A Tribute to Professor Yasuhiro Okudaira (1929–2015)
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 9 Mar 2015
An Academic Defender of the Peace Constitution of Japan
- PROFESSOR YASUHIRO OKUDAIRA’S PASSING
This coming Sunday, on 15 March 2015, will mark the 49th day after Professor Yasuhiro Okudaira’s death. Reportedly he died of a heart attack at his home on Monday, 26 January 2015.
He was a professor of constitution at the University of Tokyo and the International Christian University, Tokyo. He was 85. He was one of the nine founding members of the Article 9 Association for defending the Constitution to call for blocking attempts to amend the Constitution. Article 9 is known as the war-renouncing clause of Japan’s postwar Constitution.
Okudaira denounced the decision by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year to change the government’s interpretation of the Constitution in a way that allows Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. For Japan, having the ability to exercise collective self-defense would allow it to attack forces at war with an ally even if Japan itself is not under attack without breaking the Constitution. At press conferences and public meetings, he insisted that the Cabinet should not exploit its new interpretation to undermine Article 9 and that the act of reinterpretation amounts to a constitutional amendment.
- BACKGROUND OF PROFESSOR OKUDAIRA’S ACTIVITY FOR THE PEACE CONSTITUTION
Professor Okudaira had been working to defend the Constitution of Japan, (aka the Peace Constitution) over the decades. Currently, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is appeared to tread steadily a path of what might be called a new militarization of Japan. This contemporary trend made Okudaira work harder ever in defending the Peace Constitution that Abe’s government is planning to amend.
On 7 May 2012, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the ruling party of Japan, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, announced in their website (https://www.jimin.jp/english/news/117099.html), a proposal of a thoroughly revised constitution of Japan:
Since its formation, the Liberal Democratic Party has advocated the crafting of a revised constitution for Japan. Over the years, the Party has announced numerous proposals for constitutional amendments that will unshackle the country from the system established during the Occupation and make Japan a truly sovereign state. In May 2012, which marks the 60th anniversary of the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the Liberal Democratic Party released a draft of a revised constitution appropriate to the times and circumstances of Japan.
The LDP’s proposal was prepared to enact a completely new constitution of Japan. The same website elaborates as follows:
All articles of the present constitution from the preamble to the provisions have been reviewed and revised. The revised draft is composed of eleven chapters, 110 articles in total, whereas the present Constitution has ten chapters comprising 103 articles. The preamble has been entirely redrafted. They state that Japan has a long history, a distinctive culture that respects harmony, and that the nation is a family whose members contribute to the common good.
The main points of the revised constitution are:
- prescriptions on the use of the national flag and the national anthem are provided;
- the right of self-defense is prescribed;
- an emergency article is newly provided;
- Japan shall respect the family, be responsible for environmental conservation and ensure a sound economy; and
- conditions for constitutional amendment initiatives are mitigated.
This draft is designed to meet the need of the times and respond to new challenges so that the revised constitution is appropriate for today’s Japan.
Prime Minister Abe’s LDP government is promoting the replacement, not only a partial amendment, of the Constitution of Japan, aka the “Peace Constitution”. Not only the Japanese nationals but also the international community over all expresses its concern on this issue. For example, the website of The Times, on 18 April 2013, reports, “Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, is fighting to change the country’s ‘peace constitution’ in an historic step that will divide public opinion and further anger Tokyo’s already touchy neighbours. Mr Abe, who is riding a wave of popular support for his economic policies, promised to ‘make a new constitution with our own hands’, 66 years after the ‘occupation army’ of the United States imposed the current model on the defeated nation.”
The website of The Economist, on 1 July 2013, expresses its concern about the issue and writes:
“EVER since its founding in 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has wanted to write a constitution to replace the ultraliberal one which America drafted for the devastated country in a matter of days in 1946. Throwing off the framework imposed by the former occupiers is the life’s work of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister. Along with a hoped-for rebound in the economy, rewriting the constitution lies at the heart of his notions for a revived Japan.”
The New York Times writes in its editorial on 8 May 2014 as follows (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/09/opinion/japans-pacifist-constitution.html):
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is pushing for an expanded role for the Japanese military that would allow it to fight alongside allies beyond the country’s territory. He seeks to shoulder greater global security responsibilities by what he calls proactive pacifism.
But he faces a major hurdle. Article 9 of the Constitution, which has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, states the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.” Mr. Abe’s aim to change the powers of the military would require a constitutional revision, which would mean winning two-thirds approval in both houses of Parliament, followed by a referendum — a very tall order. So instead, Mr. Abe seeks to void Article 9 by having the government reinterpret the Constitution. Such an act would completely undermine the democratic process.
Mr. Abe’s highest political goal is to replace the Constitution written and imposed upon the Japanese by the American Army following World War II. For 67 years, not a single word has been amended. Mr. Abe strongly feels that the Constitution imposes an onerous restriction on Japanese sovereignty and is outdated. Still, as critics point out, he should know that the Constitution’s primary function is to check government power. It is not something that can be altered by the whim of government. Otherwise, there is no reason to bother with having a constitution at all.
