Foreign Policy Mag etc. on GOJ and Constitutional Reform


Hi Blog. May seem only tangental to the bent of, but Constitutional Reform (and the processes thereof) underpins everything, particularly the processes through which we work in Japan’s civil society, we try to get done here.

Constitutional reform has since gotten bogged down in the whole pensions scandals, and Abe’s decreasing popularity affecting late-July elections, so sawaranu kami. But if the Abe Administration continues, we should see more of what’s described below. Related articles follow. Debito

2007 June 1, Foreign Policy Magazine
Japan’s Revolution Is Far Too Quiet

By Bruce Ackerman, Norikazu Kawagishi
Posted May 2007
Courtesy of a reporter friend

Japan is on the cusp of a constitutional revolution. To an overstretched West, a newly muscular Tokyo promises stability in a rapidly shifting region. Yet, in its rush to overturn six decades of official pacifism, the Japanese government is stifling the serious national debate required in a modern democracy. Is anyone paying attention?

Japan’s pacifist Constitution has been frozen in time, unchanged since it was enacted during the occupation of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But with little opportunity for debate, the Japanese parliament recently passed a bill that opens the door to major constitutional revisions. Western governments, overwhelmed by their security commitments around the world, have honed in on one preferred outcome-amendment of Article Nine, which prohibits Japan from participating in war and restricts the size and scope of its military. Their nearly exclusive emphasis on this point has obscured the deeply flawed process by which the changes are to be made.

The new law, pushed by the inexperienced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, allows the government to hold a national referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. Rammed through parliament on a party-line vote, the Abe initiative has serious flaws.

Most importantly, it imposes drastic restrictions on freedom of speech. No political advertising will be permitted on radio or television during the two-week run-up to the referendum on proposed amendments. Worse yet, the law bans the nation’s schoolteachers from speaking out on the matter-as if a little learning were a dangerous thing when the nation contemplates its constitutional future. These restrictions have no place in a system based on the rule of the people.

But the government may have something else in mind. The new law fails to require a minimum turnout before any constitutional referendum becomes valid. By tolerating massive political passivity and imposing silence on broad sectors of civil society, the law sets the stage for a parody of democratic politics. The Constitution should not be amended by minorities marching to the polls under the guidance of entrenched political elites.

Some checks on abuse will remain. The Constitution inherited from the MacArthur era requires a two-thirds vote from both legislative houses before an amendment can be placed before the voters. This supermajority rule will necessitate a consensus from the political elite before any basic constitutional change could occur. But democratic principles require something more-a full and fair test of the consent of ordinary citizens. By restricting free speech and not mandating a minimum voter turnout, the referendum law falls short of this key requirement.

Western policymakers will find it easy to ignore this point. With NATO’s resources desperately overstretched, they are increasingly concerned with the revision of the famous “peace clause” of Article Nine. As they contemplate China’s rising power, a growing number of Western governments will be tempted to support the repeal of the peace article without serious questioning.

This would be a grievous mistake. Any attempt to repudiate Article Nine would generate large anxieties in the region, even if it is accompanied by flawless democratic procedures. But an effort by elites to ram repeal through a defective process will justifiably generate larger concerns about the future of Japanese democracy. It is one thing for a democratic Japan to return to the world stage as a normal military power; it is quite another for it to create a precedent for future assaults on its fragile constitutional heritage. In a fiercely nationalistic region with long historical memories, such a move could be extremely dangerous.

Abe is right about one thing: Japan’s move toward popular sovereignty is essential if the Japanese people are to take ownership of their own political destiny. The existing Constitution was largely drafted by American military lawyers and was never put up for approval by the people. Sixty years later, it is past time for modern Japan to move beyond the U.S. occupation and build a constitution worthy of its two generations of democratic practice. But this new law is the wrong way to start.

The referendum law does not come into effect for three years-time enough for public opinion, both inside and outside the country, to have an impact. Intent on repealing the peace article, the Abe government has pressed forward without a broad discussion of its larger constitutional implications. But it would be shortsighted for friends of the country to allow this silence to continue.

Bruce Ackerman is professor of law and political science at Yale University.
Norikazu Kawagishi is professor of law and political science at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.


