Understanding Japanese Politics for the Non-Japanese Speaker: A Resource Guide

This week we have a detailed guest article by Alec Williams, who provides an excellent guide to a variety of online resources for English speakers interested in politics and international relations with an eye on Japan. Have any more to add? Please leave us a comment with your thoughts!


Practicing comparative politics requires an act of double interpretation; one not only faces the analyst’s task, but must also engage in a reflexive accounting of one’s own knowledge of the surrounding socio-cultural medium. One must become a semiologist before a statistician, an anthropologist before a political scientist.  As a student of international relations with little prior experience with the languages and cultures whose political systems are the object of study, such an approach becomes difficult. How is an accurate evaluation of other scholars’ work possible if one lacks the knowledge with which contextual analyses may be made? For languages like Japanese, for which basic understanding can take years of study, the problem is further compounded, and the student of Japanese politics must rely heavily on English language resources.

Luckily, there are several well-researched and well-written online resources for Japan-watchers with little Japanese language ability. And as we are currently witnessing the Abe administration’s attempts to reinterpret Article 9 in such a way as to allow Japan to exercise collective self-defense, such resources have become invaluable to students and observers. What follows is a list of (mostly) free online resources, as well as a brief description of their content.

Photo by Colin Thompson

In addition to better-known international relations news sources like the Council on Foreign Relations (which has an excellent blog on Asian relations), the Diplomat, or Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government, the sites listed below can provide an accessible point of entry for the student of Japan.

Japan Real Time – Japan Real Time is the Wall Street Journal’s Japanese news and analysis blog.

Pros: Regardless of personal political alignment, Japan Real Time provides up-to-the minute Japan-related news along with political and economic analysis and some coverage of Japanese cultural life; essentially the Japan section of the WSJ if there were one. As there are few reliable daily English language sources for Japanese news, Japan Real Time is without price.

Cons: While great for current events or following by-the-minute election results, Japan Real Time provides more news than analysis, and its authors can rarely write from the same “insider’s” perspective that others on this list can.

cogitASIA – The blog of the CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies) Asia Program

Pros: CSIS is often associated with left of center political analysis, but as with Japan Real Time, it is an essential source for Japanese policy reporting whatever one’s political inclinations. cogitASIA’s contributors are academics and policy experts, often with first-hand diplomatic experience.

Cons: Not necessarily a “con,” but the blog provides a regional rather than Japan-specific focus, so pure Nipponophiles may have to read around the site’s other content.

The Oriental Economist – Edited by Japan scholar Richard Katz, The Oriental Economist (TOE) is a monthly newsletter about Japan and US-Japan relations.

Pros: Probably as close to a US-Japan diplomatic trade journal as anything unclassified can get. Richard Katz is recognized as a top Japan scholar worldwide, and contributions to the publication come from the most respected names in the field. Articles are of-the-moment yet provide remarkable depth and insight. Along with Observing Japan (see below), this is a must read.

Cons: The only subscription resource on the list; a one year subscription to the monthly edition costs $100, while getting an additional 2-3 weekly updates, the TOE Alert, is $5000…so try to get it through whatever institution you’re associated with.

Dispatch Japan – A site devoted to Japanese and US-Japanese news and political commentary by Peter Ennis.

Pros: Ennis is now an old hand among US-Japan observers and not only writes with expertise, but also attracts top scholars and US officials for interviews.

Cons: Pieces are generally written from a US political perspective, so it can at times seem like only half of the US-Japan relations picture.

Sigma1 – Blog by East Asian Relations scholar Corey Wallace focusing on security policy.

Pros: Wallace is a former New Zealand Ministry of Science and Innovation official and has taught at both the University of Auckland and the Royal New Zealand Navy. Posts focus on Japanese security issues, and Wallace’s work receives international recognition.

Cons: Like many policy blogs authored by a single academic, Sigma1 can go for long periods without updates.

Shisaku – Self-described by author Michael Cucek as “marginalia on Japanese politics and society,” Shisaku approaches politics with creativity, humor, and a left-leaning point of view.

Pros: Shisaku is an excellent source for domestic political commentary, and Cucek is an expert interpreter of the symbolic and cultural game politicians play. He’s also got a great sense of humor.

