This book is the 15th in an annual series on Japan-U.S. relations organized by the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies. In the Preface the authors lament an apparent inattention by U.S. and Japanese policymakers on the critical U.S.-Japan relationship, arguing that "while both countries do recognize the importance of the relationship, we have lost our focus on why it is important and how each side can use it to advance our respective national objectives and international obligations" (p. viii). The central thesis is that problems of self-perception are hurting opportunities for stable and constructive policy programs between the two countries. Specifically, while the U.S. struggles to understand its role as the sole superpower since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Japan is reeling under the weight of economic and political stresses and at the same time attempting to create a new identity aligned with the United States.
There are four main sections in the book: Economy, Security and Diplomacy, Politics, and Perceptions. The first section explains how Japan's citizens became disillusioned by the Obuchi government's unsuccessful attempts to find a "third way" of putting the floundering economy back on track that avoids difficult restructuring and U.S.-style layoffs. Meanwhile, the U.S. is booming under its "New Economy" driven by Internet developments and drastic business reforms. Frustrated by what they consider to be Japan's meager efforts to get the Japanese economy afloat, The United States continues to complain of trade imbalances and barriers to business and trade in Japan.
The chapter on Security and Diplomacy proposes that although the bilateral security relationship between the United States and Japan seems solid on paper, in actual practice there is doubt and confusion that could undermine stability. Examples include the proposal by the Japanese government to reduce the level of host nation support for U.S. military forces, and demands by Okinawa's government to limit the new lease on relocation of U.S. military facilities and personnel to fifteen years. The authors argue that as Japan lobbies for increased global stature through "internationalization of the yen," questions remain regarding Japan's sincere commitment to a security relationship with the United States.
Domestic political trends in both the United States and Japan are characterized in the book as uncertain. The U.S. Congress is "inward-looking" and ignoring important international issues such as payment of United Nations dues, and the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Japanese politics are "in a state of flux," putting legislative processes in jeopardy. The book was published in May 2000, just as Prime Minister Mori was completing his tour of G8 countries, and there is clear concern about the ability of the Mori cabinet to strengthen the bilateral relationship.
Finally, the chapter on Perceptions reveals two conflicting national moods: the United States feels "up" due to unprecedented economic prosperity driven by the New Economy, while Japan feels "down" due to frustration with government weakness in the face of economic turmoil. The authors claim that as both countries look inward to attempt to assess their changing positions in the world, perceptions of the other become increasingly fuzzy.
The aim of the book is to bring the various obstacles to an improved U.S.-Japan relationship into sharp focus, and to suggest approaches to achieving and maintaining a healthier bilateral relationship. Perceptions matter to the authors because they see perceptions driving policies, and therefore impacting the relationship as a whole. One challenge is to determine ways for both countries to clearly articulate the perceptions each has of the other, and presumably to move from such realizations to increased dialogue. Perhaps most importantly for the authors, because the U.S.-Japan security relationship is key to U.S. military strategy in the Pacific, mutual reassurances about the U.S.-Japan relationship are critical not only for economic stability between the two countries, but also for global stability.