The Emperor’s cover letter to the Japanese Constitution
Quite a few of the people of my acquaintance recognize that the current Constitution is a sham. But most of them say this shouldn’t be discussed in public, or that the time for discussing it in public hasn’t arrived yet. Not only that, some of them even refrain from discussing it with me in public.
- Fukuda Tsuneari, author, critic, translator of Shakespeare, in 1975
THE time for discussing the Constitution in public has arrived. Some Japanese were ready to rewrite the document the day the Allied occupation ended, but the psychological effects of the war and the need to regain international respect prevented that. There has always been sympathy for the idea, but the state of mind of those sympathizers was much like that of Fukuda Tsuneari’s acquaintances. As former Defense Secretary Ishiba Shigeru pointed out:
“When people talked about national defense before, others would accuse them of being right wing or bellicose.”
Among the accusers and the strongest defenders of the Constitution was the Japanese left, which in practical terms means people to the left of the Clinton/Blair Third Way. Their influence has waned over the years, a process that culminated with the failures of the first two DPJ governments, particularly that of Kan Naoto.
People have long recognized the hypocrisy of their positions. For example, they attack the Japan-U.S. security treaty in public, but accept it in private. The disappearance of American military would mean the reappearance of the Japanese military as a legitimate, legally sanctioned military force. The Asahi Shimbun, their media outlet of choice, has said as much. Their approach is similar to that of democratic socialists (the name of Kan Naoto’s original party) and socialists everywhere. Some have been and still are sympathizers of China and North Korea. This is not the approach of most Japanese people.
Several generations of Japanese have reached maturity since the end of the war, and the outlook of pre-war Japan is as alien to them as Zoroastrianism. The idea that they should be held responsible for the behavior of their great-grandparents is just as alien. They understand that the 50-60 years of bad behavior was an aberration when seen from the perspective of a millennium and a half of history.
And then there are the people who think nationhood requires that the nation’s defining charter should be written by the people of that nation and not the legal representatives of a conquering power. They just want their country back.
The behavior of some countries in the region has hastened the day of discussion. That the Chinese are up to no good goes without saying. It is now apparent that the South Koreans are unsatisfiable in bilateral relations, and will keep changing the location of their imaginary goalposts while complaining that the Japanese ignore them. There is also a growing belief that the Americans are fickle and would not uphold their end of the security treaty bargain should the need arise.
The recent intensification of activity within the closed loop of emotional chauvinism among the government, media, and public in South Korea and China will accelerate this process. Several Japanese-language websites carry direct translations — not analyses — of Chinese and South Korean media reports. The educated and informed public immediately places links to articles of interest from these sites on Twitter, which has become the de facto Japanese blogosphere. People now know that the Chinese are trying to foment Okinawan independence, and that some Koreans are trying to “recover” Tsushima. They now know of the needlessly contemptuous newspaper articles in the South Korean daily press, written in a tone unlike any in a Japanese newspaper, with deliberately insulting references to the “Japanese king” (i.e., the Emperor).
Japan’s neighbors have contributed as much to the advance of Constitutional debate as anyone inside the country.
We’ve seen before that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, the leader of the regional One Osaka group that is about to become a national party, is in favor of eliminating the Peace Clause of the Constitution. At the end of May, One Osaka declared Constitutional reform to be one of their objectives. Said Mr. Hashimoto:
“A process is required in which we rework the Constitution ourselves, in consideration of the special circumstances during which it was created in the period after the loss in the Second World War and before Japan regained its sovereignty….That we have a Constitution which causes a debate as to whether it was imposed on us or whether it is invalid is itself shameful.”
As for Article 9:
“It causes us to forget the ceaseless efforts required to maintain our peaceful way of life.”
Most interesting is the strategy they have adopted. Their first step will be an attempt to revise Article 96, which requires a two-thirds vote of both houses and a national referendum to amend the Constitution. Until that happens, they say, nothing happens. Their goal is reduce the requirement to a simple majority vote of both houses.
One Osaka will not now offer a new draft of the Constitution. They insist that should be the end of the process. A national debate comes first.
The Liberal-Democratic Party
Now in the opposition, the former ruling party for most of the past 50 years included a plank calling for a Japanese-written constitution in their charter when they were founded in 1955. They submitted a draft in April timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the peace treaty.
The party has rewritten the entire preamble. It will no longer contain this section:
We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationships and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.
Their official statement read:
“We have citied the autonomous revision of the Constitution as the mission of our party since its formation. After emerging from the occupation, we have made many statements for the revision of the Constitution to make Japan a country worthy of being a sovereign state.”
