The Japanese Constitution and the Challenges of a New Millennium

Journal article

Ikeda, Daisaku (2002) The Japanese Constitution and the Challenges of a New Millennium, Security Dialogue 33 (1).

It is natural at the start of a new century that there should be large measures of both hope and anxiety. Compared with the intellectual currents in vogue at the start of the twentieth century, what is starkly lacking today is the sense of optimism that was present then. Naturally, there are great expectations regarding advances in science and technology – particularly in fields such as information and biotechnology – but there is also great foreboding, especially in Japan, about the political and economic fronts.

In recent years, a great deal has been made of the revolution in communications and Internet technologies. The more basic question remains, however, of who will take up the challenges and realize the positive possibilities of this revolution. Where will people find a genuine sense of identity and purpose? What should be the core values on which to base human endeavors in the 21st century?

Life – in the most encompassing sense, not merely the biological sense – is the focus of increasing interest and discussion in turn-of-the-millennium Japan. It is interesting to note that the words being used in this context tend to be simple words of long standing – ’life’, ‘heart’, ‘spirit’ – written in the script historically used by women. The frequent use in Japan of such terms is indicative of a profound transformation in the orientation of people’s interests and thus in the currents of the times. I believe, very simply, that this represents a search for identity, for a satisfying sense of reality at a time when all values, structures, and systems are being questioned.

If we fail to address such questions, we may well find that the future awaiting us is anything but rosy, one in which life, heart, and spirit are in fact strangled and crushed. It is this sense of anxiety about an uncertain future that is urging people toward an inner journey or search.

I believe that the key values that must animate the 21st century are creative coexistence and the autonomous functioning of the inner will. If these can be made the driving spirit of the age, we will be able to put behind us the nightmares of the twentieth century and realize a century of life and of peace.

Nowhere is the impact of the crisis of life, heart, and spirit felt more intensely than in the family. Parent–child relations, and family ties in general, differ from other human relations in that they are essentially not of our choosing. They should be recognized as something that issues from the depths of our being, and as such they represent the most real and vital connections. Yet even these bonds are losing their strength, and indeed their reality.

There is a sense that the bonds between people, as well as the connection that we should sense with nature and the cosmos, are becoming increasingly ‘virtual’. I think that the spiritual malaise afflicting so many young people in Japan today – isolation, withdrawal, extreme apathy, loss of expressive capacity, and collapse of personal identity – can be cited as evidence of this phenomenon. This spiritual malaise has undermined the ability of people to sense the truth that all things are connected.

On reflection, we see that the values, principles, and ideologies that are presently being called into question are all the products of male-dominated societies. As these are increasingly challenged, values such as life, heart, and spirit are coming increasingly to the fore. Each of these is intimately linked with ‘the feminine’.

In contrast with the conflict, exclusion, and force that are traditionally linked to the psychology of men, women are naturally oriented toward such values as unity and harmony – the values of creative coexistence and inner autonomy. Thus, the emergence of women in the 21st century has a significance that goes to the very core of human civilization. In this sense, I believe that a century of life must also be a century of women.

The Japanese Constitution

In this context, I would like to discuss the current debate about the Japanese Constitution, which I believe must be addressed if we are to realize the promise of a century of life.

In January 2000, constitutional research commissions were established in both the upper and lower houses of the Japanese Diet, initiating the process of parliamentary debate on the current constitution. It is only natural and right that, in order to respond to historical and social changes, appropriate measures should be taken to review the Constitution, the highest law of the land. Like Japan, Germany also began its postwar history under a new constitution, one that sought to reflect the bitter lessons of World War II. In contrast with the Japanese, the German people have amended their constitution on numerous occasions in the intervening years.

There is a tendency to frame any debate on the Japanese Constitution solely in terms of Article 9, which renounces war, as views are sharply split on whether this clause should be maintained as it is or amended. This narrow focus is unfortunate and short-sighted, as it obscures other important constitutional issues that bear directly on the kind of democracy Japan aspires to become in the 21st century. These include: diverse and complex human rights issues, the need to respond to emerging environmental challenges, and the problems raised by new information and communications technologies. Also meriting consideration are the introduction of national referenda and the direct election of the prime minister as means of better reflecting the popular will.

It is important that the Constitution be reviewed in the light of these issues and in order to realize the goal of a better society. In this sense, I feel that constitutional debate is both necessary and positive.

But it is imperative that such a review be conducted within the framework of a long-term vision, sustained by enduring principles. Hasty revision based on short-sighted goals, for immediate political gain or without taking the time to develop genuine national consensus, must be avoided at all costs. To do so could be cause for regret and would call into question the legitimacy of the constitutional review process.

In any debate on constitutional reform, we must never forget that the ideals of pacifism and international cooperation expressed in the Preamble and Article 9 are the very heart and soul of Japan’s Constitution – that which qualifies it to be called a ‘peace constitution.’

While there is room for multifaceted debate on specific national security policies, I am concerned above all that the principles and spirit of the peace constitution not be eroded. And, for this reason, I feel that Article 9 should not be touched, a view that I have long asserted.

