Sunday, May 13, 2018

On a public holiday to commemorate the 1947 Constitution estimated 60,002 people turned up

This week's peace rally was the third Constitution Day rally I had attended since returning to Japan in 2016. It is held near the Ariake campus of the university, in a large open area which mostly poses as a park but is also a designated emergency evacuation area in the event of an earthquake or similar. (Probably not a tsunami, it is a bit low-lying for that.)
Front page of the Tokyo Shimbun on 4 May, showing the 60,000 crowd

I attend because part of my research concerns public engagement in political issues, seeking out reasons for apathy and disinterest in politics; and also for that part of my work that revolves around examining security in the East Asian region, particularly in response to interpretations of Article 9 of Japan's 1947 Peace Consitition, the so-called peace clause. 

This year, a reported 60,000 turned up, an increase in the last two years. Article 9 is at the forefront of debate at present in Japan. It is the ambition of the current Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to amend the Constitution to 'better reflect' the role of Japan's Self-Defence Force, the jieitai, in being able to undertake overseas missions. As it is being presented to the general public, most consider to it be a 'legitimising' of the Force's overseas roles, largely in peace-keeping related missions. 

Placards for peace

For those closer to the frontline of peace movement, there are greater fears that Japanese forces will be sent to wars overseas, mostly in the service of an American alliance, something only too well known to Australians. 

I added the 2 above in the subheading to acknowledge two of my students who attended their first such rally. One of my seminars this semester is focussing on citizens movements and political engagement. I invited the students along to observe and record their impressions. The two who attended were, at first, taken aback by the size of the crowd. It was a privilege to watch them taking in their first such event. I look forward to their reflections. 

On the stage, speaker after speaker--authors, politicians, academics, journalists, social group leaders--all spoke and put their take on the importance of Article 9 in maintaining peace. One of the more interesting arguments I heard put forward raised a challenge to the status quo.Back in the 1990s, a politician had his book translated into English. In it he argues for Japan to be an ordinary country (futsu nokuni), it was translated as 'normal power' and those who want to strengthen Japan's military, argue that 'normal countries' have a military, and so should Japan. (This wasn't actually the main point of Ozawa's argument, the author of the 1990s book, but that is for another time.) One speaker said that 'it is argued that we need to amend Article 9 for Japan to become a 'normal country'...well, perhaps we don't want to be 'ordinary' but should remain extraordinary by being a country that doesn't have a military force. The point earned accolades from the crowd. It was an interesting take on a popular argument. 

The peace rallies today were held in 250 cities and towns across Japan. While no estimate is available at present for the total attendance, that's a lot of people and towns expressing their interest and concern about the Constitution, its proposed amendment, and peace. 

Abe may not get the easy ride to constitutional amendment he seeks. 

Off on the march