2015.06.25 Thursday 16:15

The security legislation and freedom of the press and expression

 

Various civic movements are rising up to oppose the security legislation proposed by the Abe administration. On June 14, roughly 25,000 people-- including myself — took part in a demonstration encircling the Diet premises to raise their voices against the legislation. On the same day, about 3,000 mainly young people took part in a protest rally held in Tokyo’s Shibuya. The number of participants in both events reportedly well exceeded the forecast by the organizers. I was shocked to see NHK’s 7 p.m. news program that evening. While the program gave a detailed report about the student demonstration in Hong Kong against the electoral reform led by China’s mainland government, it totally ignored the rallies held in Japan against the security legislation. It looks as if the public broadcaster saw it worthwhile to report on the protest in Hong Kong but saw no value in the demonstrations in Japan. I can only think that NHK has a policy of trying to avoid as much as possible reporting on moves to oppose the security legislation.
Of course NHK does not entirely kowtow to those in power. On the same evening of June 14, it broadcast an excellent documentary on the Battle of Okinawa that featured film footage of the battle and testimonies of survivors. I am fully aware that many NHK staffers — including my friends —do their best at work to produce excellent programs. But the public broadcaster’s reporting policy has no doubt been heavily influenced by the installment of people close to the Abe administration as its president and members of its board of governors.
Along with mass media, universities and scholars have become the target of attack by those in power. In the past 20 years or so, specialization and subdivision progressed rapidly in Japan’s studies in humanities and social sciences, and as a result it has become quite rare for scholars to raise their voices on current political and social issues. In that sense, it was quite rare that three constitutional scholars invited to the Lower House panel for research on constitutional issues declared the security legislation unconstitutional, sending a shock wave within the government and the ruling coalition parties. I presume that this incident shows that even scholars devoted to purely academic studies could not afford to turn a blind eye to the Abe administration’s attempt to enact a legislation that guts the Constitution.
In response, the Liberal Democratic Party’s Vice President Masahiko Komura has repeated his criticism of the scholars — that constitutional scholars are obsessed with the text of the Constitution and that Japan’s security would be in danger if the government follows what they say. Such a reaction appears to indicate that, for the first time in some while, the academia has become unpleasant to the eye of those in power.

While this year marks the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, it also marks the 80th year since the “theory of the emperor as an organ of government” incident of 1935, in which Tatsukichi Minobe, a leading scholar of constitutional law and member of the House of Peers, was rebuked by military officers and ultranationalists for his liberal theory on the role of the emperor in the state and his books and teaching of the theory were publicly banned. After this infamous case of repression of academic studies, it took only 10 years for the nation to end up suffering the devastating defeat in the war.

If those in power are going to attack the practices of the academia, it is the duty of scholars to fight back. First of all, it is a matter of course that constitutional scholars care about the words in the Constitution. That’s what academic studies are about and criticism from politicians about such acts is totally irrelevant.
Then how about the relationship between arguments by scholars and political judgment? There are no correct answers to policies. Scholars criticize policies pursued by politicians and bureaucrats. It’s not a question of which side is correct. In a normal political process in democracy, better policies are created through the clash of different opinions. In fact, the national security policies of the LDP-led governments since the 1960s, including the defense-only defense posture and disavowal of the right to collective self-defense, were born out of the tension and conflict between LDP lawmakers seeking amendment to the Constitution and scholars who criticized such a move. The policies maintained so far were indeed examples of that mechanism having worked successfully.

Politicians in the LDP half a century ago had the intelligence and tolerance to listen to dissenting views from the academia. In that sense, the Abe administration pursues politics of anti-intellectualism. The education ministry — which is supposed to be in charge of education  — is at the forefront of the administration’s anti-intellectualism, calling on state-run universities to cut back on their humanities and social sciences faculties. Apparently bureaucrats at the ministry are keen on sweeping critical intellect away from Japanese society. Destruction of intellect means the loss of an ability to correct oneself, and paves the way for the weakening and eventual collapse of society. Japan is indeed at a crossroads in various senses.


Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University

Japan Times, June 24

 


2015.05.28 Thursday 14:35

How to understand Japan’s postwar history

 
The Abe administration has tabled before the Diet a set of legislation to
 drastically change Japan’s national security policies. The turnaround in the security posture sought by the administration is closely linked to the question of how one evaluates the path that the nation has trodden after the war. As the 70th anniversary of Japan’s 1945 surrender in World War II approaches, we need to think of the meaning of our postwar history together with the path that the nation must follow from now on.


