The System That Soured Toward A New Paradigm To Guide Japan

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The Washington Quarterly
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The system that soured: Toward a
new paradigm to guide Japan policy
Richard Katz
Published online: 07 Jan 2010.

To cite this article: Richard Katz (1998) The system that soured: Toward a new paradigm to guide Japan policy, The Washington Quarterly, 21:4, 43-78, DOI: 10.1080/01636609809550350 To link to this article:

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Richard Katz

Downloaded by [NUS National University of Singapore] at 02:47 15 January 2015

The System that Soured:
Toward a New Paradigm to
Guide Japan Policy


J l policy is driven by paradigms. Sometimes, as in the "containment" of the Soviet Union, the paradigm and its premises are quite explicit. Just as often policymakers operate via an intuitive mental map of "how things work." But without some kind of mental compass policy cannot be made. And if the compass points in the wrong direction, rocky shoals lie in wait.

What makes America's policy toward Japan special is that for the past two decades it has been "blessed" with not just one, but two paradigms. One has been given the label "revisionism" and the other "traditionalism." The bad news is that the two paradigms are diametrically opposed, fraught with bitter emotionalism, and wrong. Neither paradigm either predicted or can even explain in hindsight how the greatest economic miracle of the postwar era suddenly stopped dead in its tracks. Neither offers reliable guidance on how to respond to Japan's current paralysis.

How is it that American Japanology got so far off course? The answer is that in the midst of the fierce U.S.-Japan trade wars, the cart of policy started leading the horse of analysis. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, scholars presented Japan as a complex, multifaceted country. By the 1970s analysis was increasingly shoehorned into one narrow and artificial confine: was or was not Japan "different" from the United States?

At one pole, the revisionists argued that Japan's economic system was so "different," so "superior," and so "threatening" that extraordinary remedies were needed. At the other pole, the traditionalists, seeking to maintain economic harmony with a vital ally, insisted that no special measures were neeRichard Katz is senior editor of the Oriental Economist Report, a monthly...
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