What Makes Japan Bother With the TransPacific Partnership?

Yves here. We’ve been giving regular updates, with the considerable help of our man in Japan Clive, on how the the prospects for Japan signing up for the TransPacific Partnership look extremely slim. Mind you, “extremely slim” is not impossible, but the reason we deem the probability to be that low is that the Administration appears unwilling to bargain at all, let alone offer Japan some critical and large concessions that it requires to sign up. And since Japan is a linchpin to the entire deal, if Japan is a no-go, you can kiss the TransPacific Partnership goodbye.

These TransPacific Partnership discussions have also given yours truly, and even more so our real expert Clive, the opportunity to do some cross-cultural translating, which I personally enjoy. The Japanese are a sufficiently alien culture that you are forced to suspend or retrain your assumptions about how things work. So to watch the US Trade Representative, which along with the State Department, ought to be a US agency particularly attuned to how Japan needs special handling, instead do the equivalent of repeatedly step on a rake and get smacked in the face, is entertaining in a perverse way. How can they NOT know that what they are doing is counterproductive? And how can they NOT course correct when it should be obvious that what they are doing isn’t working?

However, even though, as we have discussed, the USTR has acted in a way almost guaranteed to offend the Japanese, the government has reasons for being cool on the TransPacific Partnership yet having to feign otherwise. And they aren’t terribly mysterious either, even though they do vary with US baseline assumptions.

By Clive, a regular Naked Capitalism commenter and self-confessed Japan-o-phile

One reader asked why it was that, in the face of seemingly tricky terrain in Washington as well as an apparent lack of convincing reasons why the TransPacific Partnership might be of any benefit at all to Japan, Prime Minister Abe is sticking with it.

The simple answer is that politicians, in Japan as elsewhere, want to appear to be in control of events and not at the whim of them. Abe has sunk political capital into the TPP and it is major plank of his (groan) “reform” agenda. He wants to be seen to be getting that agenda implemented. Of course, it is a political matter and thus subject to political considerations like you can’t, in Japan, simply swing a wrecking ball across the entire domestic agricultural industry as the U.S. is demanding Japan should do.

A slightly deeper question is, how did the TPP get on Abe’s (and Japan’s) agenda in the first place? There’s multiple factors involved there, I’ll skim through them here but each is a topic in its own right.

Firstly, it is probably very difficult for U.S. readers to appreciate what, exactly, it is like to be in a small-ish country with a big regional power nearby. For people in the U.S. you’re the regional power, so it’s like trying to look at a painting while you’re subject in it. It’s very tricky to shift your perspective to view the situation as outsiders do. But if you live in a small country with a big, sometimes belligerent neighbour, it’s instinctive to form alliances. And that can lead you into being not altogether fussy about who those alliances are with and what they entail. Say what you like about the EU, it has demonstrated the ability of countries to form a reasonably coherent group on the world stage and act as a buffer against much larger nation states. What the EU has done with that power is, of course, debatable. Few here would I think disagree that it has ended up debasing what its stated aims are. But that doesn’t change the fact that economic and political alliances can profoundly alter the geopolitical landscape. For good or for ill. Japan doesn’t want to miss the boat — even if we might think it’s the Titanic.

Secondly, Japan’s relationship with other countries is pretty unique. It’s instinct is to be isolationist and separate (the Japanese people do sometimes relish their perception of their own uniqueness; they are pretty unique, but the world is full of unique peoples so even though they’re unique, they’re not unique in being unique. I do hope there weren’t too many reader casualties as a result of that last sentence — I know what I mean anyway…). But Japan
knows its own history and fully appreciates that this isolationist tendency has brought it to the brink of two well-understood existential crises in the recent past (I won’t cover these in detail but they are this and this ). The defining characteristic of both these events was that, unbeknown to Japan, it had become vulnerable to technological advances of which it knew little or nothing. It thought it had some cards still to play, but in reality it was a busted flush. The atomic bombings and the Black Ships really did literally and figuratively come at Japan from out the blue.

