Constitutional Revision in Japan

Why Change is Hard to Come By

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, May 2016. TORU HANAI / REUTERS

On July 10, Japanese voters went to the polls to choose representatives to fill half the seats in the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan's legislature. The election broke the mold in a number of respects. For the first time in Japan's history, 18- and 19-year-olds were allowed to vote. Also unprecedented: when the ballots were counted, two sitting cabinet members lost their seats in the upper house and a record number of female lawmakers had been elected to the chamber. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition, made up of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the pacifist party Komeito, emerged victorious, expanding its majority in the 242-member body by 11 seats. 

Of all these developments, the most significant is the edge gained by Abe's coalition. Critics argue the prime minister might use his newfound advantage to attempt to loosen Article 9 of Japan's constitution—the so-called peace clause—which bans the country from waging war and has been the cornerstone of Tokyo's foreign policy for decades. In the weeks since the election, it is this possibility that has drawn the most attention from foreign observers. Yet the road from Abe's electoral victory to constitutional change is not as straight or certain as many Japan watchers have suggested.

Although is likely that Abe will pursue some constitutional revisions, it still unclear whether he will take on the challenge of revising Article 9. For Abe's government to alter or eliminate the peace clause, however, it would have to draw support from parties outside his governing coalition, reconcile their competing constitutional visions, and secure the approval of the Japanese people. That would be a lengthy, complicated process. If the ruling coalition manages to complete it, it will be a testament to the vibrant state of Japan’s democracy.


Japan’s constitution, which was drafted during the U.S. occupation and adopted in 1947, has never been amended. For decades, critics on Japan’s right have wanted to revise what

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