The word I translated here as “emerging”, by the way, was dakkyaku. That passage could also read, “After extracting ourselves from the occupation…”
They note that Japan has never amended its Constitution since the end of the war, while the U.S. has done so six times, France 27, Italy 15, and Germany 58. Here’s a look at some of their proposed changes.
The LDP draft maintains the three principles of the people’s sovereignty, respect for basic human rights, and pacifism, while expressing the determination to defend the history, culture, nation, and land of Japan by themselves.
The Emperor shall be the head of state, and the symbol of the Japanese nation and the unity of the people of Japan. (The current Constitution says only that he is the symbol of the state.) “Head of state” here is in the sense of a constitutional monarch.
The draft makes clear that the national flag and the national anthem are the national flag and the national anthem. The Japanese republicans (anti-monarchists), such as Kan Naoto, cloak their opposition in the criticism of the war years. Some DPJ Cabinet ministers have made a point of hiding the Japanese flag or moving it out of sight during their swearing-in ceremonies and press conferences.
The success of One Osaka in passing legislation calling for the national anthem to be played and sung during ceremonies at the start and end of the school year over the objections of teachers’ unions suggests any opposition to this can be overcome.
Unlike the practice in the U.S., incidentally, the national anthem is not played at the start of every professional sporting event.
This chapter of the draft contains provisions enabling unilateral self-defense and the maintenance of a military while maintaining the principle of pacifism. The name of the Self-Defense Forces will be eliminated, and the military forces will be called just that. There are also provisions for participating in international collective self-defense and the protection of national territory.
The LDP would include in this chapter, which addresses the rights and obligations of the people, the requirement of national citizenship for voting rights, including local elections. The current Constitution says voting rights are for “the people”, without further defining it. The Supreme Court has stated that means citizenship, but the ruling DPJ wants to give Korean citizens born in Japan the right to vote in local elections.
Everyone recognizes this to be a step in the door to the right to vote and run in national elections. People are also aware of the unusual degree of support provided to the DPJ by the zainichi, including illegal financial contributions.
There would also be a provision for respecting the family and the mutual assistance of families. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the mother of a wealthy show business personality was receiving welfare payments at the same time he was getting rich. This revelation touched off a mini-cultural war.
One provision relates to Article 20, which is the Japanese version of the separation of church and state. The LDP draft allows religious activities that do not exceed the scope of social ceremonies and traditions. This refers to Shinto rituals, such as festivals or ceremonies with priests when construction projects are started or finished. State Shinto is no longer a factor the life of the nation.
The Diet is now reviewing the Constitution and proposed amendments under the direction of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. The party’s center of gravity is on the left, and many of their members are first-termers who won their seats in 2009 and will lose them in the next election. They are trying to stall the process while they still can. One way they are doing that is by forcing a review of the document article by article. All 103 of them.
Said Kakizawa Mito of Your Party
“There’s already been a constitutional draft with amendments to 42 articles submitted by a group of several parties, but that’s been shelved. This is unusual to say the least.”
Your Party, the only reform party at the national level, supports making the Emperor the head of state, as well as the LDP provisions for the flag and anthem. They also support the direct election of the prime minister (now chosen by the Diet under the Westminster system). They note that the head of the royal house is already the head of state in European countries, and criticize those who deliberately confuse the issues related to the Emperor and the election of the prime minister.
Here’s a taste of the debate about the role of the Emperor.
From Yamahana Ikuo of the DPJ:
“At present, we do not as a party have a unified opinion on individual clauses.”
This is a laugh line in today’s Japan. A party that includes both socialists and people who cite Margaret Thatcher as their primary political influence is incapable of a unified opinion on anything.
“If we were to make changes in the Imperial succession, a referendum would be required that enables recognition of (the Emperor) as a symbol of national unity. To amend the Constitution, it would be desirable to have all the Diet groups submit a unified proposal. If each of the Diet groups submitted their own proposal, there would be a political battle.”
In other words, they don’t want to do anything.
Nakatani Gen of the LDP a former SDF officer (Ranger):
“There is an aspect to the Emperor in which he represents Japan in diplomatic relations, and he should be clearly specified as the head of state for external matters too. For national acts, it would be slightly disrespectful to refer to it as advice and consent for the Cabinet, so we have worded it in our draft as “offer an opinion”. The flag and national anthem are symbols of the state, so it is necessary to provide for this in the Constitution.”
Akamatsu Masao of New Komeito, associated with Sokagakkai, a lay Buddhist group:
“No clauses need to be added to Chapter One. The established position of the Emperor as a symbol like the head of state is suitable. The meaning would change if we specified the Emperor as the head of state. As for the issue of a female emperor, that should be left to a debate about the revision of the Imperial Household Law, but we have argued that it should be recognized.”