Japan does not want to be in that position again. This permeates a lot of Japanese thinking. Since the end of WWII, it has deliberately sought information on what it considers the best in current external expertise and know-how on a variety of subjects. It does not, indiscriminately, use non-Japanese consulting firms. But it does use them selectively, where it considers that it might not have the sort of knowledge and experience it needs to have. Of course, sometimes as with any consulting it gets good and urgently needed advice, sometimes it gets bad advice. The Japanese don’t usually take such inputs hook, line and sinker. But they do consider them and they are given credibility (not least because of the above lessons from history). It is also conscious of its relationship with its allies, especially the U.S. Japan implemented the Plaza Accord pretty much exactly as the U.S. wished. That was in some respects very bad advice, but to a lot of Japanese, the U.S. is the most successful economy so it must know what it is doing.

These, then, are the main factors influencing Japan’s continued engagement with the TPP process. Non-Japanese may not entirely understand them, much less agree with them. Quite a lot of Japanese don’t agree with them either. But they do offer an explanation.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Larry Headlund

    Japanese isolationist tendency led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which came at Japan “out of the blue”? Do tell.

    1. Uahsenaa

      I’m a J-lit and culture scholar, so I’ll pretend to know what Clive is getting at.
      Japan’s expansion into East Asia in the early 20th century was predicated on “protecting” these other nations from the threat of Western imperialism (the irony is not lost on anyone), in the form of the so-called “co-prosperity sphere.” So, in a sense, there is an isolating impulse underlying all this. And, because Western powers were deeply involved in East Asia, they were never going to simply let Japan go about their horrific business. Japan, according to one way of looking at things, quite literally wanted to set up the rest of the Asian sphere as a buffer zone between themselves and the West, so in a way isolationism did, in fact, lead to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      1. Working Class Nero

        Isolationism is typically defined as a foreign policy that attempts to avoid international conflicts and affairs by keeping the nation looking inward and avoiding foreign entanglements. But according to you, going out and conquering a huge empire is also a form of isolationism, and least in the case of Japan. Why? Because Japanese imperial rhetoric justified their conquests by claiming to defend, and therefore “isolate” Asians from competing imperialists.

        Here’s a good rule of thumb — always take with a grain of salt the justification given by conquerors. Thucydides was real clear about this 2500 years ago, which is universal and so holds true as well for Japanese imperialists:

        For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretenses—either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede (Persians), or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us—and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Spartans, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must

        I think we can all agree that between 1641 and 1853 Japan did have a policy of isolation. My question is that before and during WW2, if going out and conquering a huge part of the world is also to be considered isolationism (at least for Japan), what exactly could Japan have done to NOT be isolationalist? Sit at home and isolate herself from the world by avoiding foreign contacts?

        1. Uahsenaa

          Clive explains himself below; as I said, I was taking a stab at what he was thinking, not advancing my own argument.

    2. different clue

      Perhaps Clive means Japan was surprised by the existence of a superweapon against which Japanese warrior-honor codes, combat skill, normal weapons, social organization, etc. had no defense nor any answer at all?

  2. Clive

    Short version: Conventional ordinance had destroyed all it was capable of destroying and was rapidly getting to the point, in 1945, of there being nothing much left to target. A Japanese strategy of hardening key facilities (and they didn’t need to be that hardened against not-especially accurate air raids and firebombing tactics) along with diffusion of military assets meant a ground offensive would be unavoidable. Japan intended to fight a conventional ground-based war of attrition and hoped to weaken the allies’ resolve in pursuing an outright victory. It would participate in peace talks with the intention of preserving as much of its territorial gains as it could and the entirety of its imperial system.

    The Japanese military command at the time had zero knowledge of viable nuclear weapons being developed, much less deployable. When they found out — the hard way — the depths of their ignorance, the allies were able to demand unconditional surrender and Japan had no choice but to accept this.

    1. 6th-generation Texan

      Far from planning national seppuku, Japan had been trying to surrender for months in 1945. They were attempting to negotiate through the Soviet Union, under the mistaken impression that there was a modicum of goodwill from Stalin for Japan refraining from invading the USSR in 1941 when Germany had the USSR by the throat.

      The US rejected all the overtures, because its establishment was already looking ahead to the postwar world and was determined to use its atomic bombs in actual combat as a display of military power (merely detonating the weapons in empty desert didn’t have the same psychological effect as annihilating an entire city or two…). Truman and his advisers at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 were unaware that Stalin was already well informed about the US nuclear program, primarily through the network of Soviet spies in Great Britain (Kim Philby and his Cambridge colleagues), so Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t have quite the intended effect.

