Japan's Pacifist Constitution, 60 Years Later

Early last week on May 3rd, amid widespread debate and discussion on the topic, Japan celebrated the 60th anniversary of its constitution. The anniversary comes at a time when Japanese citizens and their government are re-evaluating the role of their current constitution and debating its uniquely pacifist nature. With Japan increasingly engaged in combat operations overseas, notably in supporting American operations in Iraq, the existence of the country's (ostensibly purely defensive) Self-Defense Forces (SDF, in Japanese Jieitai) has come into question time and time again. The problem, for those unaware of the situation, is that the existence of the SDF, and the assertive role it is playing internationally as well as domestically, run contrary to the war-renouncing spirit of the current constitution as enshrined in its preamble and ninth article.

To recap, here is Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan:

第九条 一 日本国民は、正義と秩序を基調とする国際平和を誠実に希求し、国権の発動たる戦争と、武力による威嚇又は武力の行使は、国際紛争を解決する手段としては、永久にこれを放棄する。

ARTICLE 9. (1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

二 前項の目的を達するため、陸海空軍その他の戦力は、これを保持しない。国の交戦権は、これを認めない。

(2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

While Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the Liberal Democratic Party have long proclaimed it their goal to revise the Constitution, and in particular Article 9, the Japanese people are divided on the topic. A survey conducted by Mainichi shimbun indicated this month that 51 percent of respondents favoured revision of the constitution. However, another poll by Asahi shimbun published at around the same time put the Mainichi figure into context: asked about the pacifist Article 9, 49 percent of respondents said they wanted to keep it intact, versus 33 percent who wanted it changed. An indication of the level of support for Article 9 was evidenced last week in a Constitution Peace Day March held in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, which reportedly attracted 10,000 people.

On May 7th, shortly after Constitution Day, Japan's national broadcaster NHK aired a program on the history of the constitution and on the question of constitutional revision. Responses of bloggers to this program give some indication of the split in opinions among the Japanese population.

Blogger Tabibito writes:


On May 7th, NHK broadcast a TV program called “Talking about Article 9 of the Constitution”. In this show, people supporting revision of Article 9 said: “There are countries who will not respond to dialogue. Article 9 is powerless with respect to such countries.” Other people said: “Even though they are unarmed and non-combatant, there is no guarantee that citizens will be protected. When we are assaulted by our opponents, to protect the citizens of this country, we need to fight.” Next, a 31-year-old man, a freeter, said that to change the circumstances in which they are in right now, Article 9 should be changed. When asked the question, if Article 9 is revised, “Would you enter the military?”, the man replied: “If I was treated better than I am at my part-time job, then it might be good.” It seems that he doesn't really understand the meaning of going to war.



They say that because there are “countries that do not respond to dialogue”, a military is necessary, but negotiation backed up by force does not resolve anything. America withdrew from the Vietnam War out of neccessity, now it can't withdraw from Iraq and the situation is descending into a quagmire.

They say that a military is necessary to protect this country's citizens when another country wages war on us, but fighting in the name of self-defense is permitted by the current constitution. No constitutional revision is needed for this.



The current constitution prohibits armed attacks against other countries, but in cases in which Japan itself is attacked, it permits the use of force for self-defense. Basically, while it is not possible to throw the first punch, if somebody picks a fight with you, you can respond.

The constitutional revision which Prime Minister Abe is aiming at would change Article 9 of the Constitution to make it possible to throw the first punch, not only respond to an attack.



This is in response to strong demands from the American government. In the name of the U.S.-Japan alliance, when the American military exercises its use of force, Japan must join the war. When American soldiers die, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces must also spill their blood.

Prime Minister Abe says that, in terms of Japan's international contribution and in terms of world peace, Article 9 is very unsuitable to the trend of the times. However, Japan's constitution is highly praised by foreign countries (with the exception of the United States) as the Peace Constitution.




Waging war with the United States will not bring peace, will it? What does the Abe cabinet intend to do in order to maintaining the level of troops in the Self-Defence Forces? At the present time they are maintaining the level of troops through open recruitment, but when Japan goes to war with another country, then they start dealing with people's lives.

It seems that maintaining troop levels based on recruitment will become more difficult in the future. If this happens then it will become mandatory for citizens to enlist, so Prime Minister Abe is emphasizing, within the educational system, making volunteer activities mandatory. And also, it looks like he is thinking about including love of country in the constitution. Isn't this just preparation for mandatory enlistment into the Self-Defence Forces? I wonder if, under the pretext of Japan's international contribution, a draft will then be introduced.

I do not think that we should leave behind this legacy of war to the next generation. Which would you choose?

In a post called “What is this Peace Constitution?”, another blogger minamikawa-taizo expresses a very different sentiment:



On the NHK TV program “Today's Close-up” there was a special feature on the Constitution. Because of work I was only able to see the opening part of the show, but even if I hadn't had work to do, I'm not sure that I would have watched it until the end.

