Weekend Tangent: Sensationalistic U of Sheffield/Routledge academic book cover: “Japan’s International Relations” (pub Aug 2011)


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Hi Blog.  Faculty members at the University of Sheffield, a venerable British institution for Japanese studies, have released their third edition of an academic book on Japan’s International Relations with a rather sensationalistic cover.  I forward the letter of complaint from friend Amanda Harlow (used with permission):


From: Amanda Harlow
Subject: Japan’s International Relation book cover
Date: May 13, 2011
To: h.dobson@shef.ac.uk

Dear Professor Dobson,

I am writing to you to complain about the choice of cover design for the third edition of “Japan’s International Relations”.


[This and past editions still available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk]

This cartoon panders to the worst stereotyping of Japanese people and I feel this is a surprising choice for a respected British institution such as the University of Sheffield. If this was a mob of Japan-bashers on the streets of China, or a crazy nationalistic website I would not be surprised. But the School of East Asian Studies? Really?

Is it meant to be ironic? If so, I think this illustration would be better as an inside picture and not used on the cover of a book that is supposedly about international relations.

Here in Japan (I live in Sapporo with my Japanese husband and family) there are endless gaijin-bashing images and Debito Arudou, a friend of mine, is a well known activator on discrimination issues – if he found this image of a non-Japanese on a Japanese book cover we would all shake our heads and groan.

Can you possibly think again before publication?

Yours sincerely,

Amanda Harlow
Sapporo, Japan






From Amazon:  Product Description



The latest edition of this comprehensive and user-friendly textbook provides a single volume resource for all those studying Japan’s international relations. It offers a clear and concise introduction to the most important aspects of Japan’s role in the globalized economy of the twenty-first century. The book has been fully updated and revised to include comprehensive discussions of contemporary key issues for Japan’s IR, including:

  • the rise of China
  • reaction to the global economic and financial crisis since 2008
  • Japan’s proactive role after 9/11 and the war on terror
  • responses to events on the Korean Peninsula
  • relations with the USA and the Obama administration
  • relations with Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East
  • changing responses to an expanding and deepening European Union

Extensively illustrated, the text includes statistics, maps, photographs, summaries and suggestions for further reading, making it essential reading for those studying Japanese politics, and the international relations of the Asia Pacific.


Glenn D. Hook is Professor of Japanese Studies in the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield.

Julie Gilson is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Birmingham.

Christopher W. Hughes is Professor of International Politics and Japanese Studies, University of Warwick.

Hugo Dobson is Professor in the International Relations of Japan, University of Sheffield.

Product Details

  • ペーパーバック: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 3 edition (2011/8/31)
  • Language: 英語, 英語, 英語
  • ISBN-10: 0415587433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415587433
  • Release Date: 2011/8/31

COMMENT:  Okay, I shake my head and groan.  Arudou Debito

20 comments on “Weekend Tangent: Sensationalistic U of Sheffield/Routledge academic book cover: “Japan’s International Relations” (pub Aug 2011)

  • Who decided it? Shakes head says:

    I agree – it’s a terrible cover, so ambivalent while at the same time so crass. Clearly it’s a right wing Japanese cartoon that denounces ‘gaijin imperialists’ such as the American ‘soldier’ trampling a Japanese girl.

    But why is such an extremist cartoon adorning the cover of such a book? It has not been placed in context and even if it were, that does not justify it being on the cover of a scholarly book regarding Japan’s relations with the world in the 21st century.

    Japan may be sinking into irrelevance because of its refusal to deal with crucial socio-economic realities and drags its own reputation down by voting citizens electing an outright racist who has nothing to contribute to a post WW2 Japan let alone a 21st century Japan as the mayor of its capital city.

    However, Shintaro Ishihara is not representative of mainstream Japanese political thinking in relation to Japan’s place in the world. This right wing Japanese cartoon cover is insulting, elevating as it does the undeniably racist right wing to such importance that they take ‘pride’ of place on the cover of such a book. The notion that this is the most important element of Japanese thinking about the world is demeaning to many Japanese in public life and many Japanese going about their ordinary lives.

    At the same time it suggests that American imperialists are what stands in the way of Japan having good international relations. In an Asia where there persist bitter memories of Japan’s fascist war against civilians as well as the different countries’ military, it is a gross over-simplification to reduce Japan’s relationships with other countries to the US getting in its way. As well as an outright lie.