When he addressed politicians and citizens in the United States during his visit from late April to early May, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prided himself on stability and prosperity of Japan’s postwar democracy and said that they have been made possible because the nation has shared common values and cooperated with the U.S. He is correct. Japan has realized democracy and prosperity under the Constitution drafted by the U.S.-led occupation forces. But if he were sincere as a politician, he should have immediately protested to the U.S. that the American forces imposed the Constitution on Japan and should have declared that Japan would quickly write a constitution on its own — because he once called the current Constitution “disgraceful” by criticizing ideals expressed by its preamble and has made it his mission to amend the supreme law. However, he has no
such nerve and courage. During the visit, he thanked the U.S. for establishing Japan’s postwar democratic system. Back in Japan, he advocates changing the Constitution. Abe is a politician who indeed lacks consistency.


One of the criticisms against Abe’s decision to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense is that Japan might be drawn into war waged by other countries. In his May 15 press conference, Abe said that history shows how such criticism is off the mark, citing the past debates surrounding the nation’s security treaty with the U.S. Here again, he does not correctly understand Japan’s postwar history. If Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi — Abe’s revered grandfather — had succeeded in amending the Constitution and creating a full-fledged military for Japan after revising the security treaty with the U.S. in 1960, Japan would likely have been forced to join the U.S. in fighting the war in Vietnam — just like South Korea did. Japan managed to avoid taking part in the war along with the U.S. because the fierce protests by citizens who opposed the revision of the security treaty forced Kishi out of office and protected Japan’s postwar constitutional order, dooming his chances of changing the Constitution. Japan managed to avoid sending its troops to Vietnam because of the very existence of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution — and the U.S. knew it was impossible to demand that Japan do so.


The civic movements of 1960 served as a major lesson for subsequent Liberal Democratic Party-led administrations as well. Both the LDP and Japanese people chose not to engage in ideological fight but devote their energy to economic development under democracy and market principles guaranteed by the current Constitution, thereby achieving prosperity for the nation.


There is an argument that the security environment surrounding Japan is now different from half a century ago. China’s rise is an undisputable fact. But what Japan should do is to explore its security policy within the framework of individual self-defense. When the Abe administration changed the government’s interpretation of Article 9 in July last year to pave the way for Japan to engage in collective self-defense, the prime minister explained that the use of force will be limited to the scope necessary to protect the lives and safety of the Japanese people. However, the administration has come up with a new story in putting together the security legislation — that Japan needs to play a more proactive role in the efforts to make international peace. Under his slogan of “proactive contribution to peace,” the Abe administration is intent on getting Japan to join the U.S. and other allies in their fight against the enemy of peace and is ready to take the Self-Defense Forces anywhere in the world on such missions.

 

But history shows that the wars that the U.S. started for the sake of “peace” — ranging from the Vietnam War to the Iraq War — were in fact sheer use of force that lacked a justifiable cause. Supporting the U.S. in such military operations has nothing to do with Japan’s national security. The world remains awash with military conflicts, which have produced huge numbers of refugees. It should be Japan’s mission to provide humanitarian solutions to the problems confronting these people. Japan, however, does not need to be constantly involved in what is billed as a war on terrorism. There will be situations where Japan can better protect its own people and national interests by keeping itself at a distance from futile wars.  Political leaders need to be able to make such high-level judgment when it comes to war. What Prime Minister Abe should learn is the cunningness of the Liberal Democratic Party leaders in the old days who cleverly skirted American demands for more defense roles for Japan by using Article 9 as a shield.


 Japan Times May 26.


2013.11.25 Monday 17:42

Parliamentary democracy without an opposition

 

 

1. A series of events took place recently demonstrating that the foundation of Japan’s democracy has become fairly fragile. Particularly noteworthy are the issue surrounding the Emperor’s political role and lawmakers’ approach to it.
    2. Under the Constitution, the Emperor is the “symbol of the State and of the unity of the people” and “shall not have powers related to the government.” Japan’s imperial system is a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch “reigns but does not govern.”

3. However, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have indeed been issuing political messages quite frequently — in ways that can only be inferred from between the lines.
    4. One example is the remark made by the Empress about the Constitution during a news conference on Oct. 20 marking her 79th birthday. “It seems to me that this year ... we saw more active discussion regarding the Constitution than in previous years,” the Empress said, and went on to talk about some constitutional drafts created by members of the “freedom and civil rights movements” before the Meiji Constitution was promulgated in 1889. She characterized those drafts as a “rare cultural asset in the world as a document of how ordinary citizens in Japan had already developed an awareness of civil rights at the end of the 19th century.”
    5. The “active discussion” can be interpreted to refer to the debate about revising the Constitution as pursued by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The remarks by the Empress can also be interpreted as her implicit assertion that freedom and democracy are the values that represent the tradition of modern Japan.
    6. The Emperor meanwhile visited Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, in October — the place where the Minamata disease, the worst industrial pollution in Japanese history, broke out. The victims have for long faced discrimination and many of them have been denied official recognition by the government as patients of the disease, thus left out from public relief measures.

