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Strong Partners: Japanese and US Perceptions of America and the World

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Craig Kafura, Toshihiro Nakayama, Naoko Funatsu, Takeshi Iida, Satoshi Machidori, Satoru Mori, and Ryo Sahashi
Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (R) fist bumps with new US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel
Reuters

New data from the Japan Institute of International Affairs and the Council offer insights on how publics in the United States and Japan view the relationship between their countries.

The United States and Japan are close and critical allies for one another, and the US-Japan alliance is viewed by both sides as “the cornerstone of peace, security, and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.” As the United States focuses more of its attention and resources in Asia in response to a rising China, that alliance relationship will only become more important to US strategy.

That strategy is being shaped by Japan’s own thinking about the region. The Quad concept—a closer alignment of Japan, India, Australia, and the United States—was first promoted by Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in 2007 and has since taken a firm hold in US policy discussions. Similarly, the concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” has migrated from Tokyo’s strategic planning into Washington’s: the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States, released February 2022, puts the Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept and the role Japan plays in achieving it front and center. Is this increasing alignment between the United States and Japan on policy issues reflected in the views of Americans and Japanese? Based on surveys conducted in the United States and Japan, our research finds a strong base of support, but more division when it comes to the details. Japanese view the alliance positively, are confident in US power, and support a leadership role for the United States in the region and around the world. However, the Japanese public is reluctant to support a greater role for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF), even as it expects the United States to militarily intervene in a range of conflicts—not all of which are supported by the American public.

This survey was conducted prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and does not reflect the rapid changes in the international situation since then.

Key Findings

  • Half of Japanese (48%) say the US-Japan alliance benefits both countries, while 37 percent say it mostly benefits Japan.
  • Majorities of Japanese say their country should maintain its current commitment to the US-Japan alliance financially (63%) and militarily (55%), and 13 percent support an increased Japanese commitment to the alliance.
  • Japanese (47%) are more likely than Americans (23%) to say the United States should play a dominant leadership role in the world. Americans prefer a shared leadership role (69%; 49% among Japanese).
  • The Japanese public is more confident in American economic (54%) and military (64%) superiority over China than are Americans (27% and 46%, respectively).
  • Half of Americans (50%) and Japanese (49%) say limiting China’s influence around the world is a very important goal.
  • A narrow plurality of Japanese (40%) support the SDF providing logistical support, not including the provision of weapons or ammunition, to US forces outside of combat areas, but they oppose other measures, including proposals for the SDF to fight alongside the United States (59% oppose).
About the Authors
Assistant Director, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Council expert Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the assistant director for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
Council expert Craig Kafura
Toshihiro Nakayama
Professor, Keio University
Toshihiro Nakayama is a professor of American politics and foreign policy at the Faculty of Policy Management at Keio University. He is also a senior visiting researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.
Naoko Funatsu
Research Fellow, Japan Institute of International Affairs
Naoko Funatsu joined the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in November 2016 as a research fellow for American politics, US foreign relations, and Japan-US relations. She also teaches international relations and US foreign policy at Kyushu University as a visiting associate professor, and international relations at Tokyo Denki University as a part-time lecturer.
Takeshi Iida
Professor, Doshisha University
Takeshi Iida is a Professor on the law faculty in the Department of Political Science at Doshisha University.
Satoshi Machidori
Professor, Kyoto University
Satoshi Machidori is a Professor at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Law, specializing in comparative political studies and American politics.
Satoru Mori
Professor, Hosei University
Satoru Mori is a professor of law at Hōsei University, where he specializes in international politics and modern American diplomacy.
Ryo Sahashi
Associate Professor, University of Tokyo
Ryo Sahashi is an associate professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo, and also serves as a research fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange. He specializes in international politics and is currently focusing on regional security architecture in Asia as well as Japanese security policy.