    This book cover is incredibly irresponsible and seems to be the choice of undergraduate students who do not understand research, scholarship, and putting events and issues in context. Nil out of 100 for this one.

    — For the record, the American soldier is not trampling the Japanese girl. He’s about to rape her, referring to the rape of a twelve-year-old girl in 1995 on Okinawa.

  • james grey says:

    Having been a student of Prof. Hook, and Dr. Dobson, I must say that the cover of this book surprises me greatly, since I would regard them both as Japan ‘apologists’.

  • I’m sure the japanese will get over it like I have to get over the racist depctions of white westerners plastered all over japan, from anti meiwaku posters on trains, ore ore warnings at banks and my absolute favorite at the board of education…..the 110 safety places for kids, where the neighborhood is overrun with a whole host big nosed nasties.

    If the japanese wish to have the racist barbaric society they have surely they should be happy to be depicted in the way they behave…….or would they be better depicted as the little weak victims from the poor island nation they like to call when they don’t get their own way.

    Get over yourself people. It’s a picture on a book about a spoiled child nation who is blatently racist.

  • A Man In Japan says:

    I don’t see why anybody should complain if Japanese people are shown in a negative light, because on a daily basis it’s always white people being stereotyped, being made fun of AND being demonised. And on television this morning, what did I see but an advert of some white guy holding up a magazine, with the words “MANGA” on it, asking some Japanese girl if she would wear a costume just like the one in front of the manga magazine he was holding.

    When is the stererotpying of us; going to stop? It’s done on a daily basis. Not just once or twice, but DAILY, in games, comics, animation, television, posters and I’m sure theres more.

    The hypocrisy is through the roof over here.

  • Um….I am the complainer.
    I’m British.
    With a Japanese born family.
    I’m offended by this cover.
    It illustrates the thinking of a small group of people in this country.
    If THIS is what the inside pieces consider – then I can see why it was chosen. But I still think it is offensive to have these images on the cover of a publication without context.
    Even more so after the events of March 11 this year and how the world and Japan connected on such human to human terms after tragedy.

    Yes, every day in Japan there are crass images of non-Japanese.
    That’s not the point.

    The University of Sheffield should have done better.
    I hope they will change it before publication.

  • To Amanda – 100% agree Change the cover page! C’mon guys!!

    But KEEP the picture it in the ‘reality’ of internationaliz(s)ation and Japan section.

    I can see what is trying to be said and it needs to be said by a respectable, established entity.

  • james grey says:

    I have given this cover some thought since my last comment and discussed it with some other SEAS graduates, and we (humbly) come to the following conclusion.
    In the (10?) years since the first drafts of the first edition of this book were set to RAM (as it were), no one has done any research and come up with a better analysis, conceptual framework, and therefore, better text on Japans international relations. This is not to say that Prof. Hooks book is an excellent text (all of the updated editions added chapters have been researched second hand from the safety of Sheffield), but rather this state of affairs reflects a stagnation of the study of Japan that mirrors the stagnation of Japan itself.
    Just as Japan is unable to change due to vested interests, the academic establishment in the UK is also desperately attempting to justify it’s own existence (and salaried teaching positions) in the face of declining student applications and funding for Japanese Studies, versus booming interest and funding for Chinese Studies departments.
    The controversial cover should be seen in this context, rather than as a reflection of the authors own opinions.

  • I agree with Amanda: this is a poor choice for a title on several fronts. It’s crassly and unrepresentatively sensationalist, it gives the wrong impression of what the book is going to be about, and – well… – it just looks tacky for a book produced by a British educational establishment renowned for its East Asian studies.

    I must say, I can’t be doing with the pettiness of the previous posters either. I was frequently irritated by the sinister cartoonish depictions of foreigners in Japan too; I occasionally got the odd racist remark from drunk middle aged boors. Somehow, the idea of Japanese people getting the same treatment would not make me feel any better about it in the slightest, especially since for the most part Japan was as good to me as anywhere else I’ve been.

    And frankly, I’d feel really quite disappointed if the University of Sheffield sank to the pathetic standards of the producers of these racist posters.

  • “Clearly it’s a right wing Japanese cartoon that denounces ‘gaijin imperialists’ such as the American ‘soldier’ trampling a Japanese girl.”