7. Speaking in front of such people, the Emperor said he would like to work toward “creating a society where people can live upholding the truth.” The remark can be interpreted as the Emperor’s objection to a statement made just before his speech by Abe, who told an international conference on the Minamata Convention on Mercury that Japan “overcame” the Minamata disease.
    8. Novelist Genichiro Takahashi, in his commentary in the Oct. 31 issue of the Asahi Shimbun on recent opinion articles, quoted the Empress’ words on the Constitution and said he highly values the remarks. It is quite unusual that statements by members of the imperial family are taken up in such a newspaper column.

9. On the same day, Upper House member Taro Yamamoto handed a letter to the Emperor during a garden party hosted by the Imperial couple, in which he reportedly tried to tell of the plight suffered by people who are affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and was widely criticized for his act.

10. Both Takahashi and Yamamoto take a liberal or progressive political position and oppose the Abe administration’s agenda to  revise the Constitution and restart of nuclear power plants. And the two events that happened on that same day indicate that progressive-minded people in Japan have gone as far ascome to rely on the Emperor’s authority to justify their own arguments.
     11. I myself was moved by the words of the Emperor and the Empress. The imperial couple has now become the symbol not only of the unity of people but also of postwar democracy. During a ceremony organized by the Abe administration on April 28 to mark an anniversary of the day that Japan regained independence from postwar occupation with the San Francisco Peace Treating going into force, participants shouted “Tenno Heika Banzai!” (Long Live the Emperor!) when the Emperor showed an expression of apparent bewilderment. This indicates that there is a gap between the values symbolized by Emperor Akihito and the ideological direction of the Abe administration.
       12. However, it is a no-no to use or rely on the authority of the Emperor because it is not known what political values the persons who accede to the throne of the Emperor in the future will have. Political debate must be made in the Diet, local assemblies and in the realm of civil society. How people evaluate the Emperor’s messages should be kept personal. If people start competing with each other to resort to an absolute authority when they make political remarks, it would lead to the collapse of freedom of speech.

 13. The situation in which opinion leaders in the progressive camp feel like relying on the authority of the Emperor points to a serious crisis of democracy. The flip side of this situation is the absence of a reliable opposition party in Japan’s parliamentary democracy. Although nearly a year has passed since falling from power, the Democratic Party of Japan, the No. 1 opposition party, is still unable to adopt a political direction that squarely puts the party in confrontation with the Liberal Democratic Party.

14. In the current Diet session, the Abe administration is pushing for a set of legislations that aim to strengthen its power, such as a bill to protect special state secrets and a bill to create the Japanese version of the National Security Council. But the DPJ continues to take only a vague stance on these moves.

15. Objectively speaking, the only viable political direction for the DPJ to take should be positioning itself to the left of the LDP and seek support from middle-of-the-road citizens. However, the party continues to be a mix of progressive and conservative members, who spend so much energy trying to build consensus among themselves that they are unable to put up a resolute stance to challenge the government and the ruling parties.
    16. There are moves within the opposition camp to build an alliance or seek realignment of parties to fight the dominant force of the overwhelming ruling parties. But Nippon Ishin-no-kai (Japan Restoration Party), the No.2 opposition party, is more right-leaning than the LDP and it is meaningless for the DPJ to work together with this party.

17. Before exploring a realignment of opposition parties, DPJ members must fully discuss the party’s political direction among themselves — without fearing an internal division that could lead to breaking up of the party — and determine which course the party should  take.

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hokkaido University.

Japan Times, November 23

 

 


