This spring, Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, moved forward legislation that would alter the country's pacifist stance on military action. Japan has maintained defensive forces but, under Article 9 of their Constitution, any engagement in warfare has been forbidden since the Second World War. Now, Abe and other lawmakers have passed changes to Article 9 that would allow military defense in certain limited circumstances.
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Japan's long history has been filled with an intriguing mix of militarism, isolationism, and pacifism. Samurai-supported feudal systems existed for about 700 hundred years after the country first unified in 600 CE. Beginning in the 1600s, the Tokugawa shogunate established a policy of isolationism. A trade treaty with U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry ended this in 1854. Forty years later, Japan's Western-style military helped the country defeat China in the First Sino-Japanese War. From this time until the Japanese government agrees to Article 9 in 1947, the country took part in numerous wars, including both World Wars, the Russo-Japanese War, and the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The reinterpretation of Article 9 has passed both chambers of the Japanese parliament and is scheduled to go into effect within the next six months. Many anti-war demonstrations have been held in response to the government's actions, with crowds numbering the tens of thousands. Japanese citizens are criticizing overreach of the government in the overturning of decades of pacifism that many hold sacred.
Read more about Japan's military:
CNN: Japanese lawmakers OK greater overseas role for military
PBS: Japan's About-Face: Timeline: Japanese Military History