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Cunning Linguistics and the Japanese Constitution

Photo of a Japanese soldier in Iraq represents Japan’s first military mission since World War II. (Ahmad Abdel Razak/AFP/Getty Images)
Japanese soldier in Iraq represents Japan’s first military mission since World War II. (Ahmad Abdel Razak/AFP/Getty Images)

In response to an article in the Japan Times and as a follow-up to my post and discussion on Japan’s remilitarization, the information below is presented to further discuss or argue over Japan’s right to collective self-defense.

Background: I had a discussion today regarding my reply to the Op Ed piece in the Japan TImes and Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution. I stated that the original language used (Japanese) in the document is purposely vague and therefore “zurui” or cunning. My friend disagreed.

I highly believe that the language used in Art. 9 is intentionally vague in order to give the Japanese room to “reinterpret” and maneuver. If you are an aspiring linguist, historian, educator, or intelligence professional, the information that follows should be of interest:

D. SDF is Constitutional and Follows Rule of Law: Linguistic Analysis:

“The Japanese Constitution is an odd document because it is not really “from the people” of Japan. In fact, the Constitution itself is far more a document “from the American people.” In early 1946, MacArthur had tired of the Japanese attempts to “revise” their own constitution. He therefore directed 27 American personnel to draft the Japanese Constitution. This was accomplished in a little more than a week. When it was done, it was translated into Japanese and reviewed by the Japanese Diet and Cabinet. It was revised in Japanese, re-translated back into English, certified by MacArthur, and that version was promulgated. The Constitution does not come “from” the Japanese people. Rather, it is an imposed constitution.

Specifically for our purposes here, there are two clauses to Article 9. Elements of both clauses have been rather thoroughly discussed; however, one phrase in paragraph 2 of Article 9 seems to have missed drawing any attention. The first draft of Paragraph 2 of Article 9, in English, read as follows: The maintenance (haji) of land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential and the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

When this clause was first unveiled to Japanese drafters, such as Joji Matsumoto, Article 9 was unacceptable. Matsumoto, and others, were incensed that the result of Article 9 would be that Japan not only had to give up arms but that it had to even forgo the sovereign right to defend itself. Therefore, these Japanese former and current statesmen set out to “soften” the impact of Article 9. One significant, and until now overlooked, way that this “softening” took place was in the language used to manifest whether or not Japan would ever “maintain” arms. This softening becomes apparent when looking at the evolution of the language used in Paragraph 2 of Article 9.

(Land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential will not be maintained. The right of belligerency of the State will not be recognized.)

That is, the verb representing the notion that Japan would not maintain military potential changes over the summer of 1946. It started out as an absolute prohibition (March 6th version). By April 13th, it was softened to merely state that military potential would “not be allowed.” By June 21, the phrase was changed to a more demanding “shall never maintain” standard. By August, this “shall never” conjugation of the verb “to maintain” was dropped. What remained was merely the negative form of the verb “to maintain.”

Thereby one of the many magical two-steps happened in the drafting process of the Japanese Constitution through the so-called Ashida Amendments:

What was once absolute, suddenly became merely the negative form of the verb “to maintain.” Perhaps the two have the same or nearly the same meaning in English, but, as time and the development of the SDF has shown, the change was apparently very significant for the Japanese reader of the Japanese version of the Japanese Constitution.

That is, there is no question that Article 9 was “softened” during the summer of 1946 specifically with the Ashida Amendments in August of 1946.

On August 6th, the so-called Ashida Amendments occurred. At this time, Paragraph 2 of Article 9 was “linked” to the first paragraph with aspirational language as follows:

(In order to achieve the objectives of the prior provision . . . )

In addition, although no one paid any attention to it whatsoever, another key change occurred in the softening of the Japanese version of this clause.

•PG 41 of Source

•PG 42 of Source

More importantly, this “softening” of Article 9 in the form of changing at least one verb conjugation from “hojishitewanaranai” to “hojishinai” is significant to the Japanese judiciary’s understanding of the article’s parameters and was either not picked up when the unofficial English translation was finally prepared in November of 1946 or dismissed as a “technical” change.

*** That is, the Ashida Amendments, thought to link paragraph 2 to paragraph 1 to give context and purpose to paragraph 2 had another purpose. By identifying the objective that paragraph 2 played (“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph . . . “), it narrowed its application. That is, ONLY for purposes of accomplishing the aims of paragraph 2, NOT for accomplishing or not accomplishing any other objectives whatsoever, Japan renounced war. This was a deliberate move on part of Ashida to allow Japan to re-arm for defensive purposes if it so desired. This is the view that the Japanese government holds today.***

Unfortunately, no one told the Japanese people who still believe they are pacifists.

Note: Eiji Takamae, INSIDE GHQ 291 (2002). Although Takamae chronicles the insertion of the Ashida Amendments, he, too, misses the other significant softening addressed here. The Ashida Amendment is chronicled quite effectively in Shoichi Koseki, THE BIRTH OF JAPAN’S POSTWAR CONSTITUTION 192-202 (1997).


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