The Stream

Japan at a crossroads

With constitutional reform looming, how is Japanese identity changing?

Japan’s emperor has given a historic televised address where he all but stated his wish to abdicate the throne. He would be the first emperor in 200 years to do so in the world’s oldest continual monarchy.  He lived through the post-World War II era which saw the symbol of Imperial Japan, the divine emperor, reduced to a figurehead. In many ways he represents the contradiction between two national identities: A post-war democracy and its complete rejection of war, and an imperial history of wars of conquest. 


This contradiction persists in modern society and mirrors the underlying tension between Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The emperor and his family have been subtle advocates for pacifism, while the prime minister has sought to downplay past war crimes and has a long-standing ambition to revise the constitution. Abe’s platform includes changing the pacifist charter and reforming human rights clauses that currently guarantee individual rights.


Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party solidified its majority in both houses of parliament in elections last month, key to passing the constitutional revisions he seeks. He campaigned primarily on economic issues, but critics accuse him of having a hidden conservative agenda that could rollback social and political progress. Supporters say he is modernising the country, bringing Japan out of the defeatist post-war mentality and into the 21st century. 


With voter turnout at record lows at such a critical point in Japan’s history, why aren’t citizens playing a more active role in defining the country’s future? How would reforming the monarchy impact Japan and its people? And is the Abe administration’s turn to the right reflective of what people want? We’ll discuss on Monday at 19:30 GMT.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with: 

Jake Adelstein  @jakeadelstein
Investigative Journalist


Mari Yamamoto  @MariYamamotoNYC
Special correspondent, The Daily Beast


Alexis Dudden
History professor, University of Connecticut


What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.