The English language is significant to the internationalisation of higher education worldwide. Countries in Asia are proactive in appropriating English for their national interests, while paying attention to associated national cultural identity issues. This article examines the ways in which the role of English is interpreted and justified in different countries in Asia, with a particular focus on Japan, as these nations attempt to internationalise their higher education within the broader processes of regionalisation and globalisation and their own nationalist discourse. Through critical analyses and discussions of Japan s two major government initiatives, the Action Plan 2003 to `Cultivate Japanese with English Abilities? and the `Global 30? Project 2008, the article investigates how cultural national identities are shaped, are altered and are put `at risk? in policies and practices for the internationalisation of higher education and the overemphasis on English. It argues for the importance of understanding the intersections of English language policy, the internationalisation of higher education and national cultural identity and also considers how the over-promotion of English in the case of Japan has been energetically driven by the nation building agenda that tends to undermine local languages and what this might mean for internationalisation.