When the Cold War ended in the early ’90s, America searched quickly for a new enemy, and as large-scale military battles were also instantly outdated, an economic villain was the obvious answer: Japan! The CIA went so far as to collect Japan scholars to create an anti-Japan report now known as “Japan 2000: DEFCOM 1,” which was quickly disowned by its authors after being leaked to the press. During this period, President Bush I flew over to Japan and delivered a message from Detroit, “Buy more American cars!” before vomiting all over the Japanese delegation.
For the first couple of years after the Bubble burst, Americans continued to write about Japan under the specter of possible economic defeat. Rising Sun is the embarrassing fiction and cinematic contribution, but meanwhile in the political section of your local library, there were book titles screaming The Coming War with Japan (by George Friedman and Meredith Lebard). Even Chalmers Johnson’s insightful 1994 Japan: Who Governs? deals heavily with trade issues and Japan-U.S. tension in a tone predicting future confrontation.
A decade later, no one’s writing books about diabolic Japanese economic mercantilism. Actually, no one seems to be writing anything about the Japanese economy outside of its decline, its possible globalization, and its history. Very few people still believe in a full Japanese economic recovery, and even contemporary issues like the Japanese refusal to buy diseased U.S. meat don’t get Americans out hitting Yoshinoya gyudon with baseball bats. Japan never changed their economic policy to please the U.S., but after 13 years of economic stagnation and the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector, nobody cares anymore. Guys from Goldman Sachs are no longer reading Way of the Samurai for management tips. The hot areas in Japanese Studies are soft issues like pop culture, race, sex, and consumerism. American scholars no longer write books about how the Japanese education system can teach Americans a few lessons, like Merry White’s The Japanese Educational Challenge.
We are in the midst of a widespread Japanese pop culture boom, and there’s never been so much good-will towards Japan from the rest of the world. (Except for Japan’s East Asian neighbors who’d like Japan to stop praying for the souls of Japan’s war criminals.) And as much as the demonizing of Japan was ridiculous and counterproductive, there was a subtext of admiration: Hate stems from jealousy. Tensions have cooled, and the U.S. has bigger plans in other regions for economic Imperialism. Even though Japan is still essentially the world’s second largest economy, the perceived threat has evaporated. How fickle, American fear and loathing!