patten159_Zhai JianlanXinhua via Getty Images_japanchinakishidaxi Zhai Jianlan/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Looming China-Japan Face-Off

After two decades of economic malaise, Japan appears to have regained its economic vigor just when it needs it most. As it embarks on an ambitious military build-up to meet the mounting threat posed by China’s geopolitical ambitions, it is also seeking to establish itself as a leader among Asian democracies.

LONDON – I am an adviser to the Praemium Imperiale, a prestigious award established under the patronage of the Japanese imperial family to commemorate the centennial of the Japan Art Association’s establishment in the middle of the Meiji period. Since its inception in 1988, the award has been likened to a Nobel Prize for artistic fields such as painting, sculpture, and film.

Following this year’s ceremonies, I visited the foothills of Mount Fuji, whose snow-capped peak is occasionally visible from Tokyo. At this time of year, this region offers another breathtaking sight, as the slopes beneath the mountain’s summit are blanketed with fields of pampas grass that sway and rustle in the wind. It is one of Japan’s most famous tourist attractions.

During my visit, the peaceful rustling of the grass was occasionally interrupted by the distant echoes of gunfire. It would not have felt out of place in Gaza and Ukraine. But what I heard was artillery and tank fire from a nearby training facility of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.