Monday, January 21, 2013


Racism comes in a million forms.
Recently I had each of my students make a book about themselves, in the books they had one page that said "I like..." and a separate page that said "I don't like..." students were to draw pictures of things they liked. Unfortunately many of the students started drawing flags, and it taught me who Japanese are racist to.

The majority of children who drew flags, drew an American flag and a Japanese flag on the "I like..." page, and drew a Korean flag and a Chinese flag on the "I don't like..." page.

I know that many of the east Asian countries have strenuous relationships with each other. Much of this comes a history of brutal wars, occupations, and even exterminations. Neighboring countries who are struggling for power often become enemies.

I don't think my students have studied enough history to make their own judgements on the morality of the actions between countries. Their racism is being passed down from their parents. The racists in and around town that dislike Koreans and Chinese people tend to pat themselves on the back for not disliking all foreigners, and thus don't consder themselves racist.

Now sometimes racism can escalate, China and Japan have been pushing each others buttons over a set of uninhabited islands located between Okinawa and Taiwan. Both claim the islands belong to them. It seems to me that the two countries did not, and do not plan to negotiate an arrangement of who the islands belong to, instead both countries have been sending ships and airplanes over disputed/sovereign waters. The number of petty actions that have been taken on both sides are absurd, I'm not sure if other disputes seemed as petty and pointless as they bubbled into war, everything seems so to have been blown completely out of proportion.

One matter that I am very confused on, (I would greatly appreciate some comments below to guide me) is the matter of how Japan could go to war. Japan does not have it's own military, as an agreement from WWII, it has a self defense force, and the American military to protect itself. If it goes to war, will that mean that American military men will be fighting Chinese forces? If so, it would that mean that America was at war with China?

I haven't lost hope that this is all political theater, and will never grace the pages of history text books.

I have a vested interest in this matter. My opinion here is not unbiased, and I am not the most qualified person speak on this matter. If you would like to catch up on this topic, I would recomend reading the following articles.
Could Asia really go to war over these? (September 2012)
Japan Warns It May Fire On Chinese Aircraft Over Disputed Islands; China Retorts: "There Will Be No Second Shot"
5 New Reasons China and Japan May go to War Over Disputed Islands
China Blasts Clinton’s Comments Regarding Japan Island Dispute
Here is a very informative blog that uses articles to outline the dispute.


  1. While the JSDF is not officially referred to as an 'army', in practice it is a well-equipped military with considerable technological advantages over many of its neighbours including china (It ranks in the top 10 worldwide by budget). While the Japanese constitution in article 9 renounces war as a sovereign right of the state, it has generally been accepted that, in line with the UN charter, Japan has the right to individual or collective defence of its sovereign territory (Japan claims these islands as such and has controlled them since around 1890). Japan and the US are linked by the US-Japan security treaty, which as you rightly point out was borne from the Second World War. In the beginning this treaty was aimed mainly at preventing the Soviet Union from gaining sway over Japan, China has only in the last 20 or so years emerged as one of the primary threats to Japanese security. So, how could Japan go to war? If China where to attempt to seize the Senkaku islands from Japan by force, Japan could claim a right to self-defence and use its SDF to resist Chinese efforts. The US has stated that the islands are covered by the US-Japan security treaty and therefore it would be obliged to assist Japan in such an event. Whether there would be an official declaration of war between the parties is very doubtful as this would make limiting the political damage very difficult (there was for example no such declaration made by the US to Afghanistan or Iraq). Factually the US would if a shooting war where to begin likely be involved with parts of its personnel stationed in or around Japan (Korea). The main question really is then, whether china would risk the incident from expanding into an all-out confrontation that it is currently not in a position to win. Most observers believe it would not.

    I hope this reply helped you, it is a little brief and not all inclusive but it should give you the gist. (I have a background in Politics and IR and am doing my PhD on the Japanese armed forces)
    Should you have any more questions post them here, I will be looking in from time to time.

    1. Thank you so much for replying to me. I was (am) still very confused about the JSFD. Is self defense just the technical term they use to bypass old laws, or is just the name of their army, are there any real restrictions on them? I have been reading about preemptive strikes, how is that possible?
      I am still very confused about why, and what power the American army bases have here in Japan. Why are they necessary if Japan can defend itself?
      Do you have any links where I could get more information?
      Good luck on your PhD, and thank you so much for replying.

