As the government moves toward expanding the nation’s security capacities, voices continue to be raised demanding that the country adhere to the ideals of its pacifist Constitution.

Since nine influential people, including Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe, gathered 10 years ago to draw attention to the significance of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, more than 7,000 like-minded groups have sprung up nationwide.

“We have called on people during the past 10 years to share the importance of the pacifist clause with those around them in their communities or at their workplaces,” said Yoichi Komori, who serves as secretary-general of the Article 9 Association, founded by the nine.

The Article 9 Association was launched on June 10, 2004, after Japan, under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, pledged to cooperate with the U.S.-led war against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The Koizumi government’s 2003 legislation enabling the Self-Defense Forces to be deployed in “noncombat areas” to support the reconstruction of Iraq drew criticism that it went against Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented policy.

The thousands of pro-Article 9 groups have brought together people with various views, including those who argue that the existence of the SDF itself is against the war-renouncing clause and those who accept the SDF as an organization that defends Japan.

Article 9 stipulates the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” and that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

The nine founders said in their inaugural appeal: “In order to join hands with all peace-seeking citizens of the globe, we feel that we must strive to shine the light of Article 9 upon this turbulent world. To that end, each and every citizen, as sovereign members of this country, needs to personally adopt the Japanese Constitution, with its Article 9, and reaffirm their belief in it through their daily actions.”

“The founders and the secretariat members have traveled around the nation to encourage people to do what they can do” to prevent the resurgence of militarism, Komori, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said. “I myself have not had weekends since the launch of the association as I have devoted myself to its activities.”

Many elderly people have brought their grandchildren to lecture meetings sponsored by the groups nationwide “as part of their effort to hand down lessons they learned during wartime to the younger generation,” he said.

The association, meanwhile, has looked to another clause in the Constitution as it joins hands with those who are employed under poor working conditions as temporary workers and those who have dropped into poverty since the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. kicked the global economic crisis into high gear.

“These people have acknowledged the importance of Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees all people ‘the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living,’ in addressing their own problems,” Komori said. “I think people are getting more willing to learn about the Constitution as a safeguard to restrict the government’s power and protect our human rights.”

The inauguration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government in 2012 has produced “a sense of crisis” among the groups, because he is openly willing to revise the Constitution, which came into force in 1947, and give more power to the SDF.

In a significant step, Abe has recently expressed a desire to lift the nation’s self-imposed ban on the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an allied nation under attack.

The move came after a panel of security experts picked by Abe urged the government to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution to respond to a changing security landscape amid China’s assertiveness and North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear weapons capabilities.

Wealthy Japan, shielded by America’s nuclear umbrella, has long maintained that it has the right to collective self-defense under international law, but cannot exercise it due to the restrictions laid out by Article 9.

Abe’s nationalistic stance was also highlighted when he led the revision of the Fundamental Law of Education in 2006 during his first stint as prime minister with the aim of instilling patriotism in classrooms, despite criticism that it could threaten children’s freedom of thought and lead to excessive state intervention in education.

The initial education law came took effect in 1947 with the aim of achieving the ideals of the postwar Constitution, drafted by the Allied Powers, through education.

Japan meanwhile is at odds with China and Taiwan over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and with South Korea over two tiny Korean-held islets in the Sea of Japan, which South Korea calls the East Sea. It is also under fire for Abe’s visit in December to war-related Yasukuni Shrine and the government’s stance on the women it forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during the war. Japan euphemistically refers to them as the “comfort women.”

Yasuhiro Okudaira, one of the nine founders of the Article 9 Association, said the steps taken by Abe’s current team have completely denied “Japan’s character as a peaceful nation under Article 9.”

“Article 9 has produced achievements,” the prominent constitutional scholar and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo said. While he believes, on a personal basis, that the SDF should be eventually dismantled, “Article 9 has contributed to stemming unregulated expansion of the scope of the SDF’s operations” and prevented Japan from becoming a threat to the international community, he said.

“We have come all this way since the end of the war, and we should seek a direction for Japan based on awareness of the achievements” of Article 9, Okudaira said, suggesting that its principles should be further developed by succeeding generations.

The association will have a lecture meeting on June 10.

For further information on the event, call its secretariat at 03-3221-5075.

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