Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why Japan is U.S.’s Strongest Ally Today

With flickering lights, one out two elevators operating and a limited sound system, the Korbel School hosted 80 stout participants for a discussion of Japanese-American relations the day after the bomb cyclone. Fortunately, Maglione Hall was up to the challenge.

Prof. Toshihiro Nakayama
Japan may be America’s strongest ally in the Trump era. Professor Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University described the factors that distinguish Japan from most of Europe and its leaders in its embrace of President Trump and the alliance with the U.S. Professor Nakayama (called Toshi by colleagues and friends) attributed much of the recent steadfast affection for the alliance and President Trump to the rise of an expansive China and the lack of an alternative to America’s deterrent power.

New Consul-General in Denver, Midori Takeuchi, described Japanese relations with the region and specifically with Korea. She highlighted the government’s commitment to women’s positions in the economy and government, including the foreign ministry.

The audience stayed until 7:00 pm asking questions for twenty minutes. It was clear that people, including a number of students, were interested in the relationship with Japan, had concerns about the strength of the alliance, and the strategies to address the rise of China and its ambition in the Pacific.

The event was sponsored by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, the Office of Global Engagement and the Denver Japanese Consulate-General. I moderated the event, and based on my recent trip to Japan, a host of recent blog posts have been published.

Denver Has a Sister City With Pure Mountain Springs Water

Denver’s sister city, Takayama, is in the foothills of the Japanese Rockies. It is a 300-year-old samurai-founded city famous for its sake breweries, with a national reputation similar to Coors. It has high mountain spring water, cool weather (it snowed during my recent visit) and the highest quality rice. Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Denver. Numerous celebrations are planned in each city. It will be a giant year for tourism as Japan will also be hosting the summer Olympics. Much of Tokyo is now in construction projects with signage, tee shirts and Olympics marketing everywhere.

Takayama is known as “Little Kyoto,” with a historic city center built hundreds of years ago. It has numerous shrines and temples, and one of the county’s most renowned festivals with floats built by leading artisans in the seventeenth century with extraordinary wood work, gold leaf and Japanese mystical imagery.

The city has a host of artisans, with lacquerware the most sought after. One can eat a traditional Japanese meal in the many restaurants, one, the Susaki, has a 200-year pedigree. The ingredients are locally sourced and served beautifully in multi-course meals. Its Ryokans are of high quality, many with hot water spas.

Takayama has a long-serving mayor, Michihiro Kunishima, who, like Mayors Hancock and Hickenlooper, is known to be dedicated to hospitability and encouraging tourism. In a three-hour multi-course meal, he and a team of city officials hosted dinner at Susaki with flights of local sake.

The city attracts many day hikers, backpackers and skiers with its abundant mountains, trails and nearby ski resorts. The rivers run toward both the east and west, with numerous hot springs that attract Japanese, Americans and worldwide visitors.

If you plan a trip to Japan, don’t miss visiting the historic countryside and stay in Takayama. My skilled guide, Nami Tsushima, recommended a high quality Ryokan called Kachoan and a high quality sake brewery, Funasaka.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Discussing the Youth Vote With Top Japanese Parliamentarian

Floyd Ciruli and Shintaro Ito
Representative Shintaro Ito is one of Japan’s most influential leaders on foreign affairs. He attended Harvard and is a close observer of U.S. politics. In a recent conversation, the topic turned to the longevity of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s premiership and the changing techniques of communicating to the electorate.

Ito pointed out that it was an advantage to have a long-serving prime minister during a period of considerable disruption and danger. Japan has had a succession recently of briefly serving premiers.

Concerning support for Abe, a recent article observed that the Abe government was stronger with younger than older voters, a surprise for most observers. The conventional wisdom is that the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) is most supported by older and less urban voters.

Ito was aware of the support of voters in their 30s and under. He felt it was related to the government’s support for programs to help parents and younger voters, such as with more nursery space, free preschool, and subsidies for high schools and college tuition.

But, he felt the most important aspect of the LDP’s success was using the internet to communicate to younger voters. A major effort has been mounted to use websites, videos, infographics, blogs and Twitter to engage voters in their 20s and 30s. Abe, in particular, is active in using social media to describe his vision and programs.

One of the major challenges has been reassuring the public that the economy is growing, tourism is up, jobs are available for graduates, and major problems, such as the aging population, are being addressed.


Prime Minister Abe is about to become the longest serving prime minister, and Ito points out that the future of the party must rest on support among new generations of voters. So true.

Talking Polling with Top Tokyo Political Commentator

Floyd Ciruli and Hiroyuki Akita
In a recent trip to Japan, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the most interesting conversations was with Hiroyuki Akita, a regular columnist on foreign affairs and international security for a leading newspaper, Nikkei Shimbun.

We compared presidential and prime minister popularity. He had two recent polls that asked if the public supported the Abe administration. Abe received 53 percent in the Yomiuri newspaper poll and 43 percent in the Asahi newspaper. Both were improvements over the November 2018 rating. (The latest Kyodo News survey had support for the Abe government at 43 percent. The average of the three polls is 46 percent.)

