An Introduction to the Constitution of Japan

Every country has its own rules and regulations based on its respective constitutions. These constitutions serve as the fundamental laws of every country. Not only does it serve to protect the country but also its people. It has many purposes, all of which are believed to be for the greater good of the nation. Japan, also known as the Land of the Sun, also has its own constitution laid out for all the Japanese to follow. These rules are meant to keep the nation and its citizens harmonious and peaceful.

A Brief Background: Day, Year 1947, Reform After of WWII

More commonly known as Nihon-Koku Kenpo in Japanese, the Constitution of Japan acts as the fundamental law of the country. Enacted on the 3rd of May in the year 1947, the Constitution of Japan was created as the constitution of the country after the Second World War.

A parliamentary system of government, as well as the guarantee of specific fundamental rights of the citizens of the country, are provided by the Constitution of Japan. Without the possession of sovereignty, the Emperor of Japan is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people" under the terms of the constitution. Hence, the emperor can only exercise a purely ceremonial role.

Also known as Sengo-Kenpō in Japan, which translates to the “Post-war Constitution,” this new Constitution of Japan is most famous for its Article 9. Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan states that the country renounces its right to wage war. This is also why this constitution is also sometimes called Heiwa-Kenpō in Japanese, which translates to the “Peace Constitution.”

Following the Second World War, this new Constitution of Japan was drawn up under the Allied Occupation. The intention of this constitution was to substitute the former militaristic and quasi-absolute monarchy system of Japan with a form of liberal democracy. At present, there have been no amendments made to this since its adoption.

The Provisions of the Constitution of Japan

The Constitution of Japan consists of approximately 5,000 words. It contains a preamble and eleven chapters that are divided into 103 articles. The chapters are The Emperor (Articles 1–8), Renunciation of War (Article 9), Rights and Duties of the People (Articles 10–40), The Diet (Articles 41–64), The Cabinet (Articles 65–75), Judiciary (Articles 76–82), Finance (Articles 83–91), Local Self–Government (Articles 92–95), Amendments (Article 96), Supreme Law (Articles 97–99), and Supplementary Provisions (Articles 100–103).

The constitution begins with an imperial edict as written by the Emperor of Japan. The edict states: “I rejoice that the foundation for the construction of a new Japan has been laid according to the will of the Japanese people, and hereby sanction and promulgate the amendments of the Imperial Japanese Constitution effected following the consultation with the Privy Council and the decision of the Imperial Diet made in accordance with Article 73 of the said Constitution.” The edict also consists of the Privy Seal, as well as the signature, of the Emperor. The edict is also countersigned by the Prime Minister, as well as other Ministers of State, as is the requirement of the former constitution of the Empire of Japan.

The Preamble consists of the strong declaration of the code of popular sovereignty. A part of this preamble states, “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.” The statements in the preamble are proclaimed in the name of the “Japanese people.” It is also declared in the preamble that “sovereign power resides with the people.” The language in this preamble serves as a rebuttal to a previous constitutional theory, which was that sovereignty did not reside with the people but in the Emperor of Japan.

Article 1 to Article 8 of the Constitution concerns the Emperor. Under these new terms, the Emperor serves as “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.” The purpose of the Emperor is to accomplish most functions of a head of state. This includes formally appointing the Prime Minister, as well as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, of the country. The functions of the Emperor also include convoking the National Diet and dissolving the House of Representatives as advised by the Cabinet.

Unlike the Meiji Constitution, the new Constitution of Japan declares that the Emperor does not hold any power that is associated with the government. In contrast to other constitutional monarchies, the Emperor of Japan does not even serve as the nominal chief executive of the commander-in-chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces or the JSDF. The role of the Emperor is limited to the matter of state as delineated in the new constitution.

The Imperial Household Law regulates the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Furthermore, it is also managed by the Imperial Household Council, which is composed of only 10 members. There is a budget for maintaining the Imperial House as managed by resolution of the Diet. The following article is Article 9, which is Japan’s renunciation of war to be discussed later on.

Article 10 to Article 40 discusses the individual rights of the people of Japan. Under these articles, there are subsequent provisions that discuss certain rights of the Japanese people. It includes equality before the law. The constitution states that equality shall be guaranteed before the law.

There should be no discrimination against the citizens of Japan based on “political, economic or social relations” or “race, creed, sex, social status or family origin,” as stated in Article 14. The same article also states that the law shall not recognize peerage. There shall not be hereditary honors or any granted special privileges. Article 24 declares the right to equality between both sexes in marriage while Article 26 discusses the right to childhood education.

