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Constitutional Background

After the war (1945), two committees set up by the Japanese government proposed only small changes to the 1889 Constitution. General Douglas MacArthur, on 4 Feb 1946, set up a "constitutional assembly" of 24 westerners headed by Charles Louis Kades. This committee completed a draft in only five days. Governing Shigeru Yoshida called the radically different document "outrageous", but could no longer object when Emperor Hirohito endorsed it. With minor changes, the document became the new Constitution on 3 Nov 1946.

One of the most striking features of the Constitution is its pacifist doctrine in Art. 9 which is more binding and explicit than that found even in the charter of the United Nations (cf. Art. 51 UN Charter). However, the introduction of Self-Defence Forces in 1956, the mutual security pact with the US in 1960, and a new law allowing Japanese troops to participate in UN peace-keeping operations led to pragmatic alterations of the original concept.  Art. 9 does not rule out defending the Japanese homeland from attack.  On 18 Dec 1998, Japans navy sank a North Korean submarine only 50 km off the Japanese coastline.  But Japan still does not have bombers, long-range missiles, aircraft carriers, or other means of projecting power beyond its own territory.

There has been no amendment yet to Japan's constitution.  However, constitutional research committees without special powers and with no foreseeable results have been set up in the lower and upper houses.  Among the candidates for revision is Art. 89 prohibiting subsidies to private universities.  Notwithstanding this provision, Japan's government has in recent years found ways to provide subsidies because public universities cannot meet the educational demand.

In the future, elections will be based on the electoral-reform bill of Ozawa who managed to replace Japan's old multi-member electoral constituencies with a mixture of single-member, first-past-the-post seats and others filled by proportional representation. The new electoral system is similar to the one of Germany.

History and News

  • April 1998: LDP introduces bill to extend SDF role to supporting U.S. forces.
  • July 1997: Last date for parliamentary elections; the new electoral law with 300 single-member constituencies plus 200 seats for proportional representation will apply for the first time. 
  • 1997: Japan broadens the role of SDF to surrounding areas, i.e. Korea, Taiwan, Philippines.
  • 5 Jan 1996: Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama (SP) resigns for reasons of incompetence. Ryutaro Hashimoto (LDP) becomes new Prime Minister. 
  • 8 Dec 1995: New Religion Law requires publicity of property after terrorist acts of the religious Aum-Group. 
  • Dec 1994: All opposition parties except the communists come together to establish the New Frontier Party. 
  • 1994: Ozawa's "Hosokawa Coalition Government" with Tsutomu Hata falls apart as the SP switches over to the LDP. 
  • 1993: Ozawa defects from LDP and forms his own party. This ends 38 years of conservative de-facto monopoly of power of the LDP. 
  • 1978: Operational guidelines for SDF adopted.
  • 1960: Joint security treaty with the United States.
  • 1959: Supreme Court rules SDF constitutional.
  • 1956: Introduction of Self-Defence Forces (SDF).
  • 3 Nov 1946: New Constitution adopted.
  • 1945: General Douglas MacArthur brings about sweeping reforms during a six-year occupation by American forces. 
  • 1920: Takashi Hara is the first commoner to become Prime Minister and introduces universal male suffrage; he was later assassinated. 
  • 1890: Meiji Constitution.
  • 1868: The Perry incident leads to collapse of the Shogunate, the abolition of feudalism, and a reform-oriented government under Emperor Meiji
  • 1853: Commodore Matthew Perry and his "black ships" force open the ports of Edo (Tokyo) Bay.

For methodology see: Comparing Constitutions and International Constitutional Law.
© 1994 - December 16th, 2010 / For corrections please contact A. Tschentscher.