Donald Trump’s latest polling average from RealClearPolitics is 43 percent, also an improvement over late 2018 and early 2019. The U.S. question asked approve or disapprove of president’s job performance.

In today’s political environment, it is not surprising for leaders in democracies to have less than 50 percent support. Theresa May in Great Britain, Emmanuel Macron in France and Angela Merkel in Germany are all below 40 percent in support for their governments.


Two big questions facing Abe’s government concern revising Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws the use of war to settle international disputes, and a possible consumption tax increase from 8 to 10 percent. Neither proposal has majority support.


Polling is important to the Japanese government and its parties as there are upper house (Councillors) elections this summer.

Japan has a strong newspaper establishment that does considerable polling. Akita, who received a master’s degree from Boston University, is a close observer of national politics and uses both local and international polls in his analyses.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Japanese Foreign Minister Kono’s Georgetown Speech a Hit

Taro Kono
Taro Kono, Japan’s foreign minister and a Georgetown University graduate (SFS’86), outlined Japan’s commitment to a global presence to promote democratic values in a policy address at his alma mater on September 28, 2018. The drafting of the speech, which was well-received, was assisted by top officials in the Foreign Ministry. Kono, who speaks fluent English, described his years at Georgetown as formative of his interest in government service and foreign policy. He answered student questions after the presentation.

In his address, he outlined Japan’s major goals and strategies in an era of disruption with a rising China and America’s shifting foreign policy. He described his country’s interest in maintaining the rule of law and norms as it affects navigation, trade, human rights and security in the Western Pacific. He agreed with the need for burden-sharing with the U.S. and said Japan’s goal is to do so. But, he also emphasized that globally, nations with democratic values must remain united. Japan’s interests have become more global and include relationships with Russia, Europe and the Middle East

It is clear that Japan is becoming a global influence to both support democratic values, but also counter authoritarian regimes if they seek to coerce or flaunt the rules.

See:
Japanese foreign minister urges international support of Democratic values
Foreign minister of Japan Taro Kono (SFS’86) returns to Georgetown to deliver Lloyd George Centennial lecture

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Abe Offers Stability in Era of Disruption

In a week of foreign policy discussions with leading Japanese scholars, media commentators, Foreign Ministry officers and members of the Diet, the consensus view was that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, as he approaches being the longest serving post-WWII prime minister, is a significant and timely asset for Japan and the Far East in a moment of considerable turmoil.

In an effort to maintain continuity, Abe has centered his foreign policy around keeping a close and friendly relationship with Donald Trump, something that has eluded European leaders Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. He traveled to Trump Towers during the transition and was the first to play golf at Mar-a-Lago. Rumor has it that Trump and Abe spoke during the recent Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-un. Trump primarily relates to leaders at a personal level and claims to be close to Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Abe may be the only non-authoritarian leader in the club.

The alliance is critical to Japan’s security and foreign policy goals. Abe spends considerable energy making sure Japan’s interests are represented in the North Korean negotiations, continuing to promote the benefit of a TPP-type, multilateral agreement, and arguing against tariffs and more payments related to hosting American troops.

Just as important as playing defense with the Trump administration is the Japanese effort at organizing the Pacific Rim to counter China’s expansion, while maintaining as positive a relationship with Xi Jinping and China as possible. Trump’s apparent discomfort with key elements of the 70-year old alliance has made clear to Japanese leadership that their own multilateral initiatives are needed and Abe’s longevity in office is a strategic advantage.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe Mar-a-Lago, Florida, April 17, 2018 | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Major Differences: Europe and Far East

Mike Pence was all but booed by European allies at the 2019 Munich Security Conference at the mention of Donald Trump, while the news from South Korea and Japan was that Trump deserved the Nobel Peace prize for his North Korean negotiations.

The difference in leadership views of Trump mirrors differences in European and Asian publics. Respect and approval of Trump and the U.S. could hardly be lower in Europe, even by today’s tough standards, but public opinion in South Korea and Japan is substantially more favorable.

The latest Pew Research poll of October 2018 shows Japan and South Korea are much more favorably disposed toward the U.S. than Germany and France. And, although the publics of the four nations have low levels of trust for President Trump, they have collapsed in Germany and France.


Trump’s behavior toward European and Asian allies explains some of the differences as do the responses from top leaders. In Europe, Trump, with his usual undiplomatic behavior, has criticized the EU and praised Brexit, promoted withdrawal from NATO and his hostile approach toward immigration. After more than a year and several meetings of Trump’s boorish behavior, President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel have dropped the usual language of diplomacy used with allies and criticized Trump and U.S. policy with harsh language and increasing volume. Whereas in Japan and South Korea, facing many of the same controversies with Trump, such as tariffs and trade deficits, commitment to stationing forces and the cost, and multilateral agreements, such as TPP, leaders have maintained a friendly demeanor.

Of course, the nearness of the threats in terms of time and space and the lack of an alternative deterrent to America’s are important factors shaping elite and public opinion.