The Japanese Constitution is sometimes referred to as the "Peace Constitution." It denies Japan the right to declare war and forbids the establishment of a large army or navy. The preamble states: "We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time...We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time."

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution forbids all military activity. It states “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right and the threat of use of force as means of settling disputes" and armed forces "will never be maintained." Japan’s pacifist stance has a lot to do with its distrust of the military.

According to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution Japan can not fight outside the country and is restricted in what it can do within the country. In 1995, the Japanese military was prohibited by these rules from entering Kobe to help out after the earthquake there. The constitution, according to way it is interpreted, bans the export of weapons. Aerospace manufacturers export parts listed as as for “commercial” airlines when actually they intended to be really used in military aircraft.

Japanese servicemen almost never wear their uniforms in public. They work and risk their lives for an organization that is technically illegal and can quit any time because in the eyes of the law they are civilians. In the 1960s an admiral was thrown off a train for wearing his uniform.

See Changes in the Japanese Military Below


Good Websites and Sources: Global Security Guide on the Japanese Military ;Military Pictures on Defence Talk ; Military Pictures on Military Photos ; Wikipedia article on Japan Self Defense Forces Wikipedia ; PBS Documentary on Japan’s Self Defense Forces ; Japan Ministry of Defense ; U.S. Forces Japan Official Site ; U.S. Military Bases in Japan

U.S. Says Article 9 Limits Close Defense Cooperation

In February 2011, Kyodo reported: “Article 9 of the Constitution and Tokyo's interpretation of it restrict close defense cooperation between Japan and the United States, a recent U.S. congressional report says. According to the "The U.S.-Japan Alliance," a report compiled Jan. 18 by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, in a situation involving North Korea, the Self-Defense Forces could not respond to a missile attack if the U.S. side were targeted, although the two countries have been integrating their missile defense operations. [Source: Kyodo, February 12, 2011]

In a section subtitled "Constitutional and Legal Constraints," the report calls Article 9 "the most prominent and fundamental" of all legal factors that "could restrict Japan's ability to cooperate more robustly with the United States." It also says Japan's 1960 interpretation that the Constitution forbids collective self-defense "is also considered an obstacle to close defense cooperation."

"As the United States and Japan increasingly integrate missile defense operation, the ban on collective self-defense . . . raises questions about how Japanese commanders will gauge whether American forces or Japan itself is being targeted," it says, adding, "Under the current interpretation, Japanese forces could not respond if the United States were attacked."

The report says former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had spoken about the need to reconsider legal restrictions but efforts to alter the interpretation stalled after his resignation in 2007. Referring to the divided Diet, where the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition does not control the Upper House, the report says, "Tokyo has struggled to advance national security issues that would help to improve the alliance relationship." It adds, "Ambitious plans like amending Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, passing a law that would allow for a more streamlined dispatch of Japanese troops, or altering the current interpretation of collective self-defense are far more difficult to accomplish, given the political gridlock."

Revising Article Nine of the Constitution

1947 constitution
The LDP, Japan’s ruling political party for many years, has proposed constitutional amendment that would officially recognize the military and give the military greater freedom to operate overseas.

The military threat from North Korea and the rise of terrorism has given nationalists an excuse to call for a beefing up of the Japanese military and an increased involvements in military affairs in Asia and the world.

There are plans to revise the Constitution, with Article 9 being the primary target. According to a 2003 poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun, 42 percent of Japanese believe Article 9 should be reformed. 30.3 said it should be treated as it has in the past and 17.9 percent said it should be followed strictly (9.5 percent had no answer). The number of people who favored changing the constitution for reasons related to defense rose from 9 percent in 1995 to 16 percent in 2003.

In April 2007, the lower house approved a bill that set the rules for the revision of the Constitution. According to a new law that goes into effect in 2010 an amendment to constitution has to be approved by a two third majority by both houses and then by a majority of voters in a national referendum.

In May 2007, a law was enacted to set up referendum procedures for constitutional amendments was passed allowing a referendum to be held on revising the constitution as early as 2010. The law was seen as an important step in revising the constitution, a goal that seemed difficult to achieve in that most Japanese oppose the amendment and for an amendment to be approved it needs approval by a two third majority by both houses and then by a majority of voters in a national referendum. .

Nationalists and Stronger Japanese Military

nationalist van
There is a strong sentiment that Japan need a real, virile military. In the early 2000s Prime Minister Juichiro Koizumi promised to make Japan into a “moral nation” with a “real” military.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, Japanese began debating whether or not American troops needed to be on Japanese soil and asking themselves if Japan should beef up its military and participate U.N. peace keeping operations. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, and with increased threats from North Korea and the rising power of China in the early 2000s, support for a stronger Japan grew and even liberal political parties began exploring ways in which Japan could improve its defenses.

