The Constitution is one of the more controversial documents of our age. Some want it rewritten, some hold it as an inviolable sacred text. Article 9 — the article renouncing war — has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants it abolished. Yet for all the column inches and placards the Constitution inspires, there are remarkably few books that deal with the process by which it was written.

MacArthur’s Japanese
Constitution, by Kyoko Inoue
378 pages.
University of Chicago Press, Nonfiction.

The dry title of Kyoko Inoue’s study should not put readers off. This is a scholarly academic study but it is also the dramatic story of the negotiations that led to its drafting and acceptance. Often told through the minuted words of the key participants, the back and forth of debates, the twisting of intention through semantic gymnastics and the domestic political realities of Japan under occupation make for fascinating set pieces delivered in clear, concise prose.

Inoue’s close reading and comparison of the English and Japanese versions of the final document allow the reader to see the ideological and cultural assumptions behind clauses that are so revered and reviled by different ends of the political spectrum. The story is enlivened by Sorkin-esque political manoeuvres and manipulations. This is history as it should be. Inoue’s book not only gives us access to events that have happened, but also grants those of us not seeped in contemporary Japanese politics entry into one of the key issues of the 21st century.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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