Abe’s political problems mount as approval ratings sink
By Takehiko Kambayashi
THE WASHINGTON TIMES Published June 8, 2007

TOKYO — With his approval ratings sinking, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is embroiled in political and pension scandals and his Cabinet minister’s suicide.

Before heading to Heiligendamm, Germany, where he is attending the Group of Eight summit, Mr. Abe announced a plan to cut worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2050. The prime minister, however, may need to prepare for a more impending firestorm: the upper-house elections next month.

Mr. Abe took office in September with popularity ratings of about 70 percent, but that number has steadily declined. An opinion poll released last week by the major daily Asahi Shimbun found that Mr. Abe’s approval rating hit a record 30 percent, while his disapproval rating reached a record 49 percent. Unlike his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, Mr. Abe has failed to attract independent voters.

Analysts attributed the drop to Mr. Abe’s weak leadership and to his handling of a string of political, financial and pension scandals.

In late May, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who was accused of bid-rigging and misuse of public funds, hanged himself before he was to face questioning in parliament. Mr. Abe consistently defended the minister while the opposition parties asked him to fulfill his responsibilities to make a full explanation.

“The responsibility of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who appointed Mr. Matsuoka as Cabinet minister and who defended him after suspicions were pressed, is not small,” the conservative Sankei, a paper usually sympathetic to Mr. Abe, said in an editorial. “This is a major blow to the Cabinet with upper-house elections around the corner.”

The public also was angered by the health ministry’s loss of records related to about 50 million pension cases. The beleaguered ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LPD) and New Komeito steamrolled a pair of bills intended to resolve the problem.

Akikazu Hashimoto, a senior research associate at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, said, “The pension scandal has only begun.”

“I would say that is a state crime,” said Mr. Hashimoto, who is a visiting professor at J.F. Oberlin University. The scandal “exposed the vulnerability of Japan’s bureaucracy and the fragility of its democracy, which has experienced virtually no transfer of power.”

Mr. Abe and some LDP members blamed Naoto Kan, former president of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, for the disappearance of the records because Mr. Kan once served as a health minister. Even other LDP members criticized the deflection of blame.

“It is the ruling LDP that had the responsibility to supervise the ministry,” Mr. Hashimoto said. “Mr. Abe lacks academic ability and the qualities of a leader.”

Meanwhile, the scandals have continued to unfold. On Wednesday, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa said in parliament that the Social Insurance Agency has yet to enter 14.3 million pension cases into its computer system.

The Rise of Japan’s Thought Police
By Steven Clemons, New America Foundation
The Washington Post | August 27, 2006 ons/articles/ 2006/the_ rise_of_japan_ s_thought_ police
Courtesy of Pat O’Brien

Anywhere else, it might have played out as just another low-stakes battle between policy wonks. But in Japan, a country struggling to find a brand of nationalism that it can embrace, a recent war of words between a flamboyant newspaper editorialist and an editor at a premier foreign-policy think tank was something far more alarming: the latest assault in a campaign of right-wing intimidation of public figures that is squelching free speech and threatening to roll back civil society.

On Aug. 12, Yoshihisa Komori — a Washington-based editorialist for the ultra-conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper — attacked an article by Masaru Tamamoto, the editor of Commentary, an online journal run by the Japan Institute of International Affairs. The article expressed concern about the emergence of Japan’s strident, new “hawkish nationalism, ” exemplified by anti-China fear-mongering and official visits to a shrine honoring Japan’s war dead. Komori branded the piece “anti-Japanese, ” and assailed the mainstream author as an “extreme leftist intellectual. “

But he didn’t stop there. Komori demanded that the institute’s president, Yukio Satoh, apologize for using taxpayer money to support a writer who dared to question Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, in defiance of Chinese protests that it honors war criminals from World War II.

Remarkably, Satoh complied. Within 24 hours, he had shut down Commentary and withdrawn all of the past content on the site — including his own statement that it should be a place for candid discourse on Japan’s foreign-policy and national-identity challenges. Satoh also sent a letter last week to the Sankei editorial board asking for forgiveness and promising a complete overhaul of Commentary’s editorial management.