Cons: Cucek often takes iconoclastic positions, so it helps to already have some familiarity with the topic du jour.

Observing Japan – A blog by MIT scholar and former DPJ consultant Tobias Harris.

Pros: This is one of the best, if not the best, English language source for Japanese political analysis. Harris provides in-depth, long-form articles written with expert knowledge of both political personalities and macro issues. He is not afraid of data-heavy takes, but when making them, ensures they are accessible and comprehendible to a broad audience. One example: a series of articles examining domestic polling on the Japanese public’s trust of investor capitalism and reactions to Abe’s 06/2013 Abenomics posture.

Cons: Unfortunately this is a big one: Observing Japan is infrequently updated, and Harris can at times leave his audience in the dark for months.

Global Talk 21 – An East Asian relations blog by Jun Okumura, a former METI official and current Eurasia Group advisor and researcher at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.

Pros: Okumura benefits from an ultimate insider’s perspective and updates frequently, and posts range topically from international relations to Japanese and East Asian history. Global Talk 21 can fill in the historical gaps for those seeking a socio-historical analysis, though it’s important to bear Okumura’s past as a government official in mind.

Cons: Not a con per se, but as the sole author of the blog – and one unaffiliated with an academic institution – Okumura’s commentary must be reckoned with his previous positions.

Asia Security Watch – A blog affiliated with the New Pacific Institute offering security-related commentary for the East Asian region.

Pros: Asia Security Watch was founded by Kyle Mizokami in 2010, and contributors feature names with which we are now familiar – including Corey Wallace. Mizokami has written for Foreign Policy, the U.S. Naval Institute News, and the Diplomat, and articles can contain military hardware, procurement, or tactical details that are absent from other foreign policy blogs.

Cons: Asia Security Watch isn’t regularly updated, although the New Pacific Institute, with which it is affiliated, publishes more frequently. Additionally, articles about trends in sales of fighter jets may lack the generality of those seeking a broad understanding of policy.

Neojaponisme – A blog edited by David Marx with wide-ranging coverage of the Japanese public sphere.

Pros: Contains everything from reviews of poetry and film to interviews with financial analysts and economics experts. The staff’s background is primarily in consumer culture, design, and art, so many pieces take conceptions of Japan or Japanese consumption as objects of analysis. Marx writes from a left of center perspective.

Cons: Like several other pages on this list, Neojaponisme provides excellent, but infrequently updated, content. While the publication’s articles are informative, the focus isn’t solely political.

The Lowy Interpreter – The blog of the Sydney based nonpartisan think tank, the Lowy Institute for International Policy. The Interpreter covers international affairs from an Australian and East Asian regional perspective

Pros: Contributions come from leading scholars and can help add a regional wrinkle to understanding Japanese politics. The blog provides both news and analysis and is updated multiple times per day.

Cons: The focus is regional rather than Japan-specific, and while this can help put Japanese foreign policy into context, it also means that readers with a Japan-only interest are forced to sift through noise.


Alec Williams spent last summer at Asia Policy Point, a policy resource center focusing on US-Japan relations, and is currently a senior at Tufts University and intern at Argopoint LLC. The opinions expressed in this article, however, are his own. You can reach him at awill11246 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Job Opening: Fixed-term position: Lecturer in Japanese, University of Cambridge

job opening - 5Institution:         University of Cambridge, Department of East Asian Studies
Location:          United Kingdom
Position:           Unestablished Lecturer in Japanese (Fixed Term)

Salary: £37,756-£47,787
Reference: GX03463
Closing date: 15 August 2014

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 3 years in the first instance.

The University of Cambridge is seeking to appoint a Lecturer in Japanese in the Department of East Asian Studies, to begin on 1 January 2015. The post is a fixed-term three-year appointment.

The appointee will be required to deliver lectures, hold classes and give seminars, to undertake research, and be prepared to supervise undergraduate and graduate dissertations. The successful candidate must have a PhD in hand by the time of arrival at Cambridge and a proven ability to read and teach a wide-range of pre-modern styles of written Japanese as well as having an excellent command of the modern language. The position would be focused on teaching several language classes with the possibility of extra lectures in the candidate’s expertise and/or teaching a special subject in the candidate’s field, in consultation with the Japan studies group and the Head of Department. Fourth year dissertation supervisions and regular language supervisions may be a requirement of the role, as well as assistance with the weekly seminar series which has run for a number of years.