      Maintaining the Emperor in place was the sine qua non for the Japanese, which Roosevelt’s foolish 1943 proclamation of “unconditional surrender” threatened. In the end, the Americans were perfectly content to accept conditions in order to keep the Soviets out of postwar Japan, and agreed to allow Hirohito to remain on his throne. The end-of-hostilities geopolitical planning among the victorious Allies in 1945 was, as it usually is, devious and cold-blooded. The changes of leadership (Truman for Roosevelt, Attlee for Churchill) complicated matters somewhat, but the bottom line is that the war in Asia could have ended much earlier than it did as far as the Japanese were concerned; their leaders had actually realized years earlier that their rash gamble had failed and they could not win militarily. The war lasted longer than it needed to because the US had additional items on its geopolitical agenda in 1945 besides strictly military victory over Japan.

      1. Clive

        What we lack to settle this argument (which boils down to could the U.S. have secured Japanese surrender without use of nuclear weapons) is a virtual parallel world where we could play out various scenarios.

        Unfortunately, we lack the ability to do that, so this (and other arguments like it) can rumble on in perpetuity. It’s not that I don’t find this a very good topic for debate and it’s not that I am at all unsympathetic to the notion that the U.S. could have and should have done more to avoid the use of the bombs. It’s certainly a distinct possibility that the U.S. was determined to use them come what may.

        But this whole discussion is framed, as is so often the case, from a western outlook i.e. what the allies did, what they didn’t do, what the effect of X- or Y- U.S. action was and so on. Very rarely does one find any attempt to flip this on its head and look at it from Japan’s point of view and analyse Japan’s actions. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a thought-experiment which evaluates in detail what could have happened if Japan had conducted a serious study into the possibility of the U.S. having access to nuclear weapons in the timeframe from, say, 1945-1950. What would Japan have done differently ? Few in the west ask, because few in the west really spend any time at all thinking about Japans actions, motivations and the implication of these. It’s lazy, anti-intellectualism to simply trot out the alas all too conventional thinking that the Japanese are some mysterious, inscrutable lot who defy analysis. The Japanese, it should be noted, are sometimes all too happy to lend support to that particular line of nonsense.

        My reason for bringing up this topic is to illustrate how Japan succumbed, not for the first time, to a bad case of internally obsessed group-think and what the consequences were. The consequences were, of course, disastrous. My contention is then that the Japanese — as you’d expect — started to wise up and try to learn some lessons. One of these was that never again would the Japanese find themselves exposed due to lack of awareness of what was going on overseas. Hence the interest in the TPP. The Japanese don’t want to be ignorant of how it might change the regional balance and the best way of finding out the implications of the TPP is (the same applies as to my other comment below) to be part of the negotiating group.

        1. Larry Headlund

          what could have happened if Japan had conducted a serious study into the possibility of the U.S. having access to nuclear weapons

          We have a hint from real life: it took more than one atomic bomb. After Hiroshima Japanese leaders knew beyond doubt that the US had access to nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. They didn’t surrender then. Group think is far too mild a term. This is the end result of government by assassination where if a politician opposes the militant faction he invites death.

          1. Gaianne

            “it took more than one atomic bomb. ”

            The facts do not support this claim. The interval between the bombings was three days–not nearly enough time to consider and implement policy change. Indeed damage assessment (by the Japanese) of the first bomb had barely begun when the second bomb was dropped.

            I am with 6th gen tex. Of course there is no proof, only an economy of explanation.

            Incidentally, the terms the US succeeded in imposing after the bombings were the same terms offered by the Japanese before the bombing.


            1. Larry Headlund

              The interval between the bombings was three days–not nearly enough time to consider and implement policy change.

              That is three more days than Pearl Harbor, Shanghai or Hong Kong got.

              Incidentally, the terms the US succeeded in imposing after the bombings were the same terms offered by the Japanese before the bombing.

              Offered by who and how? Somebody sent out peace feelers but Clive has the PTB looking for retention of the Imperial System and keeping territorial gains. Their national slogan was – “One Hundred Million Will Die for the Emperor and Nation” –

              1. Gaianne

                “That is three more days than Pearl Harbor, Shanghai or Hong Kong got.”

