Fire, Meet Gasoline: How Japan and America went from enemies to friends with benefits

“You broke me just so you could put me back together.”

“Do you really want to try putting yourself back together?”

Her fist tightened once again and she bit her tongue because she didn’t dare admit that she wasn’t sure.

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In a coffee shop, they sat nearly shoulder to shoulder under warm orange lights as the chill of the night air watched them enviously from outside. The aroma of hot apple cider took their senses on a journey as Japan listened and America told stories.

“So, I’m standing in the doorway to his office.” Already Ameria was grinning. “Puttin’ the saucy on, you know, wiggling my ass, a little bit of eyebrow signaling–cause, you know, this war was huge for me. If I defeat the British Empire, I’ll look like such a badass.”

She nodded. “Right.”

“But I needed money–always and forever. And I was willing to do anything to get it. So anyway, I’m standing there and we’re staring at each other and I can just tell he’s perturbed… but definitely a little titillated.”

“Just a little.”

“He’s enraptured by my young, colonial charms.”

“Who wouldn’t be?”

“Right? I mean, well, Mexico, for starters. Always playing hard to get. Uhhh, what was I saying? Okay, yeah, France. He gets up and is like,” at that point, America decided to slip into a less-than-perfect accent, “‘America, you know it takes little convincing for me to aid you in your fight with Britain. I love kicking their asses.'”

Japan, of course, was trying very hard not to forfeit even the smallest laugh at the perfectly awful imitation. “And then what?”

“I’m thinkin’, ‘Well, shit. I wore my sexy pantaloons for nothing.'”

Not too far away, China sat on a barstool and sipped black coffee as he skimmed stock market indexes from his phone. He heard a voice at his side.

“Wanna buy a cute girl a hot cocoa?”

“No, South Korea.”

“What if I was my brother?”

“Hell no.”

When he turned, he saw her leaning back against the counter, watching America and Japan with a curled lip. “Look at that,” she said. “They’re practically in each other’s asses.”

“You just described the past 70 years.”


July 1937

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident set forth a war between China and Japan that had already been brewing for decades. And when someone attacks your pal, you give them a courtesy call just in case you might need to destroy them for their hubris.

***

“Hey, Japan, do you like embargos? Because I am going to bleed your economy dry until you won’t be able to afford the guns you use to kill people in their streets and homes before taking their country from them.”

Japan’s voice wasn’t calm or cool, it was cold. “I am surprised you are taking my war with China so personally.”

“I tend to look out for my friends.”

“Friend? China thinks you are weak. Whenever you have tried to protect him, you have failed. You are not an ally, you are a disappointment.”

“Oooooh. Listen, buddy.” At that point, he’d hunched over his desk and brought the phone in close, as if that’d do anything. “I am so close to going over there and beating the goddamn fascism out of you.”

“Do it.”

“Oh, trust me! I would love to! Absolutely love to!”

“But you won’t.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I won’t. I want to, but–“

“Yes, you have made that quite clear.”

“Ooo! It’s freakin’ amazing how you can navigate the sea well enough to illegally conquer all these territories with your head so far up your own ass. You know what? You should consider my commitment to non-interventionism a blessing, pal.”

“Hmm.”

Hmm? Hmm?! That’s–that’s all you wanna say? Okay.” He paused, but in place of words she would have heard an angry fist tapping against the top of the desk. “Remember that embargo I was talking about earlier? You can decide whether or not you want a war with me while you’re writhing around in your misery because you have no money and no resources.”

Of course, America had no reason to believe that she would take him up on that offer.

December 1941

He was wrong.

Of course, Japan had no reason to believe that even the United States of America could stop a god and her war machine.

August 1945

She was wrong.

1946

Once cluttered with papers and maps and diagrams, Japan’s office was nearly bare. A lamp lay on the ground next to broken pieces of glass and ceramic. In the darkness, America slumped against the desk, not caring enough to wipe the blood spilling from his mouth. On her knees, Japan gripped her fist as pain rippled through her hand.

“It was all too much,” she said after a while, voice thick and cheeks wet.

“What?”

“Nuclear warfare. The Soviet invasion. I couldn’t let myself surrender to Russia, so I surrendered to you.”

“Well, I’m not Russia,” America said. “And I’m not here to hurt you any more than I already have. Resent me if you need to, but I want to help you.”

“You broke me just so you could put me back together.”

“Do you really want to try putting yourself back together?”

Her fist tightened once again and she bit her tongue because she didn’t dare admit that she wasn’t sure.

