Power has always been an ambiguous concept. How can one person influence the mind and decision making matrix of another over a consistent period of time ? What is the mechanism at work ? Proponents of soft power argue that effective influence comes from the influence of seductive ideas; concepts or worldviews that others find amenable.
But, as Utpal Vypas, correctly pointed out in his introductory chapter, power is often understood strictly from the standpoint of the state. Very little is made of the importance of the non state or sub state actors. Even less is said about the mechanism by which power is wielded, or, operationalized.
Thus, the story of power---in this case soft power---is a study in the complexities of international relations. Just whom does one try to influence; and over what, how, why and when ? By focusing on China and Japan, Utpal Vypas was able to highlight the role of entities like The Japan Foundation, and more interestingly, even the sister city arrangements of Kobe in Japan with other cities in China.
What the book could have elaborated further----despite its stellar scholarship----is the extent to which soft power can impact on the high politics of China and Japan. Can soft power, for example, eventually supplant and suppress the conflict triggers affecting both countries ? Can soft power, for example, attenuate the conflict of China and Japan in the East China Sea ? Still, this book is an excellent foray into the manner by which both countries try to diffuse the tensions and strategic rivalries, even if they are structurally caught in one.
To a large degree, this is also due to the asymmetry of Japan and China. Japan, in spite of its technological prowess and alliance with the US, is always overwhelmed by the looming presence of China. Soft power cushions that kind of existential anxieties.