- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2000

TOKYO Japan is taking a fresh look at its constitution, a document drafted by U.S. occupiers after World War II that became an icon of Japan's postwar pacifist culture.

The move is being driven by resurgent nationalism of Japan's youth a feeling that military dependence on the United States cannot last forever and a sense that Tokyo should be more ready to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions, analysts say.

A three-hour convening of the Lower House Constitutional Research Panel last month served as a prelude to a long period of soul searching.

Spirited debate, something that has been missing for nearly five decades since the the postwar constitution was promulgated, focuses on the controversial Article 9, which currently prohibits Japan from having military forces.

Conservative lawmaker Hiroshi Mitsuzuka of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was adamant that the nation's right to self-defense should be clearly spelled out in any changes to Article 9.

Creative interpretation of the document is also at issue since Japan has the world's fifth-largest military budget at $47.8 billion and hosts nearly 50,000 American service men and women.

A survey by the Mainichi newspaper has shown that 70 percent of 1,181 who participated in the poll nationwide are interested in the activities of the panel. But 80 percent said the panel should not rush to a conclusion. About half of the respondents said the constitution should eventually be revised.

Some, such as Komazawa University professor Osamu Nishi, claim that the constitution was forced on Japan during the occupation by U.S. Commanding Gen. Douglas MacArthur and should be revised at all costs.

The constitution was written by Americans, although some Japanese revisions were included before the document was approved by Gen. MacArthur.

Hawkish Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has been proposing that Japan simply annul the present constitution on grounds that the nation was under occupation when it was introduced. Germany arranged for its wartime constitution to expire when the occupation was over, but Japan took no such step.

Taro Nakayama, a former foreign minister who heads the constitution panel in the lower house, says such a view is irrational, maintaining that the procedures stipulated in the constitution should be followed when it is revised.

In 1957, the government set up a similar Cabinet-level panel to consider revising the constitution. Its report in 1964, which detailed pros and cons, failed to initiate formal Diet debate in the face of left-leaning parties' insistence on keeping the document sacrosanct.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister and LDP leader, urged the current panel to complete preliminary studies on the constitution within two years and then begin discussing in detail which articles should be amended.

Rikukai Sasaki of the Japan Communist Party said his party will firmly oppose any change. "Japan should sever its security arrangement with the United States and seek ways to coexist with its Asian neighbors," he said.

Any revision of the constitution requires approval from more than two-thirds of both Diet chambers, as well as from more than half of Japanese voters in a national plebiscite.

There have been indications of growing nationalism among Japan's youth, who are beginning to recoil from the sense of war guilt that permeates much of society.

As an example, Yoshinori Kobayashi's "A Theory of War," a comic book that portrays Japan's role in the war in a positive rather than negative light, was a best seller in 1998.

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