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In recent years, international relations has realised that its theorising is predominantly Western minded and has begun asking why there are no theories outside the Western context. With Nationalism, Political Realism and Democracy in Japan, Fumiko Sasaki has demonstrated that there are indeed non-Western approaches, and the discipline is well advised to consider thoughts from South America, Africa, the Middle East and, in her case, East Asia.

Sasaki achieves this contribution by discussing the thought of Masao Maruyama, one of Japan's leading political thinkers of the twentieth century. Certainly there is, as Sasaki informs her readers, a veritable ‘Maruyama boom’ in Japan and Japanese studies, but in international relations Maruyama is hardly discussed to date. This neglect is unfortunate because Maruyama's critique on the statism of Japanese society, which Sasaki elaborates in the first three chapters, provides interesting linkages between what in Western IR theory is called realism, critical theory and postmodernism.

Maruyama extensively studied continental European humanities and has been influenced by scholars such as Max Weber and Karl Mannheim. According to Sasaki, this influence is particularly obvious in Maruyama's criticism of the dominance of the kokutai ideology in Japanese society. Rather than encouraging a self-determined citizenship, this ideology helped to retain people as subjects and Sasaki vividly describes in the later chapters how this ideology contributed to Japanese nationalist and imperialist ambitions, which culminated in the Second Sino–Japanese War and the Second World War. The majority of Japanese followed these ambitions without ever questioning them. Similar to what we find in Hans Morgenthau's concept of the political or Hannah Arendt's civic sphere, Maruyama advocated a form of modernity (shutaisei) to counter this dominant ideology. Maruyama's shutaisei encouraged people to re-establish a public sphere through fostering human values, such as self-determination and responsibility.

Sasaki's attempt to introduce Maruyama's thought to international relations and particularly her elaboration of Maruyama's understanding of shutaisei makes Nationalism, Political Realism and Democracy in Japan a noteworthy contribution to IR theory. It is an insightful reading for anyone interested in further elaborating similarities between Japanese and Western political thought, particularly in regard to the above-mentioned links between realism, critical theory and postmodernism, despite Sasaki's focus on national security in the last chapters, which may confuse some of her readers. However, in addition to more careful proofreading, the book would have profited from a clearer definition of national security because, like Morgenthau's national interest, this concept is prone to be misunderstood.