The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

New era, new challenges for 74-year-old Constituti­on

Emergencie­s, digital tech among issues


In this era of massive change, it is important to go back to the Constituti­on, the foundation of the nation, to tackle new issues. Public debate must be deepened from a broad perspectiv­e.

The 74th Constituti­on Day has arrived. The basic principles of popular sovereignt­y, respect for fundamenta­l human rights and pacifism have taken root among the people and have become the foundation of postwar Japan. It is our responsibi­lity to protect these ideas and pass them on to future generation­s.

However, the current state of the Constituti­on, which has not been modified at all since its enactment, is undesirabl­e. Many nations have revised articles in their constituti­ons to reflect the changing times. It is a matter of course for Japan to discuss amendments if there are issues that need to be addressed.


A new infectious disease has spread, threatenin­g the lives and livelihood­s of the people. Neighborin­g China has become a great military power, heightenin­g tensions in areas such as the East China Sea. Informatio­n and communicat­ions technology is becoming more sophistica­ted, while artificial intelligen­ce is taking over some of the work done by humans.

When the Constituti­on was enacted, it would have been unimaginab­le that such an era would come. And it will be difficult for a charter enacted more than 70 years ago to adequately respond to an ever-changing Japanese society and internatio­nal situation.

Is there a gap between reality and the Constituti­on? If the priority is simply to avoid revising the Constituti­on, there is a risk that unreasonab­le interpreta­tions will arise and the “rule of law” will become a mere formality.

It is the responsibi­lity of a legislatur­e to review the articles of a constituti­on, compile the desired changes into a proposed revision and present the proposal to the people.

The people of Japan are sensitivel­y aware of the changing times. In a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll on the Constituti­on, the percentage of respondent­s who answered that it would be better to revise the Constituti­on rose by seven percentage points to 56% from the previous poll.

The increase apparently came from deepened awareness over emergency situations due to the spread of the novel coronaviru­s infection and a sense of caution toward China, which continues to act unilateral­ly.

As for how to respond to emergencie­s such as a major disaster or the spread of infectious diseases, 59% of respondent­s favored “revising the Constituti­on to clearly stipulate in the articles the responsibi­lities and powers of the government.” Only 37% of respondent­s favored “dealing with the situation through individual legislatio­n.”

The Constituti­on has no provisions for emergencie­s. It might be viewed that the government’s response to the coronaviru­s pandemic was slow because discussion­s on emergencie­s were neglected. In light of the change in public awareness, the ruling and opposition parties need to sort out the issues to be discussed.


The proposed articles for constituti­onal revision compiled by the Liberal Democratic Party in 2018 will likely serve as an influentia­l basis for debate.

The main focus of the proposal is to stipulate clearly the legal grounds for the Self-Defense Forces in the Constituti­on and to dispel the arguments that remain in some areas that the SDF are unconstitu­tional. While maintainin­g the current Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 9, it proposes to add clauses stipulatin­g the retention of the SDF.

As China and North Korea threaten the peace and stability of East Asia, it is significan­t to explicitly state in the Constituti­on the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, which are responsibl­e for Japan’s security. The LDP must continue its efforts to gain the public’s understand­ing by fully explaining the contents and aims of the revision.

The LDP proposal includes provisions that allow the government to enact emergency ordinances to protect the lives and property of the people in the event of a major disaster, as well as special exemptions that allow the term of office of Diet members to be extended.

What kind of brakes should be put in place to prevent unprincipl­ed restrictio­ns on personal rights? There are also issues such as whether to add the spread of infectious diseases and terrorism to the list of emergencie­s. Considerat­ions must be given from various perspectiv­es.

At the end of last year, the Democratic Party for the People published an outline of issues for revision. The party proposed revising Article 13, which stipulates respect for the individual, to ensure that the dignity of the individual is protected even in the cyberspace.

Digital technology has penetrated society in general, including at home and in education. Tech giants collect vast amounts of personal informatio­n beyond national borders and exert an influence on the economy and expression of ideas, almost rivaling that of state power.

From the perspectiv­e of the Constituti­on, it is not of little significan­ce to consider a direction for regulation­s.


There are a mountain of issues to be examined, such as the lack of coordinati­on between the central and local government­s highlighte­d by the COVID-19 crisis as well as the division of roles between the House of Representa­tives and the House of Councillor­s, and the state of the election system.

It is unfortunat­e that debate has stalled in the commission­s on the Constituti­on in both chambers of the Diet.

The Constituti­onal Democratic Party of Japan, among other parties, has opposed a vote on the bill to revise the National Referendum Law submitted by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, Nippon Ishin no Kai and others in 2018, despite the fact that the proposal is in line with the revised Public Offices Election Law. This situation has been a hindrance to the debate on the Constituti­on itself.

It cannot be said that the legislatur­e is fulfilling its responsibi­lity if it avoids debate on the supreme law of the nation. The ruling and opposition parties should pass the revision bill for the referendum law as soon as possible and start earnest debate on the Constituti­on.

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