Seminar Series

Japan: The Harbinger State

Thursday, 17 November 2022 | 9:00 - 10:00 (JST)
Zoom Webinar
  • Phillip Lipscy Faculty of Law, University of Tokyo and Department of Political Science, University of Toronto
  • Kenneth Mori McElwain Professor, Institute of Social Science, The University of Tokyo

Why study Japan? Research on contemporary Japanese politics and foreign policy faces headwinds from the relative geopolitical decline of Japan and scholars skeptical about single-country studies. An overview of Japanese politics publications in English-language journals over the past four decades suggests the subfield remains active and robust. However, there is still room to grow. I argue that Japan is a harbinger state, which experiences many challenges before others in the international system. As such, studying Japan can inform both scholars and policymakers about the political challenges other countries are likely to confront in the future. In turn, scholarship on Japan offers a critical opportunity to develop theoretical insights, assess early empirical evidence, and offer policy lessons about emerging challenges and the political contestation surrounding them. I consider the reasons why Japan so often emerges as a harbinger across issue areas and suggest areas for ongoing scholarly attention.


Phillip Y. Lipscy is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, where he is also Chair in Japanese Politics and Global Affairs and the Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Japan at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. In addition, he is cross-appointed as a professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Tokyo. His research addresses substantive topics such as international cooperation, international organizations, the politics of energy and climate change, international relations of East Asia, and the politics of financial crises. He has also published extensively on Japanese politics and foreign policy.