May 03, 2007

Constitution Day Peace March


You could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a strange sort of festival if you happened to be in central Tokyo's Hibiya Park today. Balloons, brightly colored banners, huge crowds, bands and loudspeakers gathered together in the midst of traditionally scuplted trees and scattered flowers to celebrate the anniversary of Japan's post-war constitution. Despite the laughter, bright smiles and perfect weather, today the crowds were not content to sip tea and contemplate the perfect symmetry of two hundred year-old pine trees. No, today a more serious undernote ran through the crowds and at three o'clock sharp, sent them streaming into Ginza chanting slogans and waving placards bearing cartoons of men in fatigues programming school children to become killing machines.

You see, the modern Japanese constitution is a very unique document and totally unlike the constitution of any other nation. The concept of a nation dedicated to living at peace is written into the preamble and repeated throughout the text. The 9th article of the constitution even goes so far as to make it a violation of national law to create, fund, and maintain an army, navy or air force. The existence of the Japan Self-Defense force is seen by many as a violation of Article 9 and a surprising number of Japanese citizens would very much like to see the SDF completely disbanded.

But not everyone. As the peace marchers gathered and began their long walk through the most valuable commercial real estate in the world, members of the pro-military right wing also gathered. Police barricades kept a distance of at least a full city block between the two groups, but the menacing black vans with their loud speakers proclaiming the need to resurrect Japan's lost "kokutai" and restore the supremacy of the military in all aspects of life paralled one side of the march while clusters of young men in military style, olive-drab fatigues bracketted the other side. From all appearances, the peace marchers outnumbered their opponents by at least 5 to 1, but throughout the march itself both sides of the debate could easily be heard.

And what a crowd turned out! The official estimate from the peace march organizers declared that 10,000 people had turned out to hear speeches and walk the length of Ginza. The real test, of course, is not how many march, but how many vote to keep Japan's peace constitution by consistently going to the polls in every election and casting their vote for candidates who declare themselves to be just as dedicated to peace as the six decade old document whose birthday they celebrated today.

Balloons, banners, and music in the park are nice, but careful, conscientous and consistent votes are the only guarantee Japan will not one day rebuild its war machine and repeat the mistakes of its scarred and war-torn past.