April 1952

The United States spent 7 years rebuilding and reshaping Japan’s policies and economy. In 1952, the Treaty of San Fransico was ratified and sovereignty was restored to the Japanese government. Because the treaty ended Japan’s status as an imperial power and crushed any hopes she could ever have of becoming one again, the American occupation ended too.

***

The two of them walked along the fence, strolling by cherry blossom trees as snow crunched beneath their boots.

“Well, this is it,” America said as he stuffed gloved hands into his pockets. “Our final goodbyes.”

“I wish.”

He sensed a small hint of playfulness in her tone and he smiled. “Oh, come on. Was it that bad?” She made a face. “Maybe just a little bad? Look, we did some great work. You’ve got a brand new constitution–”

“That you wrote.”

“–your economy is doing great compared to the disaster it used to be–”

“The disaster that you helped to create.”

“–and you’re demilitarized!”

“Is that supposed to make me feel good?”

“Sort of? It means you don’t need a big military because no one is going to mess with you because if they do, they have to go through me first.”

“I wonder if you would be this kind to me if you didn’t think I was important to your strategic interests.”

Japan’s home was getting bigger and bigger in the distance. America turned to her and asked, with nothing but curiosity, “Do you hate me?”

Her pace faltered for a moment. She listened to the snow and stared down, watching the imprints her shoes left on its perfect surface. “If I say no, will you sleep better at night? And if I say yes, will you be able to enjoy the guilt that you crave?”

He smiled again, but it was different from the first time. “I don’t care either way, but it’d be nice if we could be friends.” The rest of the walk carried out in silence. As they lingered at the front of the yard, America swung his car keys around his finger. “Hey, if you ever miss me–”

“Unlikely.”

“–I still have some bases here that you can look upon and remember me by.”

“Remember and regret.”

“You’re so stoic that I really can never tell if you’re being facetious or not and it worries me.”

“Didn’t you say you had to go?”

“Okay, okay. One last thing. How come you never look at me when we make love?”

She shoved him toward his car. “Leave.”

August 1971

During the 1970s, it had been agreed upon many times between the US and Japan that their foreign policy toward the dreadful, communist People’s Republic of China would be in-sync. It was agreed upon many times that neither would even acknowledge the illegitimate PRC, because the real China was Taiwan.

But, naturally, America had a way of messing everything up.

***

“Excuse me, America, but what the hell are you thinking?” Those were the first words Japan uttered when she stepped into his office, eyebrows pinched together in such a way that made her typically unsettling gaze even harsher.

“Uh–“

“You met with China without consulting me.” She stormed up to his desk. “Now you’ve come out with radical trade policies that you must realize are plunging my economy into chaos.”

He held up a hand. “Okay, first of all, I went to China because he hates Russia, and the enemy of my enemy is–you know how it goes.”

“Regardless, you went back on your word. You broke my trust, and I just can’t quite understand it. Are you punishing me for my economic success? The very economic success that you wanted for me? Is it jealousy?”

“Hey, don’t just barge in here and start accusing me of being jealous of you.”

Her head cocked to the side and he heard her let out an angry little puff of air. “Oh? Does it appall you that I suggested the great United States might be jealous of Japan’s economic miracle?”

He leaned back, rapped his fingers against the desk, and smirked. “Now it’s my turn to ask you what the hell you’re thinking.”

“I don’t know what to think. I feel lost.” Her voice heightened, heart rate quickened. “What are we?”

“We’re friends, I thought.”

“Friends?” She turned away. “I want to be your partner, not your rival. I want us to lead Asia with purpose and direction. I need you to support me.”

“Things are kind of complicated right now.”

“You told me that you were going to help me, and I believed you.” Her eyes were piercing him again. “If I was going to be okay with everything that was happening to me, I had to believe you. Every time I wanted to hate you, I told myself that you knew what you were doing and that the pain would be worth something in the end. Was I naive?”

He softened. “No, no. Everything we built up together isn’t going to just disappear because of trade or, God forbid, China.”

“Prove it.” And he recoiled because that was the first time he’d heard her raise her voice. “Become someone who I can trust and depend on or let me go.”

***

Later that week, Japan received a jar of pickles in the mail with a hand-written note.

You ate all of my mine last time you were over. When I went to the store, they were on sale.

She grumbled something about a ‘terrible apology,’ plopped down at her desk, stuffed a pickle in her mouth, and grabbed a pen to draft a thank you letter.

August 1991

On a summer night, they watched pictures flash across the big screen as he slurped Coke through a twisty straw and she quietly munched on popcorn. The hood of the convertible was pulled back and the leather of the seats stuck to their skin.

“Hey,” he said, voice just a little hoarse, “does this make you nostalgic?”