Article 15 discusses democratic elections. It states that “the people have the inalienable right to choose their public officials and to dismiss them.” Japanese people aged 20 and older, considered as adults, are guaranteed suffrage and the secret ballot. Article 18 discusses the prohibition of slavery. Involuntary servitude is not permitted unless it is done as punishment for committing a crime. Article 20 discusses the separation of religion and state. Granting privileges or providing political authority to a religion by the state is prohibited.

The constitution also discusses workers’ rights. Article 27 declares work as both a right and an obligation. The article also states that “standards for wages, hours, rest and other working conditions shall be fixed by law.” It also prohibits children from being exploited. Article 28 states that workers have the right to initiate or participate in a trade union.

Article 29 allows the state to take a property to be used by the public if it pays the owner a fair compensation. Article 31 discusses the right to due process. It states that no citizen of Japan shall be punished “except according to procedure established by law.” Article 32 states that “No person shall be denied the right of access to the courts.”

Article 33 states that no person shall be apprehended without first being served of an arrest warrant unless said person is caught in flagrante delicto. This is to protect the people of Japan against unlawful detention. Article 34 states that the Japanese people have the right to counsel as well as the right to be informed of the charges made against him or her. Article 40 gives the Japanese people the right to sue the state for any wrongful detention.

Article 37 states that the Japanese people have the right to a public trial to be executed before an impartial tribunal with counsel for the defense of the accused as well as compulsory access to any valued witnesses. Article 38 states that no person shall be compelled to testify against themselves; the people of Japan have the right to protect themselves against self-incrimination. Hence, any confessions made and obtained under the duress of the accused shall not be admissible. Furthermore, no person shall be convicted if there are no other evidence aside from their own confession.

Article 41 to Article 95 discuss the Organs of the Government. Article 96 discusses the Amendments. Article 97 to Article 103 discuss the Other Provisions of the Constitution of Japan.

Controversial Article 9: Of Peace and Without Nuclear Weapons

One of the most controversial parts of the Constitution of Japan is Article 9. Article 9 states that the country of Japan renounces and outlaws war as a way to settle global disputes that involve the state. The text states that Japan aims for international peace that is based solely on order and justice; hence, it renounces the sovereign right to belligerency. In order to fulfill this goal, the article states that the country is not allowed to maintain any armed forces that hold potential for war.

On the other hand, the country actually maintains de facto armed forces, which is more commonly known as the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Some people liken this to the Shanti Sena, also known as the Soldiers of Peace, of Mahatma Gandhi. Others liken the JSDF to security police that acts mainly for safekeeping. Having a pacifist constitution, Japan also cannot maintain any nuclear weapons.

A reinterpretation of Article 9 was approved by the Japanese government in July of the year 2014 in order to support the Japan Self-Defense Forces. This was done instead of utilizing Article 96 of the constitution to amend it. This reinterpretation allowed Japan to help their defend their allies should there be a war being declared upon these allies. Countries like mainland China and South Korea voiced out concerns and disapproval. However, the United States supported this move.

A number of Japanese political parties, as well as citizens, considered this change to be illegitimate. This is because the Prime Minister did not strictly follow the constitutional amendment procedure. Nonetheless, the Japanese National Diet enacted a number of laws that let the JSDF provide support to the country’s allies that are currently engaged in combat by making the reinterpretation of Article 9 official in September of the year 2015. This action was justified by the reasoning that failure to either support or defend an ally would backfire by weakening the alliances forged by Japan and other countries. This, in turn, would endanger Japan as well.

Amendments and Revisions/Changes through the Years

Since the enactment of the Constitution in the year 1947, it has not been amended. The procedure for the amendment of the constitution is stated in Article 96. The article also states that the proposed amendment can also be made if it is accepted and approved by the simple majority in a referendum and by the super majority of two-thirds of the two houses of the Diet. The Emperor also cannot veto this amendment and can only promulgate the approved amendment in the name of the Japanese people.

A proposed amendment was made by former Japanese Prime Minister Jun'ichirō Koizumi in August of the year 2005 to increase the role of the Defense Forces of Japan in global affairs. The LDP released a draft of the proposed constitution on the 22nd of November in the year 2005. Proposed changes to the constitution include the Preamble, Article 9, Article 13, Article 20, and Article 92 to Article 96.

The LDP again drafted a new version of its proposed amendment on the 27th of April in the year 2012. This new version came with an explanatory booklet to help general readers further understand the party’s cause and reasons for the amendment. The proposed changes in this new version of proposed amendment include the Preamble, the Emperor, and Human Rights. In order to fully understand the Constitution of Japan, one must first read up on its full context and try to understand its rules and regulations. The Constitution of Japan may not be perfect, but it should be the constitution best suited for the Japanese people.