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Momentum for constitutional amendments, which grew under the administrations of former Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe, has diminished following the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s drubbing in the July 29 Upper House election and pro-amendment Abe’s surprise resignation in September.

In fact, public opinion has become increasingly cautious about revising the Constitution, in particular the war-renouncing Article 9, despite the government’s enthusiasm.

An opinion poll conducted last spring by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper showed 46 percent of the respondents in favor of constitutional amendments and 39 percent against. Support had decreased 9 points from a year earlier — the third consecutive yearly decline — while opposition had increased 7 points. The newspaper said the increasing likelihood that the amendment push might succeed made some supporters cautious.

In my opinion, opposition to amending the Constitution has increased because of a national campaign by the Article 9 Association, founded in June 2004 by nine intellectuals including Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe, to protect the article. As of the end of November, the association, which promotes its activities nationwide, had 6,800 chapters based in communities and workplaces.

Late last month, I attended a meeting held in Yokohama by the association’s Kanagawa prefectural chapter. The venue of the meeting, the 1,508-seat first floor of a public hall, was almost full.

In recent years, I have covered public meetings on subjects such as prime ministers’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine and the realignment of U.S. bases in Japan. Most of these meetings were held in small halls accommodating less than 100 people. The Yokohama meeting, attended by more than 1,000 people, was the largest gathering of its kind I have ever seen.

Like other meetings, the Yokohama gathering was attended mostly by middle-aged to elderly people. However, of the 100 or so people who took the stage, all were young, except for University of Tokyo professor Yoichi Komori and author Kazutoshi Hando, both of whom held one-on-one discussions. Younger speakers recited Article 9, staged skits on the Constitution and sang songs in praise of the charter. A third-year middle school student gave a moving speech about his visit to the city of Hiroshima. These activities seemed symbolic of the fast expansion of the association.

The Article 9 Association raised funds for production of the movie “The Blue Sky of Japan,” which tells the story of how the present Constitution came into being. Since last spring, the movie has been showing nationwide via a noncommercial distribution channel to mark the 60th anniversary of the Constitution’s taking effect.

The movie focuses on the hard work done by a group of Japanese constitutional experts to draft a democratic constitution for presentation to the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces immediately after the end of World War II. It refutes revisionists’ theories that the pacifist Constitution was imposed on Japan by U.S. authorities.

The Article 9 Association is a nonpartisan spontaneous movement, its birth having coincided with the emergence of a dominant group of unaffiliated voters who have had a major influence on national elections in recent years. The association is now playing a leading role in blocking constitutional amendments.

The Bush administration is pushing amendments to Japan’s Constitution even as concerned American citizens support Article 9. Among the most ardent supporters is Charles M. Overby, professor emeritus at Ohio University. He founded the Article 9 Society in Athens, Ohio, in 1991 together with members of the local Unitarian Church. The group aims to have all nations incorporate the principles of Article 9 in their constitutions.

Overby toured Japan for about a month from late May, visiting Japanese Article 9 Association chapters in major cities. He condemned the Bush administration and appealed for efforts to protect Article 9, which he said was a treasure of humankind.

U.S. movie director John Junkerman, who has made documentaries in Japan and the United States, also champions Article 9. In a keynote speech at a public meeting held in Japan last May to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Constitution’s implementation, Junkerman said Article 9 represented Japan’s apology to Asian countries for its war conduct and that renouncing it would be tantamount to taking back the apology.

C. Douglas Lummis, a former professor at Tsudajuku University and current resident of Okinawa (where he once served in the Marine Corps), has written a number of books in support of the Japanese Constitution.

Businessman Bill Totten has written books contending that the U.S. military presence endangers Japan. Disillusioned with his homeland, he obtained Japanese citizenship in the summer of 2006. In January 2007 he published a book in Japanese, “Nihon wa Ryakudatsu Kokka Amerika wo Suteyo (Japan! Abandon the U.S., the Predatory Nation).”

I believe that the above American defenders of the Japanese Constitution also have helped block moves for constitutional amendments.

Meanwhile, moves to limit constitutional freedoms of thought and speech continue unabated in Japan. The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education has punished nearly 400 teachers who refused to obey its order to pay respect to the national flag and sing the national anthem at graduation and enrollment ceremonies.

The Kanagawa Prefectural Board of Education ordered the principals of all prefectural high schools to report the names of teachers who refused to stand up during the singing of the national anthem. Although the prefectural review board for privacy protection in October decided that the names should not be reported since the teachers’ actions were based on personal beliefs, the board of education would not relent and the issue remains unresolved.

Japanese history through the end of World War II proved that a national defense buildup and war deprived the public of the freedom of thought and speech. The war-renouncing Article 9 is the foundation of a born-again Japan.

Revisionists claim that Japan is the only nation in the world that refuses to revise its Constitution. Obviously they seek the invalidation of Article 9. Revising this article would be akin to Switzerland’s giving up its nearly 200-year-old principle of permanent neutrality.

We cannot afford to abandon the pacifist Constitution, a positive gain acquired as a result of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

Kiroku Hanai is a journalist and former editorial writer for the Tokyo Shimbun.

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