Japan, the United States’ biggest ally in Asia, hasn’t been much of an election issue in recent decades. So, viewed from Tokyo, this season has been noteworthy in that Japan often gets a mention, almost always from the Republican presidential candidate. Trump has repeatedly said that the countries’ security alliance is “not a fair deal” because the United States is obligated to come to Japan’s defense, but not vice versa.
In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump said that the United States was losing “billions and billions of dollars” to Japan.
“They should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service, and we're losing a fortune,” he has said.
This is not true. Japan pays about $2 billion a year to host American military bases and 54,000 American military personnel on its territory, or $4.5 billion if you take into account all base-related expenses, including rents and salaries for local staff. For its part, the United States has budgeted $5.5 billion for its military presence in Japan in the current year.
Analysts have pointed out that unless the United States disbanded the military units stationed in Asia, bringing them home to American soil wouldn’t save much money.
But the attention on Japan this election season has given rise to a little Trump publishing industry here. These are some of the two dozen-odd books that have been published this year.
Collapsing America: The World Will Go Mad If There Is President Trump
Kumi Yokoe, a fellow at Princeton and George Washington universities who spent three years at the Heritage Foundation until 2014, wrote this book to try to explain Trump’s popularity.
“It’s really hard to understand America right now,” Yokoe said in an interview. “I want to make Japanese people understand what’s going in the U.S., even if they don’t want to know. If we make a mistake now, it’s going to hurt our alliance."
She uses “generation theory” to explain that the election of President Obama in 2008 was a turning point for the United States and how the rise of minorities and millennials has changed demographics.
Japanese politics has been dominated by the right for decades — the conservative Liberal Democratic Party has been in power for all but four of the last 61 years. The Tokyo elite has grown comfortable with the old Republican establishment, which has traditionally been strongly supportive of military alliances.
But Trump has shaken up that relationship.
“Trump is beyond imagination for Japanese people,” Yokoe said. “You can feel that people are refusing to even think about President Trump. Japanese people couldn’t imagine that Trump would win the nomination, let alone the presidency.”
So Yokoe wrote her book — in March this year, even before Trump had secured the Republican nomination — to help Japanese people understand the presidential election and “consider how to get along with the U.S. from now on.”
In a chapter entitled “Will President Trump Come True?” she says that under a President Trump, all countries and allies — including Japan — will become scared of what comes next.
Trump, a businessperson, wouldn’t be able to stand the United States being on the losing end of any transaction or relationship, she writes. He would analyze the cost of the Japan-U.S. alliance and try to get Japan to pay for much more than it does now. He might even start off by saying the alliance isn't necessary if it doesn't make sense economically.
Trump could also insist that Japan, which has lived for seven decades under a pacifist constitution imposed by the United States, become actively involved in military operations.
“It’s possible that he might request Japan’s cooperation in an operation to destroy ISIS, giving the reason that the defeat of ISIS would be in Japan’s national interests,” Yokoe writes.
Trump seems to doubt the long-standing American position that the Japan-U.S. alliance is in America’s interests, Yokoe writes, boiling Trump’s position down to: “No free-riding.”
“The idea that the U.S. benefits from ‘peace in Asia’ so the U.S. should share some of burden to maintain the alliance doesn’t seem to have occurred to Trump,” she writes. “He considers the alliance from a cost-effectiveness standpoint.”
In any case, if Trump becomes the next president, she wrote, Japan would have to become capable of defending itself.
Trump Will Destroy U.S.-Japan Relations
This book by Yoshiki Hidaka, a veteran TV reporter who is currently visiting senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, explores the reasons behind Trump’s rise and the huge political storm it has created in the United States.
Hidaka offers a prediction on the presidential election — that Trump will win — and says that with this book, he hopes to help Japanese people “foresee the danger that the Trump phenomenon will bring to Japan” and help them to be prepared.
“Because conservative Republican power has clashed with real estate king Donald Trump, an alien in a way who’s invaded the presidential election, the country that's been leading the world has been in the biggest confusion since its foundation,” he writes.
“Since the U.S., which has long been the foundation of stability for the international community, has started falling apart due to this historical political confusion, I expect global-scale shocks will continue in 2016.” He warns that the U.S.-Japan alliance was now in danger.
In a chapter entitled “The U.S. Will Shut Itself Away Within Its Walls,” Hidaka laments the decline of American neoconservatives.
“Neoconservative people considered Japan as a friend in their battle against communism," he writes.
Like Yokoe, Hidaka notes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal with the United States and Japan at its core, won’t happen if Trump becomes the next president (although on the campaign trail Hillary Clinton has also been strongly opposed to the deal).
The United States has lost its global dominance and with it goes the protection that it has provided to Japan for 70 years, he writes. “The situation that Japan should most fear is about to become reality.”
Trump Fever: America’s "Anti-intellectualism"
Masahiro Miyazaki, a veteran political commentator and China-watcher, tried to explain what the Trump phenomenon means for the United States and the world, and its impact on Japan.
Miyazaki notes that Japan’s foreign ministry considered Trump a “peculiar fringe candidate” and “a temporary phenomenon” right up until he beat Marco Rubio in the Florida primary.
Trying to explain Trump’s popularity, Miyazaki notes that the candidate has a lot in common with Pat Buchanan, who twice sought the Republican presidential nomination in the 1990s: against globalism, in favor of strengthening controls on illegal immigrants, correcting unfairness in the U.S.-Japan alliance and asking Japan to shoulder more of the cost. “It strikes the right chord not only with white voters, but also the young generation,” Miyazaki writes.
Not that Miyazaki has better things to say about Hillary Clinton. “Hillary is a politician who changes her political views like a chameleon, depending on where public opinion goes, so she could easily go back on her promise to maintain the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
Like Yokoe, Miyazaki notes that the old political calculations no longer apply when it comes to relations with the United States. “Some Japanese think the Republican Party is the one that’s friendly to Japan, and it’s the Democrats who are tough, but that analysis is doubtful.”
President Trump and Truths of the U.S.: The Era of President Donald Trump
In this book, commentator Takahiko Soejima looks into Trump’s background and tries to glean insights from his interactions with Japanese people throughout his career. He notes that Trump took classes with the famous Japanese inventor and engineer Yoshiro Nakamatsu while he was at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
He also recounts the tale of Akio Kashiwagi, a Japanese real estate investor who was known as a big gambler and was invited by Trump to play in a major baccarat game at his now-closed casino in Atlantic City in 1990.
In the first round, Kashiwagi won, to the tune of $6 million. But three months later, in the second round, he lost $10 million.
Two years later, Kashiwagi was stabbed to death in Japan, apparently because he was unable to pay back a large gambling debt. (The case was never solved.)
Soejima also notes Trump’s ability to hold multiple views at one time. “Japan should pay more for the U.S. bases. Japanese are cunning,” Soejima quotes Trump as saying, at the same time as this: “I love Japanese people. Many Japanese live at the Trump Tower.”
Overall, Soejima comes down on Trump’s side, suggesting there would be “World War III” if Clinton won.
“Trump has started saying honestly, ‘The U.S. no longer has that much power.’ I like this attitude of Trump,” he writes.