Lessons on the Japanese Constitution

Japan’s current constitution was written in 1946 and adopted in 1947, while Japan was under Allied occupation following World War II. On the occasion of its adoption, one Japanese politician called the document an “ill-fitting suit of clothes,” totally inappropriate as a governmental blueprint for Japan. Observers predicted that the constitution would be replaced as soon as the Occupation ended. Debate over the workability of Japan’s constitution has been a political constant; yet, the document has not been amended since its inception. Much of the ongoing controversy stems from the context in which the document was brought into being.

Following a brief exploration of the history of Japan’s 1947 Constitution, this digest introduces recent scholarship and offers examples of how that scholarship deepens the story of Japan’s postwar constitutional process. In its final section, the digest provides ways in which study of the postwar constitution can enrich social studies instruction.