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Japanese Studies Spotlight: Rethinking Constitutional Revision in Japan: The Newest and Oldest Japan Digital Project at Harvard

by Paula Curtis on 2023-05-17T11:18:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

The NCC is collaborating with institutions and scholars to release a monthly series on our blog entitled Japanese Studies Spotlight. These features showcase exciting online collections available to researchers and students in Japanese Studies, introducing the archive or project, describing their contents, and demonstrating how they can be usefully engaged in research or in the classroom. If you are interested in submitting something to the series, please contact Paula R. Curtis, NCC’s Digital Media Manager, at

Katherine Matsuura, Japan Digital Scholarship Librarian, Japan Digital Research Center, Harvard University

For over 70 years, Japan’s constitution (日本国憲法) has remained unchanged, but calls for reform have been ongoing. Since the 1990s, numerous proposals to revise the “postwar constitution” have appeared, and in November 2005, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) published a new draft of the constitution and announced their intention to vigorously pursue this issue. Because so much of this discourse was taking place on the internet and the potential impact on society was significant, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University began web-archiving born-digital materials in 2005 in order to capture this debate for future generations. The road to success, however, was mired with difficult lessons on the fragility of digital materials and evolving technology. It is only recently that the project has moved beyond the selection and preservation of websites and has turned its focus towards building upon these materials so they can better serve the needs of researchers, instructors, and students.1 With this in mind, the Japan Digital Research Center (JDRC) has revitalized the Constitutional Revision Project (CR Project) to offer more resources for research and pedagogy.

Constitutional Revision in Japan

Since the JRDC’s original web-archiving initiative the CR Project has gradually evolved to expand its services. A new project site was launched in 2023, and it offers a variety of new ways to engage with materials both in English and Japanese. In rethinking its origins as a web archive, the CR Project is moving beyond the curation of digital artifacts and moving towards the curation of knowledge derived from these collections. It invites the user to explore a myriad of voices, topics, and constitutional drafts representing a full spectrum of views that touch all aspects of civil society. Although constitutional revision is often placed in the context of Japan’s military defense and Article 9 (the clause renouncing war), proposals for revising the constitution also include issues such as: (1) the emperor’s gender; (2) the emperor’s abdication of the throne; (3) the rights and duties of citizens; (4) the structure of government; (5) marriage equality; (6) the freedom of press and religion, and so much more. Instructors and students are encouraged to use any of the above topics, chapters, articles, and voice categories as teaching modules or subjects for course research papers.

Built for a multitude of anticipated users, the project has given attention to accessibility in both Japanese and English, and perhaps it is English that should be stressed. In addition to targeting a wide range of academic research, thought has been given to the teaching and instruction of students, and ways in which the Constitutional Revision Project can serve as a pedagogical tool, even when students may be unable to read Japanese. Every page within the site can be switched across the two languages, and while a greater abundance of materials are naturally available in Japanese, each constitution draft has been translated and made available for study in English.

The elements of the site form a fluid and iterative network, and visitors can move seamlessly between various parts of the project. Multiple entry points exist, and the content is loosely organized around constitution chapters, the people and organizations engaged in civic discourse, and the various drafts they have created. These sections are laid out as tiles, with each tile leading to individual pages. Within each page, there is a description and other associated content organized on the left of the screen, while links can be found within a purple section on the right. The majority of links are internal and will direct the user to other related voices, relevant topics, sections of the constitution being targeted, and any associated drafts that have been created. External links are limited to current and archived websites of the various organizational players, as well as links to the original drafts that have been transcribed and translated within the project site.

Sample Voices Page

These drafts make up a key element of the CR Project, and while their promulgation may be unrealistic in many cases, they nevertheless represent the convictions and goals of various sectors of the Japanese voting population. In order to better understand the revisions that are being advocated, each draft can be read in its entirety or studied through a number of other means: (1) an interactive Constitution of Japan, (2) a Compare Drafts feature, and (3) a Compare Articles feature, which will be ready by the end of summer 2023.