Further details are available on the Faculty website: http://www.ames.cam.ac.uk/faculty/jobs, including instructions about how to apply online.   You should upload a cv and covering letter as part of your application.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon 15 August 2014. It is anticipated that interviews will take place on 16 October 2014.

Please quote reference GX03463 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University values diversity and is committed to equality of opportunity.
The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.

Informal enquiries about the post may be made to Dr Barak Kushner, bk284@cam.ac.uk


Website:           http://www.ames.cam.ac.uk/faculty/jobs

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Book Announcement: Capturing Contemporary Japan

Capturing Contemporary JapanSatsuki Kawano, Susan Long, and myself, as editors; U. Hawaii Press

What are people’s life experiences in present-day Japan? This timely volume addresses fundamental questions vital to understanding Japan in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Its chapters collectively reveal a questioning of middle-class ideals once considered the essence of Japaneseness. In the postwar model household a man was expected to obtain a job at a major firm that offered life-long employment; his counterpart, the “professional” housewife, managed the domestic sphere and the children, who were educated in a system that provided a path to mainstream success. In the past twenty years, however, Japanese society has seen a sharp increase in precarious forms of employment, higher divorce rates, and a widening gap between haves and have-nots.

Contributors draw on rich, nuanced fieldwork data collected during the 2000s to examine work, schooling, family and marital relations, child rearing, entertainment, lifestyle choices, community support, consumption and waste, material culture, well-being, aging, death and memorial rites, and sexuality. The voices in these pages vary widely: They include schoolchildren, teenagers, career women, unmarried women, young mothers, people with disabilities, small business owners, organic farmers, retirees, and the elderly.

Please see the following website for information: http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/p-9131-9780824838690.aspx

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Fun Link Friday: Modern Japanese Crests

Here’s a fun link I stashed away since earlier this year: Japanese family crests, or kamon have been embedded in all kinds of items since premodern times, from ceramics and kimono to castles. These days, you might find them most often on samurai themed toys and other souvenir objects when visiting famous sites around Japan. According to Rocket News 24, many modern artists these days are trying their hand at creating new crests for a new age, converting commonly found and recognizable symbols into “kamon”:

twitterI like the twitter one, but I’m a bit partial to the wifi design, myself. I’m sure the various artists linked in the original article have created many more interesting designs since this was first reported on earlier this year. What’s your favorite?


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Chino Kaori Prize for Grad Student Essay on Japanese Art

The Japan Art History Forum (JAHF), a great online community / mailing list for art historians & scholars of visual culture of Japan, offers an annual prize for outstanding papers in Japanese art history or visual culture. I have copied the formal wording of their call for entries below:

2014 Chino Kaori Memorial Prize for Graduate Students

Japan Art History Forum (JAHF) is pleased to announce the thirteenth annual Chino Kaori Memorial Prize competition. Established in 2003 in memory of the distinguished art historian Chino Kaori, the Chino Prize is awarded annually to a graduate student who has written an outstanding essay on a topic in the study of Japanese art history or visual culture. The award recognizes excellence in scholarship, with several past prize-winning essays later published in peer-reviewed journals. For more about past Chino Prize essays, please go to: http://jahf.net/chinoprizewin

The Chino Prize is administered by JAHF and generously supported by the University of Hawai’i Press. The prize recipient will be awarded $400 in books from the University of Hawai’i Press catalogue and a complimentary two-year membership to JAHF.

The competition is open to graduate students from any university. Submissions should include an essay, abstract, and illustrations (see Submission Guidelines below). Essays may not be previously published in any form or currently under review for publication.

Submission Guidelines:
– Essay, under 10,000 words (excluding notes), in Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced.
– Abstract, 250 words.
– Illustrations, with the size of each image less than 75 dpi, the maximum size of the total file 4MB.
– Please send the above three items in a single Word or PDF file.

The deadline for submission is August 1, 2014.
Please send submissions to Xiaojin Wu, JAHF Vice-President, at:

Submissions that do not meet the above specifications will not be accepted. The recipient of the prize will be announced in September. The selection committee will post an abstract of the prize winning paper on the JAHF website.