2013.10.25 Friday 15:16

Japan's Helplessness Crisis

この10月から、毎月 Japan Times に寄稿することとなった。 これは最初の文章。 もちろん、私がこんな流麗な英語をかけるわけはなく、専門の翻訳者に訳してもらったもの。 なるほどこういう言い回しをすると、ネイティブの英語に近づくのかと感心することしきり。 By Jiro Yamaguchi Sapporo 1. I invited Professor Gerry Stoker of the University of Southampton in the U.K. to speak at a symposium in September on the theme of how to overcome people’s disenchantment with democratic political systems. He is not alone among the circles of British political scientists who in recent years have published a series of books discussing the paradoxes of democratic political systems, which can be roughly summarized as follows. Democracy spread across the globe after the collapse of one-party rule in the former Soviet bloc countries in the early 1990s. Democratization made headway in East Asia, Latin America and more recently in the Middle East. As if in inverse proportion to such progress, however, people in democratic nations are becoming increasingly disenchanted with politics and are drenched in a sense of powerlessness. 2. When asked why British political scholars are paying attention to such a phenomenon, Professor Stoker’s answer was that the scholars themselves became disenchanted after witnessing what eventually happened to the Labour administration that swept to power in 1997. I myself observed how Tony Blair took office with fanfare when I was studying at Oxford University. That experience led me to make various proposals back home to turn the Democratic Party of Japan into a political force like the new Labour and enable a change of government in Japan. So much so that I, after witnessing the the final result of the DPJ-led change of government, share of the same awareness as Professor Stoker. 3. In Japan’s case, the 2009 change of government was greeted with popular excitement. The excitement was so big that people’s disappointment with the outcome was all the more serious. In reality, the DPJ administration achieved some major policy turnaround in the fields of social security and decentralization. The DPJ government also paved the way for possible eventual phaseout of nuclear power generation. But the DPJ was labeled as a party lacking in governance capability —a problem that overshadowed any policy issues — and suffered a crushing defeat in the Lower House election last year. Moreover, the negative image about the experience of the DPJ rule swept away any idealistic thinking among Japanese voters that they can change policies by changing the political landscape and thereby create a better society as much as possible. 4. What we’re seeing in Japan today appears to have gone well beyond disenchantment. A strange euphoria, in which people do not seem to care about the illnesses or contradictions in society, is all over the country. Look at a survey carried out by Asahi Shimbun in early October. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet has an approval rating of 56 percent of the respondents, roughly unchanged from a month earlier. The biggest reason is that they support Abe’s policies, which is cited by 53 percent. On specific policy issues, 51 percent supported the prime minister’s decision to raise the consumption tax rate. Meanwhile, 56 percent opposed abolition of the special corporate tax to fund the post-Great East Japan Earthquake reconstruction efforts — more than double the percentage of respondents who supported it. Only 21 percent believed that Abe’s policies to support businesses will help improve workers’ employment or wages, while 63 percent did not believe so. As much as 76 percent did not believe in the prime minister’s statement that the situation at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is “under control.” When asked what impact Japan hosting the 2020 summer Olympics will have on the reconstruction efforts, 46 percent said they believed that the reconstruction efforts would be put on the back burner — far more than the 37 percent who thought that the successful Olympic bid would add momentum to the post-3/11 reconstruction. 5. According to the survey, people do not have any illusion that Abe’s business-oriented economic policies will benefit their own lives. They see through the words of government leaders and realize that the government remains helpless in coping with the aftermath of the nuclear mess. They are ready to bear the burden of the consumption tax hike, which is coupled with the cuts in corporate taxation, and yet support this administration. They know that the nation’s top leader is telling a lie — irrespective whether it is done intentionally or not. But this does not lead them to criticize the prime minister. 6. People think that Japan’s “national interests” lie somewhere not related to their own lives They are resigned to think that for the sake of such interests, they have no other choice but to shoulder the increased burden while big businesses receive benefits. This is the logic under which they favor policies that bring them disadvantage and support the administration. 7. An administration that has won people’s mandate in an election carries out its promises and then the voters evaluate its achievements in deciding whether to vote or not to vote for the administration. This is the healthy cycle in a democratic political system. But this cycle has been broken in Japan. The current euphoria may last as long as the effects of “Abenomics” continue — or even until Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympics. 8. While people feel powerless toward politics, the Abe administration is trying to pursue major policy turnarounds — changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense, pushing for a bill to protect government secrets that will lead to restriction of the freedom of the press, a full liberalization of agricultural trade under the Trans-Pacific Partnership scheme — things that the previous LDP administrations have not been able to achieve. Even as there is no end in sight to the nuclear woes at the Fukushima plant, his government is taking steps toward restart of other idled nuclear power plants. These are all major issues that could influence the very fate of the nation — and should be hotly debated over in the Diet and in the media. However, Japan’s political world is so calm. This is extraordinary and abnormal. 9. The biggest crisis in Japan’s democracy today is that people have given up even imagining alternative ways of politics. It does not require tens of thousands of people demonstrating on the street or taking part in massive rallies. Political tension will no doubt be born if only one out of every four people who have expressed support for this administration in opinion surveys start to say otherwise. For that to happen, the opposition parties and the media need to keep up the effort to point out the problems in the current government. 23 October, 2013 Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hokkaido University.

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