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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 13:58 07/30/2007
Book Review #73: July 30, 2007

"Britain and Japan in the Twentieth Century: One Hundred Years of Trade and Prejudice" edited by Philip Towle and Nobuko Margaret Kosuge

Reviewed by Sir Hugh Cortazzi

Title: Britain and Japan in the Twentieth Century: One Hundred Years of Trade and Prejudice
Authors: edited by Philip Towle and Nobuko Margaret Kosuge
Publisher: I.B. Tauris, London and New York
Date/Time: 2007
Pages: 236 pages including index, bibliography and end notes
ISBN: 978 1 85411 415 2


This book consists of a collection of 13 essays by a variety of British and Japanese scholars and is based on a conference in Cambridge during the Japan 2001 celebrations. It is not and does not claim to be a survey of the many facets of Anglo-Japanese relations in the twentieth century, but students and researchers will find much of interest in the wide-ranging contributions which cover political as well as economic aspects of our relations with Japan.

After a brief introduction by Sir John Boyd, who was Master of Churchill College, the two editors survey the field and draw attention to some of the main themes in the book. In a short review it is not possible to comment on all thirteen chapters individually, but it may be helpful to highlight a few particular issues which the contributors discuss.

Professor Janet Hunter in Chapter 2 on "Britain and the Japanese Economy during the First World War" points out that "the war caused a range of problems for the Japanese economy and exposed structural weaknesses." She suggests that the economic rivalries between Britain and Japan can be dated back to the war.

In the following chapter on the interwar period Fumitaka Kurosawa concludes that "Japan increased its orientation towards autarky and the imperialistic world view as the 1930s progressed…For a time in the 1930s, a possibility still existed for Anglo-Japanese cooperation on the basis of imperialistic bilateralism, but this too had disappeared by the decade's end."

John Weste's essay on "Shipping and Shipbuilding" does not mention a British mission in the late 1960s which included British managers and union officials who went to Japan to study Japanese methods and were duly impressed by Japanese ability to build ships quickly and efficiently, but were apparently incapable of applying the lessons which they learnt. Japanese yards were soon surpassed by South Korean.

Hideya Taida's essay on Anglo-Japanese economic relations since the 1970s concentrates on his personal experiences with Marubeni and the British Market Council in Japan. The "Opportunity Japan Campaign" of 1988 about which he writes had the aim of doubling British exports to Japan. This was just one in a series of export campaigns which began in the second half of the 1960s. At that time it was led by the British National Export Council's Asia Committee. In the Embassy in Tokyo we did all we could to promote exports through trade missions and exhibitions including in 1969 a major "British Week in Tokyo." This campaign was further stepped up following the visit to Japan in 1973 of Mr Heath, the first British Prime Minister to visit Japan while in office. Among other measures adopted a British marketing centre was established in Tokyo. Our difficulties included Japanese mercantilist attitudes, high tariffs on important British exports such as Scotch whisky and significant non-tariff barriers. Mr Taida rightly emphasises the importance of Japanese investment in the Britain, the efforts put into promoting it and its results in increased employment and improvements in quality and competitiveness.

Hugo Dobson's essay on "Japan and the UK at the G8 summits" is a useful analysis. So is Reinhard Drifte's on military and security cooperation between Britain and Japan in "Military and economic power: complementing each other's national strength."

The final essay by Nobuko Margaret Kosuge entitled "The pressure of the past on the Anglo-Japanese relationship" takes up the sad issue of the Japanese maltreatment of British prisoners of war in the Pacific War. The Japanese government through lack of political imagination and generosity missed a number of opportunities of defusing this issue. Now that most of those, who suffered have passed on, the danger is that memories of the past will be revived by insensitive comments by Japanese nationalists who try to justify the unjustifiable.

(This review was produced in collaboration with the Japan Society (UK).)

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