The year was 1954 and the secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, had a clear sense of where the United States was heading, telling a Cabinet meeting that there was "little future for Japanese products" in this country and that Japan should develop markets "in presently underdeveloped areas."
Five weeks later, according to newly published government papers, Dulles said he told Japan's prime minister much the same thing, saying that Japanese merchants should not expect to sell goods in this country "because the Japanese don't make the things we want."
Dulles' remarks, which reflected the common sentiment then, seem humorous today, when the United States has a $37 billion trade imbalance with Japan and U.S. senators are calling for protectionist measures. Less than a month ago, officials from both countries ended negotiations to ease the trade deficit, and earlier this year the Reagan administration announced its opposition to import restrictions on Japanese cars.
Dulles' remarks are printed in the 14th volume of a State Department series titled "Foreign Relations of the United States." The volume, released Wednesday, contains recently declassified government papers from the Truman and Eisenhower administrations on efforts to establish military and economic ties to postwar Japan.
The documents show that Dulles sought to rebuild Japan's economy and military as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and China.
According to the minutes of an Aug. 6, 1954, Cabinet meeting, Dulles "indicated that there was little future for Japanese products in the United States, and that the solution lay in developing markets for Japan in presently underdeveloped areas such as Southeast Asia."
A top-secret memorandum of a Sept. 12, 1954, National Security Council meeting shows that Dulles conveyed similar views to Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.
"Secretary Dulles told Yoshida frankly that Japan should not expect to find a big U.S. market because the Japanese don't make the things we want," said the memo, prepared by council secretary James S. Lay Jr. "Japan must find markets elsewhere for the goods they export."
Edwin O. Reischauer, ambassador to Tokyo from 1961 to 1966, said Dulles' opinion about Japanese goods was commonly held then. "When you look back at it now, it seems funny," he said. "It was a very common point of view even among intelligent people at the time."
Reischauer said America's perception of Japanese goods did not turn favorable until the mid-1960s.