The Atlantic, on the website of 23 January 2015, writes as follows (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/01/will-japan-abandon-pacifism/283298/):
After the Cold War ended, Japanese leaders began to contribute small numbers of unarmed troops to UN peacekeeping operations and humanitarian operations. The government of Junichiro Koizumi, in which Abe served as chief secretary, deployed 600 unarmed JSDF troops to Iraq between 2004 and 2006 to rebuild public works damaged by the war.
But Abe wants to go even further. Since retaking the premiership in 2012, his government has increased defense spending, passed a strengthened state secrets act at the United States’ behest, and deployed JSDF ships to patrol near the disputed Senkakus in defiance of Chinese government protests. Tokyo even vowed to obtain a ballistic missile program of its own after North Korean missile tests last spring. Most importantly, Abe wants to follow through on a long-desired goal to revise the Japanese constitution, which has not been amended since U.S. occupation authorities first drafted it after the war.
Constitutional revision is still a long-term goal for now, though. Japan’s arduous amendment process requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of parliament (Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party controls a sizable majority in the lower House of Representatives, but has only a coalition majority in the upper House of Councillors) and a national referendum. In his New Year’s message, Abe himself estimated that the process would only be completed by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But Abe’s not waiting that long to address Article 9. The Japanese government announced last week that it will move to reinterpret its legal stance on Article 9 to allow for “collective self-defense” alongside allied nations—a major shift in Japanese constitutional thinking (the U.S. is bound by treaty to defend Japan in the event of an attack). Abe recently observed that if North Korea launched a missile at an American ship near Japanese waters, Japan currently could not lawfully intercept it. That legal distinction might seem bizarre to other countries with strong alliances and enduring bilateral relations. The United States, by comparison, would not likely restrain itself if a North Korean missile struck Japanese ships near American waters. But Japan’s pacifist streak still runs deep: recent polls showed that 57 percent of voters oppose Abe’s proposed reinterpretation of Article 9, modest as it may be.
Shinzo Abe is unlikely to overcome that cultural taboo against military strength easily. But with tensions in East Asia showing no signs of abating, Japan could suddenly find itself in a crisis where its leaders can simply claim to have no other choice.
In his article, “Abe and the Re-Militarization of Japan”, posted on http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/01/abe-and-the-re-militarization-of-japan/, on 1 April 2014, Tom Clifford points out as follows:
Abe has vowed to push for a wholesale revision of the Japanese constitution to be enacted before the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. “By 2020, I think Japan will have completely restored its status and been making great contributions to peace and stability in the region and the world,” he said.
Overturning the export ban inevitably means that the focus will turn to Article 9 of the constitution. This states that Japan pledges never to wage war, or even maintain land, sea or armed forces capable of waging war. But the article that is key to Abe’s ambitions is 96.
This article sets out the procedures required to change the constitution, one that has never been altered; revised, re-interpreted but never actually altered since its enactment in 1947.
As the above cited Tom Clifford’s article mentions, Article 96 of the Constitution of Japan stipulates the procedure for the amendment of the Constitution. The possible amendment steps are discussed as follows:
Professor Yagi said the consitutional [sic] revision would be conducted in two stages. First, the aim would be to change Article 96, which requires a supermajority for both houses of the Diet to propose constitutional amendments, after the upper house election to be held this July in which the LDP and other revisionist parties are predicted to take more than two-third of seats. Second, the substantive change of constitutional provisions regarding citizens’ rights and obligations will occur, but not within the next three years. Nonetheless, Professor Yagi insisted that the current constitution must be changed for its “failure to reflect the history, culture and identity of the Japanese nation that make Japan different from other nations.”
The New York Times, on 2 July 2014, reported as follows:
TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister announced a reinterpretation of the country’s pacifist Constitution on Tuesday [1 July 2014], freeing its military for the first time in over 60 years to play a more assertive role in the increasingly tense region.
The decision by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will permit Japan to use its large and technologically advanced armed forces in ways that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago when they were limited to defending the country. The revision will allow the military to come to the aid of friendly countries under attack, including the United States.
Japan’s stance is part of a rapidly shifting balance of power in Asia, where China and its growing military are mounting a serious challenge to the regional dominance of the United States and its allies, including Japan, and making assertive claims to vast areas of two strategically important seas. The hawkish Mr. Abe’s response is certain to anger the Chinese — who have never forgiven Japan for its World War II-era invasion — and could set Asia’s two biggest powers even more on edge.
On 3 July 2014, The New York Times expressed an editorial about the drastic shift of the Japanese government’s military policy, the issue The New York Times reported as mentioned above. It may be noteworthy to cite here, in the context of outlining the background situation of Professor Okudaira’s contribution to peace, even though only some part of the editorial, as follows. Read its whole part of this editorial by visiting http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/opinion/japan-changes-limits-on-its-military.html
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has disturbed many in Japan and increased anxiety in Asia by reinterpreting his country’s pacifist postwar Constitution so that the military can play a more assertive role than it has since World War II. While a shift in Japan’s military role was never going to be readily accepted by many, Mr. Abe’s nationalist politics makes this change even harder to swallow in a region that needs to reduce tension.
