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The Unique Framework of Japan’s Constitution, 70 Years Since Enactment

post date : 2017.05.23

The Unique Framework of Japan’s Constitution, 

70 Years Since Enactment


Kenneth Mori McElwain, Associate Professor,

The University of Tokyo Institute of Social Science

“Japan’s constitution has never needed revision due to its unique framework,” Chuokoron, May

In an essay in Chuokoron, The University of Tokyo Institute of Social Science associate professor Kenneth Mori McElwain argues, “Due to the unique framework of the constitution of Japan, no constitutional reforms have been necessary.” According to McElwain, the Japanese constitution is 4,988 words long, far shorter than the average length of 21,000 words for constitutions around the world, and it is thanks to that brevity that the constitution has not been reformed even once. He says the reason is that “The constitution of Japan includes almost no concrete laws, even for electoral systems, and frequently states that specifics will be ‘provided by law.’” For comparison, the Public Offices Election Act has been revised 58 times.


Describing the Japanese constitution’s uniqueness of “listing many civil rights, with only limited descriptions for political institutions,” he notes the limited specifics dealing with political institutions such as electoral systems and local governments, arguing that “For being based on constitutionalism, Japan’s constitution is vague on far too many points.” McElwain states that the reason for disparity in vote weights for Diet elections is also because “the Japanese constitution is short, and is vague in many areas.” Therefore, he suggests, “It would be preferable if the constitution of Japan defined political institutions a little more clearly, in order to prevent those in power from operating systems arbitrarily…. The people of Japan should also consider revising the constitution as an option if it fits the situation.”



Photo: Reuters/ AFLO     The late Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s signature and seal on the replica of an official original copy of the Constitution of Japan

*This page was created independently by Foreign Press Center Japan, and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese government or any other organization.

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