Standing on Crossroads by Hisako Motoyama


Standing on Crossroads:

Remilitarization of Japan and Gendered Reconstruction of History

(revised version)

Hisako Motoyama

Women in Black Tokyo

We shall never again allow Japan to exercise state control over our bodies or over bodies of people in other countries.

We shall not let the state ignore or forget its crimes from the past war.

We shall not close our eyes, as Japan participates in the US-led war and invasion.

We refuse to stay silent.

——— From the statement of Women in Black-Tokyo on 8/15/2003, the 58th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War.

In June 2003, the wartime legislations passed the National Diet of Japan, which will enable the state to mobilize military forces as well as civil facilities and personnel related to transportation and medical services for military actions led by the United States in any part of the world. Further the government is preparing for sending troops to Iraq to support the US occupation army. Those legislations will involve Japan deeply and actively in global military rule of the US. They are without doubt a violation of the Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits government from possessing and exercising any military forces, and a major departure from the past foreign policy based on multilateral cooperation under the United Nations systems. With those legislations, remilitarization process of Japan that has been proceeding throughout the Cold War era has come close to completion. What is left now may only be a procedure to officially abolish the pacifist provisions of the Article 9.

In remilitarization process of Japan that was disarmed 60 years ago after the atrocious Pacific War, the US’s geopolitical strategy has always played a crucial role, while Japanese government also reevaluated use of military forces as a political tool in seeking for maximizing power. However it was never easy for Japanese government and the US to overcome widely supported post-war democratic Constitutional regime that has restricted external use of military forces and mobilization of citizens for that purpose. In this paper I would argue that reconstruction of national history of pre-war imperial regime as well as post-war democratization was inevitable to make Japan again a state that can wage wars. It is a gendered project, as indicated in nationalists’ massive attack against feminists.

Remilitarization of Japan in the Cold War

It would be useful to briefly review how Japan was demilitarized and remilitarized half a century ago. The Japanese imperial regime that invaded and colonized large part of Asia was disarmed and democratized by the US occupation army when the Allied Forces defeated it in 1945. The democratic Constitution, which had one of most progressive provisions of human and civil rights including women’s suffrage, was prepared under the US occupation and eagerly supported by Japanese people who were tired of long years of wars and suppressive military rule. Overwhelming majority also welcomed the pacifism of the Article 9 of the Constitution to abolish all the military forces and the state’s right to declare wars as a way to address international conflicts, which had no precedent in the world history. However the US soon disappointed democratic parties when it replaced this idealism with relentless power politics of the Cold War. Japan was quickly integrated into the liberalist military block, and the “Self-Defense Forces (SDF)” that contradicts with the Constitution was set up under the US occupation, as the two super-powers were fighting over East Asia. However the major military role of Japan in the block was to provide military bases for the US, and the SDF remained as non-combating army. The major reason for this was that many Asian countries as well as Japanese citizens and politicians remained strongly cautious of revival of pre-war militarism. While many Asian countries were already in stable economic relationships with Japan, their distrust with Japan that never fully addressed its responsibility of invasions and colonization was strong enough to prevent Japanese government from actively expanding its military forces even though the US urged it to do so.

The End of the Cold War and various projects of reconstruction of histories

The end of the Cold War put major challenge to pacifism of the Constitution, of which direct trigger was the Gulf War in 1991. Requested to cooperate with the allied forces, Japan made economic contribution instead of sending troops, which was coldly accepted by the United States. Suffered from the self-image of “castrated economic giant,” many Japanese politicians came to regard the Article 9 as a burden undermining opportunity for Japan to maximize state power by actively participating in collective military operations, including the UN Peace Keeping Operations. While conservatives were always trying to justify the past wars and frustrated with Asian countriesí accusation of war responsibility, liberalists who sought for international leadership through multilateral cooperation under the United Nations systems were rather positive toward atoning for the past war responsibility, as long as it would ease Asian countries’ concern and clear the way for Japan to be credited as a member of international gentlemen’s club. According to them, the Article 9 had ended its historical role as Japan was going to be a “normal state” that could exercise military power.