    Um… No. It should be obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of Japanese politics that it is a criticism from the Japanese left of conservatives in Japan. These conservatives recently denounced the ramming of an SDF vessel near the disputed Senkaku Islands as a Chinese “invasion”, but do not complain so loudly about Okinawa. To that end, I’m a little confused as to how this could be “stereotyping” “Japanese people”. It might be stereotyping Japanese conservatives, but not “Japan” or the “Japanese” as a whole.

  • The 1st edition (blue cover) has a bunch of politicians in front of a temple. Boring. Generic. Not actually related to international relations.

    The 2nd edition (red cover) has a SDF member engaged in what looks like humanitarian relief or peacekeeping efforts of some kind. Looks like it’s in the middle east somewhere. This is better, we have at least one example of one aspect of Japan’s international relations.

    The 3rd edition references the Senkaku dispute (complete with boat collision), cries of invasion by the right, and some Okinawan issues with the military (probably referencing the base, but it’s slightly unclear to me), including the 1995 rape incident. OK, now we have several timely issues referenced and caricatured in a way that doesn’t seem like warmed-over Japanophilia. I’m unclear exactly what’s being complained of here: are the Senkaku Islands, Futenma Air Base and right-wing extremists crying wolf about foreigners not issues of modern Japanese international relations? Are we supposed to take offense at the right-wing demonstrator as depicted in the center for being too stereotypical? It’s the equivalent of draping Tea Party fanatics in an American flag when commenting on U.S. politics (and I’ll grant that the Tea Party has more influence in America than the right fringe has in Japan, but they are still quite loud about their beliefs), cartoonists’ shorthand to tell a story visually with simple elements. What specifically is too gratuitous and racist? Perhaps the headband is a little much?

    If we were meant to take the central figure as a representative of all Japanese people, then that would be one thing. I should hope that anyone who buys the book and takes the course would know that it’s only referencing a minority group (if they don’t learn that much, they should ask for their money back!). Are you worried about the impressions that casual passersby will get glancing at the cover? That seems like a bit too much tiptoeing on eggshells to me.

    This view might be unpopular on here, but this time I’m not against it. Baseless stereotyping and racism are not acceptable, but recognition and debate about less-than-savory aspects of Japanese culture and society deserve discussion and are NOT just “Japan bashing”.

    In any case, I know which cover would grab my eye for a second glance as I walked past a bookshelf, and that’s likely the point.

  • @Roland (#5): I hope you did not mean what you actually said, because the idea about a “racist nation” (citation: “a spoiled child nation who is blatently racist”) is racist by itself. We can see – sadly enough – a lot of racism, and it is not limited to Japan (in fact, it is all over the world).

    @A Man In Japan (#6): “[..] if Japanese people are shown in a negative light [..]” These are not the Japanese *people* (i.e. every single Japanese citizen), but the Japanese *politics* which should be criticized (and I believe this is what is actually being done in the book).

    I agree to Amanda – the cartoon is good enough to be published inside the book, but not on the cover.

  • I don’t get the woman’s complaint. The most sinister character in the cartoon is a white man. How is this “Japan bashing”?

    …”if he found this image of a non-Japanese on a Japanese book cover….”
    Um, there IS a non-Japanese depicted on the cover. Someone needs a reality check.

    PS– I get don’t the person lying in a pool of blood. Is it supposed to a victim of a traffic accident caused by a US military person? If so, the cartoon is as much an attack on gaijin sterotypes as on Japanese ones.

  • Hi amanda,

    what do you mean about “japanese born family” I don’t understand…

    Indeed, there are crass pictures of non-japanese everywhere in japan, as is there blatantly racist treatment (housing, stop and question, child abduction……need I go on?) there are no laws to protect us against this kind of treatment, none whatsoever we are basically given the option of if we don’t like it, either suck it up(whilst paying taxes of course) or leave .

    In spite of there being no laws to protect us, there are a slew of excuses for all the vile behavior exhibited on a daily basis, shall it be “cultural misunderstanding”? perhaps a little “無意識”? This crap isn’t restricted to a few publications that for all intents and purposes won’t be seen by the general populace, it is everywhere from libraries and banks to schools and prime time tv. If we’re “lucky” we might get to see it live thanks to the right wing idiots (is this a “civilized” society…)

    It is hammered into the psyche of most japanese on a daily basis, just out of curiosity…….how do you shield your “japanese born family” from such obscenities?

