- Rethinking Japan: The Politics of Contested Nationalism by Arthur Stockwin and Kweku Ampiah
Rethinking Japan provides an easy-to-read overview of postwar politics and what—according to the authors—has changed in Japan since the 1990s, particularly since 2012. Arthur Stockwin and Kweku Ampiah argue that the "new" Japan that has emerged is "more controlled, less democratic, less oriented toward peace, more internationally assertive, more inclined to confront neighboring countries, more unequal … [and] more concerned to flaunt national traditions" (p. 268). In tracing the steps that led to this brave new world, the authors first review the early postwar regime up to the 1980s and 1990s (chapter 1), before discussing the various political and socioeconomic changes that occurred in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s (chapters 2 and 3) and finally what they call the advent of the "2012 political system." This last part includes chapters on the debate about "Abenomics" (chapter 5), the revision of the Constitution of Japan (chapter 6), the Designated State Secrets Law and freedom of the press (chapter 7), historical revisionism and national identity (chapter 8), collective self-defense legislation (chapter 9), and Japan's foreign relations (chapters 10 and 11).
The book's main story is no doubt the transition toward the aforementioned 2012 system. The authors strive to convey a realistic image of Japan during a period that has seen the country undergo substantial change. Thus, it is fitting for the book to begin and end with brief discussions of the changing images of Japan in the West and how most of them had little to do with the realities of Japanese society and politics (pp. 3–5). For instance, the authors spend quite a few pages convincingly arguing that postwar Japanese governments have been far more proactive than widely assumed in the West (p. 272). This is the key argument of chapter 12, where the authors show that as far back as the Bandung Peace Conference in 1955 (in other words, just three years after the end of the Allied Occupation of Japan), the government did not yield to U.S. pressure (pp. 251–54). Seeing how Japan was experiencing "fundamental change in the politics, political economy, and conduct of foreign policy" (p. 2) and a democracy that was not "dead," "but rather [had] its character … being twisted into new shapes" (p. 2), the country was "moving into uncharted waters, and this means that assumptions about Japan need careful rethinking" (p. 7).
After introducing the basic framework of postwar politics such as the 1955 regime centered on the single-party dominance of the Liberal Democratic [End Page 444] Party (LDP) (pp. 23–31), Japan's high economic growth period, and the mercantilist foreign policy based on the Yoshida Doctrine (p. 22), the authors examine what has changed and how since the 1980s and 1990s. They introduce readers to electoral reforms and the start of the single member district (SMD) system (pp. 44–45); the bursting of the speculation bubble economy in 1993, the resulting halt of high economic growth, and the subsequent neoliberal reform attempts to end the economic stagnation of the lost decade(s) (pp. 36–37); the effects of these reforms on the labor market such as an increase in workers without permanent employment (p. 39); and the post–cold war geopolitical order and the challenges the Japanese government faced in dealing with the first Gulf War, which provided the impetus for more proactive participation in international peacekeeping (p. 37).
According to Stockwin and Ampiah, one more important impetus for the rise of the "2012 regime" is the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)-led government, which temporarily replaced the LDP-Clean Government Party (Kōmeitō) government from 2009 through 2012. They argue that the backlash against the inexperienced new government would eventually pave the way for the LDP's return to power. They focus on the inexperience of most DPJ parliamentarians in running the national government. This proved a major obstacle: when the party...