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  • The International Minimum: Creativity and Contradiction in Japan’s Global Engagement, 1933–1964 by Jessamyn R. Abel
  • Michael T. Wood
Abel, Jessamyn R. The International Minimum: Creativity and Contradiction in Japan’s Global Engagement, 1933–1964. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. Pp. 331. Notes, bibliography, index. $54.00, hb.

In The International Minimum, historian Jessamyn R. Abel argues that “internationalism,” which she defines as “the normative conviction that building and strengthening cooperative ties among nations is the best way to promote peace, security, and prosperity,” served as the foundation of Japanese transwar foreign policy from the 1920s to the 1960s (8). In support of this thesis, the author blends diplomatic and cultural history, employing traditional sources from government and private archives supplemented by documents related to public discourse such as popular journals, magazines, newspapers, books, speeches, and literary works. She also engages with relevant secondary literature throughout the work, giving the reader a greater appreciation of the context of the events and the place of her argument within the historiography. While internationalism seems to be at odds with Japanese militarism and imperial expansion during the 1930s and 1940s, Abel demonstrates how Japanese policymakers consistently adapted internationalist policies and rhetoric to geopolitical conditions and national ambitions. To this end, she organizes the book into three sections that address avenues in which the Japanese pursued internationalism over the course of thirty years in the middle of the twentieth century: [End Page 97] (1) Japanese participation in global organizations, most notably the League of Nations and the United Nations; (2) Japan’s use of cultural diplomacy, in particular the creation of Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai or “Society of International Cultural Relations” and the 1940 and 1964 Tokyo Olympiads; and (3) Japanese participation in regional conferences, such as the Greater East Asian Conference of 1943 and the Bandung Conference of 1955. In the opinion of this reviewer, the second section on cultural diplomacy, especially the two chapters on the Tokyo Olympics and sport diplomacy, have the greatest relevance to this journal’s readership.

In the fourth chapter, Abel focuses on the circumstances surrounding Japan’s successful bid for the 1940 Olympics and its ultimate cancellation. In the wake of the Manchurian Incident of 1931, the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, followed by the even more influential 1936 Berlin Games, displayed the potential for the Olympics as a popular global spectacle and opportunity for the host country to project its desired self-image to the world. Abel skillfully shows how Japanese politicians, both local and national, and intellectuals seized the chance to host this “apolitical” international event with the hope of improving relations, especially with the West, and promoting Japanese nationalism and exceptionalism. Portrayals of Japan’s rich history and culture, such as linking its athletic culture with the bushido code, and its position as the first Asian city to host the games combined to present an overall image of Japan as being the most prominent country in the region and a link between the East and the West, the traditional and the modern. Unfortunately, Japan’s war with China escalated, resulting in the cancellation of the games in 1938. Abel notes that many regretted this turn of events because Japan broke “international faith,” but the process served as a model for the country’s second effort to host the games.

By contrast, the fifth chapter examines the success of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in promoting the image of a “New Japan” and serving as the unofficial reintegration of the country into the international community after the Second World War. Again, Japanese policymakers adopted sport diplomacy as a means to improve negative international opinions of Japan and to project the country as a culturally rich, modern, technologically advanced, and economically strong nation on par with Western countries. Advances in satellite television increased the importance of the games because their message of a “New Japan” could reach beyond the athletes, visitors, and journalists to a global audience. Overall, Abel portrays the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a smashing success for Japan both in terms of international relations and prestige.

The International Minimum is a well-organized, thoroughly researched work. Its organization allows the reader...


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