                And your point is????

                Let me rephrase: Americans like to pretend that the Nagasaki ensued out of Japanese intransigence after the Hiroshima bombing, but the facts say otherwise. Both bombings were one decision, not two.

                Now this one decision–what drove it? Without a pivot (by the US) toward (against) the Soviet Union you cannot explain it. Japan was already isolated and collapsing. No invasion was needed–unless, and this is the key point–a speedy victory was required to keep the Soviet Union from moving into Asia, as it was already starting to do. Additionally, many US planners thought war with the Soviet Union was coming, and some of them thought it was best to launch the new war right away. Dropping the bombs was arguably a way for either forestalling or positioning for that war.


        2. 6th-generation Texan

          Clive, are we talking apples and kumquats here ?? I fail to see how your reply from the 2nd paragraph on addresses my comment.

          But re one of the points you do make later, I fully agree that the Japanese are not “some mysterious, inscrutable lot who defy analysis.” In fact, in the grand scheme of human history on this planet, their society perfectly mirrors the sad norm: that of a ruthless, militaristic elite arrogantly forcing its people to follow them down a path leading ultimately to complete catastrophe (which is exactly the well-worn road down which the US “elites” are currently herding the “exceptional” sheeple….).

      2. different clue

        I had thought theJapanese leadership had wanted to surrender on terms of keeping its Empire Cult military government, all its conquests in China, much conquests elsewhere in Asia, etc. Am I wrong?

        And anyway, didn’t the military component of Japanese leadership want to keep fighting to the national ethnic extinction of Japan to satisfy the needs of “honor”? And wasn’t it the Emperor himself who broke that tie and forced the decision, in part by arguing that no honor was lost in surrendering to a functionally supernatural superweapon? So surrender under that circumstance was not dishonor?

    2. Larry Headlund

      So isolationist Japan (forget about all that aggressive war from 1879 to 1945) finds itself under attack in the summer of 1945. Things don’t look good: most everything worth bombing is destroyed, they have no navy or air force any more, nor any merchant marine. They have lost all their conquests in the central Pacific and Burma. The Chinese had taken back Hunan and Guangxi. 200K Japanese civilians have died in bombing raids.
      But they have a plan.
      Granted their previous plans hadn’t worked out: The US hadn’t been so traumatized by having much of its Pacific fleet sunk that it accepted Japanese positions. The Allies hadn’t worn themselves out attacking the periphery (like Rabaul) and sought a negotiated peace either. The Great Fleet Action in Leyte Gulf didn’t pan out. But this was sure to work.
      They had an army in the Home Islands. An army without air cover. An army with no hope of resupply, An army short of fuel, Surely they would cause such casualties that the US would return the islands they had conquered, betray their Allies and leave the Imperial system as it was. Of course, they could have cast their eyes toward Germany in July 1945 and seen what a resistance to the end had done for them.

      The Japanese military command at the time had zero knowledge of viable nuclear weapons being developed, much less deployable.

      Even if you don’t have an isolationist tendency, your enemy in a war doesn’t usually let you in on their capabilities. That is part of what makes war so chancy. The Japanese had been told in the Potsdam Declaration of July 26 that the alternative to surrender was “prompt and utter destruction”. Did they think we were kidding?

      1. Clive

        Yes, alas they did think we were kidding.

        I’m not sure why there’s objection to terming Japan isolationist. It even gets its own entry in the Wikipedia definition of the term ! http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolationism#Japan

        And no, military secrets are intended to be just that, secret. But countries which don’t isolate themselves off from the rest of the world have opportunities to mount covert infiltrations. Stalin knew about the Manhatten Project. Shigenori Tōgō knew nothing. And had no way of knowing anything. Such is the price of operating in a bubble. You could almost call it isolated.

        That’s an interesting point about the the implications of a theoretical ground campaign in mainland Japan. Yes, the Japan with a barely funtionaing Air Force and supply problems of every description. But need I point out that same dynamic was completely unable to secure victories in Vietnam, Afganistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine (I could, unfortunately, go on). The U.S. today possesses the most advanced military hardware in the world. That alone is insufficient to prevail unless you are prepared to suffer appalling losses.

