In an interview with The Washington Post in November, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the U.S.-Japan alliance "the cornerstone of Japanese diplomacy," a stance supported by the U.S. State Department, whose website asserts, "Japan contributes irreplaceable political, financial and moral support to U.S.-Japan diplomatic efforts."

However, such official comments on Tokyo-Washington ties are misleading, believes Sayo Saruta, the director of Japanese think tank New Diplomacy Initiative.

"In reality, the diplomatic channels between Japan and the U.S. are very narrow. The Japanese side is limited to a small number of conservatives who fail to reflect the variety of opinions held by the Japanese public," explained Saruta in a recent interview at her Tokyo office. "On the U.S. side, there are only around a dozen people influencing the final decisions in the U.S.-Japan relationship."