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By Michael Schaller. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 320 pp. $30.00.)
At the beginning of the 1990s, the relationship between Japan and the United States appeared poised to grow increasingly confrontational as the decade progressed. Friction over trade, finance, high technology, and each nation's international role filled the pages of the popular presses in both countries on what seemed like a daily basis. A special feature in the Japanese magazine President, published in August 1991, captured the mutual media perceptions of a dangerous animosity between the Pacific rivals, one that had been building since at least the middle of the 1980s. Over a vintage photograph of Pearl Harbor taken from a Japanese warplane, a brief introductory passage noted that, after the arrival of Perry's black ships in 1853, relations between Japan and the United States had followed a "cycle of tension, hatred, and war" leading to 1941. Was that cycle destined to reoccur as the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor approached?(1) U.S. president George Bush and Japanese prime minister Miyazawa Kiichi answered that question with a resounding "No" in speeches commemorating the event. But while the old wounds of the Pacific War may have faded, polls conducted by ABC News in the United States and NHK in Japan revealed that economic competition was inflicting new wounds. The collapse of the Soviet Union within weeks of December 7, 1991, brought the Cold War to an end, leading pundits on either side of the Pacific Ocean to caution that that twilight straggle had given way to a Cold Peace between the United States and Japan. At the very least, other commentators noted, the relationship between Japan and the United States had to be redefined to take into account Japan's rising economic power and America's relative decline, the lessons of the Gulf War notwithstanding.(2)
American perceptions of Japan as the main rival of the United States reached new heights in 1992. A study published in Time revealed that many Japanese, especially the generation born in the postwar era, had an abiding faith in their nation's ability to compete economically in the future. Americans did not share that confidence. Rather, apprehension over the economic future of the United States, coupled with Japan's threat to that future, became a leading question in the American presidential campaign in 1992. An article in the Time series noted that the national debate over economic relations with Japan was the "first campaign issue of post-Cold War politics." It was also a major change from the 1988 presidential race in which neither Bush nor Dukakis had even mentioned Japan during their debates.(3) The popularity of books that warned Americans of an eventual Japanese economic invasion of the United States and the resulting loss of America's competitiveness, industrial base, and, indeed, way of life, indicated that Japan would remain a subject of interest and anxiety for years to come.
Yet four years later, with the United States again in the midst of a presidential campaign, Japan had all but disappeared from American public debate. In 1996, with the U.S. economy in recovery, the threat of Japanese economic domination and its resultant evils appeared remote to most Americans. North Korea's nuclear ambitions and, more importantly, China topped the list of potential threats to U.S. interests in East Asia.(4) China, by 1996, had indeed begun to cast as ominous a shadow across the Pacific as Japan had only a few years earlier, at least for those in search of the latest East Asian monster to fear. China's sale of weapons technology abroad, its saber-rattling against Taiwan, human rights abuses, growing economic power, and sheer vastness easily eclipsed a Japan that was then experiencing internal disorder. As if to emphasize this shift in American threat perceptions, in 1996 China could even boast its own series of popular books that said "No" to the United States.(5)
The rise of China and Japan's lower profile did little to lessen the substantive disagreements over U.S.-Japan bilateral security and trade ties. When the United States and Japan reworked their security agreement in 1996, following the rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl the previous year, it became readily apparent that Japan did not see the relationship in the same strategic terms as the United States.(6) This was hardly surprising, given that Japanese and American perceptions of their mutual interests had been drifting apart since the early 1990s. Despite the bursting of Japan's bubble economy in 1992, Japanese business and government leaders had remained confident that Japan's economic strategy, and not that of the United States, would remain the model for Asia's developing economies. Like-minded historians held that the roots of contemporary Japanese economic success were wholly indigenous and had developed during the Edo (Tokugawa Shogunate) era …