Protest signs cover the fence separating the public beach from the American military base in Henoko, (Okinawa. Plans of extending the base by building a heliport on the coral reef threaten the lifes of the endangered manatees living there.)

Japan takes a constitutional stand against militarism.  According to the peace clause in the Japanese constitution, Article 9, “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”.

As a consequence, Japan cannot keep military air, land or naval forces with this capability. In the preamble of the constitution, peace is declared a human right. One could think this is the most peaceful it could ever get. As a matter of fact, the constitution is more far reaching than the goals set up by some peace organizations. In reality, though, the gap between the constitutional pacifist ideals and the reality of Japanese security and defense policy is wide and increasing. For the large Japanese peace movement, this double standard is a dilemma that is also shared by political civil society movements in other democratic and post industrial countries. What do you do when thing look good on paper but the problem still remains?

The many peace movements in Japan build on various ideologies and traditions, with different strategies and goals. In one way or another, though, they all relate to the peace constitution. Article 9 is based on Japan’s role both as a victim and as a perpetrator. The support of the constitution is both a logical conclusion by a people that has experienced war and never want to do so ever again but also a way for the people of controlling the government and making sure Japans militaristic history is never repeated.

The Japanese constitution came into effect in 1947, during the American occupation of Japan and right after the defeat in World War Two. It introduced an antimilitarist and democratic Japan, both new to a country characterized by military rule and imperialistic ambitions. Not long after the constitution was adopted, the situation in the region changed and the American strategy towards Japan shifted. Instead of a peaceful state, a military ally was demanded and pressure was put on Japan to increase its military capabilities. But 67 years afterwards and in spite of numerous campaigns to change it the constitution is still unamended. The reason is the strong support for Article 9 among the Japanese people. To change the constitution would require a 2/3 majority in the Japanese National Diet and 50 percent support in a public referendum. So far, this has not been reached.

Noriko Kato and Ai Akuta at the organization Okinawa Iken use advertisement in Japanese and American newspapers to raise awareness of the consequences of the American military bases on the Okinawa Islands.

The interpretation of what is considered to be in line with the constitution has become wider over the years. Today, Japan has the sixth highest military expenditures in the world and the Japan Self Defense Force has over 250 000 military personnel. Japan has a military alliance with the US and is covered by the American nuclear umbrella. Around 40 000 American military personnel are still based in Japan, 2/3 on the islands of Okinawa. In 2011, the laws banning Japanese arms exports were loosened to allow for international collaborations. In spite of this, the constitution limits defense and security policy in important ways. There is for example a one percent limit of BNP limit on military expenditure and the self-defense forces are not allowed offensive weapon systems.

The Japanese peace movements have chosen different approaches to Article 9, mainly focusing on keeping it, spreading it and defending it. Most organizations incorporate more than one of these aspects into their work although the focus is usually on one of them.

The efforts to keep Article 9 are mainly focused on opinion making, trying to safeguard that the 50 percent of the public votes needed for amendment are not obtained. There are several examples where political discussions on amending Article 9 have caused large protests. One example is when the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2004 introduced a campaign to make Japan a “normal” country by allowing for a bigger military role. A group of influential authors and intellectuals launched a civil society counter-action, the Article 9 Association and within five years, 7000 autonomous citizens’ groups were active across Japan. When LDP lost the election to the upper house, the efforts to change the constitution were haltered. In 2012, many of these groups are still active in spreading knowledge of the need to keep Article 9 unamended in the constitution. It is not uncommon to see volunteers handing out leaflets outside local stores on the 9th, 19th and 29th of each month.

The uniqueness of Article 9 has also made it an international issue. There is a movement, represented mostly by lawyer associations, focusing on spreading the idea of constitutional anti-militarism to other countries. The goal is to make the right to live in peace a universal human right and to gain international support for Article 9. Intensive lobbying has contributed to the UN Human Rights Council having, in July 2012, established a working group to negotiate a draft declaration on the right to peace.

Yukio Yamaguchi of Citizen's Nuclear Information Centre believe that education is the key if young people are to understand the value of Article nine.

While the examples above are first and foremost focused on Article 9 in theory, there are also organizations that work to defend the practice of anti-militarism. These organizations scrutinize the actions taken and measure them against the constitution. The strategy also involves raising awareness of the ways Japan goes against its own constitution, for example by being involved in international military missions or supporting the American military presence in Okinawa. Defending Article 9 can also involve direct action, such as blocking a military helipad building site, like the Takae citizens network in northern Okinawa.

Policies, laws and guide lines are a natural focus for actors wanting to change society. But this is only the starting point of the work. Civil society organizations have an important democratic role to play in monitoring and defending the policies in practice if real change is to be achieved.

Further reading:

Anti-militarism: Political and Gender Dynamics of Peace Movements by Cynthia Cockburn, Pluto Press 2012.
Shinjujin, New Japan Womens Association:

Takae citizens group:

Linda Åkerströms blog:


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.