TOKYO — The special Japanese term for "foreign pressure" - gaiatsu - has long been a part of the debate over economic issues.
The need to allow rice imports, for instance, was ascribed to heavy pressure from the group of nations that eventually became the World Trade Organization. Japan's politically powerful agricultural lobby fought bitterly, but gave in.
Now it seems that a certain amount of gaiatsu has become part of defense policymaking as well.
Japan has embarked on a review of its policies for cooperating with the United States military in part because American officials and analysts have made it clear that the US-Japan alliance could rupture if an emergency occurred in Asia and the Japanese dithered over how to help out.
"If something happened in the region and Japan can't contribute, I think that would be taken very negatively in the US, and the US would wonder why we should have a security alliance with Japan," says an American official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Japan's inability in 1991 to contribute personnel to the international coalition the US organized to repel Iraq from Kuwait has since been seen as a warning sign over how Japan would react to a crisis in its own region: slowly, and perhaps ineffectively.
In proposing new "defense guidelines," the government seems eager to spark a debate over what Japan can and cannot do militarily. In the background is gaiatsu - the understanding that the US is demanding that Japan do more or risk damaging a bilateral relationship that is the key to Japan's security and its economic prosperity.
Some Japanese critics argue that the government has gone beyond caving in to gaiatsu in agreeing to cooperate more broadly with the US.
"The overall atmosphere inside the Japanese government is just to leave security policy to the Americans," says Minoru Morita, an independent political analyst.