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With last month’s Lower House passage of bills covering the updated Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines as a backdrop, the nation on Monday celebrated the 52nd anniversary of the postwar Constitution with heated debate over the document itself.

At Sabo Kaikan hall in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, some conservative lawmakers and scholars stressed the need to revise the Constitution to regain Japan’s national identity, pride and patriotism.

Nobuyuki Hanashi and Takao Koyama of the Liberal Democratic Party and Taichiro Nishikawa of the Liberal Party urged that an investigative Diet committee be created to look into revising the Constitution to fit the times.

Susumu Nishibe, a professor at Shumei University in Yachiyo, Chiba Prefecture, said the Constitution is based solely on Modernist or American ideas and ignores the historical identity and national polity of Japan. The well-known rightist and political critic also suggested the Constitution be revised to clearly state not only people’s rights but also their duties, including individual roles in national defense.

Professor Michiko Hasegawa of state-run Saitama University in Urawa said it is ironic that a Constitution granting sovereignty was written for a country without sovereignty at the time.

The Constitution is a document forced on the people by U.S. Occupation forces, and the ideal constitution for Japan is the prewar Constitution, which clearly stipulated that the core of national polity resides in the Emperor, she said.

In Chiyoda Ward, a group organized by labor unions held a meeting named the Forum for the Protection of the Constitution, Peace and Human Rights.

Tsuruo Yamaguchi, a former legislator from the Social Democratic Party, told some 1,000 participants that Japan is facing a turning point in its postwar history with the recent Lower House passage of the guidelines bills.

Thanks to Article 9 of the Constitution, “Japan was able to avoid sending troops abroad and kill people in wars for the past 50 years,” Yamaguchi said. But the new guidelines would allow the government to dispatch troops abroad, causing great concern among Asian people, he said.

As part of the group’s call to stop the passage of the bills by the Upper House, a comedy group, the Newspaper, performed an hourlong satire on the Diet deliberating the bills.

In the performance, a comedian playing Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi gives the answers his audience wants to hear, saying yes to every question.

In Sumida Ward, panelists at the ’99 Watashi to Kempo no Hiroba (Forum for the Constitution and Us), also made calls to defend the Constitution.

Among those who took the podium was Mana Kawano an 18-year-old Tokorozawa High School graduate, who described the strong pressure she and her fellow students experienced when they tried to conduct entrance and commencement ceremonies without using the Hinomaru or “Kimigayo.”

She criticized her school’s principals for ignoring the consensus of the school community and insisting on including the de facto national flag and anthem in the ceremonies. “I was scared to see the adamant opposition. Why do these symbols matter so much?” she asked. “When we feel something is wrong, it is important for us to think and speak up about what we think is wrong.”

Moriteru Arasaki, a professor of modern Okinawa history at Okinawa University, warned the audience that the government is trying to manipulate public opinion to make it easier to revise the Constitution.

He said the launch of a missile by Pyongyang last summer and the intrusion in March of alleged North Korean spy ships were used by the central government to fan public support for a stronger militaristic stance and the eventual revision of the Constitution.

Maneuvers to manipulate public opinion regarding the Constitution have already started, he said. “It will be too late to protect the Constitution after a bill to revise the Constitution is submitted to the Diet,” he said.

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