Australia and Japan have frequently had difficult relationships with their neighbours. This paper suggests that when seen in their specific historical contexts, the fact that Australia and Japan have become ‘Asia’s odd men out’ is unsurprising. The central argument of this paper is that the consolidation and institutionalisation of regions is in large part a political exercise that reflects, and is informed by, discrete national conversations. Until and unless such national discourses align with wider transnational developments, regional processes are unlikely to prosper. An examination of Japan’s and Australia’s respective attempts to engage with and define their region reveals just how problematic this process can be.