        1. Larry Headlund

          I’m not sure why there’s objection to terming Japan isolationist.

          It is not the term isolationist in itself, it is applying it to Imperial Japan in the WWII era. Note that the references you cite here and elsewhere use the term to apply to Japan 1641-1853. To describe Imperial Japan as isolationist is to imply that IJ was minding its own business, disengaged from the outside when war came to it.
          As I pointed out, IJ assured itself that the US and allies would not accept the losses needed to advance to the home islands. They were proven wrong in that. The allies paid the price in Guadalcanal, in New Guinea, all the way to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Yet they convinced themselves that this time the allies would falter. The allies also had the option of sealing off the Home Islands and seeing what the effect of mass starvation would be.
          As for your examples, the IJA was fighting a conventional war, not a guerrilla campaign. The occupation of a resisting Japan might take a terrible toll on the allies but the IJ ruling class and general staff would not be around to appreciate that. Ask Sadamn Hussein or Gaddafi.
          Stalin knew about the Manhatten project. The Soviet Union was also an ally which made espionage a lot easier. The USSR had an industrial scale spying effort (I am reading Dark Sun and the first part is all about the spying). Nazi Germany was not isolationist, how much did Hitler know about the Manhatten Project?
          The rulers of Japan were willing to see millions of their countrymen dead to pursue a will o’ the wisp.

            1. different clue

              The quick death of 300,000 thousand Japanese civilians in two cities prompted the surrender which avoided the necessity to kill over a million Japanese soldiers all over China, other-Asia, and Japan itself. Not that we had that motive. But the prompt surrender did save those Japanese soldiers’ lives.

          1. ChrisPacific

            I think you are using slightly different definitions of isolationist. Clive appears to mean it as “closed to outside influence” whereas you mean “just want to be left alone”. The former is perfectly compatible with a war of conquest, while the latter is not.

            Using Clive’s definition, if the Japanese were accustomed to thinking of this as a strength of their culture until events demonstrated that it could be not only a weakness but a catastrophic one, then I can well imagine that a national identity crisis might result.

            Nice to see Clive get a feature article – I always enjoy his contributions.

      2. Gaianne

        Americans think of themselves as generous, and can never hear their own words.

        Suppose someone offers me “unconditional surrender.” If I believe what they say, I will certainly fight to the death! Why not? If I surrender, the absolute best I can expect is that they will kill me anyway.


        1. Larry Headlund

          Unconditional surrender does not mean you are going to be killed. It means you are not setting the terms at all. The Potsdam Declaration set out in some detail what those terms were. Note that the military forces , disarmed, would be permitted to return to their homes and we do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation.

    3. Fiver

      Re Clive’s ‘short version’ above:

      Clive, your version of events in late 1945 has been uprooted by more recent scholarship. There are several serious works now out which sum that same period as follows:

      Japan was demolished long before the Bombs were dropped. There was not going to be an invasion, there were not going to be ‘millions of casualties’, the Russians had already staged for their jointly-agreed attack in the early August, the only sticking point was what to do with the Emperor and the office of “Emperor”, the top military brass were against using the Bomb, the Russian attack was re-scheduled (for never) and Truman let the Bombs fly without a thought as to further Japanese resistance, but rather to put the fear of God into the men in Moscow.

      I’m sorry that I cannot remember the authors’ names, but I’m sure you’d hit one within 2 good Googles. The evidence was pretty definitive.

  3. Working Class Nero

    In the 1930’s, Japanese physicists had worked in top Western nuclear laboratories and Japan had a substantial nuclear program during WW2. The more the war went badly; the more desperate Japan became to develop nuclear weapons.There were even rumours in the final days of the war that they tested a device in Korea, although this is probably false. Given Japan’s reduced industrial potential as compared to the US, they went pretty far towards developing a weapon, all things considered So I am not seeing any Japanese “isolation” concerning nuclear weapons before or during WW2.

