[JURIST] Japanese activists demonstrated [Japan Times report] Sunday on Japan's 62nd Constitution Day to voice opposing views about an approaching referendum on the country's pacifist constitution [text; JURIST news archive]. Efforts to reform the constitution are particularly focused on Article 9 [text], which has been interpreted to bar Japan from maintaining military forces and from using force in international conflicts except in self-defense. A three-year public consultation period on possible amendments is set to expire in 2010, thus paving the way for a national referendum on the proposals [JURIST report]. Proponents of the reforms say the constitution is outmoded and restricts Japanese participation in international negotiations, arguing that the text was forced on the country following World War II [Mainichi Daily News report] and must be updated. A bloc of activists opposed to the reforms [JURIST report] fear that pacifist ideals will be lost in the amendments. A recent survey found that 64 percent of Japanese residents oppose [Xinhua report] an Article 9 amendment.
Under Article 96 of the Constitution, possible constitutional amendments must be approved by both houses of the National Diet by a two-thirds vote, and the changes must then be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum. Japan has struggled in recent years to balance its constitution with international demands. In January, Japanese defense minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered the country's Maritime Self-Defense Force [JURIST report] to combat piracy [JURIST news archive] in the waters surrounding Somalia, despite concerns that combat could be prohibited by Article 9. In April 2008, a Japanese court ruled that the country's dispatch of air force troops in Kuwait is unconstitutional [JURIST report], but did not order the government to redeploy the personnel. Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe called for constitutional reform [JURIST report] in 2007, arguing that the pacifist constitution does not reflect changes in the country's foreign and security policies.