I mean, they opened the show with the pretense of talking about a “Peace Constitution”, mentioned the clause renouncing war in Article 9 of the Constitution, claimed that the Constitution is praised by all countries across the world, and after this inserted [Prime Minister] Abe's speech. This was the gimmick that they used.



Right from the beginning, they came out with a position against constitutional reform, they mentioned that the referendum law for ammending the Constitution is being discussed, and then, right after that, connected this to a teach-in between Mr. Inoue Hisashi, who is against constitutional reform, and a group of children.

Which part of this don't I like? First, they use the expression “Peace Constitution”. The constitution renounces war, so there is no mistake that it is a Peace Constitution, but by basing the show on this, and by connecting it to the movement to revise the Constitution, it sounds to me like they are implying that advocates of constitutional reform are all against peace and want war.




You can search all over the world, but constitutions that renounce peace do not exist. The constitution of any country is, for that country, a peace constitution.

“War renouncing” — if it also renounces war, and protects families and children, then this is ideal.

However, in the case in which Japan is attacked, “renouncing war” takes on the meaning of “unconditional capitulation”.



The view that “constitutional revision equals war” is very shortsighted. It is possible to have a constitution which carries over the spirit of Article 9 of the current constitution, and yet also accommodates for crises which may in reality occur.

What's wrong with assuring that, as citizens of Japan, the people have the right to change the constitution? A constitution that can never be changed is a kind of fascism, is it not?


Japanese people should firstly agree to letting citizens have their natural right to have their say in changing the constitution, and then should debate the methodology of constitutional revision. However, these people [supporters of the current constitution] oppose the national referendum itself and are trying to protect this “Peace Constitution”, which, under certain circumstances, could potentially threaten the lives of the citizens of this country. I cannot understand the big idea behind this.

Finally, yet another blogger, Sira-san, gets to the heart of the problem, pointing to the general lack of understanding among Japanese people about what the word “constitution” actually means:

現在、安倍総理を中心に憲法改正についていろいろ議論されている。 新聞・テレビなどの世論調査でも、賛成だの反対だのと意見は分かれている。 こういった世論調査を見ていていつもいつも思うのだが、国民はどれだけ理解して答えているんだろう。 今回の【憲法】についても、国民は日頃からほとんど関心は無いし、憲法をどれだけ理解しているのかも大いに疑問だ・・・とは言い過ぎかな? ならば問いたい! 憲法ってナニ? 法律との違いは? こんな単純な質問でさえ、正直言ってどれだけの人が答えられるのだろうか。 この質問の答えとして、憲法とは日本国の歴史・文化・伝統を基にした国家の規範である・・・とか。 法律の法律・・・とか。 確かにいろんな答え方があるとは思う。 しかし、一番わかり易く答えるなら・・・【法律】は国民が守るもの、【憲法】は国民を守るもの・・・とするのはどうだろう。 もう少し付け加えるなら、時の為政者や国家権力のあやまちや横暴から国民を守るのが【憲法】と言えるのではないか。 だから、法律は国会議員が作ることが出来るが、憲法は国会が発議はできるが、決めるのは国民投票により、国民が決めることになっている。 現在、国民投票法案についてもめている。 実は、現憲法は国民の過半数以上の賛成で憲法改正が出来るとなっているが、その具体的なルールは定められていない。 国会ではまさにそのルール作りをしているということだ。

Currently, various arguments are being made about revision of the Constitution, with Prime Minister Abe taking the lead. Public opinion surveys in newspapers and on television show that there is a divide in opinions between those who are for revision and those who are against revision. I always wonder when I read these kinds of public opinion surveys about how much people understand when they answer them. These surveys about the “Constitution” as well, people do not normally have much interest in this topic, and I have a lot of doubts about how much they actually understand the Constitution… or is that saying too much? I want to ask! A constitution, WHAT is it? Is it different from laws? Even these very simple questions, I wonder how many people can answer them. As an answer to this question: the Constitution is a set of rules for the country based on Japan's history, culture, traditions… and so on. Laws for laws… and so on. Certainly I think there are many ways to answer this question. However, if you want the simplest answer… the “Laws” are something that the citizens must obey, while the “Constitution” is what protects the citizens… how is that? Adding a little more to that, I suppose that the “Constitution” is what protects the country's citizens from the errors and the tyranny of policymakers and government power of the time. Therefore, laws can be created by Diet members, but, while the Constitution can be proposed in the Diet, it is decided by the citizens through a national referendum. Currently, there is a lot of fuss about the ammendment to the national referendum law. The truth is that, although the Constitution can be revised if at least half of Japanese citizens agree, the citizens cannot set down the specific rules. The rules are precisely what are created in the National Diet.

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