You can’t make this stuff up. Apparently tensions rose in a spirited debate in the Japanese parliament about whether or not Japan should allow its Self-Defense Forces to engage in wartime activities outside the country:
Legislators scuffled in Parliament and demonstrators took to the streets on Thursday as Japan’s governing coalition moved to secure final passage of contentious legislation that would loosen decades-old limits on the country’s military.
The package of 11 bills was still tied up in Parliament’s upper house late Thursday night, past an initial deadline set by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has spent considerable political capital trying to convince a skeptical public that Japan should play a more assertive role in global military affairs.
Just why is this such a contentious issue? That’s a long story. And a pretty old one, by American standards. It’s sometimes difficult for Americans to understand just how conservative Japan actually is. I don’t mean in terms of right-wing, left-wing. I’m talking about the fact that Japan and the Japanese are extremely resistant to change. When they adopt something into their culture, they tend to stick with it.
An illustrative example … If you really want to know what China was like during the Tang Dynasty, just take a look at traditional Japanese customs. That’s right. Kimonos, Kanji, and rice paper houses? That’s classic Tang Dynasty China, but we associate those things with traditional Japan. Long since China has moved on, Japan still preserves the customs, written language, and imperial system it adopted without edition from China during the Tang Dynasty. That was nearly fifteen hundred years ago, by the way. Long before the US was a twinkle in Mother Britain’s eye.
That little bit of history plays into the situation here. Japan’s current constitution, particularly Article 9, absolutely forbids Japan to make war. For a long time it was interpreted to mean that Japan couldn’t even spend money on a military. The US was on the hook for any defense needs Japan might have. The US has slowly transitioned away from being the sole military protector of Japan in recent years. Mostly for obvious economic reasons.
But let’s talk for a moment about Japan’s constitution. Japan didn’t write it. General Macarthur and his brain trust did. After Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945, MacArthur asked the Japanese to write a democratic constitution. The Japanese proposed a draft, but MacArthur wasn’t satisfied with it. He thought it was too reminiscent of the old Japanese system. So he told them to write up a new one. The Japanese asked instead that MacArthur provide a constitution for them as a model. MacArthur swung for the fences. He expected, in typical American fashion, that the Japanese would make a counter-draft, and that eventually the final Japanese constitution would be a compromise.
It wasn’t. The Japanese adopted MacArthur’s idealized constitution with almost no changes. It went into effect in 1947. And, even more strangely to American minds, Japan has never amended that constitution.
But now, in 2015, the interpretation of the pacifist Article 9 is undergoing some significant changes. And many Japanese politicians and citizens, naturally and culturally resistant to change, are willing to fight over it. We’ll just have to see how this plays out. It’s certainly fascinating.