In 2009 the Democratic Party of Japan came to power promising a foreign policy shift, aiming for a more equal relationship with the United States and improved relations with Japan’s Asian neighbors. The policy shift was explicitly designed as a response to a perceived regional and global power shift from the United States to China. However, within nine months the new prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, resigned, and his successors jettisoned the foreign policy shift. Conventional explanations cite the weak leadership of Hatoyama, the inexperience of his party, and the lack of realism behind the proposed policy shift itself as key factors in the shift’s failure. In this article I provide an alternative perspective. Drawing on the concept of discursive power, I demonstrate how Washington turned the Futenma base relocation and other issues into a major crisis in Japan-US relations in order to discredit Hatoyama and the policy shift. What was arguably a modest and pragmatic policy shift was narrated as a grave threat to the very cornerstone of postwar Japanese security. By focusing on the US exercise of discursive power over Japan, I suggest that talk of an East Asian power shift is premature.