Yoneyuki Sugita. Japan Viewed from Interdisciplinary Perspectives: History and Prospects. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015. 314 pp. $100.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4985-0022-7.
Reviewed by Chelsea Schieder (Meiji University)
Published on H-Asia (April, 2016)
Commissioned by Douglas Slaymaker
This volume, edited by Yoneyuki Sugita, came out of symposia held at Osaka University. Its main purpose, defined in the introduction, is “to analyze historical development, whilst looking at the contemporary situation of Japan from interdisciplinary perspectives” (p. ix). In doing so, it promises to address three major questions: 1) Is this really globalization? 2) What are Japan's relations with other Asian countries? 3) Do US-Japan relations still matter? Each question serves as a heading for one of the book's three sections.
The fourteen chapters collected within do address a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, although the degree to which interdisciplinary methods are employed varies. Indeed, my main criticism of the volume as a collection of essays is a lack of shared working definitions and aims. There is little conversation between the pieces. Although many of the authors had a chance to talk with each other in real life when they presented and critiqued each others' work, the reader does not get a good sense of that context. The result is a somewhat uneven anthology. Some of the pieces work well together and others could be useful in a classroom setting, but the wide variety of topics, chronologies, and methodologies will lead most scholars to read the pieces related to their fields of study rather than the entire volume.
Of the three main sections, “Is This Really Globalization?” (chapters 1-5) remains the most problematic, with no shared definition of globalization connecting the five chapters. Individual writers do offer various definitions of globalization, and challenge some implicit idea of what globalization stands for. Yuki Ooi's piece (chapter 1) on steamships as a technology facilitating travel and “contact zones” in the late nineteenth century between East Asia (Japan and China) and the United States employs the concept of contact zones—borrowed from Mary Louise Pratt—to emphasize the unevenness and disproportionate power between people brought into contact by technological developments. It follows that Ooi argues that, considering steamship travel and how it led to contestations over US citizenship, globalization not only opened borders, but also closed them; globalization connected peoples while it also disconnected them. Yoneyuki Sugita, writing in chapter 2 on the shift from the Health Insurance program, limited to covering laborers, to a more universal National Health Insurance program between the 1920s and the early 1940s, argues that this transition from a liberal state to a national security state occurred within an international context in which the Japanese government turned from the Anglo-American-centered “Washington Consensus” to a vision of Japan as the leader of its own regional system. Sugita, in arguing that it was not only “globalization” but also “anti-globalization” that instigated a shift from one kind of global vision to another, suggests that there is not one unitary process of “globalization,” but that the process depends upon ideas about regional power, which are subject to dramatic changes.
“Globalization” is more implicitly adressed in chapters 3-5. In chapter 3, Karl Gustafsson teases out the relationship between discourses within Japan about “anti-Japanism” and policy, from the 1990s to today. He makes a strong argument for discursive analyses in fields such as political science and international relations by linking debates over labeling Japanese citizens as “anti-Japanese” not only with Japanese national identity but also with government policy.
In chapter 4, Steven Heine contrasts two paradigms of Buddhism that have come under discussion in Japan from the “bubble” era (1950s-90s) to today. Heine's discussion of how “Funeral” Buddhism came under fire as ostentatious consumption and a reflection of spiritual decline, and how “Engaged” Buddhism emerged through revisionist historical studies of death rituals alongside reform movements that seek to retain Buddhism's relevance in contemporary Japanese society, most likely fits within the global circumstances that facilitated and undermined Japan's bubble economy.
In chapter 5, Bruce Cumings considers the various implications, real and imagined, of a new turn in US policy toward Asia that began around 2011: the “Obama Pivot.” Here, again, “globalization” is not directly invoked, but Cumings argues against any who might suggest that a new age of globalization-as-China-expansionism is upon us. Cumings understands the Obama pivot in context, and argues that the sprawling network of US military bases throughout the region makes it possible. Ultimately, while Cumings considers the Obama pivot and its consequences for a Japan that remains a strong US ally, he argues most forcefully against “rise of China” rhetoric, urging for its “decent burial” with his closing sentence (p. 96).
Cumings's chapter could be read as a companion piece to John Paden's (chapter 7) from the second section, “Whither Japan's Relations with Asia?”. Paden positions Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) within the United State's “pivot to Asia” and analyzes how APEC has adjusted to meet recent critical global events and China's accession to the World Trade Organization. Paden comes to an optimistic conclusion about APEC's continuing relevance in East Asia, and so to Japan's relations to Asia, in the future.
