pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Issues & Insights Vol. 18, WP2 – Japan’s Defense Exports: “Three Years of Sitting on a Stone”

The Japanese proverb, ishi no ue san nen (石の上三年) translates literally as “three years on a stone.” It conveys a lesson in patience: three years sitting on a cold stone will eventually make it warm. It has been more than three years since the Abe government lifted restrictions on Japan’s defense exports, but sales of defense products overseas have yet to heat up. This paper focuses on the contradiction created by Japan’s overall stance as a pacifist country that does not, and likely will not, possess an offensive military force and the change in direction Tokyo recently made to allow overseas military sales. In particular, the bureaucracy in Japan has acted as gatekeeper, policing export opportunities while allocating insufficient resources to promoting the defense industry. For Japan to achieve its stated goal of increased defense exports, officials across the defense export–related ministries must contribute to warming the stone.
This paper was originally published on March 26, 2018, in the Sasakawa USA Forum, and is being reprinted with permission. Download the PDF file to view the full report.