[JURIST] A panel of Japanese experts will begin reviewing the Japanese constitution [text] later this month to determine whether Japan needs to revise Article 9 [text; Wikipedia backgrounder], which has been interpreted to bar Japan [JURIST news archive] from maintaining military forces and from using force in international conflicts except in self-defense, Kyodo News Service reported Friday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [official website; BBC profile] and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki [official profile] have reportedly said that the decision to alter the provision has not been finalized, although they reiterated the need for reviewing the restrictions due to fears that the Article 9 provision could hinder Japan's ability to respond to crises [JURIST report]. A poll released Friday by the Yomiuri Shimbun [media website, English] showed that only 46 percent of Japanese want to amend Japan's constitution, a drop of 9 percentage points since 2006. The paper reported that this was the third straight year that support for amending the pacifist provision had fallen. The poll also found that 39 percent of Japanese were opposed to the constitutional changes, a rise of 7 percentage points.
In December of last year, Abe outlined plans to reform the constitution [JURIST report] during his time in office. Abe assumed office in September after running on a campaign platform promoting changes to the constitution. Also in December, the upper house of the Japanese parliament passed a bill [JURIST report] elevating the Defense Agency [official website] to its pre-World War II status as a full ministry. UPI has more. AFP has additional coverage.