Japan has 6,852 islands, of which Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku are the four largest ones. Japan is located in Northeast Asia to the east of the Eurasian continent in the northwest, surrounded by seas in the North Pacific Ocean. It is separated from the Russian Far East to the north by the Sea of Okhotsk, from the Korean Peninsula to the west by the Sea of Japan, and from China and Taiwan to the southwest by the East China Sea. Its closest neighbours are Korea, Russia and China. The Sea of Japan separates the Asian continent from the Japanese archipelago. Separating the Asian continent from the Japanese archipelago is the Sea of Japan. In 1185, Samurai lords seized government control and ruled Japan in the emperor’s name until 1868. Ritual suicide (called seppuku) was a respected practice for a Samurai who brought dishonour to his master. A bow is an important form of greeting in Japan, and the Japanese people work hard to perfect it. The depth of the bow is significant—lower bows indicate more respect.
The kimono is a traditional Japanese robe-like garment worn by both men and women, with the left side of the garment always covering the right. Geisha, renowned for their intricate hairstyles and white makeup, have entertained the Japanese since the eighteenth century. It is a country steeped in tradition, yet modern, famous for the fantastic local cuisine and lively culture bullet train to Mount Fuji.
After suffering defeat in World War II and the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered in 1945 and entered a seven-year Allied occupation, during which it developed a special relationship and military alliance with the United States and became a constitutional monarchy with a parliament called the National Diet. The country suffered unimaginable destruction in 2 atomic bomb droppings during WWII and, thereafter, incredible rebirth to become the world’s most thriving developed country today, being 3rd largest economy and member of the OECD, having the world’s highest life expectancy but with a declining population. It maintains one of the world’s strongest and most well-equipped armed forces even though it has renounced its right to declare war.
Japan is a member of 37 developed nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) -a forum of 21 Asia-Pacific economies, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the G4 and G7 of the United Nations, which seek reforms in the Security Council. It is a founding member of QUAD – the multilateral security collaboration aiming to limit Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region, with the US, Australia and India, as the other three members and has the 4th largest diplomatic network in the world BUT has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. Its relations with all countries except North Korea are good, with hiccups over several territorial, historical, nuclear and other issues with North Korea, South Korea, China and Russia.
Russo-Japanese war (1904–05), in which Japan defeated Russia’s expansionist policy in East Asia and became the first Asian nation in modern history to defeat a European state, has soured Japan’s relations with Russia. However, Russia’s control of the Southern Kuril Islands, which the Soviet Union occupied during WWII, irks the Japanese greatly.
China and Japan have never stopped fighting over the past. In this fight, North Korea, the biggest satellite country of China, is equally detested by Japan, does not have any formal diplomatic relations with North Korea and abuses Japan as a vulgar, shameless political dwarf, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, often blaming Japanese Army of rapes, prostitution and ‘comfort women’ during the occupation of undivided Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and the Japanese occupation of China during 1937-38. There are issues of small islands, naming of water bodies (Japan Sea) and territorial and historical issues that prick these three nations. Though Japan has apologized, they detest the Japanese paying homage to the war dead and war criminals in their country in Yasukuni Shrine. China is equally concerned over Japan trying to establish itself as the dominant leader in East and South East Asia, its friendship with the US, EU, UK, Israel, India, Australia or the Arab world, and vetoes Japan’s becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, notwithstanding that China is equally guilty of starving and slaughtering tens of millions during the Mao era and that China is illegally occupying Tibet and has the worst record in human rights violations against millions of people from the minority groups of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, including mass detention, torture, forced migration, cultural and social persecution and sexual assaults. North Korea’s conduct requires no comment, and relations between both are not normalized for the reasons explained above. The animosity between North Korea and Japan also exists over North Korea clandestinely smuggling drugs and indulging in marine poaching, espionage and abductions. North Korean nuclear-tipped missile tests concern South Korea and Japan because the missiles sometimes travel through Japanese airspace and territory, forcing Japan to activate its civil defence measures.
