Put simply, Takasu Naomi (37), a mother of two young children and (according to this Asahi Shimbun report (J), a former exchange student at the University of Tasmania), managed to gather together around 1500 signatures in support of an application to the Nobel Prize Committee to have the Japanese Constitution awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. The article explains that Mrs Takasu, concerned about what a reinterpretation of the Constitution would mean for world peace, hit upon the idea of nominating the current Constitution after the EU was awarded a peace prize in 2012 (as the peace prize aims to inspire the pursuit of peace, regardless of whether this is done individually or as a group).
According to the Committee office, only individuals and groups can be nominated to receive a peace prize. Obviously the EU, being a conglomeration of states, was eligible but the same cannot not be said of a document (as an interesting sidenote, only politicians, academics, the head of peace institutes, and previous awardees are eligible to receive a peace prize). While the likelihood of the Constitution being nominated is fairly low, it would be very interesting to see what would occur if it was nominated and subsequently awarded a peace prize. For example, who would go to collect the prize? A representative of the same government trying to amend the Constitution? That would be a tad awkward. Would Ms Takasu herself go? Being neither a Constitutional scholar or one of the original draftees of the document this would present all sorts of problems for the Committee office, not to mention the Abe government.
In a week in which Japan will be visited by US President Obama and in which issues such as the TPP and security will be high on the bilateral agenda, this particular act of civic pride won’t receive much attention except from those who object to the measures the Abe government is taking to transform Japan’s security posture. The issue of security promises to make dialogues more tense than usual, particularly given the Obama administration’s previous misgivings about the degree of nationalism on display within the Abe government (a point reiterated by the visit of 146 members of the Diet to Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday (J), an act which left no-one in doubt as to its intent and the message it conveyed to the US, China and South Korea). While PM Abe himself did not participate in the visit (held over the Yasukuni Spring Festival from the 21st to the 23rd of April), Health Minister Tanaka did (on private funds), and Abe did contribute an offering in exchange for his presence (J).
To say that observers in the US are genuinely worried about where Abe is taking Japan depends on what side of the political fence such observers sit on. Academic Joseph Nye, together with former Australian PM Kevin Rudd, penned an article for the Washington Post ahead of Obama’s visit, outlining why China was so upset with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and suggesting a method for de-escalating tensions between both sides (their suggestion; go back to the original Tanaka-Zhou formula of leaving questions of territoriality to future generations. This, it appears, is wishful thinking, and would not be satisfactory either to Japan or China in the present climate). If bilateral dialogue between the US and Japan produces no change in TPP negotiations (thereby further sinking Obama’s hopes of gaining US Congress support for the initiative) and does nothing to assuage Japanese fears of a weakened US presence in Asia, then Washington may have to get used to a more belligerent Japan acting independently of its major ally.
That could truly take the dynamic of the region into unchartered territory.