Cold Whimper, Not Big Bang

20Feb08

John Nathan

John Nathan will be speaking at Japan Society in New York City soon, promoting his new book. I found this old video featuring John Nathan on the Charlie Rose program. The video was from 2004, and celebrated the 150 year anniversary since Commodore Perry landed in Japan, forcing it open.

Ian Buruma appears with John Nathan at the end of the clip to discuss Japanese cultural and political developments. I found what they said just as insightful today as it was in 2003.

They talked about the increasing independence of Japan and the waning influence of the US politically, economically, and culturally in Japan. At the same time, they pointed to the increased popularity of Chinese and Korean economic cultural ties with Japan. This was something that was unthinkable in the immediate post-war period because of ideas of Japanese ethnic superiority, and the backward nature of those economies. For example, Korea was always thought of as an inferior, under-developed neighbor, but now Japanese tourists flock to South Korea, and Korean pop stars and TV dramas are famous in Japan.

Japan is again rejoining the East Asian cultural sphere, after years and years of orientation towards the West. If trends continue, the US may in the future face increased competition for Japan’s economic, cultural, and political cooperation from others countries, and the US-Japan relationship may grow more distant and fractured.  Maybe we are seeing this already.  The very reforms which the US is prodding Japan to undertake, like Article 9 revision, and laws to allow for the deployment overseas of SDF forces, may actually work against the US in the long run.  It’s like letting the genie out of the bottle.  As Japan becomes more economically, politically, militarily, and culturally independent, the role of Japan as a trusted and guaranteed ally of the US may shift.

The day may come when US may longer be able to count on the automatic support of Japan for its policies.  What we are looking at is not the sudden collapse of a superpower like the Soviet Union, but instead a gradual weakening and sapping of US power in the region.  Not a big bang, but a cold whimper.

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One Response to “Cold Whimper, Not Big Bang”

  1. 1 Joel

    Ian Buruma is, hands down, the best writer about Japan. Period.
    I remember Helen Hopper raving about him, and now I understand why.

    I have personally come up with some euphemisms for Japan of late:

    Japan as a Limp Porn Star: Still some vitality but, not coming on the world’s face anymore.

    I am sure that won’t get me any Rhodes Scholarships anytime soon


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