The Japan That Can Say No

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"The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals" (「NO」と言える日本, "No" to Ieru Nihon)[1] is a 1989 essay originally co-authored by Shintaro Ishihara, the then Minister of Transport and leading LDP figure who would become governor of Tokyo (1999-2012); and Sony co-founder and chairman Akio Morita, in the climate of Japan's economic rise. It was famous for its critical examination of United States business practices, and for advocating Japan's taking a more independent stance on many issues, from business to foreign affairs.[2]

The title refers to the authors' vision—Ishihara's in particular—of a Japanese government that is more than a mere "yes man" to the United States. Many unauthorized translations were made and circulated in the United States. The authorized 1991 Simon & Schuster English translation by Frank Baldwin (out of print) did not include the essays by Morita. The book caused controversy in the United States, and Morita distanced himself from the book.[3]

The book inspired the similarly themed China Can Say No, a collection of essays published in 1996.

Points asserted[edit]

The work alternates between essays written by Ishihara and Morita. The essays were based on various speeches given in the past. In general, Ishihara's essays argue that Japan is a world power to be respected, and that Japanese need to assert themselves more when dealing with the U.S. Morita's essays focus more on the tragic flaws of U.S. companies that will eventually lead to America's decline, and what Japan can do to improve its image and position.

Here is a sampling of points they make:

Ishihara's assertions[edit]

Japanese superiority[edit]

  • The world has come to depend on Japanese technology, especially in semiconductor production.
  • Japan must use its technological superiority as a negotiating weapon. It should even threaten to trade secrets with the Soviet Union as a bargaining tool against the US and refuse to sell components that go into US missiles.
  • The quality of American goods is low because the level of the workers is low, while the superior education of Japanese workers is a big advantage.
  • The Japanese character is innately superior to the character of Americans.

Japanese assertiveness[edit]

  • Japanese diplomats are not effective in dealing with westerners, so businessmen accustomed to dealing with foreigners should also take part in trade negotiations.
  • Japan should end the U.S.-Japan security pact and defend itself, because this would cost less and end reliance on the U.S.

American prejudice[edit]

Morita's assertions[edit]

It is not unusual that Morita, who lived in New York for some time and was one of the most successful and famous businessmen in Japanese history, would have many opinions on U.S. business culture.

American business[edit]

  • American business focuses too much on money games like mergers and acquisitions, and not enough on creating real goods and manufacturing power.
  • American business focuses too much on short-term profits, such as moving manufacturing overseas, while sacrificing long term overall livelihood.
  • American company executives receive too much income, which hurts their companies.
  • Employees in Japanese companies form a tight community, so overall results are better.
  • The trade surplus with the U.S. is caused by the lack of desirable products made in the U.S.
  • U.S. businesses are strong in basic research, but not in product development and marketing
  • It is natural for the Japanese government to protect Japanese businesses, as it relies on their tax revenue.

Japan's image and position[edit]

  • It is popular to bash Japan, and this is largely the fault of Japanese businessmen overseas who don't socialize with locals and become part of the local community.
  • Japanese need to do more to adapt to Western culture and language when dealing with Americans in order to be understood (pointing out that foreigners from other countries have successfully integrated into U.S. society).
  • The U.S.'s failure to recognize Japan's importance will hurt the U.S. and the world economy.
  • Japan must be conscious of its role as a world leader, and do its part to support the world economy.
  • Japan must help build up Asia to strengthen its position as a regional economic leader.
  • Japan must give more foreign aid if it wants to be a true world leader. He equates this with doing local community service.


Daniel W. Drezner of Foreign Policy ranked the book as one of the ten worst books about foreign policy, writing "Shintaro argued that Japan was destined to become the next great superpower. Whoops."[4]

A similar criticism appeared in a March 1990 newspaper, presenting a cartoon of Mount Fuji, symbolic of Japan and its purity, facing an overbearing and militaristic American soldier. Mount Fuji is shown saying that "Japan cannot say no," asking the question of if the postwar is still over, suggesting that Japan wanted to begin to fend for itself after depending on the US for support during the postwar.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Japan That Can Say No/Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals
  2. ^ THE JAPAN THAT CAN SAY `NO' -- (ISHIHARA) (Extension of Remarks - November 14, 1989), Congressional record,
  3. ^ City Mayors Shintaro Ishihara Governor of Tokyo 7 September 2012 Retrieved on September 22, 2012
  4. ^ Drezner, Daniel W. "The ten worst books in international relations." Foreign Policy. August 10, 2009. Retrieved on May 2, 2011.
  5. ^ Hunt, Michael (2004). The World Transformed. New York City: Oxford. p. 351.