Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Europe and Japan

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Europe and Japan

Article excerpt


This article traces the historical evolution of the images of Europe in Japan. While the length of Japan's interactions with Europe do not compare to those between China, Korea, and Japan, the Europeans have nevertheless played a significant role in the process of constructing a Japanese identity. While Europe initially played a part in consolidating ethnocentric notions of Japanese superiority, since the expansion of European International Society in the late-nineteenth century, Europe has played a role as a "positive" other that Japan has frequently sought to emulate and mimic, even at the height of Japan's rebellion during the Asia-Pacific War of 1931-1945. This dynamic has persisted to this day, even under the shadow of American hegemony and Japan's incorporation into this order after 1945.

Keywords: Japan, Europe, self, other, identity, hybridity, history, image

1. Introduction

At first glance, Japanese perspectives on Europe may seem somewhat out of place in a volume which explores whether or not post-colonial perspectives would provide a useful methodological lens to reinterpret the European Union (EU). Unlike many other countries in the non-European world, Japan did not experience outright colonization at the hands of the European powers during the height of Europe's expansion in the late-nineteenth century. The task becomes even more difficult when we turn our focus to the emergence of the EU as a new political actor in its own right. As has been documented in detail elsewhere, the international order since the end of World War II (WWII) has commonly been described as one characterized by American hegemony (Ikenberry, 2000), and as the United States (US) is both an Atlantic and Pacific power, it is not particularly surprising that Japan's gaze has tended to be fixed more on the US rather than the EU. Japan has been integrated into the American-led regional and international order. Its pillar of security policy remains the US-Japan security alliance, where Japan maintains a defense-oriented military force under the constitutional limits of Article 9 and relies on the US to provide it with additional military support.

The EU, for its part, is not a particularly large player in the Asia-Pacific, despite its involvement in a number of diplomatic dialogues such as the China-EU summits or the ASEAN-EU Ministerial meetings. Its involvement in East Asian regional political affairs remains minimal, given the presence of Japan, China, and the US. Japan's interactions with the EU are seen as primarily of an economic nature, with much analysis on Tokyo and Brussels' ongoing trade disputes. Bretherton and Volger note that the "EU-Japan relationship has remained almost exclusively trade focused. Up until the early 1990s there were few formal links...and it was significant that the head of the EC delegation in Tokyo was not granted the usual full ambassadorial status and accreditation to the Emperor" (Bretherton and Volger, 1999: 69). When it comes to political relations, we are informed that both sides have found it in their interest to deepen their ties, given that this "might create a more benign environment for finding solutions to the rising economic frictions and inequities" and also because "Japan discovered that gaining support from the EU as a whole for certain political issues could enhance its international position, particularly on issues which it does not see eye to eye with the United States" (Drifte, 2000: 202). The otherwise stable political relations mean that there is very little to report.

Historically, however, this was not always the case. As we will see below, the Europeans have played a surprisingly important part in the construction of Japanese identity - and Japanese views of Europe fluctuated in accordance with their evolving perceptions of the Japanese "Self". The aim of this article, then, is to provide a broad historical overview of the evolution of Europe's role in the construction of Japan's identity. …

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