Atsuko Watanabe. 2019. Japanese Geopolitics and the Western Imagination

Published date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Review
Book Review
Atsuko Watanabe. 2019. Japanese Geopolitics and the Western
Imagination. Critical Security Studies in the Global South. Cham,
Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, x-265 pp. ISBN: 978-30-300-4398-8.
Studies of geopolitics are important because the intertwining geographical and
political knowledge carries huge implications for the construction of national
identity and historical discourse. In her ambitious book titled Japanese Geopolitics
and the Western Imagination, Atsuko Watanabe traces the evolution of geopolitics
from a Western-originated concept into one that is adopted and localized by and
in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. This process merits attention, not
least because Japan is the only non-Western power to have ever invoked the
classical theory of the modern state to justify its imperial expansion.
The core argument made by Watanabe is that Japanese geopolitics—broken
down as the interplay between ‘place’ and ‘power’—was formed first through the
import of classical European theories on geopolitics, then subconsciously
modified to fit what was familiar with the local imaginations, rather than what
was correct. The result is an opposite of the European-originated conceptualization
of the State as a territorially confined space. In Japanese geopolitics, because
political boundaries simply do not exist, the State is imagined as an ‘unbounded
space’ capable of limitless expansion and accommodation. The book, comprised
eight chapters, is the product of an arduous intellectual journey in which theory,
space, and history cross paths and are cross-examined with both English and
Japanese writings.
Using a constructivist approach, Watanabe presents an intricate theoretical
mapping of how political theory travels inter-regionally and how local macro-
politics affect the contextualization of such theory in an unnoticeable way.
Watanabe draws heavily on the Western literature on critical and classical
geopolitics as well as Japanese scholarship on geopolitics. The first Japanese-
language writings on geopolitics (chiseigaku) emerged in 1925–1926 when Japan
was going through an ‘identity crisis’ after having won three wars (the first Sino-
Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I) and exhausting its
economy. What Watanabe calls ‘the collective appropriation of foreign knowledge’
took place in the 1930s and 1940s as Japan confronted Western modernity and
simultaneously sought to overcome such modernity. Against this historical
background, to understand how geopolitical thought travelled a long distance to
and made sense in Japan, Watanabe suggests a tripartite interpretation covering
the (i) standpoint that a particular context provides; (ii) imagination that fills in
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
6(3) 327–335, 2019
The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/2347797019883169

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