The interactive Constitution of Japan serves two purposes: it allows the user to read the current constitution in its entirety, while also providing expandable headings that list all drafts for which a revision exists. Because a one-to-one correlation does not necessarily exist between a draft and the current constitution, anchor links lead the user to the appropriate location in the draft. For example, as a means of emphasizing the symbolic nature of the emperor system, Sanpei Seiji’s draft has moved Article 1 of the constitution to Article 24, and the interactive constitution provides a direct pathway to this revision. Similar examples exist throughout the project.

Interactive Constitution of Japan

At present, there are 36 drafts within the CR Project, and given that some drafts merely revise specific articles, these have been organized as “full” and “partial” drafts within a dropdown filter. Additional drafts will also be added as efforts to create an interactive Constitution of the Empire of Japan (Meiji Constitution) move forward. In particular, the project will include a number of proposals for revising the Meiji Constitution prior to the final (and current) version of the Constitution of Japan. This page will include links to drafts from Charles L. Kades Papers, which are housed in the George W. Prange Collection at the University of Maryland, and will provide a wider, historical perspective on Constitutional Revision in Japan. Access to these drafts will be made available throughout the coming weeks and completion is anticipated at the end of summer 2023.

Draft revisions for both the Constitution of Japan and the Meiji Constitution are also available for side-by-side comparisons under the Compare Drafts tab. Users can select any of the drafts and view them alongside the official documents. Only the full drafts are accessible through this feature and it is possible to narrow the choices by choosing amongst ten topic headings or by searching the year of creation.

Compare Drafts

A final tool for discovering the drafts is still in-progress and will become accessible within the next few weeks. This is a Compare Articles page that will be located under the Drafts heading. When one of the articles is selected, the official article will appear on the left of the page and various drafted articles will appear on the right. Detailed edits to the language are made visually apparent and help signal where some of the specific focus and attention was given by the author(s). Additionally, this section offers the most direct path to discovering drafted articles that do not exist in the current constitution, such as articles pertaining to Children and Youth (including for example Nakasone Yasuhiro’s 1955 draft and Hatoyama Yukio’s 2005 draft); Rights of Foreigners (including for example Article 10 of Nishi Osamu’s 1994 draft and Nippon no Kokoro’s 2017 draft); International Property Rights (including for example Article 35 of the Yomiuri Shimbun 2004 draft and Sōken Kaigi’s 2006 draft); and many other non-existing amendments.

Compare Articles (forthcoming)

While the project does not aim to be comprehensive in its coverage, both the drafts and the voices connected to them have been carefully selected. Not all groups, in fact, have created drafts and only a fraction of the total are represented through these documents. Currently, there are 126 Voices organized across 12 categories, and some of these organizations are cross-listed through multiple categories. Not all of these groups are in favor of constitutional revision and some of them prefer not to take an official stance. For example, Fujin Minshu Kurabu is a women’s group that opposes constitutional revision and maintains interests in national security, gender issues, and human rights. Other groups, such as SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy), did not have a clear membership system or hierarchical leadership, yet they played a significant role in developing nation-wide protests that demanded protection of Japan’s constitution. Due to the varying and sometimes sensitive stances taken by these Voices, they are listed in random order and once-a month, the tiles are scrambled so that no Voice is given preferential treatment.

Bringing a large digital project to completion is not possible without the ongoing collaborative effort and dedication of many people. In particular, much of the critical work of research and translation for this project was conducted during a difficult pandemic that upended fellowship travel to Japan and represented an anxiety-filled time in everyone’s lives. Special credit and thanks is owed to Makiko Ueda, Jesus Solis, and Shi Lin Loh for their dedicated expertise and time. Together with the Director of the Constitutional Revision Research Project, Helen Hardarcre, as well as the Advisory Board made up of Timothy George, Franziska Seraphim, Alexis Dudden, and Keiko Komamura, this project was sustained over the course of 18-years and is finally available to the public in a new and revised form. More information and additional important collaborators can be found in the People section of the project. Please take the time to visit and explore the new Constitutional Revision Project. Your feedback and suggestions are always welcome at the Japan Digital Research Center and every effort is made to accommodate research requests.

[1] The linked Archive-It site is the only remaining and salvageable content from the Harvard University Library Web Archive Collections Service, also known as WAX, which was decommissioned in 2016.

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