The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History

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W. W. Norton & Company, 1998 - History - 508 pages
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When Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo harbor in July 1853, opening Japan to the West, a century and a half of economic, cultural, and occasionally violent clashes between Americans and Japanese began. Walter LaFeber, one of America's leading historians, has written the first book to tell the entire story behind the disagreements, tensions, and skirmishes between Japan €” a compact, homogenous, closely knit society terrified of disorder €” and America €” a sprawling, open-ended society that fears economic depression and continually seeks an international marketplace. Using both American and Japanese sources, LaFeber provides the history behind the vicissitudes of rearming Japan, the present-day tensions in U.S.-Japan trade talks, Japan's continuing importance in financing America's huge deficit, and both nations' drive to develop China €” a shadow that has darkened American-Japanese relations from the beginning. "Broad and deeply researched. . . . The Clash is beautifully written, with clear arguments and no irrelevancies."€”Gaddis Smith, Boston Globe "[This] work will easily become the best history of U.S.-Japanese relations in any language."€”Akira Iriye, professor of history, Harvard University "[LaFeber] succeeds brilliantly. . . . [W]ell-researched, meticulously sourced and highly readable."€”Don Oberdorfer, Washington Post Book World

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The Clash like Herring’s From Colony to Superpower is too monumental of a work to be covered in a short review. It does nothing less than cover the last 150 years of US-Japanese relations in great detail and yet is a highly readable book. Fortunately well written introductions and conclusions reveal three themes that Lafeber sees leading to frequent clashes between the US and Japan.
The first cause is their differing economic system. The Japanese system has traditionally been inwardly focused, either autarkic or mercantilistic, and since 1945 it has relied on domestic capital which high rates of domestic saving made available. This is almost the polar opposite of the American system which Lafeber claims is dependent on free trade (meaning mainly access to ever expanding markets) and raises capital through international capital markets. As a result for 150 years the Americans have been trying to force the Japanese to become outward focused by allowing their economy to be integrated with the capitalist world. However when the Japanese actually did this on their own terms through the creation of a Japanese empire it brought them into conflict with the United States. Since then they have reverted back to mercantilist practices while making just enough concession to the US to avoid drastic retaliation. They get access to the US market but keep their own market largely protected.
The Second area of conflict is China. At the beginning of the 20th Century the US and Japan clashed over the Open Door, which the Japanese believed was inimical to their interests. After the Pacific War and the Chinese revolution, the US did its best to keep Japan out of China because it believed that close links between the two would either pull Japan into the communist orbit or would ruin their attempts to isolate China internationally in favor of Taiwan. This all changed with the normalization of US relations with China at which point the Japanese and the US became competitors for the Chinese market.
The finale area of conflict is cultural. The homogeneous Japanese society is intricate and as hard to understand to Americans and the American homogeneous culture is to the Japanese. The clashing economic philosophies of each countries are perhaps a function of this cultural difference.
Like all of Lafeber’s work this book is highly readable and very heavy on economic explanations for why different policies are formed. And also like most of Lafeber’s work I think it leaves readers enlightened but not convinced. Also it is clear that events of the last decade make many of the conclusions of this book seemed dated. Japan is certainly no longer the center of US strategy in Asia although its military bases certainly make it still a very important player. Although Lafeber comments on the unraveling of the Japanese miracle he did not predict that Japan’s need for a strong American presence to balance a rising China rather than competition for the Chinese market would be the most important issue in US-Japanese relations for the near future. This is nevertheless are very valuable book.

The clash: a history of U. S.-Japan relations

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A noted historian with eight books to his credit considers how we have been competing with Japan ever since our two countries got acquainted. Read full review


Irresistible Foree Immovable Objeet
The Appearance of the Americans
Harriss Triumphs lis Assassination
The Americans and the Birth of Modern Japan
Joining tke Club 18681900
Two Systems Two Imperialisms
Clash Over Hawaii
When Americans and Japanese Were Friends
The Enemy Begins to Replace
The Double Shockand the End
The First Occupation 194547
Japanese Americans
The Pivotal Decade
A New Cold War
A Miracle Appears China Reappears 196O1973
Johnson Sato and Vietnam

Yamagata Roosevelt and the RussoJapanese War
Revolution War and Raee 19121920
The Bitter Choice
From Washington
The 1924
They Still Need Usand That Is Probably What Annoys
Takahashi Hull and the Race Between Trade and Politics
The CoProsperity Sphere
The Clash Over Two Visions
Nixon and Satoor Trading with the Enemy
American Bodies Not American BanksOr Japan
The 1980s From RonYasu
The Cold War Is Over the Japanese Won

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About the author (1998)

Walter LaFeber is professor of history at Cornell University and the author of The Clash and Inevitable Revolutions.

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