It is difficult to overstate the significance of what Mr. Abe has done. Since 1947, Japan’s Constitution, written and imposed by the American Army, has permitted the military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to engage only in self-defense. That meant the large and technologically advanced armed forces was barred from “collective self-defense” — aiding friendly countries under attack — and thus was far more constrained than those of other nations.
With the reinterpretation, Japan’s military would still face restrictions on what it could do, but it would be allowed for the first time, for example, to help defend an American ship under attack, destroy a North Korean missile heading toward the United States or play a larger role in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Mr. Abe has long argued for changing the Constitution on the grounds that Japan should assert itself as a “normal” country, freed of postwar constraints imposed as a consequence of its wartime atrocities and defeat. He now has another argument for expanding the military’s role: Japan, the world’s third-largest economy after the United States and China, needs to be a fuller partner with the United States in countering China as it increasingly challenges the conflicting claims of Japan and other countries in the South China and East Asia Seas. Washington has long urged Tokyo to assume more of the regional security burden.
What stood in Mr. Abe’s way was Article 9 of the Constitution. It says the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Any change should have required a constitutional revision, which would mean winning two-thirds approval in both houses of Parliament, followed by a referendum. Instead, Mr. Abe circumvented that process by having his government reinterpret the Constitution.
This is not the first time Japanese leaders have gone this route. Past governments have reinterpreted the Constitution to allow the existence of a standing military and permit noncombat missions abroad. But this step goes further.
The prospect of altering Japan’s military’s role is controversial as well as consequential, with many Japanese citizens voicing fears about being dragged into foreign entanglements.
- A FEW EXCERPTS FROM THE CONSTITUTION OF JAPAN
“We, the Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet, determined that we shall secure for ourselves and our posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty throughout this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution. Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded. We reject and revoke all constitutions, laws ordinances, and rescripts in conflict herewith.
“We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.
“We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.
“We, the Japanese people, pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.”
CHAPTER II: RENUNCIATION OF WAR
Article 9: Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
CHAPTER IX: AMENDMENTS
Article 96: Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast thereon, at a special referendum or at such election as the Diet shall specify.
2) Amendments when so ratified shall immediately be promulgated by the Emperor in the name of the people, as an integral part of this Constitution.
- A WARNING FROM HISTORY
If Professor Okudaira read Hermann Göring’s words quoted below, he would understand these words as a warning from history to the contemporary Japan (and to virtually any country in the world).
“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Hermann Göring
- PROFESSOR OKUDAIRA’S SOME FINAL WORDS
In 2013, Professor Yasuhiro Okudaira and his colleague, Professor Yoichi Higuchi, wrote and edited a book, entitled, Constitutional Theories in a Time of Crisis (or Kiki no Kempogaku). This book is a collection of academic essays on the Constitution of Japan, written by fourteen scholars of constitution, including Okudaira and Higuchi. In the Chapter 14 “A Thought on Article 9 of the Constitution”, the last chapter of this book, Okudaria discusses the vital importance of the high ideal in Article 9. His argument about this contention may be summarized as follows:
Article 9 of the Constitution contains various and exceptionally unique characteristics. First of all, this article is a product, stemmed from a highly extraordinary event which was the defeat of the nation. This article requires a revolutionary [social] change, and has affected both individuals and groups of the people. This article has the revolutionary nature. A revolutionary ideal is essential to achieve a revolution. It has been fortunate for the Japanese people, because there is a foundation underneath Article 9, which is a high ideal, as discussed in For Perpetual Peace, by Immanuel Kant. This ideal has supported the movements of those people who have resisted to the so-called “realistic” attempts that prevent Article 9 from realizing what is stipulated in this Article. Moreover, this ideal has ceaselessly inspired the people to think about the agenda for world peace and to think about its method for the realization, by stimulating their imaginations on various aspects of the society.
Finally, in the same chapter, Okudaira referrers to a bulletin board at a square, in the city of Telde, the Gran Canaria Island, the second most populous island of the Cannery Islands. This square is named, la Plaza de Hiroshima y Nagasaki (or the Square of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). On the bulletin board in this square, the Spanish translation of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan is posted. (Visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/falin1611/5925925709/) Okudaira wonders: If Article 9 is removed and if a new stipulation on the National Defense Forces is introduced instead, what will happen to the bulletin board? He asks, “Will the bulletin board also be removed then?”
 The Japan Times, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/01/30/national/constitution-defender-okudaira-dies-85/; _the issue of 30 January 2015.
 Note that this English language website of the LDP does not put the English translation of the articles of the LDP’s draft constitution. The full text of all the articles in the draft is put only on the Japanese language website of the LDP. Visit www.jimin.jp/policy/policy_topics/…/seisaku-109.pdf.
 Constitutional Theories in a Time of Crisis (or Kiki no Kenpogaku), edited by Yasuhiro Okudaira and Yoichi Higuchi. Kobundo Ltd., Tokyo, Japan, 2013, p. 445.
 Ibid. p.447.
Satoshi Ashikaga is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, originally from Japan.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Mar 2015.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: A Tribute to Professor Yasuhiro Okudaira (1929–2015), is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
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