Satsuki Eda: Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?
from Asia Unbound and Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?

Satsuki Eda: Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?

This blog post is part of a series entitled Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?, in which leading experts discuss the prospects for revising Japan’s postwar constitution. 

In our final essay by Japan’s legislators, Satsuki Eda, chair of the Democratic Party’s research commission on the constitution, argues against allowing the Abe cabinet to prevail in its effort to revise the constitution. Eda served four terms in the Lower House and is currently serving his fourth-term in the Upper House, representing Okayama prefecture. In Japan’s political alignment of the 1990s, Eda left the Socialist Democratic Federation and after various party mergers, was associated with the New Frontier Party (NFP). He left national politics to run in the 1996 Okayama gubernatorial election, but returned to the Diet in 1998 as a member of the former Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Throughout his career, Eda has been an influential voice in Diet debates over the reinterpretation and the possible revision of Japan’s constitution.

Resisting Prime Minister Abe’s Push to Revise our Constitution by Satsuki Eda

More on:


 The constitution was a major focal point in the campaign for this summer’s Upper House election. The Democratic Party, together with the Japanese people, sought to crush Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambition of revising our constitution.

To date, the world’s citizens have sought to strengthen the universal values of freedom, human rights, democracy, and constitutionalism. National constitutions are what translate these universal values into domestic law. Constitutions thus have a global history, one that began with England’s Magna Carta. States, too, have been transformed. Once the power to govern was a possession of a limited number, yet today states are the possession of their people. In this global historical context, individual nations have claimed the right to define their own constitution.

Up until seventy years ago, Japan proceeded in the opposite direction from the world’s progress [towards democracy]. The military assumed control over our nation and pushed us into a world war, and, ultimately, we were confronted with defeat. Japan received the forgiveness and understanding of international society, and turned towards the more welcome path of democracy. As a result, Japanese people have earned the domestic stability and international status we enjoy today. The Democratic Party views Japan’s postwar history largely positively, and we believe that the foundation of our nation’s postwar success has been our constitution.

Prime Minister Abe’s views on the constitution are incompatible with ours. He views the current constitution as some sloppy document that was created rashly by American amateurs in the occupation staff, and argues that it is Japanese people’s responsibility to abolish what he sees as a tainted constitution. His Liberal Democratic Party’s draft for a new constitution would replace our Self Defense Force with a National Defense Force and limit some of the fundamental human rights provided under the current constitution. This would contradict our postwar history and experience, and must not, under any conditions, be allowed.

The Abe cabinet reinterpreted the constitution in 2014 and push through new legislation in 2015 in order to open the way for the exercise of collective self defense. Under the current constitution, Japan possesses the right of individual self-defense as well as the right of collective self-defense. But past Japanese governments have decided not to exercise the latter. Former Supreme Court justices and many constitutional scholars have lauded this interpretation as being consistent with the spirit of Article Nine. Prime Minister Abe, however, dismissed outright these objections of our leading legal authorities. During my long tenure in Japanese politics, I have never witnessed this degree of arrogance.

More on:


Before Prime Minister Abe reinterpreted the constitution, there was evidence of some public support for constitutional revision. Now that the Japanese people have witnessed the prime minister’s attempt to force the issue, however, public support has declined significantly. It is the duty of the cabinet to protect the nation’s constitution; the cabinet does not have the right to put a bill to amend the constitution before the Diet. This attempt by our prime minister, the head of the executive branch of government, to initiate constitutional revision must be stopped not only by those of us in the legislative branch but also by the Japanese people.

The Democratic Party, however, does not necessarily think it is right to shelve the constitution onto the altar of our ancestor’s and never touch it again. We should not reject revisions that would improve the constitution outright. If we are to consider revision, it must be in order to advance our path further while building on our accomplishments under the postwar constitution. Some of the articles of our current constitution could be fleshed out, and some new provisions reflecting our experience after it was written might be added.

For example, Article Ninety-two of the constitution only provides that “regulations concerning the organization and operations of local public entities shall be fixed by law in accordance with the principle of local autonomy.” This article lacks the clarity we need to help build real local autonomy in Japan. Another example for consideration would be some of the new rights that are currently discussed in Japan such as environmental rights and the citizens’ right to access to information. Yet, constitutional revision is not a necessary condition for the advancement of local autonomy nor for the protection of the environment. The current constitution does not obstruct these new demands on our system of governance. Rather [than throw out our current constitution], we should place importance on building a consensus with the Japanese people on how to improve it so as to produce a more future-oriented document.

The Democratic Party believes that we should work on constitutional revision through discussion with the Japanese people. Rather than aiming for one vote more than two thirds of our Upper and Lower Houses, we should aim to draft a bill that will generate a consensus among the largest number of legislators in both houses. At least for our first attempt at revision, we need to aim for the largest majority possible. Instead of each party coming up with its own proposal and vociferously defending it in electoral campaigns, politicians should put aside their vanity, create the opportunity to discuss a draft proposal for a revised constitution, and discuss it openly among ourselves as well as with the Japanese people. The Democratic Party does not want to make its own exclusive party draft; it wants to build a national draft with others in the Diet informed by the wishes of the Japanese people.

Article Twelve of our constitution prescribes that “the freedoms and rights guaranteed to the people by this constitution shall be maintained by the constant endeavor of the people.” Are we, the Japanese people, constantly endeavoring to live up to this promise? I cannot help but think that, after seventy years, our will to maintain the freedoms and rights of our constitution has gradually become perfunctory. All Japanese, on a day-to-day basis, must continue to reflect upon their constitution.