The Constitution of Japan, 1946
About this activity
1. What vision for Japan is articulated in the Preamble and Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution? Where did the idealistic language of the Constitution come from?
2. How does the language of the Basic Policy on National Defense differ from the Preamble and Article 9? What kind of broader policy shift(s) does it represent?
Try using this activity when teaching about...
- Occupation (compare to Iraq and Afghanistan)
- Peace studies
- World War II
- Dropping of the atomic bomb
- US Constitution
- Comparative government
Common Core Connections
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
During World War II, one of the greatest fears of the Allied Powers was Japanese military aggression. When the war in the Pacific ended with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan's subsequent surrender, the United States wanted to ensure that Japan would never have the capability to wage war again. Therefore, as part of the postwar American Occupation of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan, and his staff of 24 took a heavy hand in rewriting the Japanese Constitution to reflect the ideals of democracy and demilitarization. The Americans based much of their language on the U.S. and other liberal European constitutions, as well as the ideals of the New Deal. The new Japanese Constitution was debated and went through a series of revisions, to which both the Japanese government and Japanese civilians contributed. Although it has often been said the Americans imposed this new Constitution on Japan, recent scholarship has shown that the Japanese did indeed play a role in the creation of their Constitution, and that many Japanese were weary of war and eager to embrace policies of peace. (For more information on this, see http://spice.stanford.edu/docs/131.)
The Preamble of the 1947 Constitution focused on the ideals of peace, and Article 9 specifically forbade the maintenance of a standing army. However, in 1954, Japan created its Self Defense Forces (SDF) in response to the tensions of the Korean War. Then in 1957, Japan adopted a Basic Policy on National Defense, which justified the creation of the SDF and defined the Japanese right of self-defense, while still confirming security arrangements with the U.S. The Basic Policy on National Defense was a product of the Cold War, a time when Communism had been adopted by the Chinese, North Koreans, and Vietnamese and the U.S. saw a need for a bulwark against its spread in East Asia. Japan also felt a need for a self-defense force that would be consistently present after witnessing U.S. troops leave their islands to fight North Korea and China.
Interpretations of the Constitution and of the self defense policy have been questioned and debated since their creation. SDF forces in fact have been deployed abroad many times for disaster relief and election-monitoring efforts. However, a turning point came in December of 2003, when Japan sent non-combat troops to Iraq to support the American war effort. This was supported by the U.S. as a much-needed statement of international support, but it stretched the interpretation of "self-defense" in place since the end of WWII. Now, some parties in Japan, including the Liberal Democratic Party, major newspapers, and various civil society groups advocate for the Constitution to be revised so it is less pacifist, particularly given Japan’s recent tension with North Korea. This would mark a tremendous change in Japan's international standing and in U.S.-Japan relations.
|Constitution||A set of rules for government that defines the government's structure and powers.|
||In international law, the state of a nation that is engaged in war.|
|Demilitarization||The reduction of a nation's military forces and arms to an agreed minimum.|
|General Douglas MacArthur||U.S. Army general in the Pacific Theater of WWII, who became the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan. He and his staff were responsible for redrafting the Japanese Constitution during the Occupation. The model they prepared was formally adopted by the Japanese Diet.|
|Ideals||Standards or aims, especially of high or noble character.|
|LDP (Liberal Democratic Party)||A conservative political party in Japan that had control of the government from 1955 to 2009.|
|Liberalization||The relaxing of previous restrictions, usually in the areas of social and economic policies.|
|Military Aggression||An attack or war that is not waged for reasons of self-defense. After the Nuremberg Trials that followed WWII, wars of aggression were defined as crimes against peace.|
|Occupation||The period from the end of World War II in 1945 to 1952 in which Japan was occupied by the Allied Forces, led by the United States. During the Occupation, Japan's Constitution was rewritten by the Allies to enforce disarmament, liberalization, and other reforms. The Occupation ended later in Iwo Jima (1968) and Okinawa (1972).|
|Preamble||An introductory statement.|
|Self Defense Forces (SDF)||The military forces of Japan, created in 1954 under pressure from the West to establish an East Asian bulwark against Communism. By law, the SDF is only allowed to act domestically to protect Japan from threats, but troops were deployed to Iraq in 2003 for non-combat missions.|
|Sovereignty||Having total, independent authority over one's territory.|
Primary Source Activity
- Printed copies of the Preamble to the Japanese Constitution and Article 9
- Printed copies of the Basic Policy on National Defense
- "The American Occupation of Japan, 1945-1952" – summary from Asia for Educators
- Divide students into 2 groups. Explain that each group will receive an important document from the Japanese Constitution or Japanese law, and that both documents were created after Japan's defeat at the hands of the Allied Powers in World War II.
