What stance should Japan take in a world dominated by the American superpower? Is Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi no more than an errand boy for bullyboy George W. Bush, as a Shukan Gendai headline implied last March? Is he an incompetent know-nothing who has casually thrown away Japan’s precious pacifist Constitution, as charged by Japan’s former ambassador to Lebanon? Or is he, as the editorial writers of the Asian Wall Street Journal (1/19) see it, a praiseworthy leader who recognizes that Japan must cast off its outdated constitutional restrictions and shoulder more of its global responsibilities?

In 2003, which began with the invasion of Iraq, flirted with crisis in North Korea, and ended with the dispatch of Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq, international affairs dominated domestic debate to an unusual extent.

Japan’s weekly magazines, for example, devoted 736 pages to Iraq and 544 pages to North Korea, according to DaCapo (2/4). Three women’s magazines that usually cover celebrity news — Josei Jishin, Josei Seven, and Shukan Josei — made room for financial advice (second, with 89 pages), and even addressed the pension crisis, Iraq and SARS.

Intellectual debate in the nation’s monthly magazines also focused on the attack on Iraq and Japan’s response.

In the Mainichi Shimbun’s survey of the year’s articles from such serious monthly magazines as Chuo Koron and Sekai (12/17), for instance, veteran media observer Daizaburo Hashizume made note of the post-Cold War blurring of knee-jerk, left/right ideological positions but also saw there was a dearth of articles that go above and beyond current events to delineate a new paradigm for Japan’s future, perhaps because of the generational change taking place in the intelligentsia today.

One of the recommended articles in the Mainichi survey became a book. And while it is not a sweeping new paradigm for Japan, the author, former diplomat Kazuo Ogura, raised many salient points about current Japanese diplomacy by looking back at the mistakes of prewar diplomacy through an analysis [Ronza (6/03)] of a 1951 Foreign Ministry paper that retraces the path to the disastrous war with Britain and the United States. His analysis of the paper, released for the first time last April, indirectly criticizes Japan’s current policies.

Ogura notes that the lessons of the past are especially crucial at a time when the world is trying to confront questions about the legitimacy of war, the role of the United Nations, the meaning of allies, and the clash of civilizations. Japan, meanwhile, faces serious decisions on revising its Constitution, the legitimacy of the SDF, and the meaning of its alliances in Asia and with the U.S.

One such lesson is not to be swept away by emotion, or real or perceived slights, and withdrawing in a huff, as Japan did when it left the League of Nations. A fine line must be walked when trying to moderate public opinion and representing it abroad, as seen today in the abductee issue.

Ogura also warns that, after a 1 percent chance of going to war is accepted, it soon expands to 2 percent, then 10 percent — and then the sidelining of diplomacy.

After considering the prewar alliance Japan formed with Germany — and which Japan maintained even after Germany betrayed it by signing a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union — Ogura pointedly says that an alliance must be based on trust, and that trust is not something that comes from blindly following an ally.

However, the main lesson Ogura seeks to teach us is the need to prevent arteriosclerosis from developing in Japanese foreign policy — that unthinking clinging to old ways that fails to take heed of the broader undercurrents of change. The prewar Foreign Ministry missed the rise of nationalism, Wilsonian idealism, and social movements. Now that a half century has passed, the time is ripe for a comprehensive new analysis of Japan’s postwar diplomacy and a redefinition of pacifism and peace diplomacy for the 21st century.

Another writer, former diplomat Amaki Naoto, is much less circumspect in his criticism of contemporary Japanese foreign policy. As the Japanese ambassador to Lebanon, he was forced out of the Foreign Ministry in August after sending two messages to Tokyo (and to all the Japanese diplomatic missions throughout the world) calling for a reversal of Japanese support for America’s pre-emptive war.

In his best-selling book, “Saraba Gaimusho (Goodbye, Foreign Ministry),” and in other articles, such as one that appeared in the February issue of Sekai, Amaki is strongly dismissive of Koizumi and charges that the Foreign Ministry is falsely convinced it has no option but to follow the U.S., preventing Japan from engaging in flexible decision-making based on objective information. In fact, the ministry actively discourages its diplomats from submitting any information contradictory to that view.

Amaki predicts that in ten years Japan will be ruled by a generation without direct experience of war. He wonders if Koizumi, the ambitious bureaucrats under him, and his tame academics and pundits who so lightly advise that cooperation with American military action is in Japan’s national interest, ever try to imagine what war is really like. He also asks whether Koizumi’s policies at home and abroad will leave the Japanese people better off, or awaken them to reject their ever-increasing burdens and throw the Koizumi government out of office. To Amaki, 2004 looks like a year that may decide Japan’s — and Koizumi’s — future.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.