The 2014 Committee is looking forward to your submissions.


Only JAHF members are eligible to enter the competition, but annual membership is only $10 for graduate students, $25 otherwise.

If you are a graduate student, museum staff, or scholar or professional otherwise working in Japanese art or visual culture, JAHF is a great group to join up with. The mailing list is quite active, both with discussions of questions or issues in scholarship (such as translation or terminology) and with postings about conferences, job openings, and the like. JAHF generally sponsors a panel at the College Art Association (CAA) and/or Association for Asian Studies (AAS) conferences each year, and I’ve personally found it a great way to get to meet many of the prominent scholars in the field.

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Call for Papers: ournal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies

call for papers [150-2]The Journal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies is currently seeking manuscripts for the 2014-15 issue to be published in March 2015. This year, we are accepting full-length research papers (up to 20 pages in length), research notes (up to 15 pages), essays on teaching innovations and practices (up to 15 pages), review essays (up to 10 pages), and book reviews (up to 6 pages) written in either English or Japanese.

If you intend to make a submission to our journal, please complete the “Intention to Submit” form which is available on our website at http://japan947.rsjp.net/2014/07/cfp-journal-of-international-a.html

Once you complete the form, please send it as an attachment to journal@japan.tsukuba.ac.jp or send it by post to the postal address indicated below. The deadline for receiving this form at our office is July 31, 2014 (strictly enforced).

The detailed CFP (in English) that explains the submission types in more detail is also available at the above URL. A Japanese version of the detailed CFP, guidelines for authors (Japanese and English), and templates for your submission will be available on our website by mid-July 2014.

Important Deadlines:

July 31, 2014 Deadline for submitting the “Intention to Submit” form.

September 30, 2014 Deadline for all manuscript types (to be submitted for review purposes).

December 17, 2014 Deadline for final versions of accepted manuscripts.

About the journal

The Journal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies is a peer-reviewed academic journal published annually by the International and Advanced Japanese Studies Program, Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Tsukuba. The journal aims to promote open debate through publishing the results of leading research in Japanese Studies. We welcome submissions from the perspectives of cross-national and international studies perspectives in all social science fields (encompassing politics, economics, society, media and information studies, culture, language and pedagogy, fine arts, and literature).

We especially encourage graduate students (M.A. level and above) to submit manuscripts to the journal.

All queries and submissions should be addressed to the editorial board at:journal@japan.tsukuba.ac.jp

We look forward to your submission. Please forward this CFP to any interested people.



Leslie Tkach-Kawasaki, Head, Editorial Committee,
Journal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies,
Doctoral Program in International and Advanced Japanese Studies
Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Tsukuba
Tennodai 1-1-1, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki-ken, JAPAN 305-8571
(Enquiries by email only, please.)

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Job Opening: Academic Assistant East Asian Studies, Bucknell University [part-time]

job opening - 5Institution: Bucknell University
Location: Lewisburg, PA
Posted: 07/03/2014
Application Due: Open Until Filled
Type: Part-Time/Adjunct

Job Summary: Bucknell University seeks a part-time Academic Assistant to oversee the daily operations of the East Asian Studies department. The position provides support to faculty, including special projects, office work flow, academic support, appointments, correspondence, manuscripts, grant proposals, budgets, database management, and web page maintenance. The person in the position may perform duties of a sensitive and confidential nature.

The Academic Assistant is a part-time position, 20 hours per week (Monday – Friday) approximately mid-August to mid-June with limited summer coverage of up to 8 hours per week.

Minimum Requirements:

  • High school diploma/GED
  • Administrative/office experience
  • Demonstrated multi-tasking, organizational, coordination, and time management skills
  • Strong interpersonal, and oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to take a proactive approach in anticipating departmental needs
  • Ability to work independently and as a member of a team
  • Ability to use good judgment in decision making including researching and analyzing alternatives
  • Proficient in MS Office Word and Excel
  • Ability to work with budgets
  • Ability to adapt to the ever-changing needs of an educational environment (new technology, policies, personnel, procedures, etc) including the willingness to develop and attain new skills
  • A commitment to diversity and inclusiveness

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Experience working in an academic setting
  • Familiarity with Japanese and/or Chinese language and/or culture

Full details on HigherEdJobs.com.

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