Yamasaki’s bold proposal

A courageous call for constitutional reform

by Hisahiko Okazaki

Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, calls for a revision to the Constitution in his book “Kempo Kaisei” (Constitutional revision). I read it with great interest because his proposal, coming as it does from the No. 2 man in the ruling party, carries weight and therefore could play an important part in the looming political debate on constitutional revision.

Simply put, I was moved by the book. This is not the work of a ghostwriter, nor is it a patchwork of secondhand knowledge and half-baked ideas. That is clear from the way it is written.

In the postscript, Yamasaki says the book is the result of intensive discussions among he and his colleagues. “We discussed it day after day, from early morning to midnight, sometimes even forgetting to eat or sleep,” he recalls. Regarding matters on which they disagreed, he says he wrote down his own thoughts.

That explains why the book is well written and well organized. It brings to mind the three months of secluded life that the Meiji statesman Hirobumi Ito (1841-1909) and three other men spent drafting Japan’s first Constitution on Natsushima island, Kanagawa Prefecture. “We led a very exceptional life,” he said afterward. “We were either writing or talking (discussing) most of the time.”

My point is that we Japanese should write our own constitution once again, as our ancestors did in the Meiji Era. At least we should have their determination and perseverance to craft a new constitution.

There is only one section of the Constitution, Article 9, that really needs rewriting. Other provisions present no real problems in terms of implementation. Their problem is one of legitimacy: They were not written directly by Japanese.

Most Japanese believe, thanks to censorship during the U.S. occupation and subsequent education, that freedom of speech and association, women’s suffrage, labor laws and land reform, for example, were given to Japan under the postwar democratic Constitution. It is a historical fact, however, that all these reforms were initiated by the Japanese side.

With the nation’s war machine dismantled after the end of World War II, it was natural for Japan to restore democracy, which thrived during the Taisho Era (1912-26). Women’s suffrage, for one, would have been a natural peacetime reform in a country like Japan that maintained a high standard of living in a rapidly evolving world in the first half of the 20th century.

In fact, the legal groundwork was laid for all these reforms under the Meiji Constitution, even before the current Constitution was established. So, basically, these postwar provisions do not conflict with the prewar constitution.

Article 9 is about the only section of the new Constitution that was not introduced under Japanese initiative. According to the Yamasaki proposal, the first paragraph of that article (which renounces war as a sovereign right) is left mostly unchanged. The only change is the insertion of the phrase “except in the exercise of the right of self-defense.”

This is a proper change to make. The Kellogg-Briand Pact (1929), which provided an ideological basis for the war-renouncing paragraph, rules out the right of self-defense. The proposed wording makes up for this omission.

The Yamasaki draft deletes the second paragraph and states instead: “In order to protect the sovereignty and independence of Japan and preserve national security and to cooperate toward the realization of international peace, land, sea and air forces as well as other organizations shall be maintained under the supreme command of the Prime Minister.” This is a succinct statement.

Yamasaki also calls for a change to the preamble to the Constitution. In a warning against the excessive assertion of rights, he adds this statement: “Rights accompany obligations, and responsibility resides in freedom.” And the text states: “The people shall have the duty to contribute to the security of the nation, as determined by law.” This is a reasonable statement, but one that also requires considerable insight and courage.

However, it is puzzling to me why Yamasaki is opposed to making a de facto revision of Article 9 by changing the conventional interpretation. Those who oppose “interpretive revision” usually think that an outright revision will be impossible and use that assumption as an excuse for avoiding a change of the status quo; or they are unable to act because they are fettered by the series of unrealistic interpretations that have been made since the war’s end. In my estimation, however, Yamasaki is not that kind of person.

In the book he says he does not want to be labeled a “politician trying to change the Constitution ex post facto without rewriting it.” It is not difficult to understand his feeling. But if he simply wants to throw away that kind of image, he can be blamed for putting his personal concerns first.

Yamasaki asserts that it is in the national interest to rewrite Article 9 so that the nation can exercise the right to collective self-defense. But opening the way for the exercise of this right through “interpretive revision” is also in the national interest.

In fact, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has indicated the need to re-examine the conventional interpretation. The important thing is to achieve a greater objective by burying minor differences. Otherwise this administration, too, might miss the chance of reforming Article 9 and end up further postponing the resolution of this vital issue.