    It was only a few months ago that japan was up in arms about a simple joke on British tv which referenced a war casualty from hiroshima and nagasaki as being the unluckiest person alive…..not a whisper of “cultural misunderstanding” there, oh no, that was a direct attack to insult the whole nation of japan……yada yada yada…….an as per usual japan got its special woe are we treatment.

    To be perfectly honest amanda I am thrilled that you are offended by it, truly I am, please spread it to as many japanese as you can but if it is possible…..please stop the predictable knee jerk “woe are we as a poor weak island nation” response in its tracks and facilitate a little 反省 as you can be absolutely sure that the image isn’t being used due to “cultural misunderstanding” nor due to “無意識” it is being used with and for a reason: to make patently clear japan’s despicable record when it comes to international matters and treatment of foreigners. Perhaps it would be in japan’s better interest to start looking at why the world sees it the way it does. The time for the 被害意識 stance is well and truly past, the world is changing more rapidly now than at any time since the industrial revolution and japan is getting left in the wake of that change due to its own arrogant and condescending attitudes. Its very survival is dependent on the international community and it will reap what it sows…..there is no doubt about that.

  • Roland did you have a bad day? I agree with a lot of your assessment of the conditions we have to put up with.But then again that why we have our knight in dented up armor in the form of Debito. But man you came down like a ton of bricks on Amanda.

    Amanda: Actually I think that cover is very very good. I think it has served it’s purpose. It has attracted interest in the book and created discussion. It makes me want to get the book to see how and why that particular cover is used. Remember publishers, for both magazines and books, use covers that would attract attention, so that people will get curious about the content and hopefully buy it and read it.

  • james grey says:

    I have to put up with the uyoku ruining the peace and quiet of every Sunday morning with their loud-speaker racist hate speeches, due to ‘freedom of speech’. In the UK we have the freedom to print pretty much what we want, and if the picture on the cover upsets Japanese people, then that’s tough! Japan doesn’t get to dictate the parameters of freedom of speech in the UK.
    As of yet, I haven’t seen even one Japanese complaining.

  • Roland, have you ever heard Ghandi’s words:”Eye for an eye, and the whole world will be blind”. I’m not fan of “if someone slaps your cheek turn the other one”, but I wouldn’t advise” shoot them between the eyes instead” either.
    Why do I think this cover is improper for an university edition? When I read the abstract above, I couldn’t help but notice the discrepancy between it and the contents of the cover cartoon.The cartoon largely focuses on two issues- Okinawa-related problems, which are supposed to illustrate USA relations and the Obama administration (by the way the rape case is way before the Obama administration, right?); and the rise of China, represented by the Senkaku incident.I haven’t read the articles inside, but I really don’t believe the analysis of China-Japan relations focuses entirely on the incident above-mostly due the fact that China has become Japan’s biggest economical partner.

    The word侵略 probably reflects the views of limited number of Japanese and the number of incidents recently, which brought to the attention of the media and the public the occupied territories- Takeshima/Dokdo and Northern territories, as well as the US presence in Okinawa, presented as another kind of occupation by the media. My personal opinion is that this sudden nationalistic hystery is one very clever card played by the opposition to emphasize ruling party’s toothless foreign policy. The fact, however, that it comes from the mouth of some crazy, rabid-looking person, make potential readers think that this book is about crazy right-wingers, not about complicated foreign policy based on even more complicated and strained national political situation.

    As a whole, the cover suggests that the contents are sensationalist stuff about group whose organization, background and financial sourses aren’t completely clear even to the Japanese government, let alone some scientists in a country on the opposite side of the globe. It doesn’t reflect at all the subjects shown in the abstract above.

    — I agree. Japan’s International Relations are hardly fortress mentality (no hint of oil or trade in the cover, which if threatened would trump these issues in a heartbeat). And one more aesthetic thing: Speaking as a person who has won an award for graphic design, this cover is unbalanced and downright unprofessional. It makes the book look sophomoric. Inappropriate for Routledge.

  • Kevin has a point, the other previous 2 covers are dull. Maybe they thought so too and thats why they changed it?

    Its also ironic; Japan nowadays relies heavily on manga and anime, it’s soft power, to attract young foreigners to Japan.
    Now here is a cartoon cover on a book about Japan, but of quite a different ilk.

    Maybe it is to appeal to teenage undergraduates?

  • Yes Norik, I am well aware of the quote by Ghandi. Are you aware of the words of Harry A. Blackmun …..

