In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Japanese Foreign Policy

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • National and International Security
  • International Political Economy
  • Global Environmental Policy
  • International Organizations
  • Soft Power
  • Historical Legacy Issues
  • Domestic Politics in Foreign Policymaking

International Relations Japanese Foreign Policy
Mary McCarthy
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0315


Japanese foreign policy is a dynamic field of study undergoing profound changes in two main ways. First, there are the actual shifts in the foreign policies being constructed in Tokyo. Second, there is an evolution of the scholarly tools that are being used to analyze those policies. Both provide opportunities for researchers and students alike to discover deeper insights into Japan and the international system. Japan has often been painted as an outlier in applications of theories of foreign policy and international relations (IR). Hence, we have the long-standing “normal” debates permeating the scholarship on Japanese foreign policy (in other words, explorations of the degree to which Japanese foreign policy is “normal” or is becoming more “normal”). Yet, as a perceived outlier, the Japan case may actually be pointing out weaknesses in many of our theories in IR and highlighting how theories created in a “Western” context may be limited. Therefore, it is a case study that can enrich our ontological and epistemological perceptions by complicating them. When Japan became an economic superpower in the postwar era, it did not develop the comparable military capabilities that many IR theorists, particularly in the realist school of thought, predicted as the natural next step. Some theorists tried to explain this apparent puzzle using constructivist frameworks, such as norms and identity. They talked about Japan’s pacifism, antimilitarism, or nuclear allergy. Still others argued that this was a rational strategic choice by Japan in keeping with defensive realism or a realist/liberalist combo. With Japan’s enhanced focus in the post–Cold War era on security and building military capabilities, scholars used this development as evidence to support that they were always correct in their frameworks or to argue that external and/or internal circumstances have altered so that new frameworks need to be used to explain these changes. Some began to talk of the malleability of identity and to reject any notion of static norms. This bibliography seeks to take into account both the scholarly heritage upon which current research rests and the new directions in incorporating a diversity of actors, institutions, and interpretations into our understanding of Japanese foreign policy. In doing so, several broad themes emerge across the sections of this bibliography. One is how, although history can constrain one’s foreign policy, it can also create opportunities for the development of distinctive policymaking tools.

General Overview

With any general overview of Japanese foreign policy, the intended and most appropriate audience must be elucidated. The two textbooks (Hook, et al. 2012 and Brown and Kingston 2018) presented in this section are targeted toward undergraduate students and non-specialists. They can be utilized in their entirety or by specific chapter, depending on instructor or reader needs. Togo 2010 also could be effectively integrated into an undergraduate classroom or be enjoyed by non-specialists, in whole or in part, as well as specialists who want to read the personal anecdotes and reflections. The two handbooks (McCarthy 2018 and Pekkanen and Pekkanen 2022) are most appropriate for graduate students and scholars seeking to get a sense of the academic field as a whole and peruse new research across the discipline, as well as get ideas for where their own burgeoning research might fit or where they can contribute. The edited volumes (Funabashi and Ikenberry 2020 and Lam and Jain 2020) are practical-minded or policy-oriented guides for a general or specialist audience seeking to understand Japan’s responses to the current challenges it faces with regard to its external environment.

  • Brown, James D. J., and Jeff Kingston, eds. Japan’s Foreign Relations in Asia. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2018.

    This collection features chapters by some of the renowned scholars in the field promoting arguments based on their issue area of expertise. Appropriate for undergraduate students, it opens with a historical overview of the creation of the postwar order in Asia and placement of Japanese foreign policy within international relations theory, and is then divided into sections on regional themes and specific bilateral relations.

  • Funabashi, Yoichi, and G. John Ikenberry, eds. The Crisis of Liberal Internationalism: Japan and the World Order. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2020.

    This edited volume explores Japan as a real and potential “rule-shaper” of the embattled liberal international order, under which it has vastly benefited in the postwar era. Chapters examine foreign and domestic policies that support (or could support) maintenance of this order, with consideration of international organizations, trade liberalization, the alliance system, values diplomacy, and domestic opportunities and constraints.

  • Hook, Glenn D., Julie Gilson, Christopher W. Hughes, and Hugo Dobson. Japan’s International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security. 3d ed. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2012.

    This textbook, currently in its third edition, provides a historical analysis of and general introduction to Japanese international relations that is still relevant today. Coming at the topic from the outsider perspective, as illustrated by sections such as “why Japan matters,” it is most useful for upper-level undergraduates and non-specialists, as well as a general reference book.

  • Lam, Peng Er, and Purnendra Jain, eds. Japan’s Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century: Continuity and Change. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 2020.

    This collection of chapters seeks to answer the question of what has changed and what has remained the same in Japanese foreign policy in the post–Cold War era, as well as what we can predict for the future, by examining internal and external factors that influence Japan’s interactions with various partners, whether state, regional, or international.

  • McCarthy, Mary M., ed. Handbook of Japanese Foreign Policy. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2018.

    This edited volume presents new research on Japanese foreign policy through twenty-four chapters by an international group of scholars who explore the varied actors and processes that impact and determine how Japan interacts with the world across security, economics, the physical environment, and global norms.

  • Pekkanen, Robert J., and Saadia M. Pekkanen, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.

    This wide-ranging edited volume includes twenty-two chapters on foreign policy, ranging from security to economics to the environment, to specific chapters on Japan’s relationship with various regional partners and the European Union (EU).

  • Togo, Kazuhiko. Japan’s Foreign Policy, 1945–2009: The Quest for a Proactive Policy. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

    Togo provides an overview of Japanese foreign policy from a Japanese practitioner’s perspective, intended for students or scholars new to the field. It is an easy-to-read history of Japanese foreign policymaking from the Meiji period onward, with some personal anecdotes from three generations of Togos in the foreign ministry.

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