    1. Clive

      It’s always interesting to speculate, but there’s absolutely no evidence at all to suggest Japan was anywhere near constructing a viable nuclear device. Authoritative accounts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_nuclear_weapon_program) suggest quite the opposite. Even if it could, it had no means of deploying it in a conflict zone outside Japan (a detonation at sea of a 10 – 20kt weapon which was the best available yield with current technology at the time would, unless a large number of ships were massed in close proximity, be pretty ineffective) an no means of hitting the U.S. or Russian mainland.

      The trap the Japanese fell into was — in their isolation — thinking that everyone else was at more-or-less the same stage of progress they were or, at best, still years or decades away from a practical, deliverable weapon. Being subject to unexpected “from left field” events is certainly not confined to the Japanese, but they were, culturally, susceptible to it, more so then than now. The Japanese do seem to latterly — much more than people from, say, the U.S. — take far greater pains to try and work out what the other party is doing and thinking. Hence, as I have contended, their interest in the TPP. They at least want to know what is going on with it an think they are better placed to do that by being inside the negotiating group.

      1. Working Class Nero

        I’m sorry but this seems totally convoluted to me. Those US atomic weapons could have also been just as easily used on Germany had for example the USSR gotten seriously stalled on the Eastern Front. Would that have been evidence of Nazi isolationism? All evidence is that the Japanese in WW2 were totally plugged into the latest knowledge concerning nuclear weapons. You seem to be projecting this stereotype of an inflexible and mentally rigid Japan that was unable to adapt to nuclear weapons. Well what were they supposed to do? What would a non-isolated Japan done differently than your supposedly isolated Japan did? They most certainly did not bury their heads in the sand; they were desperately trying to develop them — as was Germany. One can argue about how close they were but in the end they were beaten to the punch by a much larger country with a huge industrial base. Plus the US had access to uranium from the Congo.

        The bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was certainly not some out of left field event — all the major powers were racing towards nuclear weapons and they were well aware the power they held. Strategically once the war was on, there was not much you could do about atomic weapons except surrender. And an argument could be made is that the Japanese, given the problems that arose because of Germany’s early surrender in WW1, preferred to allow the catastrophe to happen, so that the Japanese people would realize they were well and truly defeated and the leadership would not have to worry about a “stab in the back” myth rising up a few years later.

        So please, describe the non-isolationist path the Japanese leadership could have taken concerning nuclear weapons. Because my suspicion is that in some quarters there is this a priori idea that the Japanese are isolationists and therefore every act they commit, no matter how internationalist, is turned back against them as isolationist.

        1. Clive

          Japan’s isolationist culture isn’t my stereotype; the Japanese vocabulary actually has a specific “word” (kanji compound) for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakoku

          Oh, that and 200+ years of history (and arguably longer).

          It’s certainly possible to make a case that with the Meiji “restoration” the country became increasingly less isolated. But it was hardly possible for Japan to become more isolated than it had been.

          Japan certainly considered the possibility of a nuclear weapon. But the wartime leadership did not consider the possibility that the U.S. was on the cusp of being able to deploy one. There is simply nothing in the archives from that period to substantiate that assertion. Even if despite there being no record of this the military did consider it, it certainly didn’t show in its strategizing or planning. Conversely, it reacted in a completely disbelieving way. Did you read the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki from the original piece ? After Hiroshima, the Japanese authorities were so confident that the U.S. had only one bomb or two at the most, they more-or-less said “okay, if you have a production line for these, go on and prove it by dropping another”. Which the U.S. promptly did.

          1. Larry Headlund

            Since “isolationist” has a very specific political meaning, particularly for the two decades of the 1930s and the 1940s, it may not be the best term to translate sakoku. Insular would perhaps be better but certainly not perfect.

          2. Working Class Nero

            Japan was most certainly isolationist between 1641 and 1853. But afterwards their outlook towards the world completely flipped and they became internationalists; engaging with the world. They embraced trade, industrialized, sent intellectuals out to learn from other countries, launched aggressive foreign wars, built up an empire, and along with Germany and Italy, launched a devastating world war that engulfed a huge portion of the globe. It really doesn’t get much more internationalist than that.

