‘If the security legislation is approved, Japan, harboured by the peace-loving constitution for 70 years, will no longer exist’. – Kenzaburō Ōe, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1994.[1]

Ōe’s nightmare, against waves of rarely seen protests, comes true. Despite stiff oppositions inside and outside the Diet, Abe’s government won the final passage for the contentious war Bills on the 18th of September  the 84th anniversary of the Manchurian Incident, which preluded the Japanese invasion of China.

The newly passed security legislation remilitarises Japan under the concept of ‘collective self-defence’. It overturns Japan’s pacifist defence policy since the end of WWII. The ‘no-war’ constitution, imposed by the United States in 1946, declares that ‘the Japanese people forever renounce war … as means of settling international disputes’.[2]

By reinterpreting the pacifist constitution, Japan can deploy troops to fight abroad for the first time since WWII. Previously, the Japanese military, named as the Self-Defence Forces, could only enter into combat activities when Japan is under ‘imminent critical threat’. Otherwise, the Japanese armed forces could only participate in non-combat tasks or peacekeeping missions, such as logistical support.[3]

Prime Minister of Japan Mr Shinzō Abe, who personally advocated the war Bills, justifies the new legislation by citing rising security challenges in Asia. The security legislation can, according to the Tokyo Foundation, ‘secure Japan’s peace and integrity’ and ‘contribute to international peace and stability’.[4] Masahisa Sato, a former military official, emphasises that ‘[the Bills] are absolutely necessary to protect the lives and happiness of the people’.[5]

The sceptical public, however, reacted strongly against the Bills. ‘Scrap War Legislation!’, ‘Abe, quit!’, ‘War is over!’ are some of the things 35,000 Japanese chanted during an anti-war Bill protest. According to the Asahi Poll, 68 per cent of around 2,000 respondents consider the security Bills unnecessary. With 54 per cent of them voting against the legislation while only 29 per cent support the Bills.[6] Mr Hozumi Wada, a 70-year-old first-time protester, objected to the legislation because: ‘the Bills are against the Constitution. It’s a legislation that doesn’t respect people’s lives’.[7]

Not just upsetting for the Japanese people, the Bills also bring back the spectre of war. ‘I cannot stand the idea of Japanese troops killing my little friends and their families in Afghanistan’, Miki Satake, a nursing student, told the protesters. Nobukazu Honma, the co-founder of The Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALD), thundered that the legislation harmed people’s lives. ‘The legislation would increase the risks of Japanese troops getting killed in a combat or the country becoming a target of terror attacks’.[8]

‘The pressing question today is’, to quote Ōe, ‘Did the Japanese really learn anything from the defeat of 1945?’[9] It seems that the Japanese Government, not the Japanese, learned little from the war. Fifty-five years ago, the government, led by Mr Abe’s grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, forced through the controversial U.S.-Japan security pact. Kishi, seen as a ‘war criminal’, was swept from his office by angry protesters. Now, Mr Abe is using the military Bills to settle ‘the unfinished family business’, ‘make Japan a global power and restore its honour after World War II’.[10]

Abe’s nationalistic ambition finds expression in various domestic policies. For instance, the Ministry of Education in Japan (MEXT) has stealthily altered the description of the Nanjing Massacre, which killed 300,000 Chinese civilians, in the Japanese textbooks. China warned that Japan was marching to war, ‘at the dear cost of not only [her] own soul but also those of the entire Japanese nation’.[11]

Amid the war Bills controversy, ‘people everywhere on this earth’ seem to have forgotten Hiroshima and ‘the unspeakable tragedy perpetuated there’. When the nuclear bomb exploded in Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945, ‘some of [the Atomic bomb victims] vanished in an instant, vaporised by the heat and blast of the atomic bomb, while others would live out their cruel destinies, always afraid to have leukocytes counted’. Some managed to ‘recover their health and now live as normal human beings’, but others were haunted by shame, despair and death. A young Hiroshima dentist, who later hanged himself, ‘agonised, “Why must the Hiroshima people suffer even after the war’s end?” ‘[12]

To end war suffering, one solution is to ‘truly seek peace’. Passing the Bills, sadly, only counters that goal, ‘revamp[s] the Constitution and ha[s] [the] country turn back along the road toward becoming once again a military superpower’. ‘That failure’, Ōe stresses, ‘would be a betrayal of those people who somehow maintained their human dignity amidst the most dreadful conditions ever suffered by humankind’.[13]



[1] http://mainichi.jp/select/news/20150915k0000m040066000c.html; http://www.rfa.org/mandarin/yataibaodao/junshiwaijiao/nz-09142015143657.html

[2] http://japan.kantei.go.jp/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/09/18/world/asia/ap-as-japan-security-bills-qa.html?_r=0

[4] http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/articles/2015/objectives-of-new-security-legislation

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/18/world/asia/japan-military-bills-provoke-scuffling-in-parliament.html?_r=0

[6] https://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201509140020

[7] http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/japan-on-brink-of-passing-security-bills

[8] http://www.wsj.com/articles/students-lead-protests-against-expanding-japans-military-role-1442345400

[9] Kenzaburō Ōe, Hiroshima Notes (Tokyo: YMCA Press, 1994), 10.

[10] http://www.wsj.com/articles/for-japans-shinzo-abe-unfinished-family-business-1418354470

[11] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/japan-seized-by-protests-as-pm-abe-pushes-through-defence-legislation/article26392435/

[12] Ōe, Hiroshima Notes, 21, 29, 107, 127.

[13] Ibid., 16.