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Cool Optimism in the Empire of Hope

Tuesday, October 1, 2019   19:30 - 21:00

  • David Leheny (Professor in the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University)

The efficacy of Japan’s strategies to build “soft power” through support for and promotion of its “content industries” has been widely debated. To some, soft power is an essential ingredient in post-Bubble Japan’s efforts to reconstruct itself as a normal global player, smartly leveraging the popularity of its national brand to legitimate a larger political and even military role on the global stage. To others, it serves as an alternative way in which Japan might be represented globally, maintaining its focus on peaceful diplomacy through the promotion of its attractive cultural values. And to still others, it has been little more than a wasted opportunity, with government officials unable to grasp what has made cool Japan cool, and unwilling to engage in the kinds of industrial disruptions that would make these policies consequential rather than ornamental.

This presentation draws from David Leheny’s book Empire of Hope: The Sentimental Politics of Japanese Decline (Cornell University Press, 2018) to argue situating these policies in a larger post-Bubble emotional frame for the state might unlock a more persuasive way to engage how the idea of soft power took root and what it has represented for Japan. Joining a number of critical perspectives on political scientist Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power, tracing its deployment in Japan after the late 1990s. While soft power seemingly rests on the possibility of displaying the unique attractions of one’s own culture, the concept itself has become so ubiquitous in diplomatic and journalistic (and less frequently, scholarly) arguments about what states ought to do that it might be better understood as an actual norm of what states are supposed to perform on the global stage. Its rapid and enduring popularity also suggests something powerful about the ways in which emotional frames are used and reproduced by political and administrative actors.

Date & Time:
Tuesday, October 1, 2019   19:30 - 21:00 (Doors open at 19:00)
1F Parliament student lounge, Temple University, Japan Campus
1-14-29 Taishido, Setagaya-ku Tokyo
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Kyle Cleveland (ICAS Associate Director)
Registration is encouraged (e-mail to icas@tuj.temple.edu), but not required. 登録なしでも参加できますので、直接会場へお越しください。

Note: All ICAS events are held in English, open to the public, and admission is free unless otherwise noted.


David Leheny

Professor in the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University

David Leheny is Professor in the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University. He previously was an assistant and associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1998-2007) and the Henry Wendt III ’55 Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University (2007-2017). He is the author of, in addition to Empire of Hope, The Rules of Play: National Identity and the Shaping of Japanese Leisure (Cornell University Press, 2003) and Think Global, Fear Local: Sex, Violence, and Anxiety in Contemporary Japan (Cornell University Press, 2006).