Indo-Japan relations are very cordial, with a long history and cultural and civilizational ties through Buddhism. In March 1944, the Japanese 15th Army launched offensives against India’s north-eastern frontier to forestall a planned British invasion of Burma, intending to capture the British supply bases on the Imphal Plain and cut the road linking Dimapur and Imphal at Kohima, but were finally defeated. The Japanese never wanted to capture India but for the allied forces, especially the British and the US waging WWII against Japan from the Indian bases. The Japanese planned to prevent the Allied offensive in the dry season in 1944 by occupying the Imphal plain and controlling the mountain passes from Assam. Japan has walked the friendship talk with India for over half a century, first with the Maruti and now with the Metro rail and bullet train linking Ahmedabad with Mumbai. Indian PM Modi had excellent chemistry with late PM Shinzo Abe’s role in cementing Indo-Japan ties and desires carrying them with new PM Japanese Fumio Kishida.
Japan and Australia maintain an excellent strategic and economic relationship, and both are US allies and have good relations with the UK, EU, and India and value democracy, human rights and the rule of law and their interests in Asian countries, the Indian Ocean and international security.
Japan has cordial relations with Taiwan, which once was its colony that irks Mainland China. Under US pressure and other geo-strategic and economic compulsions, Japan recognized Mainland China 50 years back, established diplomatic relations with her and with de-recognized Taiwan, which, even after snapping diplomatic relations, remains Japan’s valuable partner and friend with flourishing trade and tourism. According to Ikeda Tadashi, a prominent Japanese journalist and diplomat, when asked which country the Taiwanese like the most, replied, ‘Japan ranked first, slightly ahead of the United States. China was far behind in third place, followed by South Korea’. Therefore, Japan remains the most favoured nation in Taiwan, notwithstanding some tension between the two countries over Senkaku Islands, but both want to avoid any collision over the disputed islands. Also, if Taiwan’s security is ever threatened, the US forces deployed in Japan would support and defend Taiwan militarily. Japan, its ally and close friend, would naturally get involved in Taiwan’s defence management.
Why Is Pacifist Japan Optimising Military Build-up?
After losing WWII and deaths and destruction in twin nuclear bombings, Japan was assured its defence by the US and its Self-Defense Forces to support American operations if any country ever attacked Japan. After the Russian offensives against Ukraine and China’s sabre rattling against Taiwan, the Japanese new strategy is set to catapult Tokyo into the position of the world’s third-biggest military spender after the US and China to sustain any Chinese misadventure in this region. Any Chinese military action will disrupt semiconductors from Taiwan to Japan and oil supplies from the Middle East. As proactive measures, the islands’ security and the country’s maritime interests need to be protected. Emphasis is being laid on enhancing long-range missiles that can strike China, protect maritime security, logistics support and stockpiling spares, and munitions transport capabilities in launching and countering cyber warfare.
Japan plans military cooperation and training with other friendly countries to ensure the security of the Indo-Pacific region as a deterrent. Japan carried out International Fleet Review on 6 Nov 2022, in which naval ships of many countries participated, followed by the QUAD naval exercise from 8 Nov to 18 Nov 2022, much to the shock of Russia, China and North Korea to counter their any aggressiveness in Indo-Pacific region and warn North Korea of firing missiles closer to the Japanese coast. India and Japan also carried out bilateral Exercise ‘GARUDA SHAKTI’ in Nov 2022 and Naval warfare Exercise ‘JIMEX’ dealing with naval warfare and maritime security between two key maritime forces in the Indo-Pacific to enhance mutual understanding, cooperation and interoperability between the Special Forces of both the armies. Likewise, numerous military manoeuvres are being conducted by Japan as military preparedness against any unforeseen military misadventure(s) by its adversaries bilaterally and multilaterally with Australia, India, the US, and western countries like Germany, France and UK.