The Japanese Constitution has never been modified since its enactment in 1947 despite many attempts. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s try may be the one that succeeds, depending on the outcome of the July Upper House elections. Abe’s most cherished goal is to end the pacifist Article 9 as well as depart from notions he sees as non-Japanese, imposed by the US after the war.
In April 2012, then-opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) published a draft of revision of the Constitution that is still the basis for the LDP’s position. The draft calls for a revision of Article 9. It also calls for strengthening the role of the Emperor and to exempt him from “the obligation to respect and uphold the Constitution”; restricting freedom of assembly, association, speech and other forms of expression that are done “for the purpose of interfering public interest and public order”; and negating public servants’ right to strike.
New Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says his first goal is to change Article 96, which governs the amendment process. Currently, an amendment must be passed by a two-thirds majority in each House of the Diet and then must be supported by a majority of the public in a referendum. Abe wants to reduce the Diet portion of the process to a simple majority in each House.
TOE: What do you think of the [LDP] draft revision?
Higuchi: This draft represents nothing less than a vision of the world for the LDP. Of course it attacks article 9, which grounds pacifism. But there is more: it wants to renounce the universalistic nature of the Constitution and set up a “purely Japanese” democracy. For its writers, there is a Japanese democracy an Egyptian democracy, a Chinese democracy. For example, Article 21 guarantees freedom of expression and association, against which some exceptions can and shall be set up by law. The LDP’s new Article 21 adds a paragraph saying that this freedom is limited when such activities “for the purpose of interfering public interest and public order.” This would put freedom and the exceptions to it on the same Constitutional level. The LDP says this draft aims at making Japan a “normal” country. But no normal developed country would accept such rules.
There have been more than ten Constitution revision drafts since 1947. In the 80s, then PM Yasuhiro Nakasone talked about it. At the time, he had started visiting Yasukuni Shrine again [where the souls of war dead, including some war criminals from World War II, are enshrined]. But he finally gave up his nationalistic agenda and refrained from visiting Yasukuni on the ground that he did not want to upset his “reformist friend,” then-Chinese Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang. This was wise.
The current LDP draft is different. It is not excessive to say that Abe in power in Japan is like having Le Pen in power in France. The LDP is not conservative anymore; rather, it is nationalist-radical. It ignores history and feels ashamed of Japan’s modern, democratic past. Take for example the myth that the Constitution was imposed on the Japanese people. Of course, it was imposed on Japan’s leaders. But one should not forget that the US imposed this Constitution also on its own allies, like the Russians and Australians, who were way less merciful towards Japan. They rejected the idea of the Emperor playing any role in post-WWII Japan.
TOE: Is public opinion still attached to Article 9?
Higuchi: Yes. The very existence of SDF [Self-Defense Force] was in debate after the war. Today, the SDF is popular because of its response to the Fukushima disaster. But that does not mean that Japanese people are ready to throw article 9 under the bus. Article 9 allowed Japan to stay clear from the Iraq war. It is perfectly sufficient to allow the defense of the Senkaku islands.
TOE: Is Constitutional protection of liberty important to the public?
Higuchi: The only Constitutional topic that truly matters for Japanese public opinion is war. It is regrettable, but it is a fact.
TOE: Isn’t it a paradox that one of the strongest nationalists in Japan, Shinzo Abe, is also the staunchest defender of the Alliance with the United States?
Higuchi: That is the great paradox. Shinzo Abe refuses the legitimacy of the 1945 Tokyo trial, yet he wants to strengthen the relationship with America. The other paradox concerns memory. Shinzo Abe thinks that comfort women are a detail of WWII, yet his friends buy advertising pages in America’s main newspapers to try to negate this claim.
TOE: Japanese leaders never stop apologizing; yet Japan is still viewed as denying its history.
Higuchi: Japanese leaders apologize, but dissenting opinions make ripples abroad. The Japanese people truly feel sorry for Asian victims of WWII. But there is no Willy Brandt [the former West German Chancellor] in the Japanese ruling elite to remind them of what the Japanese Imperial Army truly did then. And Japanese leaders told them so many times that they did not do anything wrong that they ended up believing it. To end this deadlock, Japan should both renew its apologies to Asian victims of the Imperial Army, and condemn the Tiananmen slaughter and the oppression in Tibet. My generation still has memory. I was 10 when the war ended. I still remember it. The school order was modeled on the army. Intelligence counted for nothing. Only physical ability and obedience were praised.
TOE: How to convince the Japanese people of the importance of democracy?
Higuchi: I am writing a small book that will remind Japan of its history. Undoubtedly, Japan has a democratic tradition. This tradition is mentioned in the Potsdam Statement of July 26, 1945, in which the Allied forces define the terms of what would be Japan’s surrender: “The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established [emphasis added].”