At the same time, the conventional national discourse of the past history came under attack from other parties too. One of major challenges came from hundreds of old women in Korea and many other Asian countries who identified themselves as ex-“comfort women,” that was so-called. Those women gave a grave shock to Japanese society, not only for inhumanity of the sexual slavery system officially and massively conducted by the former imperial army, but also for the fact that “others” excluded from the national history that was constructed around the honour of male Japanese soldiers appeared breaking 50 years of silence. Their demand for justice posed a major challenge to the dominant discourse that Japanese people were major victims of the handful leaders of the pre-war military regime who abused the power and that their sacrifices put the cornerstones of the post-war prosperity of the nation. Feminists and other progressive people who supported those survivors’ demand for state reparations tried to go beyond the liberalists’ “washing hands” project of clearing the past, to hold the state accountable to individual victims from the perspective of human rights. One of such attempts was the International Womenís Tribunal on War Crimes on Japanís Military Sexual Slavery organized in 2000 by Asian womenís organizations with support of international NGOs and international legal experts, aiming at bringing justice to those responsible for the sexual slavery system in light of international laws, which was a part of international struggle to reconstruct the conventional international order that was state-oriented and male-oriented.

On the other hand, however, a strong counter-movement of revision of history was organized by a group of intellectuals, backed by mass media, business and politicians. Calling the ex-“comfort women” as “liar prostitutes,” those neo-nationalists justified past colonization, invasions and sexual violence against women and promoted ethno-centric and anti-feminist history education. Thus the 1990s saw different ideological camps competing each other over reconstruction of histories as well as over political and legal order of Japan in the post-Cold War era.

Accelerating remilitarization and War against Feminism

Having failed to effectively respond to structural challenges posed by globalization in 1990s, Japan slipped off from the seat of economic hegemony. As people got increasing afraid of consequences of economic structural reforms, demographic and societal changes, and frustrated with ineffective political systems, neo-nationalists of reactive nature increasingly penetrated into state power. As a result, remilitarization of the state is accelerated in active involvement in the US-led military actions, state control over citizens, justification of the past state crimes, and massive attacks against feminists.

The government concluded bilateral military treaty between the US in 1999, enforced the wartime legislations, and now it is preparing for sending troops to Iraq, which effectively undermine the Article 9 of the Constitution and involve Japan deeply in the United States’ post-9/11 global military order. External deployment of the SDF is justified, not in terms of participation in multilateral peace keeping operations under the UN as it was a decade ago, but for bilateral alignment with the United States that denies any authority of international laws and the UN.

At the same time a number of legislations to strengthen the state control over the population have been enforced, which indicates that militarization of a state is a process to allow control and mobilization of civil sector as well as military forces. Those legislations include introduction of unified information network that would enable the state to monitor individual citizens, state intervention in media and civil activities, and strengthened state control over public education, of which an example is that forceful enforcement of hanging the national flag and singing the anthem at public schools which are inseparable from tradition of the pre-war imperial rule, against strong protest of the Teachers Union, one of the biggest trade unions in Japan.

In justifying those policies, politicians and mass media are often violently inflaming ethno-nationalism and suppression on ethnic minorities and women. Abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea, which is called the 9/17 for the date it was revealed in 2002, was immediately used to justify militarization, abuse of Japanese Koreans and the past colonization. This reactive nationalism is closely related to the fear of the breakdown of the conventional communities and family systems, and particularly consequence of sharp decline in birth rate. Gender equality policies that were introduced after the Beijing Conference in 1995 are now under harsh attack from right wings and conservative politicians as destroying family values and undermining national power. Some big-name politicians openly stated that women who don’t give birth got no right to receive public pensions, or that old women who don’t have reproductive ability are not even worth to live. Many nationalists regard feminists as public enemy, just like communists in the Cold War era.


