One morning in late April dozens of mothers, some with children, gathered at an Italian restaurant in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, hoping not only to dine, but also to learn what kind of future might await their children if the Constitution is amended.
During the two-hour event, dubbed “Constitution cafe,” lawyer Keiko Ota, 37, explained the basic concepts behind the supreme law and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9 so Japan can engage in collective self-defense.
She also examined the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s draft proposals to revise the Constitution.
“I’m not saying Japan will be entering a war a month or a year after a constitutional amendment. But I believe in a 20-year span, when our children become eligible to go to war, changes that you never dreamed of today can become a reality,” Ota, a mother of 2- and 5-year-old boys, said. “The important thing is to learn and think about what you want by yourselves.”
Sixty-seven years since the Constitution took effect on May 3, 1947, Japan finds itself at a crossroads. As the global security environment changes with the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and China’s military assertiveness, Abe wants to step up what he calls Japan’s “proactive contribution to peace.”
Under this concept, Abe plans to change the government’s long-held interpretation of Article 9 so the nation can exercise the U.N. right to collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under armed attack.
Japan can’t use this right because it conflicts with Article 9, which bans the use of force to settle international disputes, as well as the right to wage war and maintain sea, air or land forces with war potential.
Many Japanese, however, seem oblivious to or disinterested in discussing the Constitution, Ota said.
Alarmed by this indifference, Ota has held more than 30 of these cafe sessions since April last year in places where people who normally don’t take much interest in the Constitution can also stop by. With the help of other lawyers, the events are now held three to four times a month.
Ota has focused especially on raising awareness in mothers with children, because they can become quite active in the subject once they learn it is related to their future, she said.
Attendance at Ota’s events is growing by word of mouth.
A lawyer for the past 12 years, Ota’s presentations started mainly at gatherings of pro-Constitution citizens’ groups. But she always found herself addressing rooms packed with gray-haired people who already knew the issue inside out.
“Who I really wanted to reach out to were nonpolitical people who never show up at such conventional straight-laced gatherings,” she said. “What I’ve realized through holding the events is that those non-political people start taking action once they understand that revision or reinterpretation of the Constitution directly relates to their lives.”
At the event in Zama, a 37-year-old mother said she planned to post what she learned that day on her Facebook page.
“Many of my friends may have no interest in reading it, but I need to do something to raise awareness of more people about the ongoing move by the government,” said the woman, who only gave her last name, Hara.
Tomoko Majima, a 40-year-old mother of two, said she was glad she came to the event because now she finally understands what collective self-defense really means.
“I’ve been carrying this uneasy feeling about the government’s move to reinterpret the Constitution, but I didn’t clearly understand what the (term)collective self-defense means,” she said. “But now, I can explain it to my friends.”
Even though Ota tells the attendees she is against Abe’s plans, she said her intention is not to turn them into protectors of the Constitution.
“What I hope is for people to gain knowledge and interest and to think for themselves instead of taking everything for granted.”