She hesitated. “It does, but I’m unsure if the feeling is good or bad.” Then she turned to him. “Are you tired? We could do this another time.”

“Nah,  it’s cool.” He leaned back against the seat and folded his arms. “Ukraine and Belarus are out.” A wry laugh followed. “Wish I could’a seen Russia’s face. But yeah, I’ve been up all night making and taking calls. This is pretty big.”

Japan looked back to the screen, where Hannibal Lecter was doing something impressive but undoubtedly evil. “Where does that leave us?” She asked.

“Hm?”

“If the Soviet Union falls apart. If the final boss is defeated, will you still need me like before? Will I still need you?”

“There’s always gonna be somethin’, right?” He yawned. “Communism’s never gonna die out. That’d be too easy.”

She didn’t notice that after a while he’d stopped talking, just like she hadn’t even noticed he’d fallen asleep until she felt his head on her shoulder.

July 2006

North Korea’s first nuclear test had effectively made everyone around him shit their pants. Tensions were high in an early morning emergency conference call that nobody had enough coffee in their systems for.

 

“This is a failure of yours, America,” China said. “You have been letting him outsmart you for decades.”

Japan was quick to fire back. “America has no real leverage to control North Korea, unlike you. He has outsmarted you just as many times, China, and you’re his ally.”

“Japan, I never would have expected you to blindly agree with the United States. What a surprising little twist this is.”

America threw up his hands. “Whoa! China, you might want to tone down on that pissbaby attitude.”

“…Did you just say pissbaby?”

Japan said, “I agree with America only when he’s right. Such as now. China, stop being a pissbaby.”

“This conversation is over,” China hissed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m going to call North Korea because the odds of having a sane discussion with him right now seem comparatively high. Goodbye.” And there was the click.

“Are you worried?” America asked.

“About North Korea’s nuclear weapons?” A pause. “Yes. A little.”

“Don’t be. There’s nothing he or China or even Russia–because you just know she’s going to defend her little problem child–there’s nothing that any of them can throw at us that we can’t fight.”

“I know.” But her tone wasn’t as convincing.

“We scare them.”

You scare them.”

“Not even. When it comes to Asia, I’m only as strong as you are. Without you, I’m just some Western asshole with a really big military.”

“I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, America, but even with me you are still a Western asshole with a really big military.”

He smiled. “Yeah, okay. Can’t argue with that. Look, if North Korea or his sugar daddy try anything, you know I’ll give ’em hell.”

“No,” Japan said. “We’ll give them hell.”

 


Back in the hotel room, America’s head rested against two pillows as he surfed channels. Japan clicked away at some RPG game on her phone. Comfortable silence had them until America said, “You know that thing a certain someone said? That if I was being attacked, you’d just sit back and watch from the TV? I don’t believe that shit for a second.”

“What’s brought this on?”

“Well, I had a lot of fun tonight. It made me remember that I miss hanging out with you. But it also got me thinkin’. You’re the realest person I know. Honestly, I think you’re my best friend–don’t tell Israel I said that.” No reply came, mostly because Japan’s brain had frozen up. He looked over. “Bro, are you blushing?”

She shook her head, almost like she was shaking the mental freeze off. “N-No?”

 

He smiled. “Hey. I know something we can do instead of sleep.”

“What are you doing with your eyebrows? Is this the colonial ‘charm’ I’ve heard so much about?”

“Ahuh.”

“I think I’ve got a good read on your body language.”

“Yeah?”

“You want to order pizza and watch prank videos.”

“God, yes.”


More stories about Japan and America

Further Reading

Notes

The United States has a lot of important alliances, from Australia to France to Mexico to Japan to the UK. I think, with the right interpretation, you could make a case that any one of them would/could be his best friend. I just happen to be a sucker for US-Japan relations. And, let’s be real, the friendship speaks for itself. (Canada would definitely be #2 BFF, jsyk.)

America was referring to Trump’s comment where the president-elect (*gag*) questioned Japan’s commitment to the US.

 

Author: Allison Black

Allison is an author, nerd, and international relations major who loves bad political jokes. When she's not writing or gushing about global affairs, she's playing video games. One day she will have a Ph.D., speak Korean fluently, and command an army of chihuahuas.

2 thoughts on “Fire, Meet Gasoline: How Japan and America went from enemies to friends with benefits”

    1. Thanks, bud! 🙂 Sorry if this is a question totally outta left field, but, just from looking around you, what’s the perception of America and American culture in Japan? I’m just sort of curious (and it kind of fits the theme of this story). If you don’t know, please don’t feel any pressure to answer, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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