This article addresses the question of Japan’s security ‘normalisation’ by examining from realist and liberal perspectives the foreign policy tools Japan has used to redefine its engagement with the outside world in the post-Cold War period. It also analyses the international and domestic factors, which have underpinned that redefinition. The article argues that while Japan is more willing to consider seemingly realist foreign policy instruments, namely by strengthening its defence posture and alliance with the U.S., Japan’s so-called ‘normalisation’ does not represent a strategic policy shift towards realism. Rather, it should be seen as a mature response to the changed regional security environment in East Asia, as well as a ‘product’ of particular domestic political dynamics in Japan, especially the emergence of conservative Koizumi-like politicians. Japan’s main foreign policy approach — most recently represented by Fukuda’s diplomacy — remains largely a liberal one and stresses the promotion of multilateralism, peaceful cooperation and economic diplomacy.