- For one group of students, explain the term Preamble, and have students read the Preamble to the Japanese Constitution and Article 9. They should stop at the "Constitution and Right of Self Defense" subheading – what follows is commentary. Give the other group of students the "Basic Policy on National Defense" to read, but REMOVE THE DATE, which appears twice, from the copy you provide to them.
- For both groups, ask students to make their own notes about the following questions:
- What is the tone of the document? What sort of language is used?
- What kind of nation or society comes to mind after reading this document?
- Next, have students create a visual representation, such as a poster, depicting their understanding of what the document says or the kind of nation the document describes. What sort of "big picture" of Japan comes to mind when reading the policy? Invite students to include a fitting motto or catchphrase with their illustration.
- Put up the posters for each group on one side of the room, and have students view both the other posters created for the document they read, then the posters from the other group.
- Convene the whole class to discuss the following:
- What kind of nation or society did the posters from the Constitution group show? What kind of images came to mind for this group, and what language from the document guided them?
- What kind of nation or society did the posters from the National Defense policy group show? What images did they select as representative, and what language from the document did they draw upon?
- What differences between the posters do you notice? Now give each group the document they did not already receive, and have them read it. Now ask:
- How would you characterize the tone and intentions of each document. (Answers might include the fact that the Constitution's language is idealistic, filled with references to the horrors of war, the importance of peace, and the banishment of oppression and intolerance. The National Defense policy, in contrast, is mostly practical and diverges from the Constitution by allowing the creation of military forces for self-defense.)
- Drawing upon your knowledge of Japanese militarism in World War II and its defeat, which document would you hypothesize was written first, and why?
- At this point, students will need more context on the documents to advance their understanding of why these rather different statements of policy were created. Have them read the Asia for Educators summary of the American Occupation of Japan. Discuss the contents, and reveal (in response to the last question above) that the Constitution was adopted in 1947, while the Defense Policy was signed into law ten years later. To help them grasp the change in tone and policy, students will also need to read and discuss the "Background" essay at the start of this activity.
- Conclude by asking students if there is anything they would change about their visual representations of the documents based on their deeper knowledge of their historical context.
1. Project the PBS map of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' deployments overseas, clicking on different locations to learn about the role the Self-Defense Forces played. Ask: what kind of missions has Japan deemed vital to its self-defense? Why has it been involved in UN missions?
2. Explain the 2003 deployment of the SDF to Iraq for a non-combat role. Have students debate whether involvement in Iraq qualifies as "self-defense," a debate which took place in Japan at the time. Students should draw upon their knowledge of Article 9 and the Basic Policy on National Defense, as well as their understanding of Japan's military history.
About the Authors
Deborah Cunningham is the Senior Program Director at Primary Source. She has lived in China and traveled extensively in Japan. She completed her doctorate on the teaching of historical empathy at Oxford University.
Karen Zawisza teaches 8th grade Humanities (English and Social Studies) at Watertown Middle School in Watertown, Massachusetts. She majored in Asian Languages and Civilizations at Amherst College, studied Japanese for two years, and recently traveled to Japan with Primary Source. Her professional interests include the history and culture of Japan and China.
Lina Yamashita is a Program Coordinator at Primary Source. She brings 15 years of life experience living in Singapore, Manila, and Tokyo, and has traveled extensively within East and Southeast Asia. She earned a masters degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.