  2. No Problem, always glad to help.
    The JSDF evolved from the National Police Reserve (NPR) which was established in 1950 and had a strength of about 75.000 men. The NPR was established primarily to assist the US forces in keeping the peace in occupied Japan. As the Korean War broke out in 1950, the US relocated many of its troops from Japan to Korea and so the NPR was in addition to its policing duties also the nucleus of a (very limited) defensive force within Japan. At this point there was a limited maritime and no air component to these forces. In mid-1952, the National Police Reserve was expanded to 110,000 men and named the “National Safety Forces” (NSF). This was done in accordance with the peace treaty signed with the US, as well as the "Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan" (The US-Japan Security Treaty) being signed at the same time. Essentially Japan was to take on a greater role in providing internal security while the US would focus on external security.
    To avoid the appearance of a revival of militarism, Japan's leaders emphasized constitutional guarantees of civilian control of the government and armed forces and used non-military terms for the organization and functions of the forces. At first, tanks were called "special vehicles". The forces' administrative department was granted only an agency status, rather than a full-fledged ministry status. The armed forces were designated the Ground Self-Defence Force (GSDF), the Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF), and the Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF), instead of the army, navy, and air force.
    This part should explain why they used the terms they did, it was primarily to avoid any militarist impression from forming with the, at the time, sceptical population. Simultaneously it was meant to highlight the non-aggressive nature of these forces as compared to the old imperial Japanese army. Navigating the limitations of Article 9 and the wider constitution certainly played a role, and continues to do so to the present day; however successive High Court decisions have confirmed the constitutionality of the JSDF.

    Pre-emptive strikes are actions’ taken by one party to a confrontation in reaction to the belief that an imminent attack by the other party is about to take place. Pre-emptive strikes follow the rationale that attack is the best defence and that, in a time where offensive weapons are so deadly and have such a long range, it places an unbearable burden on the defending state having to wait to be attacked first before it can defend itself. Pre-emptive strikes are extremely controversial in international law, and seen by many as being illegal. From a purely military perspective they make sense, though the political cost of a pre-emptive strike would be tremendous and the evidence needed to convince the world that a necessity existed would have to be crushing. It is highly unlikely that Japan would unilaterally launch a pre-emptive strike.

    The American army bases in Japan stem from Japans occupation after the Second World War. Today Japan is not occupied; it is a sovereign country that has agreed to host American troops in line with the "Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan". Article 6 of the treaty contains a "Status of Forces Agreement" on the stationing of United States forces in Japan, with specifics on the provision of facilities and areas for their use and on the administration of Japanese citizens employed in the facilities. The Agreed Minutes to the treaty specified that the Japanese government must be consulted prior to major changes in United States force deployment in Japan or to the use of Japanese bases for combat operations other than in defence of Japan itself. Also covered are the limits of the two countries' jurisdictions over crimes committed in Japan by United States military personnel.

  3. A central issue in the debate over the continued US military presence is the concentration of troops on the small Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. US military bases cover about one-fifth of Okinawa that serve around 75 per cent of the US Forces in Japan. (You can look up issues such as accidental killings of civilians in accidents, or the highly publicised rape cases over the years, just Google: “US forces Japan rape” for example, wiki also provides an easy overview)

    America currently has about 36.000 troops stationed in Japan (28.000 in Korea) and over 50.000 in Germany. These troop positioning’s reflect the global order at the end of WW2. Today they serve not only in support of the US's allies, but also as staging areas for other US missions like Iraq or Afghanistan.

    While Japan could theoretically put up a decent defence, it still lacks certain capabilities that the US provides (largely power projection beyond the borders of Japan proper). More importantly, the US presence must be seen in terms of "deterrence". The mere presence of US troops in Japan and Korea makes an attack on these countries less likely as any conflict could potentially expand to include the US. The logic behind deterrence is, that if the US troops were not stationed there then in the case of an attack, the pressure on the US government not to intervene might be so great it could break its promise to assist Japan. If on the other hand the US faces loosing thousands of troops in such an attack help is more likely to be provided, thus making the deterrent effect stronger.

    I know this is quite a lot of Info; unfortunately it is still only a very bare bone explanation of a very complex situation. I sourced some of what you see here from Wiki which while not academic in the strict sense is adequate to provide an overview. If you want to do any in depth reading I would recommend four books to you.

    1. Japan Rising, by Kenneth B Pyle

    2.Japan as a normal country?, by Soeya, Tadokoro and Welch

    3. Normalizing Japan, by Andrew L Oros

    4. The Politics of Defense in Japan, by Joseph Kaddell (a little older than the others but a good look at the internal dimension of the issues you are intrested in)

    A very good General overview of Japan, its culture, politics, law and other aspects is provided in:
    Japan's International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security, by Glenn D Hook, et al.

    Wow a long response. I hope this helps you a little bit. It is fun to revisit these topics that I went over a long time ago. Are you currently in Japan? I spent a year in Kyoto some years ago, was a great time. Hope to hear from you again.


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