thus, the postwar era encountered the resumption of cultural exchange under the premises of commodification. Despite the lack of a normative definition of cultural exchange, Auslin manages to support his thesis of nonlinear development by outlining the downturns and upturns triggered by war and economic interests.

Auslin offers insights into the developments of cultural exchange from different vantage points. The reference to historical incidents of war or the in-depth description of the establishment of the Japan Club in New York and other organizations clearly confirm Auslin’s thesis of characterizing cultural exchange between Japan and the United States as nonlinear. The reader becomes a witness of historical developments which account for the to-and-fro of diplomatic relations, and the effort to learn from cultural differences. In summary, Auslin’s book can be considered a recommended...


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