Political science professor Kang Sang Jung had no interest in the Constitution until the 1980s.
The well-known TV commentator and second-generation Korean felt the charter only protected the rights of Japanese, not everyone.
But he changed his mind.
“It was in the 1980s, when non-Japanese began to realize they had to live as long-term residents and started to regard themselves as members of the community,” Kang, a regular on TV debate shows, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.
With the wave of foreign workers coming to Japan in the 1980s, the number of non-Japanese residents rose. Many married Japanese or settled here with their families.
Even Korean residents whose families had been in Japan for a couple of generations started thinking more about local issues in the 1980s, as the Cold War ended and Koreans’ ideological confrontations lessened, Kang said. Koreans here have long been divided into pro-Seoul and pro-Pyongyang camps.
Foreigners are part of the community and as such are covered by the Constitution, so it is only natural that they, too, take an interest in the charter, the University of Tokyo professor said.
The Constitution’s Articles 11, 12, 13 and 14 guarantee basic rights for “all the people.” Among those are “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” equality under the law, and the right not to be discriminated against in “political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”
“All the people” in the Constitution is typically interpreted as only Japanese, so restricting some rights of foreign residents is considered constitutional. For example, Article 22 guarantees Japanese the freedom to move and to change their address. It does not allow foreigners to enter the country or move about with the same freedoms.
In a 1978 landmark decision, the Supreme Court said some of the rights embodied in the Constitution are also extended to all non-Japanese living here. The court specified, however, that some rights, including voting, only apply to nationals, as is common worldwide.
Kang said he started thinking more about the Constitution when he faced the issue of whether the document protected the rights of non-Japanese in the 1980s when he, like many other Korean residents here, refused to be fingerprinted by the government, citing the right to privacy.
The Japanese Federation of Bar Associations regards the Constitution’s Articles 13 and 14 as giving foreigners the right to be “respected as individuals” and to be treated equally under the law. The government abolished fingerprinting in March 1999.
On the contentious push to amend the war-renouncing Article 9, Kang said he is opposed to changing it. He praised the “well-structured” Constitution for preventing Japan from having the option of the use of force.
Many lawmakers have argued that Article 9 should be revised to legitimize the Self-Defense Forces, whose existence has been criticized as a contravention of the clause in the article prohibiting the country from maintaining “land, sea and air forces.”
Kang said that despite the existence of the SDF, Article 9 has still succeeded in restricting the use of military force, to the country’s benefit. For example, he said, it has prevented Japan from fully committing to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
“Japan spent only the minimum costs (for the Iraq war), without having been involved in unnecessary killing or wounding of people,” Kang said. “I think the effectiveness of the current Constitution has been fully proved.”
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