Illustration by Ahmed Bilal.

The Case for A Constitutional Amendment in Japan

Japan’s Constitution is perhaps overdue for an amendment, which is up for contentious debate in the country. It is time to look to the future.

On May 3, Japan celebrated Constitution Memorial Day, a national holiday which marked 75 years since the post-war Constitution of Japan first came into effect in 1947. Part of a greater chain of holidays known as “golden week”, the day is important for many as an opportunity to reflect on the Constitution.
The subject of constitutional amendments — which would edit the world’s oldest unamended Constitution — is one that is quite controversial both domestically and internationally. The country is split between those who are pro-amendment and anti-amendment, with the pro-amendment Liberal Democratic Partyhaving a majority in the parliament and the anti-amendment Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in second place. [A recent survey by Yomiuri Shimbun] ( showed some striking results: 60 percent of people are in favor of constitutional amendment, 38 percent are against it, and 2 percent are undecided. In the most recent House of Representatives (lower house) election [77 percent of all general election winners] ( were in favor of some sort of constitutional amendment. I think all this is sufficient to say that the people have spoken.
I personally think the primary reason why the amendment must happen is the context of the history and principle of the Constitution. Our constitution was for the most part drafted and written by American soldiers, in an undemocratic process. Since 1947, Japanese society has changed — an amendment might not only lead to a better, updated version of the Constitution but will also make it something entirely ours.
How can Japan claim sovereignty and self-determination if we are so adamant about holding on to a constitution written by another country? The Constitution, being the highest law of the land, must be something that is democratically created by the people of the land or else it lacks legitimacy. That is why the Constitution must be amended to truly reflect the current wishes of the people of Japan and to free itself from foreign influence.
The logic that has been used to defend the current Constitution is faulty. The “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality of the anti-amendment group is not appropriate for something as important as the Constitution. [In the same Yomiuri Shimbun survey] ( that I mentioned earlier 75 percent of people answered that they believe that the current Constitution is too outdated and that there are problems it does not properly address.
One change proposed by the LDP is to give greater emergency powers to the cabinet during times of national emergencies. In times of emergencies where parliament cannot gather and a consensus cannot be reached we need a central body of authority to swiftly act. The reality of Japan is that we are under constant threat of natural emergencies such as earthquakes. Given the possibility of a [Nankai megathrust earthquake] ( occurring — with potential economic losses estimated to be 10 times the damages suffered in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami — we need to have constitutional provisions in place before it is too late. This is why we cannot blindly believe in the current Constitution. The current method of passing laws to deal with urgent problems is one that only works with the premise that the national government is able to function. The pandemic taught us to expect the unexpected and the only way we can be sure of the safety of our people is to abandon the bandage case-by-case solution of the status quo and seek a panacea.
We also cannot talk about the constitutional amendment without talking about the controversial Article 9, which prohibits Japan from maintaining an army and “war potential” — as the biggest point of contention. Those who wish to keep the Constitution cite reasons about its pacifism, the fear of militarism. But what they ignore is that the changes proposed in the constitutional amendment do not really seek to change the status quo significantly, but rather seek to codify the supreme law. The LDP’s proposed “four big changes” promise not to change the three fundamental principles of the Constitution — popular sovereignty, a commitment to basic human rights and pacifism. The amendment is so that we would have a clearer understanding of what the government and its bodies are expected to and are able to do.
Furthermore, the reality is that the celebrated pacifism of Japan’s constitution is not something that can protect the people of Japan. While pacifism as a whole is an admirable principle and philosophy, it is not something that is realistic in the current geopolitical landscape. The reality is that given the confusing limits set by the wording of Article 9, we cannot expect the Japan Self Defense Force to act in an effective way. An amendment of Article 9 is not something that will transform Japan into a war-mongering nation, but it is a way to streamline and define the JSDF’s role and responsibilities in a clear and legitimate way. Under the current wording one can even argue that the JSDF is unconstitutional for it already possesses “war-potential” — which is forbidden in the Constitution. We live in a time where the JSDF plays an important role in Japanese society. It is about time we formally define the capabilities of the JSDF. A dependency on political interpretation demeans the value of the Constitution and the stability necessary for an entity like the JSDF.
As a nation we also cannot be dependent on other nations for national security. People say that we do not need to change Article 9 because the U.S. is an ally but such a statement is not one that befits an independent nation. In order for Japan to have greater international relevance and to play a bigger role in promoting global security we need to change the inherent dependency towards others that Article 9 indirectly imposes; it stops us from participating in global peacekeeping operations that our allies such as the U.S. take part of and in that sense hinders our ability to further the global peace that we desire. In this age of global insecurity, we need now more than ever the capabilities to truly defend the Japanese people, the ideals that we hold dear and the ever-enduring international goal of global peace.
So in the spirit of Constitutional Memorial day, I hope that more people, Japanese or not, look into the Japanese Constitution once again. It is not a right/left matter but rather one about greater security for the Japanese people and one of principled self-determination. Now that we live in a time where constitutional amendment becomes a possible political reality, it is crucial that we stay informed in order to make the correct choice when the time comes.
Ryunosuke Hashimoto is a Contributing Writer. Email her at
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