Kasai Akira of the Communist Party:
“A mechanism in which one individual through heredity becomes the symbol of Japanese national unity is not suited to the principles of democracy or human equality. The direction we should aim for Japan in the future is to be a democratic republic. At the same time, the Emperor system is part of the Constitution, so whether it should be maintained or eliminated is an issue that should be resolved by the will of the people.”
Watanabe Koichiro of the Kizuna Party, a nine-member splinter group from the DPJ:
“The Emperor is the head of state but this should not be specified. Most of the people already have the idea that the Emperor is the head of state. The Emperor is not the same as the president or the prime minister of other countries, and should be perceived as a symbol above that.”
This is very much the old school in Japanese political thought. As former Prime Minister Aso Taro said about the right of self-defense, we have it but we aren’t going to use it. In other words, it’s really there, but coming right out and saying it will upset some people.
Teruya Kantoku of the Social Democrats:
“Stating that the Emperor is the head of state is in opposition to the basic principles of the Constitution and cannot at all be recognized. Public opinion supports a female Emperor, and is part of the mainstream opinion of equal participation in society. This should be achieved by an amendment to the Imperial Household Law. We are opposed to increasing the amount of his acts of state, or public acts.”
The SDP is the remnant of the hardline left that didn’t join the DPJ to maintain their political viability. The news media conducts monthly polls to determine the rate of support for each party. When rounded off to the nearest whole number, the support for the SDP fluctuates between 0% and 1%.
The peace clause discussion began at the end of May. The ruling DPJ said their position is as stated in a declaration they adopted in 2005 — a declaration that many of their MPs publicly oppose.
During the Diet discussion, DPJ member Osaka Seiji read the declaration line by line. Nakano Kansei, head of the party’s committee on constitutional study, said the declaration was “the most authoritative decision” the DPJ had made as a party. But former DPJ Justice Minister Hirano Hideo, a leftist with connections to the Korean community, said “It is just a declaration, and it is not supposed to be the party’s official position.” He was also worried:
“There’s been an increase lately in right-leaning politicians. Should we be dragged along with them?”
Rather than being dragged along, they will more likely be shunted aside. Here’s a brief look at the scorecard:
LDP: The right of self-defense includes both the right of individual and collective self-defense. It is a matter of common sense throughout the world that having a military is to secure the safety of the citizens.
DPJ: We will remain committed to the idea of pacifism that has been fostered in postwar Japan, and clearly express the right of self-defense as established in the UN charter.
New Komeito: There is no need to amend the Constitution, but the Self-Defense Forces are constitutional. Article 9 does not repudiate the right of individual sovereign states to self-defense.
There’s that old school thinking again.
The Diet debate, however, is largely a rehash of the positions fossilized over the past half-century. The future belongs to the people of One Osaka, other similar groups, and those who sympathize with them. It is not yet possible to define the form a new Constitution will take, nor when that will happen. If the linear trends continue, however, it will happen, and sooner than some people think. The day that happens, most people — regardless of their opinions about the content — will see that as the day Japan regained its nationhood.
Do not be surprised if Article 9 is tossed on the ash heap of history. Do not be surprised if the role of the Emperor is redefined as the head of state. There are many historical examples of the nation rallying around the symbol of the Emperor when Japan’s existence is threatened. That was one of the factors driving the Meiji Restoration in 1869.
When that happens, we already know what will emerge from the closed loop of emotional chauvinism among the government, media, and public in South Korea and China. Some of it will also appear in the Western media. It will be as unfounded as the concerns about a reunified Germany 20 years ago.
We also know what won’t emerge from that closed loop — the realization that they facilitated the process.
* From Charles Kades in 1981:
“I myself wrote Article 9, including the section about the renunciation of war. I was given a page from a yellow legal pad by Whitney with instructions on three or four main points. I think they were notes he took from a conversation with MacArthur. But every nation has the right to its own self-defense. That’s why I thought (the part prohibiting self-defense) was illogical, and I took the liberty to remove it.”
Kades said at the same time that he didn’t understand the meaning of the term “the right of belligerency”. (He was an attorney.) He said that if Japan had objected to that phrase, he intended to remove it.
* Some in Japan suggest that, contrary to what others might think, Japanese conservatives were among the foremost of those who supported a strong alliance with South Korea based on the principle of anti-Communism. They overlooked the anti-Japanese attitudes to give that priority.
Those days seem to be over.
Here’s the group Shinsei Kamattchan. They are not your father’s (or grandfather’s) Japan. The drummer and the keyboard player (the group leader) set them apart. No one knows quite what to make of singer-guitarist Noko (～の子, for those who understand Japanese).