The Postwar Constitution
On July 26, 1945, Allied leaders Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Joseph Stalin issued the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded Japan's unconditional surrender. This declaration also defined the major goals of the postsurrender Allied occupation: "The Japanese government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established" (Section 10). In addition, the document stated: "The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government" (Section 12). The Allies sought not merely punishment or reparations from a militaristic foe, but fundamental changes in the nature of its political system. In the words of political scientist Robert E. Ward: "The occupation was perhaps the single most exhaustively planned operation of massive and externally directed political change in world history."
The wording of the Potsdam Declaration--"The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles..."--and the initial postsurrender measures taken by MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), suggest that neither he nor his superiors in Washington intended to impose a new political system on Japan unilaterally. Instead, they wished to encourage Japan's new leaders to initiate democratic reforms on their own. But by early 1946, MacArthur's staff and Japanese officials were at odds over the most fundamental issue, the writing of a new constitution. Prime Minister Shidehara Kijuro and many of his colleagues were extremely reluctant to take the drastic step of replacing the 1889 Meiji Constitution with a more liberal document. In late 1945, Shidehara appointed Matsumoto Joji, state minister without portfolio, head of a blue-ribbon committee of constitutional scholars to suggest revisions. The Matsumoto Commission's recommendations, made public in February 1946, were quite conservative (described by one Japanese scholar in the late 1980s as "no more than a touching-up of the Meiji Constitution"). MacArthur rejected them outright and ordered his staff to draft a completely new document. This was presented to surprised Japanese officials on February 13, 1946.
The MacArthur draft, which proposed a unicameral legislature, was changed at the insistence of the Japanese to allow a bicameral legislature, both houses being elected. In most other important respects, however, the ideas embodied in the February 13 document were adopted by the government in its own draft proposal of March 6. These included the constitution's most distinctive features: the symbolic role of the emperor, the prominence of guarantees of civil and human rights, and the renunciation of war. The new document was approved by the Privy Council, the House of Peers, and the House of Representatives, the major organs of government in the 1889 constitution, and promulgated on November 3, 1946, to go into effect on May 3, 1947. Technically, the 1947 constitution was an amendment to the 1889 document rather than its abrogation.
The new constitution would not have been written the way it was had MacArthur and his staff allowed Japanese politicians and constitutional experts to resolve the issue as they wished. The document's foreign origins have, understandably, been a focus of controversy since Japan recovered its sovereignty in 1952. Yet in late 1945 and 1946, there was much public discussion on constitutional reform, and the MacArthur draft was apparently greatly influenced by the ideas of certain Japanese liberals. The MacArthur draft did not attempt to impose a United States-style presidential or federal system. Instead, the proposed constitution conformed to the British model of parliamentary government, which was seen by the liberals as the most viable alternative to the European absolutism of the Meiji Constitution.
After 1952 conservatives and nationalists attempted to revise the constitution to make it more "Japanese," but these attempts were frustrated for a number of reasons. One was the extreme difficulty of amending it. Amendments require approval by twothirds of the members of both houses of the National Diet before they can be presented to the people in a referendum (Article 96). Also, opposition parties, occupying more than one-third of the Diet seats, were firm supporters of the constitutional status quo. Even for members of the ruling LDP, the constitution was not disadvantageous. They had been able to fashion a policy-making process congenial to their interests within its framework. Nakasone Yasuhiro, a strong advocate of constitutional revision during much of his political career, for example, downplayed the issue while serving as prime minister between 1982 and 1987.
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