Resurgent nationalism by Japan’s youth, a feeling that military dependence on the United States cannot last forever and a sense that Tokyo should be more ready to participate unambiguously in peacekeeping are reasons for a renewed interest in constitutional change, analysts say.
A three-hour initial convening of the Lower House Constitutional Research Panel two weeks ago served as a prelude to the May 3 Constitution Day holiday.
Spirited debate, something that has been missing from commemoration of the holiday in the 47 years since the postwar Constitution was promulgated, flared particularly over controversial Article 9.
Conservative lawmaker Hiroshi Mitsuzuka of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was adamant that the nation’s right to self-defense should be clearly spelled out in Article 9 of the Constitution, which currently prevents Japan from having military forces.
Hypocrisy is also an issue since, in fact, Japan has the world’s fifth-largest military budget at $47.8 billion and hosts more than 30,000 U.S. troops.
A survey by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper has shown that 70 percent of 1,181 who participated in the poll nationwide are interested in the activities of the panel, but most (80 percent) said the panel should take its time and not rush to a conclusion. About half of the respondents said the Constitution should eventually be revised.
Some opinions, such as that of Komazawa University Professor Osamu Nishi, claimed that the Constitution was forced on Japan during the Occupation by U.S. Commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur and should be revised at all costs.
The Constitution was, in fact, written by Americans. Some Japanese revisions were included before the document was approved by MacArthur. Offstage, Tokyo’s loose cannon, Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, has been proposing that Japan simply annul the Constitution on grounds that the nation was under Occupation when it was introduced. Germany arranged for its allied-imposed constitution to expire when the postwar Occupation was over, but Japan took no such step.
Taro Nakayama, the former foreign minister who heads the Constitution panel in the Lower House, says such a view is irrational, maintaining that the procedures stipulated in the Constitution should be followed when it is revised.
In 1957, the government set up a similar Cabinet-level panel to consider revising the Constitution. Its report in 1964, which detailed pros and cons, failed to initiate formal Diet debate in the face of left-leaning parties’ insistence on keeping the document sacrosanct.
Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister and LDP leader, urged the panel to complete preliminary studies on the Constitution within two years and then begin discussing in detail which articles should be amended.
Rikukai Sasaki of the Japan Communist Party said his party will firmly oppose any change. “Japan should sever its security arrangement with the U.S. and seek ways to coexist with its Asian neighbors,” he said.
Any revision of the Constitution requires approval from more than two-thirds of both Diet chambers as well as from more than half of Japanese voters in a national plebiscite.
There have been indications of growing nationalism among Japan’s youth, who are beginning to recoil from the sense of guilt that permeates much of society.
As an example, Yoshinori Kobayashi’s “A Theory of War,” a comic book that portrays Japan’s role in the Pacific War in a positive rather than negative light, was a best seller in 1998.
In English, an exhaustive study of the American-written Constitution and the controversy that still swirls around it is found in “Embracing Defeat,” by John W. Dower (W.W. Norton and Company/The New Press, New York, 1999). Dower’s impressive work won the Pulitzer Prize for history this year.
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