Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?

Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?

Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?

Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?


In this book, Paul Midford engages claims that since 9/11 Japanese public opinion has turned sharply away from pacifism and toward supporting normalization of Japan's military power, in which Japanese troops would fight alongside their American counterparts in various conflicts worldwide.

Midford argues that Japanese public opinion has never embraced pacifism. It has, instead, contained significant elements of realism, in that it has acknowledged the utility of military power for defending national territory and independence, but has seen offensive military power as ineffective for promoting other goals- such as suppressing terrorist networks and WMD proliferation, or promoting democracy overseas.

Over several decades, these realist attitudes have become more evident as the Japanese state has gradually convinced its public that Tokyo and its military can be trusted with territorial defense, and even with noncombat humanitarian and reconstruction missions overseas. On this basis, says Midford, we should re-conceptualize Japanese public opinion as attitudinal defensive realism.


During an early morning panel on Japanese foreign policy at the 2003 annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in New York City, I was struck by several claims made there that Japanese public opinion was becoming hawkish on security, even to the point of getting out in front of the conservative ruling LDP, then led by hawkish Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō. These claims provoked me to wonder whether they were true. I started looking for answers, and soon I realized three things. First, I discovered an embarrassment of riches in polling data, especially Japanese-language data. Second, I found that, although it is common for academic works on Japanese foreign policy to cite a poll result or two here and there, there was exceptionally little scholarly research, even in Japanese and especially in English, on Japanese public opinion and its influence on security policy. Finally, I saw that Koizumi’s bold plans, and the equally bold predictions of pundits, for the Japanese military to begin playing a significant (read “combat”) role in international security were going largely unfulfilled.

Fortuitously, several months after the meeting I received an invitation from friend and colleague Robert Eldridge to join a project he was organizing on Japanese public opinion and the war on terrorism. He had received a Humanities and Social Science Grant (Jinbun Shakai Kagaku Joseikin) from the Suntory Foundation and was assembling a group of expat American scholars (plus a Japanese scholar) based in Japan to examine this topic. Robert and I eventually published the results of this project in our coedited volume with Palgrave Macmillan in 2008: Japanese Public Opinion and the War on Terrorism. I

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