Sadly, the kind of pacifist message that Japan has broadcast to the world during the past half-century under the present constitution has been all too feeble. Those efforts that have been made have been undermined by persistent and anachronistic moves to turn back the clock or even to attempt to justify Japan’s past wars of invasion. The result is that Japan has not emerged as a truly pacifist nation recognized and trusted by our Asian neighbors or by the world as a whole.

The Pitfalls of ‘One-Country Pacifism’

Japan’s proponents of peace have suffered from a tendency to turn inward, to limit their interest to Japan, and this is linked to the failure to produce the kind of concrete actions that can actually transform the world. The net result of this egotistical ‘one-country pacifism’, which ignores movements in international society and the concerns of other countries, has been a false peace. This is far from the original spirit of the Constitution, whose Preamble declares the right of humankind to coexist in peace.

If we are to make the new century a complete departure from the past century of war, it is imperative that Japan break out of this stagnation and deadlock. I believe that in the 21st century Japan should act from a realistic and global perspective and breathe new life into the spirit and ideals of Article 9, sharing these with the world.

I am reminded of the following words of the Japanese philosopher Arimasa Mori (1911–76): ‘The world is a competition in self-control. It is in this sense that the political is superior to the military. In this is also to be found the true meaning of peace’. 2

This is a view that we should carefully heed. What have been most lacking in Japan’s postwar political culture – not only with regard to debates on constitutional issues – have been self-mastery, genuine conviction, and a truly awakened consciousness.

It is an undeniable fact that, during the Cold War years, Japan’s leaders acted in a way that was neither self-directed nor self-reliant. Nor has this changed in the post-Cold War era. The collapse of Japan’s bubble economy, an event whose psychological impact is sometimes compared with Japan’s defeat in World War II, has produced a spiritual landscape of passivity and apathy far estranged from any ideal of self-mastery or conviction.

The same applies to constitutional debate. The most important thing is to develop and elaborate, with care and autonomy, the core principles and convictions of pacifism that characterize the entire constitution. And it is my belief that this can be done without revising Article 9.

Article 9, in particular the first paragraph, owes a debt to the 1928 Treaty of Paris, in which the signatories renounced war as an instrument of national policy. This was a direct attempt to realize humanity’s profound desire for the abolition of war. By renouncing ‘war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes’, the Japanese Constitution accepts limitations on national sovereignty. From its origin, it is clear that Japan’s acceptance of this condition of limited sovereignty was predicated on the idea that the relinquished aspects of sovereignty would be entrusted to an international body, specifically the United Nations.

Japan’s best and most natural choice is therefore to make the voluntary limitation of sovereignty an impetus to work in a carefully coordinated fashion with the UN to build a world of lasting peace.

This is entirely in accord with the spirit of both the Preamble of the Japanese Constitution and the UN Charter. By locating the particular constitutional commitments of Japan within a larger, universal context, it should be possible to develop the kind of policies that make Japan known to the world as a true nation of peace. Japan has an opportunity to take the lead in creating the conditions for genuinely universal and effective UN-centered security and conflict-prevention systems.

In conjunction with this, it is crucial that we find effective means to promote international understanding and cooperation. Here there is clearly room for Japan to take a more proactive stance. Japan can contribute, based on the spirit of self-mastery and genuine conviction, in such fields as international development and the raising of living standards, as well as educational, cultural, and sports exchanges.

In order to do this, it is essential that all Japanese citizens renounce passivity and embrace a profound commitment to meaningful action. It is my fervent and unchanging desire that Japan play a leading role in the unprecedented experiment and challenge of realizing a world without war.

A Central Role for the UN

To realize peace in the coming century, it is absolutely essential that we replace the traditional ascendancy of competing national interests – the cause of so much war and tragedy – with an international community dedicated to the welfare of the whole of humankind and Earth.

The success of Japan’s efforts in these regards is therefore deeply linked to the future direction and development of the UN. The UN can and must play a pivotal role in this transformation. The challenges facing humanity – promoting peace and disarmament, protecting the environment, eradicating poverty – clearly require that we cooperate and harmonize our efforts across national boundaries. Indeed, we must unite as one humanity engaged in a common struggle.

In this sense, we really have no choice but to turn to the UN. For half a century, it has been actively building international consensus as a forum for global dialogue, and it has
consistently engaged in humanitarian relief and assistance programs in different parts of the world. It is my belief that only the UN, for all its limitations and problems, can play the axial role in uniting humankind.

The United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by the unprecedented gathering of heads of state and government at the Millennium Summit of September 2000 has a profound significance in this regard. Calling on the countries of the world to share responsibility for managing global issues, the declaration clearly states: ‘As the most universal and most representative organization in the world, the United Nations must play the central role.’ The lofty objective and founding spirit of the UN are powerfully expressed in the Preamble of the Charter: ‘We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind ...’.

It is time to move forward with the effort to create a framework that genuinely engages all of humankind in a shared struggle to abolish the scourge of war from the face of Earth.

Daisaku Ikeda

President, Soka Gakkai International

Tokyo, Japan

Notes and references

* Excerpted from the author’s 2001 peace proposal; full text available at
2 Arimasa Mori, Kigi wa hikari o abite [Trees Bathing in Light] (Tokyo: Chikumashobo, 1972), on p. 163.

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