            You seem to be arguing that because they didn’t respond well to the US nuclear threat that we must ignore the trade, the empire, the industrial development, the launching of a global conflagration — all these crystal clear manifestations of internationalism we must toss to the side and instead reclassify them as isolationists just because they didn’t know what to do once the bombs got dropped on them. I’m just not following this. Perhaps we could criticize their intelligence gathering abilities, maybe their military command was too conservative, didn’t anticipate everything — I don’t know. All those may be valid points, and perhaps they were also chauvinists, Japanese supremacists, racists, what have you. Maybe they were ignorant of all kinds of foreign things and ways of thinking. Even accepting all these and more, 20th century Japan comes nowhere close to being isolationist, which means a foreign policy that attempts to minimize engagement and trade with the outside world.

            What we can say is that like many Asian countries on international trade, they certainly try to maximize their exports while at the same time minimizing imports into their country. That’s not isolationism either, it’s just common sense and they should keep it up for as long as their dumb trading partners put up with it.

        2. EmilianoZ

          A case can be made that the Nazis were also isolationists. They wanted the whole world to become Germany. Had it happened, they would pretty much have been insulated from foreign countries (which would have ceased to exist).

          It is a great unrecognized truth that all imperialists are in fact closet isolationists. Imperialism comes from the fear of the other, of the unknown, that you want to reduce to the known, to the familiar. And what is best known is yourself.

          1. Working Class Nero

            By that logic Trotsky’s permanent revolution was also isolationist since he wanted the whole world to become communist. Stalin was the internationalist with his Socialism in One Country since he was not (yet) trying to impose his world view on a global scale. And I guess the US neo-conservatives are also isolationists since they want the whole world to fall under the jackboot of US global hegemony. Likewise, I suppose Charles Lindbergh and his America First program was internationalist since they pushed a non-interventionist foreign policy and just wanted to let the rest of the world be, which would have left the globe multi-cultural and differentiated.

            Look how easy it is to turn words and concepts upside down so that they no longer have any meaning!

    2. optimader

      “..The Uranium carried by U-234 was enough to make two atomic bombs, to blow up two American cities — 1,235 pounds of 77 percent pure uranium oxide — unusable by the destroyed Nazi hopes, it was destined for the Japanese atomic bomb program.
      The U-234 executive officer supervised the opening of the containers in Washington, DC, and reports he was told that one of the Americans was Oppenheimer. It is generally believed the the uranium was taken over by the Manhattan project, but its ultimate use, if any, is lost in secrecy. It was most certainly sent to Oak Ridge, but there was probably not enough time for it to have been processed and used in the two WW2 weapons. It certainly would have been in followup weapons and probably was expended at Bikini Atoll or in Nevada…”

      The Japanese would have used a nuclear weapon in a heartbeat given the opportunity. I suspect they were reasonably well appraised by their German Allies as may have been possible, of the American Manhattan Project efforts. What the Germans knew about it? Who knows, other than it was a four way race ( American, Russian, German and Japanese)


      The present 20-20 hindsight lacks historical perspective. A poll of allied soldiers, and their subsequent progeny that dodged the bullet as at the sharp end of mainland invasion force would probably poll differently on what constituted Civilized” vs Uncivilized when it came to prosecution of that war..

  4. susan the other

    I can’t help wondering if Fukushima isn’t also a big reason for Japan to keep negotiating with us. We haven’t advertised it much, but from one source posted on ENEnews we have sent all sorts of equipment to Fukushima to filter water. I’m confident we have done a lot more than just filter water. Right around that time Congress passed a nuclear-cleanup pay clause for the military. I find it hard to believe that the Japanese would have stayed to clean up the meltdowns when (also kept secret) after the disaster they sent out a plea to China (China!) and Russia asking if they could all move there. Can we come and live with you guys? Which is the most extraordinary aspect of the story because Japan is so loved by all Japanese. They are painfully patriotic. Only recently do you hear comments leaking out about how cruel the government is, making people remain in contaminated areas, etc. My point being that Japan is struggling just to remain a nation. The option of packing up and moving away is still open. But they are not going to advertise it.

    1. 6th-generation Texan

      “Japan is struggling just to remain a nation.”

      Susan, between the demographics of a greatly aging population, Fukushima, and Abe’s disastrous obsession with his version of “QE to Infinity” — I’d say that Japan is badly losing that struggle…..

  5. Chauncey Gardiner

    Regardless of Japan’s motivations for participating in TPP negotiations, I hope a deal is never consummated. Along these lines it would seem helpful that the current USTR remain the chief negotiator for the corporatist-Wall Street Obama administration, and that all remain consistent with their negotiating postures to date.

