This past Wednesday, September 4th, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI*) hosted Dr. Kenneth McElwain (University of Tokyo) as the first visitor in its Fall 2019 “Japan Politics & Society” interdisciplinary public speaker series. Dr. McElwain also has the distinction of being the first international speaker in the series. A leading expert on Japanese politics, constitutions, and the constitutional revision movement, Dr. McElwain’s public talk was entitled “What do the Japanese People Want from Their Constitution?” During his campus engagement, he also met with Japan-focused faculty from across IU’s campus and discussed constitutional design with students from the IU Maurer School of Law’s Center for Constitutional Democracy.
Despite taking place during the busy second week of the semester, 50 students, faculty, and members of the community packed into a lecture hall to hear Dr. McElwain’s public remarks on the prospects for the first-ever revision of the Japan’s 1947 Constitution—a major goal of the administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. After discussing the general contours of public opinion on related matters, Dr. McElwain advised caution and a nuanced assessment of public opinion polling. For example, he noted that public responses can vary significantly based on how pollsters frame the question: e.g., whether the pollsters ask whether constitutional amendment is “necessary” or “desirable”—a key distinction, for example, between how Japan’s two largest newspapers ask the question.
After discussing the varying support rates for several amendments being discussed in Japan today, Dr. McElwain identified a number of challenges confronting the “pro-revision” camp in Japan’s Diet. Obstacles include the fact that the LDP rules in coalition with Komeito, whose support base is largely pacifistic, and that the Constitution has a high (though not unusually high) procedural bar for formal amendment: 2/3 majorities in both houses of the Diet and a simple majority in a national referendum. Drawing on his earlier academic research, he also emphasized that specific features of Japan’s constitution (e.g., relatively low specificity as it concerns particular institutions) mean that much is left to lawmakers to decide—a feature that, in the eyes of some, reduces the need to formally revise the constitution itself. As he noted, “a lot of things can be done without an amendment.”
After concluding his 45-minute talk, Dr. McElwain answered questions from students and faculty for roughly thirty minutes.
21JPSI’s Fall 2019 speaker series will continue on October 23, with a public talk by Dr. Takako Hikotani, Gerald L. Curtis Associate Professor of Modern Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy at Columbia University. During her visit to IU, Dr. Hikotani will give a public talk entitled“Japan’s Value Diplomacy and the Rise of China” (4:00pm, GA 1122). Lastly, on the afternoon of November 8, 21JPSI will host its first-ever National Conference on US-Japan Relations (precise times TBD) in room GA 0001 (Shreve Auditorium). This event is not one to miss since renowned scholars from the Brookings Institution, MIT, Stanford, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs among other influential intuitions will converge upon the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies to discuss the current state and desired future of the US-Japan bilateral relationship. Please check out our website for the latest info. You can also sign up to receive event announcements here.
*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Supported by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, in its first five years 21JPSI will enable a new tenure-track faculty search in summer/fall 2019; two new courses on contemporary Japan; a speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society; biennial conferences on U.S.-Japan relations; graduate research fellowships, and faculty travel grants. For more information, please see https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to firstname.lastname@example.org