    “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently. ”

    There is a big difference between “shooting someone between the eyes” and treating them the way in which they treat others. The Japanese like to think of themselves as being unique and different to everyone else on the planet, good, let them, the world won’t careen into the sun if we allow them to think that, they will simply become more and more isolated and irrelevant in today’s changing geo-political climate. As their economic power continues to decline, fewer and fewer other countries will have to pander to their imagined “privileged status” and they will be revealed for what they truly are.

    I might argue that the bawling of 侵略 is simply a lambasting of the right wing and their anti suffrage rhetoric. I might go on to add that it might not simply ” reflect the views of limited number of Japanese” but that it reflects the view of many many japanese, didn’t the raging racist ishihara just win with 43+% of the votes in the nation’s capitol? a cool 1,000,000 more votes than the second placed contender??? what are his views of the chinese? on GAIjin in general? he’s a scumbag that millions of japanese want in power.

    Then again I might be completely wrong and all the deeply engrained racism I have experienced/seen in japan might just be a figment of my imagination…

    Rather than the image focusing on one or two issues, I’d say it is pretty representative of japanese views on international relations as a whole. They want the relations when it suits them, but would rather us not be here, if they have to tolerate us being here, we will abide by their rules and not some standards set by the international community.

    Whilst the contents of the book may deal with specific areas, I think the image conveys the general feeling of many japanese in the face of such issues.

    okinawa airbase = annoying noisy americans
    okinawan US troops = loud obnoxious rapist/criminals
    china = looming invasion (physically/financially)

    again I could be completely wrong and the majority of japanese might see it as

    okinawan airbase = acting as a deterrent, helping to defend japan
    okinawan US troops = brave people half way around the world from home to help protect japan
    china = growing economic partner/market bring investment/tourism

    somehow I think that is wishful thinking.

    I think the image is perfectly acceptable and hake made my opinion know to the authors

  • Who Decided It says:

    Debito, I think some of the naysayers targeting Amanda here (and myself although I was just lumped in with the ‘wrong’ posters w/out being mentioned by name) do not understand our objections.

    Mine are based on the conflicting messages being given by having right wing, racist cartoons on the front of a book that is supposed to be a scholarly study of Japan’s international relations. I repeat for those who can’t grasp why I and others think this is inapropriate – there is no context. If the book were a study on the revival of the right wing in Japanese society then it would be within context.

    But as it’s not, the cover indicates that this is what Japan’s international relations are about – right wing extremists who caricature Americans as soldiers stomping on a Japanese girl who has been raped a la the shocking instances of that in real life. Shocking as those crimes have been, we don’t see studies of Japan written by foreign publishing companies portraying Japanese as human traffickers or Yakuza thugs. Or as Imperial Army soldiers raping women or killing prisoners.

    The only way that would happen is if that is the topic of the book and I doubt very much that any mainstream, non racist publisher would do that. I have somewhere in my house a remarkable study of the Yakuza in Japan and the cover conveyed their sinister quality by a simple graphic of two people shaking hands, with the emphasis on the handshake.

    Ugly cartoons would not be in the mix, especially for an academic book. Only if the agenda was to be offensive about Japanese people and looking at this scholarly study’s cover again, I have to say that the publisher has used ugly stereotypes about both foreigners and Japanese. For what purpose?

    And why is it so hard to understand this?

  • Who Decided It Say

    why is it so hard for you to understand that YOUR view is just that, yours and doesn’t have to be accepted by anyone else. Just because you view the cover as being “right wing extremist” it doesn’t necessarily follow that everyone else must. If anything, that kind of thinking smacks of a right wing mentality or at the very least a victim mentality.

    The images relate directly to the contents of the text,

    have a look how those issues are handled in the japanese media, I think you will find the cover image conveys the general feeling of Japan as a whole.

    I can’t understand why you are so up in arms about a picture that is in perfect keeping with the general attitude of the nation of Japan, it’s hardly a “Yamato hanzai ura file” is it……

    “Japan does not need laws to combat racial discrimination, a Japanese official said as Japan’s racism record was examined by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

    “Punitive legislation on racial discrimination may hamper legitimate discourse,” Mitsuko Shino of the Japanese Foreign Ministry told a session in Geneva. “And I don’t think the situation in Japan is one of rampant discrimination, so we will not be examining this now.”

    Why again are you so worried about these people being shown as they are?


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