Many of Japan's Asian neighbors as well as many Japanese are worried about this. The United States believes that changes are long overdue and it about time Japan shoulders more responsibility for its own defense and maintaining stability in the region. The Bush administration encouraged Japan to take a more active military roll against a potential Chinese threat.

In November 2008, Toshio Tamogami, the head of the Japanese air force was forced to resigned after stating in an essay he wrote that Japan “was falsely accused if being an aggressor nation” in China and in World War II and it is “necessary for Japan to be freed from a “masochistic view of history.” He also said Japan was tricked into a war with China by Chiang Kai-shek. He defended what he wrote as an exercise if free speech and refused demands by some to voluntarily give up his $600,000 pension

Right wing groups are strong supporters of Japanese nationalist causes and have been at the forefront of Japan's refusal to apologize for World War II aggression. They have also been at the center of disputes over rose-tinted interpretations of Japanese history and hostilities between Japan and China, Taiwan, and Korea over possessions of tiny islands in the Japan and South China seas. .

Many right-wing nationalists are supporters of the Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), Japan’s largest nationalist organization. It has conservative members in the Diet that are mostly from the LDP. It reject Japanese pacificism, embraces the Imperial system and defends Japan’s actions in it wars in Asia. It has also been active in keeping the North Korea abduction issue alive, wants Japan to possess nuclear weapons and has been critical of the United States for bringing pacifism to Japan.

See Changes in the Japanese Military Below

Japan’s Military and Foreign Policy in the 2000s

According to to the New York Times: “After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Japan dispatched its naval vessels to the Indian Ocean to supply fuel for warships of the coalition forces operating in Afghanistan, and sent troops to Iraq for humanitarian assistance, along with planes to transport cargo and American troops. (In late 2009, the newly elected Democratic Party said it plans to withdraw from the refueling arrangement.) [Source: New York Times]

“The Japanese military began developing its offensive capabilities. Japan also decided to join the U.S. in developing and financing a missile defense shield, and its defense agency was upgraded to a full ministry in 2007. Parliament also passed a bill calling for a referendum as early as 2010 to amend the U.S.-imposed “peace constitution.”

Junichiro Koizumi, a popular prime minister, and his successor in 2006, Shinzo Abe, helped win approval of these changes by emphasizing nationalism. But Japan's neighbors were outraged by Mr. Koizumi's yearly visits the Yasukuni shrine, which pays tribute to several war criminals, by Tokyo's approval of revisionist textbooks whitewashing Japan's wartime history and by Mr. Abe's refusal to acknowledge fully Japan military's role in coercing women into sex slavery during the war. Mr. Abe, who gained popularity as a cabinet minister by pursuing the issue of past abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea, took a hawkish stance toward Pyongyang. But he abruptly stepped down in September 2007. His successor, Yasuo Fukuda, visited China in December 2007, seeking to further improve relations between the two Asian giants.

Changes in Japanese Military Policy and Strategy

During the Cold War Japan’s military strategy was to assist the United States in its efforts to contain communism and be ready to amass land forces on the northern island of Hokkaido, where they were dug in against a Soviet invasion. This strategy seems largely out of date today.

A defense white paper issued in August 2005, said that to address new threat from China and North Korea Japan needed to make its military forces more versatile and flexible and it needed to be prepared for attacks from ballistic missiles, terrorists and militants using guerilla tactics.

Some LDP members want to amend defense laws so that Japan has the right to strike enemy bases and develop an early warning satellite system. The requests have come in part in response to launched missiles and the testing of nuclear devises by North Korea.

In the early 2010s military concerns were becoming a high priority as nuclear-weapon-possessing North Korea was becoming more unpredictable and aggressive, China was bullying Japan over a group of disputed islands and the alliance between the United States and Japan was being tested over the location of noisy, unpopular U.S. military bases in heavily populated areas.

The rise of China and North Korea's nuclear ambitions have led Japan to actively review long-held foreign policies. After decades of sheltering under the American security umbrella, Japan has begun seeking a more assertive role in the region. In August 2010, a government advisory panel recommended that Japan should significantly revise its post-World War II defense policy, relaxing its ban on arms exports and lifting prohibition on aiding allies under attack. The recommendation came in response to worries about China’s rise and increasingly aggressive behavior and a need for Japan to be able to deal with multiple threats.