As Japan is deeply integrated into the US-led post 9-11 global military order, neo-nationalism of very reactive nature is increasingly penetrated into state power and institutionalized. Constructing ethno-centric and patriarchic discourse of national history, they are attacking fundamental political values of human rights, freedom of speech and gender equality, which are principles of the post-war democratic regime that are manifested in the Constitution. These values are under relentless attack because of the role they played in hampering remilitarization of Japan in the last 60 years together with external non-war policy of the Article 9, while substantial realization of these values have always been in question.

Japanese women under the former military rule were mobilized as mothers and wives of soldiers. We also should not forget that feminists actively supported the wars and colonization to take advantage of the opportunity to strengthen womenís rights. Feminists could be abuser of power if we fail to overcome national boundaries and to question every form of injustice. Women in Black Tokyo and other feminist groups address and challenge this gendered process of remilitarization of Japan, encouraged by initiatives of international feminists, particularly that of Women in Black in Belgrade. Yet our efforts are not successful enough to have major political impacts so far. One of our challenges should be to strengthen cooperation with Japanese Koreans and other ethnic groups in Japan who have been excluded from state provisions of civil rights. We would appreciate suggestions and support from sisters of Women in Black in the world in our struggle against militarization, nationalism and patriarchy. Thank you.



Gender equality was one of crucial features of the new Constitution, thanks to the efforts of Beate Sirota Gordon who participated in the Constitution preparation committee of the Occupation Authority. Japanese women were granted equal rights for the first time under the new Constitutuion including suffrage, freedom of marriage and property rights.

The Article 9 states that “1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as sovereign right of the nation and the threat of use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

The SDF was established in 1950 as complimentary police forces, when the US intervened in the Korean War. The government claimed that that the Article 9 did not deny the right of self-defense and possession of the minimum level of forces to react to imminent act of aggression against Japan, although majority of Constitution researchers did not agree with that view.

75% of the US military bases in Japan are located in Okinawa, which was colonized by Japan in 19th Century and ruled by the US after the defeat of Japan until 1972. Continued sexual violence against women by US soldiers is one of major concerns for Okinawan women.

Such a view was also held among academics and politicians of the US. See Waltz 1993 for example.

The Japanese imperial army set up “comfort stations” all over the occupied areas, to prevent gang rapes by soldiers and their infection to sexual diseases. Construction of stations was accelerated after the mass killing and rape of Nanjing, China, in 1937. Tens of thousands of women from occupied areas of Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia as well as Japan were often forcefully recruited to serve for soldiers.

Emperor Hirohito, then highest commander of all the imperial forces, was exempted from war responsibility by the US Occupation Authority in expectation that his charisma would help the new rule to be accepted by Japanese people. However it had serious implication that no one could really be responsible for the crimes committed under the name of Emperor.

In fact the post-war economic prosperity of Japan was facilitated by the US as part of anti-communist strategies in East Asia.

The government of Japan keeps rejecting grievances of the victims and a number of UN recommendations, claiming that crimes committed against individuals were addressed by the interstate economic compensations. Instead of addressing state responsibility, the government set up the “International Womenís Fund for Peace” which is a privately managed fund to make “economic contribution” to the victims. Many victims keep refusing to receive the money while many of them are living in poverty.

The Tribunal was held in Tokyo in December 2000 as a peopleís tribunal to adjudicate Japanís military sexual violence, which was not addressed at the Tokyo Tribunal conducted by the Allied Forces. Examining evidences and testimonies prepared by the prosecution teams of 9 countries, judges who are prominent international legal experts gave the final judgment that found 10 individuals including then Emperor Hirohito and the state of Japan guilty for the crimes committed against humanity. See for more details.

“Hinomaru” as the national flag and “Kimigayo” as the national anthem was legislated only in 2000, due to strong sentiments against both symbols that were used under Shintoist-imperial rule. Despite the pledge of the government, those symbols have been forced upon teachers and school children.

 Posted by on December 3, 2006