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The Outlier: Japan between Asia and the West

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Occasional paper

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Throughout its history, Japan has been an outlier, a country in but in many ways not of Asia. In premodern times it was set off by its feudal order, its refusal to participate in the Chinese tributary system, and its withdrawal into national seclusion. Modern Japan has oscillated, at times violently, between Asia and the West. In the late 19th century, it quit Asia and joined the West, remaking itself into a Western-style industrial and military power and carving out an Asian empire, largely at the expense of China and Korea. In the 1930s, it rejected the West and embarked on a crusade to liberate Asia from Western dominance, which led it in 1945 to the unprecedented catastrophe of total defeat and foreign occupation. Postwar Japan again embraced the West, reinventing itself as a democratic peace state and economic superpower. Sheltered behind the American alliance, the Japanese retreated from international politics and focused on economic growth. They returned to Asia, this time as its economic model, mentor. and -- increasingly -- leader. At the end of the Cold War, Japan seemed poised to once again reject the West and seek Asian leadership. Instead, post-Cold War Japan tilted toward the United States and moved tentatively to assume normal international political-military responsibilities. It is as yet unclear where the Japanese will find a balance among an Asian role, the American alliance, and a normal international political-military role. One can be sure, however, that Japans future will be conditioned by its past. It thus becomes of interest to examine more closely how Japan has interacted with Asia and the West over time.

Subject Categories:

  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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