The New York Times reported: “In what would be a sweeping overhaul of its cold war-era defense strategy, in December 2010 Japanese newspapers reported that Japan was about to release new military guidelines reducing its heavy armored and artillery forces pointed north toward Russia in favor of creating more mobile units that could respond to China’s growing presence near its southernmost islands. The new defense strategy called for greater integration of Japan’s armed forces with the United States military. “

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “This strategic shift is another step in a gradual and limited buildup of Japan’s forces, aimed at keeping up with the changing power balance in Asia while remaining within the bounds of Japan’s antiwar Constitution and the constraints of its declining economic power. Political analysts say Japan is slowly raising the capabilities of its forces to respond to a more assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea — and to take a first, halting step out of the shadow of the United States, its postwar protector, which many Japanese fear may one day no longer have the will or ability to defend Japan.” “This is all part of an agonizing soul-searching by Japan,” Yuichi Hosoya, a professor of international politics at Keio University in Tokyo, told the New York Times. “Japan feels itself caught between the reality of Chinese power and questions about U.S. commitments in East Asia.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 28, 2011]

“Political analysts are quick to point out that at least for now this is not a full-blown military buildup by Japan, a former colonial power whose pacifist Constitution constrains it to purely defensive forces,” Fackler wrote. “They say there is not strong public support for changing the Constitution to allow a full-fledged military, something that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried and failed to do four years ago. The increases are also limited by Japan’s own economic weakening: its military spending has been shrinking for the past decade along with the size of its overall economy, with little prospect of future increases...To pay for its planned strengthening in the south, Tokyo will cut hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces in the north, and slightly reduce Japan’s current number of 155,000 ground troops.

“For now, at least some of its neighbors appear willing to accept a larger Japanese military presence,” Fackler wrote. “The new Japanese strategy received very little opposition in South Korea, which analysts say now sees China, and also North Korea, as bigger threats than Japan. In fact, South Korea and Japan are now negotiating their first military cooperation agreements since Japan’s colonial rule ended in 1945.” “If anything, we now need a stronger Japan to maintain the regional security balance,” Park Young-June, a Japanese security expert at the Korea National Defense University in Seoul, told the New York Times.

Japan Adapts Military to Chinese Threat

In December 2010, Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Tokyo announced plans to strengthen its forces in the southwestern Okinawan islands, including adding a dozen F-15s in Naha. The increase is part of a broader shift in Japanese defensive stance southward, toward China, that some analysts are calling one of Japan’s biggest changes in postwar military strategy.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 28, 2011]

“Japan’s new national defense guidelines scrapped the cold war-era strategy of amassing land forces on the northern island of Hokkaido, where they were dug in against a Soviet invasion, in favor of building a more mobile force focused on defending its islands and vast seas in the south. To do this, Japan will strengthen its sea and air forces by adding submarines and helicopter-carrying ships that resemble small aircraft carriers, acquiring next-generation fighter planes and creating a new amphibious infantry unit that Tokyo says would be used to thwart an invasion of outlying islands. Analysts say one goal of Japan’s new strategy is to make its military a more visible presence, to discourage China from trying to extend its reach into waters now controlled by Japan. While Japan has one of most sophisticated militaries in Asia, and the region’s most respected navy, it has long been careful to keep its euphemistically named Self-Defense Forces largely out of sight to avoid threatening neighbors victimized by Japan’s early 20th century empire-building.”

Reporting from a military base in Naha, Okinawa, Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times: “More forces are being sent to the base as Japan turns its military focus from the north to the south. The Japanese F-15 fighters are engaged in an increasingly busy, and at times tense, game of cat-and-mouse with rapidly modernizing China, just across the East China Sea. The pilots say they face intrusions into Japanese-controlled airspace by an array of increasingly sophisticated Chinese aircraft, including advanced fighters like the Russian-made Su-27. “You cannot let down your guard when you fly up against an Su-27,” Maj. Gen. Masashi Yamada, commander of Naha’s squadron of 24 fighters, told the New York Times.

“In Okinawa,” Fackler wrote, “the Maritime Self-Defense Force, Japan’s navy, says that it now conducts regular air patrols of areas disputed by China and Japan, including gas fields in the East China Sea and the Senkakus, a group of uninhabited islands claimed by both nations but administered by Japan. In April, the Japanese navy also monitored a flotilla of 10 Chinese warships that steamed through waters near Okinawa, and the Chinese sent a helicopter to buzz a shadowing Japanese warship.”

“There has been a dramatic increase in Chinese naval activity in our area,” said Rear Adm. Tadayoshi Takahashi, the commander of the navy’s air wing that shares Naha Air Base with the Air Self-Defense Forces, Japan’s air force. To strengthen its position on Okinawa and nearby islands, the Self-Defense Forces are building new radar stations and antimissile batteries. Two years ago, Tokyo replaced Naha Air Base’s outdated squadron of Vietnam War-era F-4 fighters with its current F-15s, and put the base under the command of Lt. Gen. Hidetoshi Hirata, one of the Japanese air force’s top officers, with a Ph.D. from Stanford. “It takes time for change to happen,” said General Hirata, “but Japan is realizing the importance of what is going on down here in Okinawa.”