Judith Snodgrass's discussion (chapter 6) of a Buddhist publication, Young East, which was based in Japan but published in English from the 1920s through the mid-1940s, also resonates with some of the themes in Heine's piece (chapter 4), but offers a longer history. The journal's founders had a view that at first glance might seem to support the pan-Asianism of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere that emerged later, but Snodgrass argues that the foundational philosophy of Young East was quite different. Although this chapter does not offer much speculation on “whither Japan's relations with Asia,” it does give a historical example of an alternative model for internationalist projects based in Japan.
Nissim Otmazgin advances a more self-consciously interdisciplinary perspective in chapter 8. As Otmazgin notes, studies on regionalization in political science and economics rarely consider popular culture; this chapter takes up popular culture to examine how it may “suggest widening our understanding of a regional 'community'” (p. 136). Otmazgin argues that looking at how popular culture operates among urban middle classes across Asia may offer insight into a more grassroots and dynamic process of regionalization at work. However, Otmazgin also concludes that this process creates vast excluded populations, particularly among rural and poorer groups.
Although Marie Söderberg's piece (chapter 9) focuses on Japan's relationship through Official Development Assistance (ODA) to one Asian country, Myanmar, she examines this case to consider Japan's role as a leader in contemporary Asia through its financial contributions to development. Söderberg shows the reader how Japan continued to pursue a policy of engagement with Myanmar, in spite of strict US sanctions, in part because of historical links with the country and in part because of China's increasing influence from the late 1990s onward.
The strong influence of China on the context if not the content of many of these case studies in the second section of the volume suggests that Japan's future relations with Asia will depend a great deal on actions, and perceptions of those actions, taken by China. In chapter 10, Victor Teo considers Japanese and Chinese cooperation to counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden as a positive example within the larger discourse of worsening relations between the two nations. Teo recommends the instance of cooperation between China and Japan as part of a recent multilateral response to piracy as a case that proves the two nations can cooperate beyond economic and commercial efforts.
The final section, “Do US-Japan Relations Still Matter?,” offers three historical analyses and one piece less about US-Japan relations and more about comparative sociology. Two chapters reexamine the lingering influence of US policies undertaken during the Allied occupation of postwar Japan: Juha Saunavaara (chapter 11) examines political purges and argues that the way in which the occupation created a break with prewar politics has left a continuing legacy on postwar Japanese politics. Mayako Shimamoto (chapter 14) writes on the development of commercial nuclear technology in early postwar Japan. Both conclude that these histories are essential to understanding Japanese politics and the current reliance upon nuclear energy in Japan.
Toru Oga, in chapter 13, examines economic relations between the United States and Japan in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly regarding the trade conflicts involving the automobile industry. Oga uses this historical case to explore questions regarding the “privatization of foreign policy,” which the author defines as an increasing participation of private actors in foreign-policy decision making. Oga argues that the privatization of public governance resulted in the creation of international norms about the free market, rather than interest-based opposition. Oga does not address the current importance of US-Japan relations, but his study implies that any consideration of relations between the two nations needs to consider the influence of nonstate actors.
Chapter 12, co-written by Christopher C. Weiss, Emma García, and Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, compares educational achievement in both nations. The authors consider national performance metrics, and their frequent international comparisons, as a dimension of globalization, and attempt to think through variations in educational context that can contribute to a more nuanced analysis of student rankings in academic subjects. They recommend more analysis of various dimensions of schooling, rather than a strict focus on rankings. They do not address US-Japan relations directly, but suggest that both nations can benefit from comparative analyses to improve educational environments and student performance.
Japan Viewed from Interdisciplinary Perspectives includes academic articles that address many issues currently under discussion in many diverse disciplines: international relations, history, political science, economic policy, education, and religious studies. However, I came away from the volume with the feeling that few readers will read every chapter. Instead, scholars will most likely consult the pieces that address their particular field and its concerns. This may not cultivate a truly interdisciplinary perspective. More explicit discussions of shared definitions and cross-disciplinary concerns, as well as more direct links between pieces, would invite the reader to engage more with all the chapters.
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Chelsea Schieder. Review of Sugita, Yoneyuki, Japan Viewed from Interdisciplinary Perspectives: History and Prospects.
H-Asia, H-Net Reviews.
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