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Constitutional revision debate among youths doesn't follow usual ideological divides

Japan's postwar Constitution marked its 70th anniversary on May 3. Over the past seven decades, the supreme law's enshrinement of popular sovereignty, respect for basic human rights and pacifism as this country's basic principles has helped shape postwar Japan. In recent years, however, people's opinions about the Constitution -- especially among youth -- are not always driven by political or ideological belief.

Philosophy of law professor Koichi Taniguchi at Tokyo Metropolitan University has taught first-year seminar courses for 10 years since academic 2006. At the beginning of each school year, he assigns his students essays on the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 -- whether they are pro- or anti-constitutional amendment, or have an alternative position. He has 158 of the essays on file.

One student wrote, "I support maintaining Article 9 that clearly states Japan renounces war. My grandparents told me about their war experiences and it's important to have the will not to engage in war ever." Another student wrote, "I'm for revising Article 9. I don't think having an armed forces and recognizing the right to use such forces would directly lead Japan to war."

Taniguchi says that, every year, the ratio of pro-revision to anti-revision essays is about six to four.

"The anti-constitutional revision camp has the basis of absolute rejection of any war and therefore is not influenced by current social situations, while the pro-revision camp is sensitive to changes in society," Taniguchi explains.

Third-year student Soichiro Shoji, 21, wrote in his essay that he supported amending Article 9. He sees the war-renouncing article as a shackle on Japanese participation in "international society" as stipulated in the preamble, because the country's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) can only perform limited functions in U.N. peacekeeping operations under the current supreme law.

Fourth-year student Takuya Uchida, 21, was against amending the Constitution when he was in high school. "My teacher had a big influence. They often criticized the government during class and I was inspired by their intellectual attitude," he recalled. But he says he started to question the war-renouncing Constitution after researching the issue. At the end, Uchida wrote in his essay that Article 9 should be revised since the status of the SDF is ambiguous.

Professor Taniguchi was a University of Tokyo student in the 1990s when the country was divided over dispatching SDF troops to overseas.

"In those days, 'anti-constitutional amendment' meant 'intellectual,' but today's students don't see anti-revision as the left or pro-revision as the right. They don't have such an ideological background," Taniguchi says. "They probably favor revising the Constitution as they see the North Korean problem as a real threat in their lives."

Ryosuke Nishida, a sociologist and associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, says today's youths are more moved by the sense of concern that "something might happen in the near future" and feel a greater sense of reality about North Korea-related issues than they do over stories about war.

"I can't say that young people have a firm understanding of 'what is the Constitution,'" Nishida adds. "A move to stir a public-wide debate on the supreme law should be initiated, rather than shifting the responsibility (for the discussion) onto youths."

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