The capitulation was breathtaking. But in the political atmosphere that has overtaken Japan, it’s not surprising. Emboldened by the recent rise in nationalism, an increasingly militant group of extreme right-wing activists who yearn for a return to 1930s-style militarism, emperor-worship and “thought control” have begun to move into more mainstream circles — and to attack those who don’t see things their way.

Just last week, one of those extremists burned down the parental home of onetime prime ministerial candidate Koichi Kato, who had criticized Koizumi’s decision to visit Yasukuni this year. Several years ago, the home of Fuji Xerox chief executive and Chairman Yotaro “Tony” Kobayashi was targeted by handmade firebombs after he, too, voiced the opinion that Koizumi should stop visiting Yasukuni. The bombs were dismantled, but Kobayashi continued to receive death threats. The pressure had its effect. The large business federation that he helps lead has withdrawn its criticism of Koizumi’s hawkishness toward China and his visits to Yasukuni, and Kobayashi now travels with bodyguards.

In 2003, then-Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka discovered a time bomb in his home. He was targeted for allegedly being soft on North Korea. Afterward, conservative Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara contended in a speech that Tanaka “had it coming.”

Another instance of free-thinking- meets-intimidati on involved Sumiko Iwao, an internationally respected professor emeritus at Keio University. Right-wing activists threatened her last February after she published an article suggesting that much of Japan is ready to endorse female succession in the imperial line; she issued a retraction and is now reportedly lying low.

Such extremism raises disturbing echoes of the past. In May 1932, Japanese Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated by a group of right-wing activists who opposed his recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Manchuria and his staunch defense of parliamentary democracy. In the post-World War II era, right-wing fanatics have largely lurked in the shadows, but have occasionally threatened those who veer too close to or speak too openly about sensitive topics concerning Japan’s national identity, war responsibility or imperial system.

What’s alarming and significant about today’s intimidation by the right is that it’s working — and that it has found some mutualism in the media. Sankei’s Komori has no direct connection to those guilty of the most recent acts, but he’s not unaware that his words frequently animate them — and that their actions in turn lend fear-fueled power to his pronouncements, helping them silence debate. What’s worse, neither Japan’s current prime minister nor Shinzo Abe, the man likely to succeed him in next month’s elections, has said anything to denounce those trying to stifle the free speech of Japan’s leading moderates.

There are many more cases of intimidation. I have spoken to dozens of Japan’s top academics, journalists and government civil servants in the past few days; many of them pleaded with me not to disclose this or that incident because they feared violence and harassment from the right. One top political commentator in Japan wrote to me: “I know the right-wingers are monitoring what I write and waiting to give me further trouble. I simply don’t want to waste my time or energy for these people.”

Japan needs nationalism. But it needs a healthy nationalism — not the hawkish, strident variety that is lately forcing many of the country’s best lights to dim their views.

2 comments on “Foreign Policy Mag etc. on GOJ and Constitutional Reform


    Monday’s Japan Times featured an article about Tanabata- the Star Festival- and invited its readers to make a wish and send it to them. They said the wish will appear on the website. Imagine if MANY foreigners and Japanese wished that Japanese police would stop the random harrassment of foreigners for their registration cards. A mountain of such requests would certainly get the media’s attention and may get the Japan Times to write an article about it. As a Japanese U can make that wish based on the fact that racial profiling is an embarrassment to Japan. Please help us by A. making the wish by going up on the website-

    PS The ad promises Ur wish will be granted!! B. Send this email to everyone U know and urge them to do the same. Our voices will be heard!

  • Jeff Korpa says:

    Hi Debito:

    I agree. Abe is facing a test of his leadership and national support ahead of parliamentary elections, but I expect the LDP to come out on top. Worst case scenario is that a significant loss for the LDP could lead to Abe’s resignation, although I think the possibility of this is slim. Assuming Abe gets the boot, Tanigaki would probably take over as his successor. Tanigaki could bring a fresh new face to the LDP as he addressed social security reform and helped rebuild domestic support for further constitutional reform. In any event, what matters most from the LDP’s point of view is dominance of the Lower House since it holds the power to appoint Japan’s prime minister. The LDP looks to be in good shape here as it has a solid majority. So either way, it looks like Abe and/or the LDP will proceed with defense reforms, increasing military and technological cooperation with the U.S. and stretching the interpretation of Japan’s Constitution.


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