  6. FederalismForever

    Imperial Japan’s conduct during WWII was in some ways worse than that of Nazi Germany. For example, Japan was responsible for far more civilian casualties than Germany was – possibly as many as 20 million, if one includes China and all occupied territories (Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, etc.). Japan was also the only country to use chemical weapons, and it pioneered biological weapons by dropping plague, cholera and anthrax germs on Chinese villages.

  7. steviefinn

    It’s perhaps worth noting that prior to the atomic bombs, Japan had suffered months of mainly incendiary bombing from B-29’s. This resulted in the estimated death of between 200,000 – 900,000 people, as opposed to the estimated 200,000 killed at Hiroshima & Nagasaki – the Tokyo bombing was worse than Dresden. At the time of the nuclear strikes between 25-30 % of the economy had been destroyed, at least 1.5 million people had been displaced & it was likely there would be the onset of mass starvation. The Japanese also heard the news that the Red army had started it’s eventual annihilation of Japanese forces in Manchuria on August 6th, 3 days before No.2 in Nagasaki.

    I don’t know whether the Japanese are isolationist, but I don’t blame them for being suspicious & it wasn’t just Japan that was destroyed by militaristic madmen – Hitler also took Germany down with him, concluding that the German people had let him down so should perish with him – Maybe that’s how the brains of the highly medalled nutjobs & the likes of Neo-cons think
    Trivia – Truman, Cheney & Obama are all distantly related from a Hugenot line.


  8. anonymous123

    I’ve been writing to my congressperson about opposing the TPP and TTIP, and hope you are all doing the same. Citizens need to keep speaking up on this one!

  9. jcapan

    Good heavens. And the fact that Abe and co. are the latest iteration of the neoliberal/rightist swine who’ve guided Japan into the ditch for decades is left almost entirely out of this philia-drenched analysis. TPP is merely another tool for the LDP to enrich their cronies. The only reason they’ve not caved in on agriculture is b/c of their disproportionate and un-democratic reliance on rural voters (see also trillions of yen in pork/roads to nowhere). Want to understand Abe and company? Look to the servility to the elite sensibilities of their counterparts in Europe and the US. There’s nothing distinct about their goals, except perhaps that fascism is nearer to realization here than in the west.


  10. RBHoughton

    I think the formative ideas in Japanese policy came with defeat and the intrinsically foreign MacArthur administration. That influence would probably have not continued after the victors left except for the Korean War. Suddenly, there was an upside. Employment took-off, money poured in, light and heavy industry was re-established in new factories and yards and playing the western game did not seem so bad.

    All they had to do was 1/ comply with western imperatives and 2/ keep their own distinctive culture pristine and unpolluted by westerners.

    I believe those are the material criteria of Japanese policy today.

  11. Patrick Donnelly

    Japan does not learn.

    That is why they had to suffer the tsunami, developed as a weapon over 3 years in WWII. Google Project Seal. The arrival of nuclear weapons augments the weapon. That massive deposits of clathrates exist on the ocean floor in some places, explains why the test, in Aceh, was so damaging to the observing sub, USSN San Francisco. Japan has disappointed the ally USA as it had been preparing Pu as warheads. Pu used to come from Sendai. Not any longer.

    Japan is run on a class and clan basis with many interlocking deals. We may have to rewrite their history and address other cultural factors that give them the idea that war is allowable, unilaterally. Given their current economy, they seem to be able to control their “mob” far too well. They must realize that they are the target of massive surveillance and that many plans have been laid to deal with them. Every failure to integrate with the NWO will cost them far more than they may wish to pay. They continue to pretend that their Emperor is a God. He should now do his duty and abdicate forever.

    1. different clue

      It seems to me that large parts of Japan either did learn or wanted to learn. It was not the Japanese majority
      (was it?) which worships Class A War Criminals as Gods and Deities at the Yasukunazi Shrine. It is strictly a
      Japanazi Fascist powerful minority which was carefully sheltered from de-Japanazification by the US itself to preserve an “allied” Japan as a useful junior partner during the Cold War. Am I wrong about that?

Comments are closed.