Japan-U.S. Relations As Japan Adapts Military to Chinese Threat

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Given its limits, Japan’s strategy for now appears for it to become a fuller military partner of the United States, which maintains 50,000 military personnel in Japan. Japanese planners now speak of a division of labor between the two militaries, in which a more robust Japan carries a greater load in areas like anti-submarine warfare, freeing up the Americans to focus elsewhere. The December guidelines also call for “integrating” Japanese and American forces by sharing command centers and intelligence. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 28, 2011]

Analysts say Tokyo seeks to bind the two militaries together in order to keep the United States engaged in East Asia, and from becoming too distracted by its financial crisis and war in Afghanistan. “Japan is strengthening itself as an alliance partner,” Richard J. Samuels, an expert on Japanese security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the New York Times “while also hedging against the day when U.S. capabilities might slip below U.S. commitments.”

“Indeed, Japan seems to have reached a new consensus about the need to remain close to the United States, even while strengthening itself,” Fackler wrote. “The governing party, the left-leaning Democrats, briefly experimented with pulling away from Washington under former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who in 2009 called for taking Japan closer to China, and clashed with Washington over an air base in Okinawa. However, his successor, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, has worked to regain Washington’s trust. China also inadvertently pushed Japan back toward the United States in September, when Beijing’s heavy-handed pressuring of Tokyo to release a detained Chinese trawler captain surprised and angered many Japanese.

Japanese Military and North Korea

Japan is within easy missile firing range of North Korea, which has successfully tested an atom bomb. Japan has been nervous about North Korea ever since a North Korean missile splashed down in the Sea of Japan in May 1993. A longer range missile passed over Japanese airspace in August 1998.

Japan is vulnerable to a nuclear missile attack from North Korea. A nuclear-tipped missile fired from North Korea could reach Tokyo is less 10 minutes. Japan has a Patriot missile defense system in place to protect it from attacks like those from North Korea but the decision on whether or not to use the defense missile have to be made in less than a minute. The system is currently being upgraded but won’t ready until 2011 (See Missiles Above). Japan is still largely reliant on help from the United States for defense against such acts of aggression from North Korea and other countries.

North Korea is believed to have a number of agents planted in Japan’some of them in sleeper cells — that have been trained to carry out sabotage or terrorist activities. Some have entered with forged documents. Others are thought to been infiltrated by mini submarines or spy ships disguised as fishing boats. In the event of hostilities between Japan and North Korea, the North Koreans may try to infiltrate as many as 500 agents.

In April 1999, the Japanese navy fired warning shots at suspicious North Korea ships that had entered Japan's territorial waters to drive them off.

In September 2008 there was a report of an unidentified submarine entering Japanese waters between Shikoku and Kyushu . There was speculation the submarine was from China or North Korea. Later it was determined that the “sub” was probably a whale.

Japan and North Korean Missile and Nuclear Tests

Japan reacted strongly top the North Korean missile test in July 2006, by saying it would consider pre-emptive strikes against North Korea

In early April 2009, North Korea launched a missile — a three-stage Taepodong-2 — that passed over Japan before crashing into the sea. North Korea said it was launching a communications satellite with a rocket. The missile traveled about 3,200 kilometers and crashed into the sea about 2,100 kilometers east of Japan. The first stage dropped into the sea about 280 kilometers west of Akita Prefecture. The Taepong-2 is thought to have a range of about 6,000 kilometers and is capable of reaching United States territory. It reportedly incorporates Japanese technology.

Japan was put on high alert and it Patriot defense system readied in Akita and Iwate Prefecture and in Tokyo but did not try to intercept the missile. Air traffic and maritime vessel had been advised to steer clear of danger areas and were given a warning about four minutes after the missile was launched.

When other countries launch missiles or rockets they don not do over other countries. The missile passed between 300 and 400 kilometers over Akita Prefecture in northern Honshu and never went into orbit and was deemed a failure because its third stage was never activated. It was tracked with land based radar and radar on an Aegis destroyer placed between Korea and Japan. A false alarm on the missile launching had been given the day before.

In May 2009, North Korea conducted its second nuclear test. One of the first places to determine that the test took place was an earthquake observation station in Nagano that picked up vibrations produced by the blast. Planes were sent towards Korea to check for radiation in the air. Japan was angry with the United States for failing to inform Japan in advance that North Korea was preparing to conduct the test. After the nuclear test North Korea conducted three short-range missile test.

Image Sources: Defence Talk

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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