Three decades of Japan studies at Stanford


A view of Tokyo Tower and the city's vibrant skyline, September 2012.
Photo credit: 
Flickr user J P

Although the Japan Studies Program (JSP) was formally established in 2011, the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center’s (Shorenstein APARC) newest addition has a rich history that equals or even exceeds that of the Center itself. The archives—through dozens of occasional and working papers, studies, photographs of landmark events, and books—reveal three vibrant decades of research on Japanese economics, industry, government, and international relations.

Japan studies took root when the Center was founded in 1983 and has evolved with the political, economic, and social changes in Japan, and with developments in U.S.-Japan relations. Under the leadership of co-founding Center director Daniel I. Okimoto, one of the earliest projects explored U.S.-Japan competition and collaboration in high-tech industries during the 1980s and 1990s. Other initiatives led to a definitive three volume comparative study of Japan’s political economy, and an exploration of the United States’ evolving ties with its Northeast Asia allies, including Japan.

Early Center activities brought together distinguished scholars, practitioners, and policymakers from Japan and the United States for fruitful interdisciplinary academic collaboration and meaningful policy dialogue, and laid the groundwork for many enduring relationships with Japanese universities, ministries, and other organizations. One of the first of such activities was the U.S.-Japan Congressional Seminar series, through which members of the U.S. Senate and the Japanese Diet met for candid, in-depth discussion on issues of mutual significance related to trade, international economic policy, industrial policy, and security.

After Japan’s economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, the country underwent a range of political, economic, and social transformations. Even amidst challenges, Japan has adapted, as its firms continue to be globally competitive in many areas, and it persists as an Asian economic powerhouse; on the security front, Japan remains one of the closest allies of the United States. Emerging out of these transformations is a new Japan that offers quite a different picture from the old rapid-growth era.

The newly instituted Japan Studies Program aims to make Stanford a U.S. leader in the field of contemporary Japan studies. As an integral component of the Center, JSP facilitates multidisciplinary, social science–oriented research on contemporary Japan, emphasizing both academic scholarship and policy-relevant research. The program aims to become a central platform for Stanford students and the broader community for understanding and engaging with Japan.

JSP actively collaborates with other organizations on campus, such as the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS), the US-Asia Technology Management Center, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. During the one-year anniversary of the March 11 Great Tohoku Disaster, JSP co-sponsored a lecture series with CEAS examining Japan’s growth and recovery, and it held a major conference focused on restructuring Japan’s energy industry. Since 2011, its popular lunchtime seminar series has brought numerous high-caliber guest speakers to Stanford for insightful talks on subjects ranging from cloud computing in Japan and the United States to the comeback of Japan’s conservative party and the new era of “Abenomics.”

JSP experts actively contribute to Shorenstein APARC’s publishing program of timely, policy-oriented edited volumes and working papers, and regularly contribute op-eds and journal articles to numerous leading newspapers and scholarly journals, including the Journal of East Asian Studies, Socio-Economic Review, and Energy Policy.

Looking ahead, Takeo Hoshi, who joined the Center as JSP’s director in December 2012, says, “I want to make Shorenstein APARC the first place that researchers, policymakers, business practitioners, and students visit to understand more about the Japanese economy and politics—I look forward to working with everyone at Shorenstein APARC (and beyond) to achieve this goal.” With a strong, growing core of affiliated faculty, researchers, and staff, the future for Japan studies at Stanford looks bright.


In 2007, Daniel Okimoto, Shorenstein APARC director emeritus, received Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, in recognition of decades of work. (Credit: courtesy Daniel Okimoto)

(l-r) Kenji Kushida, Masahiko Aoki, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, and Takeo Hoshi ( JSP director). Kurokawa, chair of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, spoke at JSP on how the scientific community can help policymakers respond to change in a globalized world. (Credit: Wena Rosario)