Japan has long represented one of the most important countries in US foreign affairs. Relations between the two countries have ranged from outright warfare during World War II to close cooperation during the Cold War and after. Following the end of the Second World War, the US played a dominant role in rebuilding and restructuring Japan’s political and economic systems, in an effort to prevent the former enemiy from ever becoming a military threat to the United States. As part of the post-war reorganization, severe limitations on the development of Japan’s military were imposed in the US-approved constitution adopted by Japanese officials. During the Cold War, Japan played a key role in American security efforts in the Pacific by allowing US troops and naval vessels to be staged on Japan’s islands—a situation that continues even today.
Lay of the Land: Japan is an island nation, forming a 2,000-mile archipelago along the coast of east Asia. Of its 3,330 islands, about 400 are inhabited; the four main islands are Hokkaido in the north, Kyushu and Shikoku in the south, and the large, heavily populated island of Honshu in the center. The terrain is generally mountainous, sprinkled with volcanoes such as the sacred, 12,000-foot Mt. Fuji. Only one fifth of the land is suitable for cultivation or urban development.
The long history of Japanese immigration is full of racism, segregation, and exclusion. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, prohibiting further Chinese immigration. This xenophobia carried over to other East Asians, and the growing anti-Japanese sentiment culminated in 1906 when San Francisco segregated its Japanese students, requiring them to attend exclusively Chinese schools. President Theodore Roosevelt, keen to placate an offended Japan, worked out a gentleman's agreement, nullifying the segregation but limiting Japanese immigrant laborers. During this period, most immigrants were Japanese women chosen in arranged marriages, “picture brides” who had never met their future spouses until they arrived on the docks of San Francisco or Honolulu. The gentlemen's agreement was superseded by the Immigration Act of 1924, which prohibited any further Japanese immigrants until the controversial McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 once again opened up limited Asian immigration. Discriminatory immigration policy finally ended with the Immigration Act of 1965, which allowed for 170,000 annual immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, and 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere, with a quota of 20,000 per Asian country. Between 1965 and 1985, four times as many Japanese immigrated to the U.S. than between 1849 and 1965.
Economics and trade are the centerpieces of the American-Japanese relationship. Persistent US trade deficits with Japan have been the source of considerable angst among officials in Washington. Problems in US-Japan economic relations, especially the notion that Japan has at times out-competed the United States, have dominated trade policy between the two countries.
Japan and the United States are the two largest economic powers in the world. Together they account for more than 40% of world domestic product, for a significant portion of international trade in goods and services, and for a major portion of international investment.
Japanese Protests over Basing of Nuclear Carrier
In general, Japan maintains an admirable human rights record. The State Department reports that there were some cases of violence and other abuse against women and children and of sexual harassment. Human trafficking remained a problem. Employment discrimination against women occurred.
Recent appointees have all been beneficiaries of patronage by both Democratic and Republican presidents. President Bill Clinton’s two ambassadors to Japan were former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Speaker of the House Tom Foley. President George W. Bush selected former GOP Senator Howard Baker and Tom Schieffer, who has known Bush since their days together owning the Texas Rangers.
Until President Barack Obama announced John V. Roos to be the next ambassador to Japan, the assumption among many in the U.S. and Japan was that this posting would go to Harvard professor Joseph Nye, a specialist in international affairs. Instead, the job went to Roos, a Silicon Valley lawyer and one of Obama’s key fundraisers, who has no background in international diplomacy and does not speak Japanese. Roos was sworn in as ambassador on August 16, 2009.
John Thomas “Tom” Schieffer was sworn in as the US Ambassador to Japan on April 1, 2005 and served until January 15, 2009. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Schieffer attended the University of Texas, where he earned a BA in government (1970), an MA in international relations (1972), and studied law. He was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 1979.