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2 unusual books about Japan's Constitution big sellers amid revision debate

Kazuo Tanaka of publisher Dowa-ya reads the reprinted "Atarashii Kenpo no Hanashi" in Tokyo's Suginami Ward on April 6, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Amid political movements and debates over revision to Japan's Constitution, two constitution-related books in particularly are flying off the shelves.

One of the volumes is "Atarashii Kenpo no Hanashi" (The story of the new Constitution) from publisher Dowa-ya Co., a reprinted edition of a textbook put out by the former Ministry of Education after WWII. The other is publisher TaroJiro-Sha Editus Co.'s parody explanation book "Atarashii Kenpo Soan no Hanashi" (The story of the new Constitution draft) about the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s 2012 proposed revision draft. With Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, figures at both publishers hope that the books will increase public interest in the Constitution.

The first book was published in 1947, right after the postwar Constitution came into force, as a textbook for first-year junior high school social studies. The book explains that the Constitution is "something that was freely created based on the opinion of the entire Japanese public," and that war-renouncing Article 9 as "not something to be uneasy about." Rather, "Japan has gone ahead and done the right thing ahead of other countries."

Publisher Dowa-ya's Kazuo Tanaka, 83, praises the textbook as "explaining the Constitution in an enthusiastic and easy-to-understand manner."

In the war's final phase, Tanaka barely survived when he took machine gun fire from an American fighter aircraft and dove into a river in Tochigi Prefecture, where he had been evacuated. Nearly 20 years ago, he encountered the Constitution textbook and wanted children now to read the book, reissuing it in 2001. Since then, it has sold some 230,000 copies.

Last year on Constitution Day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced via a video message played at a pro-constitutional reform gathering his goal of revising the Constitution by 2020. In March this year, the LDP released a draft for revision to war-renouncing Article 9 to clarify the existence of the Self-Defense Forces. "Even though Japan has protected it (Article 9) for the last 70 years, it seems as though they are charging ahead with (Prime Minister) Abe's ideas alone," worries Tanaka.

In Kyoto University economics professor Tomohiro Okada's "Pocket Constitution" published this January, the entire text of the supreme law is printed alongside excerpts from "Atarashii Kenpo no Hanashi" and other sources. "Aren't we treating the Constitution a little too lightly?" asks Okada. "It's precisely now when democracy itself is being eroded that I want people to read the book and learn about the Constitution."

On the other hand, the parody title "Atarashii Kenpo Soan no Hanashi" is penned by a group nicknamed the Jibakuren (self-destruction coalition), which does its tongue-in-cheek best to spread knowledge of what is in the LDP's Constitutional revision draft. Of the proposed change from "citizens" to "the nation of Japan" as the subject of the Constitution's preamble, the book explains that this is because "the main role is that of the government, and the citizens are just one part of it." It also criticizes proposed revisions to Article 9 weaving in blistering satire: "This is so even Japan will be able to openly and fairly take up arms and participate in wars that the United States starts."

The book hit shelves the day that candidacy applications for the 2016 House of Councillors Election began, and sold roughly 40,000 copies. Editor Masaharu Suda, 38, says, "The dangerous nature of the (2012) draft still remains in this year's LDP Constitution revision plan. I would like to make that known through this parody book."

(Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

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